GnawBrew 2015: More Than Just A Beer Fest
A lot of stories about beer festivals are easy to tell, often because there’s one beer, or one aspect of the layout, or a selection of breweries that sticks out at the end of the day (or morning after in some cases). It makes it easier on us writing about these events because it gives us something singular to focus on, something that we can then unwind the remainder of our stories from. A central plot point of a write-up about a beer festival can go a long way when trying to look back on every beer you had and the energy that surrounded you that day. And that’s what makes my coverage of GnawBrew Beer, Art and Music Festival this past weekend so difficult.
There’s just so much that is perfect about GnawBrew that not one singular thing could stand out above another. As I got out of my car Saturday to say “what up” to festival founder Doug Talley in the hills of gorgeous Brown County, I slapped him on the back and yelled, “Best day of the whole damn year.” I hope I can do it justice in the words to follow.
GnawBrew, for those not in the know, is an annual festival held on the grounds of eXplore Brown County that brings hundreds of craft beer fans from all over to celebrate some amazing breweries in a natural environment. GnawBrew also prides itself on being much more than a beer fest, with as much emphasis placed on the beer as on local artists and craft makers and the musical acts, who this year played until almost 2:00 in the morning. There’s something here for everyone: craft beer, great food, local art, and your own plot of land to set up your tent and keep the party going when the beer lines stop flowing. GnawBrew also heavily features Indiana homebrewers, putting them directly at the entrance of the festival so that you can not miss them.
This year I was accompanied by childhood friend and resident Eagle Scout Drew Ogborn, a frequent guest of mine at festivals in the past six months. Drew brings with him the upside of being willing to try any beer in front of him, as well as owning a tent. Plusses all around! We kicked off GnawBrew 2015 in the same manner I did last year with Jon McNabb: a Big Red run to fill our cooler for the night’s party, a Kroger run for snacks throughout the day, and lunch at Quaff On! in Brown County, where I threw down some fantastic seared ahi tuna tacos and pulled pork nachos. I prepped my day with a pint of Quaff On!’s Kimosabe, a session IPA cloudy with grapefruit. Perfect beer for a perfect day.
When we arrived at the festival, we unloaded the car and made our way in, gear and cooler in hand (I’m getting something on wheels next year, and I suggest you do too). We found a spot by the water and while Drew set up shop (Eagle Scout, remember?) I made my way to the grounds to say some hellos to familiar faces and get a pour of a red wine barrel-aged beer from Tow Yard. Just next to this group of friends was another group of my friends from TwoDEEP Brewing, who brought their fantastic Czechshire Cat, a Czech pilsner.
Carson’s (who just this week debuted their new cans) brought a delicious honey wheat, along with their famous-for-all-the-right-reasons red wheat ale. I was joined up after this beer with Drew, who noted we should go check out the homebrewers lest they ran out of beer before we got there. First from there was an great American brown ale from Hurst (please someone correct me on the spelling here – I can barely read my notes…) Haus Brewing out Muncie. I doubled down on the brown ale with a delicious offering from some Henderson, KY natives. My new friend and eventual campground pal Colt Carpenter brought an awesome beer called Christmas in July, a beer with delicious spice that was brewed last October and sat in secondary fermentation for eight months. If the great beer wasn’t enough, Colt and I chatted over beers until 2:15 AM about the state of Indiana craft beer, what makes these festivals so fantastic, and the merits and downfalls of the Peace of Westphalia.
Okay so 2:15 AM was a little hazy for me.
Two other notables from the homebrew section was my favorite beer of the day: the rhubarb IPA (correction: it was a rhubabr saison. Ed.) from the Bloomington Hop Jockeys. If you’re counting at home, that’s two GnawBrews and two favorites from BHJ. The homebrew collective also tapped later in the day a sour peach saison that ran out quicker than my cats when I fire up the vacuum cleaner. Nice work Rod Myers, Handsome Bob, and Abel!
Other notable beers of the day came from Upland, including the amazing Beards of Paradise tropical pale ale and Red Rocket Irish red (made with galaxy hops and lavender), the always-good Soul Ride from Fountain Square Brewing Co., and more beers than I could shake a stick at from good friends Twisted Crew, new friends Redemption Alewerks and Switchyard Brewing (check the awesome new t-shirt I scored from the forth-coming Bloomington brewery), and notables from last year in ZwanzigZ, Power House, and 3 Pints.
I admittedly did not hang around the stage much through. Not out of some grand scheme, really; I love live music. “Live music is important,” my friend Conor O’Rourke would tell you. See, another thing that is so damn amazing about GnawBrew is the people you meet.
Last year it was Doug Talley, Mike and Sue Brooks from Waltz Valley Farm, and Josh Lakins and Elizabeth Eaken from Twisted Crew.
This year it was Ryan Hammel, owner of River City Craft Wear (okay technically we met last year and followed each other on Twitter later without recognizing this and then I found his business card in a book on my desk I’ve never read, but I’m not counting that), Jason and Jennifer Hands from Redemption Alewerks, friends of my mom Julie Miller and Leah Matthews, the aforementioned Colt Carpenter and his friends and family at the campsite, Kurtis Cummings and Jeff Hall from Switchyard Brewing, Allison, Amanda, Ana, and Eavan from Girls Pint Out, and everybody else I shook hands with, drank beers with, played oversized Jenga with (Chance and Will from Tow Yard), had a conversation with, and simply enjoyed the day with.
That’s the amazing part of GnawBrew: you’re not just there to pay $40, drink some beer, and be done with it. Those festivals have their place and are loved by all, including myself. GnawBrew, though, is more than that. It’s more like a community get together, a holistic gathering of people who know what the day is about and want to celebrate that. As Talley told me during the festival last year, “I just wanted a reason to get all my best friends together and drink some beers.”
He’s done just that and, with that mission in mind, has created an event that has this writer scratching his head over any one thing to talk about.