Certainties Of Life: Death, Taxes, And A Great Beer Festival At Taxman Brewing

by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap

How do you get two thousand outsiders to descend on a small town situated miles from nowhere? Offer them a chance to sample and take home a once in a lifetime beer. Personally, I would love to live in a small town…..as long as it had a great brewery like Taxman Brewing; this is why Walter and I have always fantasized about living in Berrien Springs or Bridgman, MI. You can’t swing a stick without hitting a fantastic brewery in southwest Michigan.

Rural Indiana is turning into the same sort of craft beer heaven. Sean Manahan’s Kopacetic Beer Factory has people coming in from all around, and this will only increase as he puts his own beers on. The bustling metropolis of Leesburg is welcoming Hop Lore Brewing in the next couple of months. Knox has a brewery (10-56 Brewing), as does LaOtto (LaOtto Brewing) and Liberty (Norris English Pub); so maybe rural is the wave of the brewing future. Leah Huelsebusch of Taxman told me that beer amongst the grain silos is actually a draw – people like the unique location.

If ever a logo enveloped both a brewery and its festival, it’s the Taxman skeleton. Death and Taxes, right down to the top hat and the bow tie. Creepy, yet somehow universal. image credit: Taxman Brewing Company

Bargersville, Indiana hosted the 3rd Annual Death & Taxes Day at Taxman Brewing this past Saturday.  The festival has grown every year – the first year they only tried to sell 450 tickets and had a dozen guest breweries. Last year saw 1250 attendees, and they had to cap the ticket sales at 2000 this year. Since it has sold out every year, Taxman can basically name their number – but 2000 seemed like a great balance. People weren’t too crowded, but there was a lot going on. Plus, more tickets usually means more breweries – this year we were treated to more than forty fantastic breweries.

The weird federal holiday this year meant that taxes weren’t due until the 18th, so the festival didn’t take place until the 22nd. The weather had been so nice the last couple of weeks, was it the passing of the tax deadline that brought back the grey, cold weather and the wind, or was it the fact that people were celebrating Tax Day?

So why have a beer festival and beer release to celebrate the most hated day in the year for most people? Well, it’s actually a day of celebration for the 66,000 CPAs and 100,000 other accounts in the US. Oh, that and the fact that three of Taxman’s founders are tax professionals.

But that wasn’t the reason for the festival, just the excuse. Leah told me that when they lived in Belgium they loved the all-day, friendly, hang-out for a while attitude of the beer festivals and they wanted to recreate that atmosphere here. While doing taxes in Europe, April 15 actually meant nothing; they all work on quarters, so Death & Taxes is more of a nod to the traditional US deadline rather than something the owners had a lot of experience with – except for filing their own taxes.

Leah loved how the brewers would interact with the attendees in Belgium, so they encourage owners and brewers to come to Death & Taxes Day. And what’s better than a festival with the brewers? A festival with a special bottle release! Judging from the smiles on peoples’ faces Saturday afternoon, Taxman has succeeded in creating a celebration, even if it is for Tax Day.

The special release this year was called Evasion (should tax professionals talk about tax evasion?). Evasion isn’t a new beer this year, it’s actually the Death & Taxes Stout reborn so as not to confuse it with a similarly named beer from Moonlight Brewery (Santa Rosa, CA). Moonlight has brewed a Death & Taxes black lager since 2003, but didn’t distribute outside California, so no problem, right? Nope – now they are part of Lagunitas, so they are going national (or at least regional) – so it’s an issue. It’s really not so much a problem, Leah and the other owners of Taxman are good friends with Brian Hunt at Moonlight, and they have actually traded Death & Taxes beers – but to be neighborly, Evasion was born.

The idea for a brewer driven festival at Taxman was born from the owners’ time in Belgium and spending some quality afternoons at Belgian beer festivals. The tent in the picture is a little bigger than the one in Bargersville, but Taxman’s did the job at damping the cold. photo credit: dalsgaard.eu

When I say that Evasion is the same as Death & Taxes, that’s not precisely true. Taxman alters the barrels and the ABV on their special release every year, so it really isn’t the same beer. That’s one of the nice details; every year you get to have a new beer. And this year they will be offering several variants – barrel aged, vanilla, cocoa vanilla, coconut, and blueberry. You can’t get too much of this good thing.

Tax Day may be a day of celebration for CPAs, but how do the brewery crew really feel about the special release and festival? It’s one their favorite days too. The brewery was open for tours and wandering around. The brewers and assistants love getting questions from visitors. It is a time for them to shine. Brewing is often an isolated vocation – it’s nice to see people enjoying the fruits of your labors. Assistant brewer John concurred with this idea. He had a smile on his face pouring Evasion samples before the festival started and looked forward to taking people through the brewery.

