The Mishawaka Mayfest.us Craft Beer Festival: Apparently Rain, Rain Go Away Actually Works

by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap

When you organize an outdoor craft beer festival, you understand that the weather might wreak havoc with it. It’s a risk you take in order to have a really nice possible payoff. This past weekend, the weather ALMOST laid waste to a very nice beer fest, but instead helped to make it one of the best Walter and I have been to in a while.

Walter says that I am the most pessimistic optimist she has ever met, and this past weekend was an example. I am usually sure that things will work out for the best in the long term, but in the short term, I am always seeing the things that aren’t going well – and I lament them. As we started driving north from Indianapolis to Mishawaka, first there were a few drops of moisture hitting the car. Soon we couldn’t see out the windshield for the torrents of rain and the temperature was dropping into the mid 50s. Oh no, I thought, a park may not have been the best choice for the Mayfest.us Craft Beer Festival.

We got to South Bend about an hour before the festival started and looked at the weather forecast. Rain all afternoon with some strong storms possible. Yuck. We decided to stop at Crooked Ewe Brewing to wait out the storm and hope for the best; maybe we could get a solid hour of the festival in around 5:00 or so. A lot of people must have had the same idea, because Crooked Ewe was packed. We drank the scotch ale and the Wampus Monster DIPA while we kept an eye on the rain hitting river, looking for any sign that it might be letting up. Meanwhile, just 2 miles downstream on the same St. Joseph River, the Mayfest.us festival was just getting under way.

Kamm Island Park was a beautiful venue for the Mayfest.us craft beer festival. The river, the trail walks, the bridges, even the opposite bank of the river were gorgeous. photo credit: Lawson-Fisher Associates

The VIPs could enter the park at 2:00 pm, and just about 2:15 the rain all but stopped. Walter and I hopped in the car (we closed our tab first, we’re not animals) and took the short ride over to Kamm Island Park in Mishawaka. We parked conveniently, and walked down the paved trail to the festival. The ground wasn’t soggy and the tents were still upright despite the previous wind. Everything looked great and the volunteers had smiles on their faces. It was apparent that the rain did keep some people away, but for the rest of us, this turned out to be one great festival. The smaller crowd allowed us more time to talk to brewers and brewery employees; the most discussion we had been able to have since the Denver Rare Beer Tasting last year.

The first thing we saw was the lovely park and the shadow of smokestack from Kamm-Schellinger Brewery buildings only three blocks away. Brewing in Mishawaka goes back to 1839 with the brewery (and perhaps distillery) opened by John Wagner. This first brewery didn’t last too long, but after a short stint in Illinois Wagner returned to Mishawaka and opened would later become the Kamm & Schellinger Brewery. Wagner ran it alone for a decade and a half before selling to the brothers Frank and Clemens Dick. Over the next seventeen years the ownership slowly changed hands until Adolph Kamm and his brother-in-law Nicholas Schellinger were sole owners.

K&S Brewing was incorporated in 1887, and they made their presence felt in Mishawaka for the next eighty years. It must have been a tight knit, family-like atmosphere in the brewery; most of the employees lived in the brewery with the owners and Mrs. Kamm cooked for every one of them every day. The employees also built most of the out buildings for their brewery, from the stables to the ice house, to digging what turned out to be a 700 foot dry well. The sons of Adolph Kamm ran the business from the end of Prohibition until 1951, when the brewery closed for good. Several of those buildings still stand, and the main brewery is now a successful business and shopping venue. Walter and I know this because we walked down to see them during the festival.

Despite the weather before the festival, the crowd was happy with their beer. They were one of the more knowledgeable crowds we have come across. Photo credit: Walter

Right there we had enough for a great day – history, local natural beauty, great beer. But the Mayfest delivered so much more, and it was all for a couple of great causes. Just as the K&S Brewery felt like family, so runs the entire community of Mishawaka and Elkhart County. Take the charitable foundation Jesse’s Warriors for instance. After the tragic 2013 death of Staff Sargent Jesse Lee Williams of Elkhart in Afghanistan, members of the community banded together to bring attention of this to the governor. They convinced then Gov. Pence to order all flags lowered in honor of Williams and his comrades, and the members of Jesse’s Warriors went door to door making sure that everyone knew of his sacrifice.

From this beginning was born a larger entity, which now collects fund to help military personnel with personal expenses, rent, and medical or utility costs. What a great cause to support with your craft beer dollar. Likewise, the Mishawaka Food Pantry was born out of a citywide sense of family and has expanded to be more than originally intended. Serving over 20,000 residents a year, the charity now distributes food, clothing, and cooking supplies, as well as providing services like workfare and a women’s group. The visibility of these organizations afforded by the festival was nice, but we all need to remember organizations in our own communities everyday, not just on festival day. This was the only down side from the earlier rain. Enough people stayed away it cost the charities. Luckily, the donation button is still live on the Mayfest.us website so we can help them make up the lost donations.

