The 3rd Annual Whitestown BrewFest Proves Again that Home Brew Is Good Brew
The center of a craft beer festival is almost always the beer. There may be music, there is usually food, and sometimes there is art or other vendors, but the beer takes center stage. And at the vast majority of those festivals, the beer that people focus on is made by professional brewers that have commercial systems and quite a bit of experience.
But not always – the Whitestown Brewfest is an exception to the rule – the home brewers take center stage at this festival, and the great professional brewers are there as a wonderful bonus. Two tents in the center of the festival last Saturday in Whitestown were dedicated to the twenty home brewers and home brewing groups participating in a contest of amateur brewing arts.
The day was gorgeous and the people came out to drink beer and listen to good music. Over a thousand craft beer fans crowded the Municipal center parking lot in Whitestown for the sun and fun. The eighteen to twenty professional breweries had over seventy beers to try, some of which were seasonal or rare holdings and there was also Blackhawk Winery, Kind Kambucha, and Ash & Elm Cidery for those not into craft beer. Flix Brewhouse brought out their barrel aged Belgian tripel for the VIP ticket holders, but for the most part, all the beers were available to all the attendees.
Wabash Brewing had their Baconface Brown, which is always a good thing. They also told me of their recent and future expansion, which will be the focus of another article soon. Moontown Brewing, a previous winner of the Whitestown Festival home brew competition is set to open their event space in a couple of weeks and their brewery by the first of the year. Their fifteen barrel direct fire brew house will be delivered soon, and they will fire up the boilers on that big kettle and starting brewing test batches immediately thereafter. Moontown’s marzen Oktoberfest Saturday was a nice example of style, so I think we have good things to look forward to.
Two saisons caught my eye on Saturday, the Knight of the Rose from Mike Miller at Noble Order and the Saison Du Ville Ronde from Jerry Sutherlin at Round Town. Both were estery and light, with enough funk to make them stand out. As usual, Walter was drawn to Deviate Brewing, and kept going back for refills of the peanut butter and coffee stout (PB&C) and the chocolate mint stout.
Unfortunately, Walter and I didn’t get to try as many of the professional beers as we normally do, as we were anticipating alot of good home brews. At 1:00 pm, the general admission folks flooded the grounds and the home brewers started to pour their beers. Several things have changed over the course of the three years of the Whitestown festival, particularly with the home brew competition.This year, the home brewers’ tents were moved to the center of the grounds so that they were more the center of attention, even physically. This shows that the organizers recognize that the competition is an important part of the festival.
It was nice to see the professional brewers take time to try the home brews and talk to the brewers. In many cases, the professional and home brewers are already friends and the professionals remember that those home brewers were them just a few years ago (in most cases). The home brew clubs of central Indiana (Foam Blowers of Indiana and Circle City Zymurgy) have good relationships with the breweries and have many professional brewers have come from their ranks. I have no doubt that it will be the same with this year’s participants.
Each of the attendees received a bottle cap along with their tasting glass, and after finding the home brewer that they determined was doing the best job, they were to drop their cap in that brewer’s container. Some drinkers voted right away, but most reserved their judgment until they had sample a good many beers from the different groups. And there were many to choose from. True, this isn’t like a BJCP judged competition, but that really wasn’t the point – the real focus was on getting these brewers some exposure and feedback.
This year, it wasn’t just the beers that were intriguing. The beer names seemed to be more inventive, and the brewers were more likely to be out talking up their products and looking for people to introduce to their beer. In years past, the brewers had tended to be more reserved and let their beer speak for itself. This year, there was information galore about all the different beers.
I also noticed that this year more of the home brewers were pouring draft from jockey boxes, not all breaking open bottles of their previously packaged beer. This is neither here nor there really, since the beer is good in either case, but it just gives the event a professional attitude; plus, you get to see more interesting jockey boxes and tap faucet handles.
In particular, Rusted Silo Southern BBQ and Brewery out of Lizton, IN had a fairly creepy doll head tap handle for their Grapefruit Babydoll beer. Rob Ecker, as head brewer, put together a nice list of offering, including the galactic pale ale called Tears of a Wookie, and the Juicy Lucy that they have served before. The names never failed to delight, like the Russ Der Cogburn from Jonathan Marting. I asked Jonathan if brewing was just a hobby for him or if he had professional aspirations. He said that it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility that he could end up trying a brewery, but it wasn’t uppermost in his mind now.
This idea, or thoughts along those lines, were echoed by other home brewers as well. Ben Martin of River Rat Brews told me that he knows how much money it takes to open a brewery and taproom, and this might not be in his future, However, he didn’t rule out purchasing a larger system and doing some contract brewing for other breweries. This would be a good idea, especially if he just wanted to get us more of his nice beers, like the Murder Juice he served Saturday with raspberries and cherries, and some bourbon and vanilla added to smooth it out.
