Three Unbeatable Tips to Help You be a Better Indiana Craft Beer Evangelist
Walter and I are unabashed fans (from the root word fanatic) of Indiana indie craft beer, and we are so happy to see Indiana maturing as a craft beer state. The number of breweries in the state ranks high in the top third of the nation, and more breweries (those that choose to) are distributing beer to neighboring states. The education of the Indiana drinker has progressed significantly in the last couple of years (including Walter and I), so we think it’s time to take the next step. It’s time for Indiana to start developing close relationships with Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Missouri.
People from those states should know Indiana beer as well as they know their own, and we should likewise have a working knowledge of the beer happenings and offerings in those states. Cincinnati knows and covets Sun King beers, and many people cross the border to get Upland beers. Three Floyds may be a top five brewery in the world, but that’s no reason for people to ONLY buy them close to home. They should be coming to Munster to see the source, and then staying for the 3F neighbors. In reciprocal fashion, a good neighbor policy demands that we start visiting nearby out of state breweries too. To us, local beer is any brewery’s beer with which you have a personal relationship.
Lucky for you, Walter and I are sort of experts at this, and we can give you some pointers as to how to be a good craft beer neighbor in order to foster a close relationship between Ohio beer and Indiana beer, between Illinois beer and Indiana beer, etc. Let’s take our recent visits to the Dayton area breweries as examples – there’s good beer, interesting people, and great stories brewing in Dayton – and it’s only an hour and 49 minutes from Indianapolis.
Our first trip involving Dayton beer was with our kids, so we stopped by the Carillon Brewing in the Carillon Historical Park, a living history museum. Carillon had a brewster (Tanya Brock) when we visited, but Kyle Spears has since taken over the head brewer position. His recipes and equipment recreate the 1850s period in Central Ohio, so the beer isn’t what you would expect to see from a modern brewery. There may be less carbonation, but the flavors of malt and hop are somewhat bolder. It’s a little like drinking real ale, although it isn’t from a cask.
Our second trip took us to several of the well-known downtown breweries. Warped Wing, Dayton Beer Company, and Toxic Brewing were all very good, but Walter is nodding at me right now as I suggest Toxic was/is our favorite. For Indiana drinkers, think Deviate Brewing with more taps. They are a high gravity, experimental brewery with an attitude. The last time we were there, we had a flight of eleven beers and I think only two of them were under 7.5% ABV. The beer slingers were the nicest guys and bought all kind of beer shots for us to throw back with them.
On a trip to Columbus, we stopped at Hairless Hare north of Dayton (in Vandalia) on our way east and at Yellow Springs Brewery east of Dayton (in Yellow Springs) on our way back west. Both are excellent, but for different reasons. Hairless Hare is located in an old pizzeria, and head brewer Tony Dawes (T-Dawg to his friends) takes advantage of the remnant microbiota to produce some interesting open fermentation beers. Yellow Springs, on the other hand, is an artist’s paradise. Located in an artist’s community, Nate Cornett and Lisa Wolters have been, “crafting truth to power” for four years now, and a recent re-branding brought in Cincinnati artist Don Pendleton to do their posters and labels.
Finally, our most recent trip took use to no fewer than six Dayton area breweries over the course of a day – Eudora, Lock 27, Crooked Handle, Star City, Lucky Star and Fifth Street Brewpub. The most consistently good beer (that day) was found at Crooked Handle and Lock 27, with Crooked Handle having recently won a region wide beer bracket. Fifth Street has the best story, being a co-op where the patrons actually own the brewery.
So, with all that interesting knowledge about Dayton beer, why are you still reading? You should be in your car, pointed toward central Ohio. OK, here’s why you should keep reading – Walter and I have some tips to help you be a good Indiana indie craft beer evangelist when you travel. Although…. evangelists usually just send a message out, and we want you to bring home a message as well, a message of local beer in our neighboring states. We hope you carry the Indiana indie craft beer brand into neighboring locales and bring their brands here. That way, we are exchanging beer vibes and goodwill – and beer tourism. We are stronger together than we are separately; it’s a win-win. Here are some ways that Walter and I try to build bridges between Indiana craft beer and beer form nearby beer cities. I bet you have techniques of your own – tell us about them.
1. Stickers may be cliché, but they work. We carry hundreds of Indiana brewery stickers and plaster them in all the breweries we visit. Likewise, we pick up stickers from the breweries outside the state and affix them here in Indiana. This seems like a small thing for promoting neighborliness between cities or between Indiana and other states, but it does matter.
On our recent trip to Dayton, we gave away more than fifty stickers, and brought home about thirty new ones. This doesn’t mean we gave away fifty different brewery stickers, we gave each brewery we visited about seven or eight Indiana stickers, and we gave out several of the same sticker at different breweries. This time we focused on Black Circle Brewing and 10-56 Brewing, fairly new breweries who were nice enough to give us as many stickers as we thought we could hand out. Black Acre is the same; about twice a year I ask Cory for forty or so stickers and he hands them over.
Likewise, when you offer stickers to a brewery for their cold room door, exposed ductwork, or walls in their bathrooms, they are very likely to reciprocate with stickers from their own brewery. Recently we picked up a wad of stickers from Great Flood Brewing in Louisville at a festival, and then visited the brewery that evening. We spread out a bunch of stickers for them, and even though they were selling their stickers for a dollar a piece, they offered us some in exchange. When we told them of our haul from the festival, they reached behind the bar and brought out two limited edition bumper stickers for us. Thus is the power of the sticker.