Finally it was time to get to drinkin’. Walter and I like going to Northern Indiana festivals because we don’t live there.  The breweries stay fresh for us. We may make three or four trips up north a year to visit brewpubs and taprooms, but the most we can get to in a weekend might be nine or ten. At a festival, we can talk to 30-50 in an afternoon. True, a festival is definitely not as intimate as visiting their establishment, but it gives Walter an idea of where to tell me to drive the next time we wander north.

This being the Indiana/Michigan Mayfest.us, there were some great breweries around from north of the border.  Founders, Shorts, Jolly Pumpkin, New Holland, Dark Horse, and Bell’s (along with others) were pouring in the park. These are wonderful representatives of Michigan beer, but besides Round Barn Winery/Brewery, these were some of the biggest and already well-known establishments. I love that Round Barn came, but Walter wants to see more like them.

The northwest part of Indiana was very represented as well. Most everyone from the Illinois border to Elkhart were there (with notable exceptions), including places that Walter and I don’t get to drink too often, like New Oberpfaltz, Backroad, and ByWay. But by far, one of the stars of the day for us was Heavenly Goat Brewing from just to the northeast in Granger.

Heavenly Goat in Granger has both good beer and good food. Go ahead – ask Joel why it’s called Heavenly Goat. image credit: Heavenly Goat Brewing

Open since just March, Joel Miller has hit the ground running with his beers. We tried a great Kolsch called Zeughausstrasse, named for the street on which Joel got lost while in Germany. There was also a nice saison called La Table with a special french saison yeast, and a great american pale with a good hop kick called The Greys. Joel and his 12 hectoliter system (Joel is big on the metric system, he’s the first brewer in Indiana I have talked to who gives me his fermentation temperatures in Celsius) are still only pouring in house, but he looks to add some accounts in the near future.

Other favorites from the northern reaches of Indiana beer were the Catkin Pale from Ironwood Brewing in Valparaiso. This brew taught Walter and I that a beer can both contain hull melon hops AND taste good. We hadn’t run into one of those before. The Koza Brada Bock from Back Road was an interesting beer as well. It was the fermented second running from their Aviator Dopplebock mash out and sparge and was a very nice, malty beer without being heavy.

ByWay Brewing in Hammond had Walter’s favorite beer of the day, the Overdue DIPA that drinks a lot like a barleywine, but other parts of the state represented themselves well too. Birdboy Brewing from Fort Wayne had their Void Communion at the festival and Lafayette Brewing poured a very nice pale ale with mango called It’s Noon Somewhere Else.

Rain that starts during a festival is no big deal. Everyone has some beer in them, so things don’t seem to matter as much. They are already there, so lightning is really the only thing that will send people home early. But rain BEFORE a festival does tend to keep people from showing up – so I say, “Yea Rain!” As long as it stops when the festival begins – it leads to some very nice beer conversations. Thanks to the earlier rain scaring some people away, we got to talk about sparging for a bock after a dobblebock and Heavenly Goat thinking about sticking with an all in-house mantra (similar to Deviate Brewing in Indy) or how much beer they would like to start sending out the door.

Another one of the things that made Mayfest.us special was its NOT being not a distributor-driven festival. The people pouring definitely knew the beer, and they wanted you to know about it too. In the age of mega-beer acquisitions, developing personal relationships with the consumer is the best weapon the independent craft brewer has….and this includes home brewers.

Great Lakes Brewing News is a great craft beer paper to tell you what’s going on in the region and where you need to visit. And the organizer of Mayfest.us is the Indiana reporter for this paper. image credit: Great Lakes Brewing News

As with many festivals that offer home brewers a chance to pour (Walter and I are on record stating that every festival should include a home brew contest), the Michiana Extract & Grain Association (MEGA) had some of the best beers of the day. They poured big amber and porters, as well as some light sessions and delicate spice beers. I tried six or seven, and none of them disappointed.  It would have been so nice to have them brewing at the festival as a type of education and entertainment – maybe next year.

This would be a good subject to bring up with Jim Herter, one of the organizers of the festival. He owns the Mattson’s Catering Company that was a sponsor of Mayfest.us. His company provided food for the VIPs in the VIP tent, but his association with craft beer goes much deeper. Jim is the Indiana reporter for the Great Lakes Brewing News, and has seen the growth of Indiana craft beer since 1996. His idea for a festival in his backyard was born out of the explosion he saw in breweries, and his travels to places like Great Taste of the Midwest. Jim knew that Kamm Island was just as pretty as any festival location he could name, so why not revive Mishawaka history and bring a festival to town.

Knowing festivals and craft beer as well as he does, Jim was sure to include good bands for background music (UltraFab Band and the Paul Erdman Band) at different ends of the park. He also made sure there was an efficient entry, enough food (Waffle Wagon and Aunt Suzie’s Cakes, both local start up entrepreneurs), enough dump buckets and water, and most of all, enough bathrooms. Even better, the fest was moved back a couple of weeks to give better weather and not interfere with Mother’s Day. That strategy looked like a loser at 2:00, but made for a perfectly executed festival plan by 2:30.

 

Walter’s Words Of Wisdom – I know my Earth, Wind, and Fire…..just sayin’

 
 

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