Also new this year, tickets included a bomber of Evasion to take home. I wondered at first if this was a good idea, but it turned out fine. A few people carried bottles they got with their ticket or bottles they purchased, but not too many. Most people picked them up later in the day or took them out to their cars. This was possible because the people at the gates were using the wrist bands to keep everything straight.

There was also a brunch in the brewpub this year. This was a good development in a couple of ways. One, Taxman’s food is good enough on its own to warrant a trip to Bargersville. Our underage daughter and her friends sometimes pile in the jalopy and go to Taxman for the tempura veggies or the spaghetti squash. Walter and I didn’t partake of the brunch, but we went in a sucked as many smells as we could. It also allowed us to use the second advantage of the brunch. Having the restaurant open early allowed for pre-banding of some festival attendees, but there was another idea that made things even better.

The staging area was a brilliant idea at Death & Taxes. Where else can you be standing around waiting for the festival to start – and the festival itself serves you samples of beer while you wait! photo credit: Walter

There was a staging area for those who came early, showed their IDs and tickets, and got banded. But instead of standing in a long line or a huge mass waiting to be let in, there were Taxman Brewing booths serving tastes of Evasion in one booth and other Taxman beers in another. A Taxman merchandise booth was available and the brewhouse was open to look at. So – how much better is drinking beer samples and looking at a brewery as compared to standing in a line waiting to get in. This was a brilliant idea.

Overall, the festival Saturday was, as always, a big success. The breweries present were a nice combination of different styles of Indiana beer. The stalwart breweries that have been with Death & Taxes from the beginning were pouring beer again this year, people like Flat 12 Bierwerks, Danny Boy Beer Works, Black Acre Brewing, and many more. But there were also new breweries; this helps to keep a festival fresh for attendees. Centerpoint Brewing, Four Day Ray, Ash & Elm, Blind Owl Brewery (hey Chris!), Flix Brewhouse (hey other Chris!), were all first time pourers.

There was a central tent for gathering, eating, and getting out of the wind a bit, and it held in the heat we all contributed. The brewery booths around outside, with more than enough room for everyone. The lines for beer weren’t bad at all – mostly the lines were reserved for getting into a bathroom; of course, you can never have enough bathrooms.

The beers of the day ran the gamut of styles and ingredients, but a few stood out. Walter like the Strange Brew coffee beer from Oaken Barrel the best. It had strong coffee flavor, but was still a beer at heart. My favorite was actually two beers paired side by side from Indiana City. They had Tribute, a single hopped IPA using Eureka hops. This is a good beer that showcases the hop well, but the key was that also served a double IPA (Double Tribute) made with the same single hop. The result was being able to do side by side tests of a single and a double and to see how making a double affects the hop flavor profile. Good idea.

Circle City Zymurgy was on hand pouring their home brews. This is a great idea for a festival, since so many  breweries are started by home brewers going pro. But not everyone aspires to that. Matt Wolford of Circle City told me that this is a just a hobby for him; he likes having people drink his beer, but he has no plans to try and open a brewery. It didn’t really matter though, the beer must have been great. Circle City’s booth had run out of two beers only an hour and a half into the festival.

Of course the prize for the day would have to go to Evasion from Taxman. The base beer was so smooth and rich. And then the variants were released each hour, the cocoa vanilla and coffee were especially strong – another coffee beer for Walter. But there other stellar beers on Saturday, including the Gretel spiced saison with mulling spices and pomegranate from Elm Street Brewing in Muncie, and the American barleywine from Cedar Creek Brew Co.

The Indiana Boys and Rainwater were great for the festival. I thought more people would have been dancing just to keep warm. photo credit: Walter

The Indiana Boys played at the festival again this year, with several members doing double time as a second group called Keenan Rainwater Band. Considering that Bargersville is located only twenty miles from Bean Blossom and the Bill Monroe Music Park, it is fitting that Taxman went with Bluegrass/Americana music for Death & Taxes Day. Live music goes with beer just as well or better as pizza or darts. A festival without music is like…. like….. well, it sucks.

So how will Taxman possibly top this year’s festival? It’s no secret that Taxman is opening a taproom in Fortville. So, will the northern location have a Death & Taxes Day of their own in the future? Maybe they can have their own festival – Leah remembers fondly her introduction to Fortville several years ago, the Bastille Day celebration of French food and culture. Unfortunately, Bastille Day in Fortville has gone the way of the Dodo – but perhaps not permanently. Leah thinks that advent of Taxman-Fortville would be an excellent reason to revive the Bastille Day celebration or even improve on it (though influenced by French culture, the Belgian detective Hercules Poirot was quick to point how the Belgian culture was superior to that of the French).

Considering that Fortville is thirty miles closer to Walter and I than is Bargersville, I can see us spending some quality time in yet another rural bar. However, that won’t stop us from traveling for Death & Taxes Day. As long as we’re getting a refund from Uncle Sam, I can toast the CPAs on their day. If we end up owing the government in April…… well, that may present a problem.

 
 

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