The graphic nature of stickers makes them good conversations starters. We talk about the stories behind different breweries and their names and logos. The brewers and servers in front of us talk about stories how those parallel breweries in their area. We compare beer philosophies and talk about how good their beer is and what it reminds us of from home.
Perhaps even more importantly, stickers are lasting visual cues that will spark conversations in the future. When a brewery knows you will spread their stickers back in Indiana (and everywhere else), then they understand that you are about strengthening everyone in indie craft beer and they make you part of their circle. We always look for stickers from breweries we have visited – imagine seeing a Manitou Brewing Company sticker in Akron; it’s just as exciting as seeing a Metazoa Brewing sticker in Cheyenne, WY (which we did). Spread the love and build those bridges between indie craft towns.
2. Ask for help – they will reciprocate. Asking the people you meet at the rail and behind the rail for advice – this is another way to promote a relationship between Indiana and their city or state. Size up your conversation partners and ask questions to which they can relate. If it is obvious that they are newer to craft beer, don’t ask them which breweries in the area scorch their wort for their Scotch ales instead of using melanoidin malts. Instead, ask them where they have been in the area and what places they thought were interesting or getting better.
If your server is a bit more in the know, ask them if there are lager-based breweries in the area, or who does Belgians better than most. Be interested in their opinions and ask follow up questions. Which breweries have food or allow dogs? Which breweries or beer bars have huge tap selections and people who know their beer? Tell them what you have had so far in that area and tell them what you think their city/area is doing well.
Almost invariably, these discussions will result in them asking about where we are from and why we are visiting. They will tell us what Indiana breweries they have visited or have had beer from Indiana breweries. In Dayton last time we had no fewer than four people ask us to make recommendations for breweries in different parts of Indiana.
They are coming to a particular part of the state in two weeks or four weeks and want to know what places in the region are must visits. They may ask about bottle stores too – but Walter and are useless in that area, we visit almost exclusively breweries. We make lists for people based on what styles of beer they like and where they will be, along with which ones serve food and who bottles or cans so they might be able to take something home. OK, so it helps that we have been to the vast majority of the breweries in Indiana.
We work hard to find some link between the indie craft beer of the two regions – Indiana/Indianapolis and wherever we happen to be. Often this will take the form of a previous collaboration or a person who might have worked in one areas breweries and are now in the other area. When in doubt, mention Jake and Josh at Central State or Eddie “Chimi” Anderson (currently at Mantra Artisan Ales in Nashville, TN), everybody know those guys.
But these are just suggestions, and mostly uber-beer geeky ones. For you, the conversation may go a completely different direction. The key is to show interest in, and appreciation for, their beer and then they will most likely reciprocate. In some cases – not all, but some – your new friends will find themselves in Indiana and will visit breweries you recommended or mentioned. Now your building bridges and creating beer tourism.
3. Spread the love. Lastly, we carry some Indiana beer with us when we travel. When we meet someone at the bar or one of the brewers and we strike up a conversation, we will learn about them and what they like. Often, I will then go out to the cooler in the car and bring in a bottle or can for them from an Indiana brewery. It doesn’t need to be expensive or rare, just something to break the ice and introduce them to Indiana.
In Grand Rapids we handed out Upland sours. In Louisville we have handed out Sun King beers and Bier Brewery Sanitarium bottles. In Columbus, we have handed out some Beard Tax from Black Acre and Daredevil flagships like Vacation and Muse. It isn’t a big investment, and you often get repaid in kind – bottles, cans, or glassware/T-shirts. We never ask for anything and certainly don’t expect anything in return, but people in craft beer are nice that way.
On the other hand, don’t take beers you haven’t tasted or are considered give away beers because they are too old for you. You are looking to show off Indiana beer the best way you possibly can, and while this doesn’t mean you need to give away your best beers, you should have faith in what you are making gifts of. Sometimes we give away cans of last year’s Grapefruit Jungle, but we explain what exactly we are doing and suggest that they come on over to Indiana and get some fresh to compare. However, this only works because the canning and the style of the Grapefruit Jungle helps it cellar a bit better than most huge-hop beers.
Conclusion. So this has been the first in a series of articles meant to introduce Indiana indie craft beer drinkers to the beer and environments of the surrounding cities and states. Today we focused on Dayton, but the techniques for interacting with beer geeks will work for anywhere. In the near future, we will talk about killer festivals in St. Louis and the fact that the city has their own brewers guild, the up and coming indie craft beer scene in Kentucky, especially Louisville and Lexington, and the history associated with Cincinnati brewing.
And yet, you don’t have to wait for these articles to come out. Start thinking about where you’re going to be and ask around for places to visit. Facebook groups are great for that. Whenever Walter and I are heading to somewhere new, say… Detroit, we may check Google maps to see what breweries are there, but then we hit Facebook to see what the people from a group, say, Detroit Area Craft Beer Without Chris Klein have to offer about the merits and demerits of different breweries. Don’t count on BeerAdvocate or even UnTappd, those ratings all tend toward the middle because some love ‘em and some hate ‘em.
Strangely enough, we haven’t made specific beer hunting trips to Chicago yet. We have visited many on the outskirts, especially the west side, but downtown will be new for us. Any recommendations where we can talk up Indiana indie craft beer in Chicago?