2017 Taps & Touchdowns Event Becomes Latest “Can’t Miss” Craft Beer Celebration

by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap

The 4th Annual Taps & Touchdowns Craft Beer Festival was held in downtown Indianapolis Saturday evening. If you didn’t attend any of the first three festivals, then this iteration would look like VERY good festival. If you did attend three years ago or even last year, you’d say, “Where did all these people come from?”

This year’s Taps & Touchdowns stepped up the marketing and it paid off. Small tweaks to the lay out helped as well, but the biggest change was in the number of people and their relative craft beer knowledge; ie. it wasn’t just that more people came from both in state and out, it was that they seemed to be more beer-aware.

Walter and I tasted our share of beer, and in most cases were very pleased. But we did spend a bit more time than normal seeking out people wearing gear from out of state. We met a nice couple from Wisconsin who were in town for the Big Ten Championship game between Wisconsin and Ohio State. They got an email announcing Taps & Touchdowns and decided that it would be a good way to spend their Friday evening – they were going to be downtown anyway because that is where their hotel was located.

image credit: Indiana Sports Corp

They loved the beer available and the atmosphere at Taps & Touchdowns. They weren’t aware of the craft beer scene in Indianapolis, but now plan to come back just for a beer trip. They particularly enjoyed the bourbon barrel aged Never Say Die stout from TwoDEEP and the blood orange IPA from Centerpoint (no big news there – everybody loves that beer).

Strangely enough, Spotted Cow from New Glarus was the beer they were forced to talk about most. Everyone the couple talked with wanted to know if they brought some down from Wisconsin – just another example of how the overall Indiana craft beer crowd has become more sophisticated.  I bet they load up the car with New Glarus before they come back to Indy.

We also met two gentlemen from Toledo, OH who came to support OSU. Walter and I have enjoyed a good deal of beer in Columbus and other parts of Ohio, so we talked a while about how the beer in Ohio compared to that which they had last night. Daredevil and Central State stood up well for them, as did Metazoa and Burn ‘Em, although they still were partial to Hoof Hearted and Wolf‘s Ridge. Walter and I handed out my business cards to several people from out of town – I think we will be doing some beer tours around Indy as these folks come back into town and want to drink even more Indiana beer.

Here are some observations and suggestions on how craft beer, and in particular Taps & Touchdowns, has grown and will likely grow further.

  1. The number of women at the festival was VERY encouraging. We estimated that it was nearly a fifty-fifty split, and the ladies weren’t designated drivers (see point #3).
  1. The breweries are starting to divide themselves into two groups at festivals; those that bring house beers and those that bring seasonal or unusual beers. More bring the seasonals as of now, but I am wondering if the house beer offering breweries do so because they expect that most people at the festival haven’t had their beer before.

The festival has been on for 2.75 hr at this point. Just starting to see dancers. photo credit: Walter

3. Even with a killer band (Living Proof), it takes three hours of a festival to get people to dance in any great numbers and with any enthusiasm. More women dance than men, and the fact that it takes a couple of hours to get them moving suggests that these are not designated drivers for their significant others, but are also sampling the beer. That’s three hours from VIP entry, two hours from GA entry, but once they get going…..

  1. For festivals laid out in a linear fashion, the food vendors should be at the ends, but in festivals that are more oval or circular in nature, they should be spread out through the booths, as they were at Taps & Touchdowns.
  1. Speaking of food, people really seemed to love Primanti Brothers. Their line was as long as that at Burn ‘Em or Daredevil.
  1. The lighting at an indoor festival can go a long way to build a mood.
  1. In general, VIP lounges are unnecessary, but having VIP beers and food are good.  Thanks to the Brewers of Indiana Guild for supplying beers for the VIP area and for bringing the Indiana Beer Brigade offering for the year, Stuck In The Middle stout, brewed at Sun King.
  1. Metazoa was the first brewery to kick all their kegs. They brought the Breton Blonde, a silver medalist at this year’s GABF, along with a newer beer, the Cobbler’s Ale. This leads Walter and I to suggest that breweries post the medal that their beers have won. This would inform attendees who are not familiar with their beer (or Indiana beer) that the beer they are trying has been recognized as special by experts.
  1. The best beer of the evening (in my humble opinion) was one that not everyone could have. The Christmas Ale Ardelle (2016) from People’s Brewing in Lafayette was available to only those in the VIP area, but I starting walking some out to the people we were talking to so they could try it as well. I heartily recommend you find some – I can’t supply you all.
  1. The most surprising beer of the evening to me was the Vint Wit from Noble Order, a grape must with chamomile witbier that uses all Indiana ingredients. It was a wonderfully complex beer that is still very easy drinking. I look forward to them applying for this to be an Indiana Artisan product.

A great turn out for Taps & Touchdowns. photo credit: Walter

11. The most popular beer of the night, by far, was the hazy IPA (21 Gun Salute) from Jason Cook and Rock Bottom Brewing. All, not most, of the people we talked with late in the evening noted that as their favorite sample of the night.

This brings up a bigger point – this year’s Taps & Touchdowns marked a re-emergence of a couple of the oldest breweries in downtown Indianapolis, those which happen to be chains and can get lost in the shuffle as people look for small craft breweries trying to carve out their niche.

Jason Cook has moved downtown from the closed 86th Street Rock Bottom Brewery. Now that he has settled into his new brew house, I look forward to great things – the 21 Gun Salute is probably just the tip of the iceberg. My prediction – Jason will be executive brewer for all the Rock Bottom breweries just like how Chris Knott has taken over as executive brewer for all the Flix Brewhouses. In an even more recent move, Travis Wilkinson became the head brewer at The Ram Brewery downtown just ten weeks ago. He is just now moving into the recipe building phase and remolding of the corporate recipes. If his Galaxy SMASH is any indication, he is right on track.

Ram and Rock Bottom represent the roots of many head brewer trees in Indiana and beyond, and it is nice to see them returning to prominence (at least in our eyes). I can’t say that I often thought of these two places when we were planning an evening out, but given their offerings at Taps & Touchdowns, they are back on our radar. It may not be that this was the primary intention of Taps & Touchdowns, but is was a welcome side effect of a festival that has definitely grown into being a top tier event.

 
 

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