Former church in New Buffalo finds new life as brew pub

Former church in New Buffalo finds new life as brew pub

NEW BUFFALO — A former church that went up when Abraham Lincoln was president will soon be producing and serving craft beer.

John Lustina and his partner, Jane Simon, a professor at the University of Notre Dame Law School, are hopeful their brewpub, ‘‘Beer Church,’’ will serve its first cold one in a 35-seat taproom just before or right after the holidays.

Their journey began when they developed a business model for a brewpub a few years ago. They didn’t know where it would go, but while in New Buffalo, they discovered the former Water’s Edge United Methodist Church was up for sale.

They were captivated by the atmosphere they believed could be created at the former church, which is at a highly visible location at U.S 12 and Whittaker Street in the downtown. So they purchased it.

And what followed is a still ongoing remodeling down to the original pine wood floors that are being left exposed to add to the customer’s experience.

The 1861 structure was still in good shape, but required a lot of work to meet the standards of a commercial operation, said Lustina, who noted the site also is appealing because of the heavy foot traffic, especially during the summer tourist season.

‘‘People walk a lot to and fro and there’s a lot of people that live downtown. It kind of brings the concept of a community pub,’’ Lustina said.

Beer Church will start by brewing and serving four types of beer including a cream ale. Later, possibly in the spring, Neapolitan pizza will be added to the menu. The pizza will be baked at 1,000 degrees in a wood-fired oven from Italy.

The pizza with scorched toppings is meant to be eaten with a knife and fork.

The restaurant portion of the business, once completed, will seat another 160 or so people, he said.

Tailgate parties for Notre Dame, Michigan and Chicago Bears football games are also planned and the partners are confident that people will come to the brew pub from a wide area for such a unique beer-lovers experience.

A New England-style IPA, an imperial stout and a double IPA with a slight mango flavor will also be on the beer menu.

When plans for the brew pub first surfaced, there was some outrage in the community, but that died down after people realized that such a historic building will not become, perhaps, a parking lot, Lustina said.

He also noted its use is not totally out of line, because the first brewers were believed to be monks.

The church was de-consecrated by the Rev. Brad Bartelmay, whose congregation is now in a new facility on Whittaker Street, about a mile to the south.

‘‘I think we’ve won them over, to tell you the truth,’’ said Lustina.

The basement will house four fermenters and eight holding tanks. A beer garden is planned on the south side of the structure.

Such a setup will allow for the production of various specialty batches depending on the season.

‘‘We’re trying to create a nice pop-art culture feel with what we’re doing,’’ Lustina said.

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