On the other hand, brewer Nick Boling said, “My goal is to open up a small neighborhood brewery in the next 1-2 years,” but his impending marriage has him quite busy for the time being. Having Nick in a brewery soon will be good for all of us, as his NE IPA and last year’s favorite beer of the festival, his raspberry citrus radler called the Riddler attested. More of the home brewers pouring Saturday are also in the midst of becoming professionals. Mind Over Mash brewers Mike Huffman and Bob Klene are almost set to open their brewery in Brownsburg.
Bart and Krissy Hensley (along with more members of the family) are near opening the front doors on their brewery, Traders Brewing Company at 86th and Zionsville Road in Indianapolis. Traders brought some really nice beers, including a patersbier, a style that is rather unusual for this area. Their amber was also a hit with many drinkers, as were the rest of their six offerings. Krissy told me that Mike and Greg from Deviate and the guys from Wabash Brewing, their closest neighbors, have been very helpful in overcoming problems and answering questions about their new venture. This is just par for the course in craft beer; people really do like helping one another out.
The patersbier from Traders was matched in creativity by Mind Over Mash’s bourbon barrel aged Glorious Destruction and their Hop Lord hazy IPA. It was good to see the branching out in styles and barrel beers this year, and for me the two from Mind Over Mash were the best single beers of the day. For example, Todd Reed of Reeder’s Brewing had a nice wet hop IPA using a pound of fresh hops from Indy High Bines. Being a home brewer with a small system, Todd didn’t need much hops, but the High Bines guys were so nice, giving him a tour, talking beer, and giving him a really nice price for their product. Once again, craft beer people are good people.
Preacher’s Boy Brewing had a nice saison with alot of funk and Andy Bowling had a vienna lager with a bit of caramalt which change the character of the style quite a bit. Chuck Whybrew (yes, that’s his real name) had several funky beers, including a Skittles Berliner Weisse (called Taste the Rainbow) that was like eating dessert, the XXX ginger lime Mexican lager, and a scotch ale with cocoa nibs. Chuck said that he would consider trying a brewery out in several years, but right now he has a five year old son that makes up most of his world. On the other hand, Todd Reed told me that brewing is strictly an avocation for him; he has no plans to go pro.
Other home brewers were Jeff Bonneau, who had a great vanilla beer called, The Bean, The Whole Bean, and Nothing But The Bean, as well as WaSima pale that was well liked, and Bo & Ken had great beers as well. The FBI (Foam Blowers of Indianapolis) had a booth with five brewers on all their taps, and Joe Verner, Carl Nelson, Martin Brumgard, Tim Palmer and Jeff Jennings acquitted themselves very well. Walter particularly like the oak aged stout from Joe Verner.
But the star of the day was Jeremiah Tyson and his Tyson Craft beers. By a tight score, he nudged out Nick Boling and his chocolate milk stout with hazelnuts for first place honors in the competition. Jeremiah’s Nutty Brit, a peanut brittle porter that he designed as a holiday beer for his family, was the most talked about beer of the day. And his Caged Beast-Motricillo pale ale (named for its mosaic, citra, and Amarillo dry hops) was a mash up of West Coast, NE, and East Coast pales. These were enough to put him over the top, but in truth, places one through five were not separated by many votes.
The winner told me that he began brewing about six years ago as a way to help people enjoy each other’s company even more. He said, “No matter what happens in my day, I can always find great friends, great conversation, and great inspiration over a pint of beer. At Whitestown, I talked to so many people that I would have never met had I not been a part of that. That’s something I’ll absolutely keep with me forever.” As far as ever brewing at a commercial level, he said, “I would love to eventually go pro with brewing. When you find a hobby that you love where you can also earn an honest living – at that point, it’s no longer really work.” I think we will be hearing more from Jeremiah in the future.
Having a home brew club or one or two home brewers at a festival is not unheard of, but rarely does a festival help out the home brewers by having a competition along side the professional breweries. Many attendees might not even have know about the competition when they bought tickets, the breweries they know are often the reason they come, and why not? Central Indiana breweries make great beer, but everyone knows that the next crop of professional brewers are lurking in the home brew clubs, so this is attention, feedback, and honors that they deserve and need.
In the beginning, home brewing was an answer to the paucity of anything other than a light lager in the American beer market. If you wanted a tasty beer, it was easiest if you just made it yourself. Not so now, therefore the efforts in home brewing have shifted from necessity to art. You love craft beer and you want to make it too, or you want to expand on what you have seen. Or perhaps, you start the hobby and it brings you to love craft beer.
Home brewing doesn’t have to be a first step to something bigger–it can be an end all to itself. There was plenty of that on display Saturday at Whitestown and that’s fantastic. Doing something only for the love of it is craft at its finest. But…..sometimes it can lead to other opportunities, business owning, changing careers, even if it isn’t being a brewer. And we can thank festivals like Whitestown for making home brewers the stars of the day.