Taps and Touchdowns: Craft Beer in the Sports Capital of America
The Big Ten Conference Football Championship game was in town this past weekend, with tens of thousands of people pouring in from Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and the rest of Big Ten country. To help celebrate the game and create a festive environment in the city, there were concerts, parties, community programs, fanfests, along with sports and educational clinics. In particular, the kick-off event was one very nice craft beer festival called Taps and Touchdowns. The goal was to create a weekend long tailgate atmosphere, with a great game as its centerpiece.
Craig Lippincott, Director of Business Development for the Indiana Sports Corp, told me that the Taps and Touchdowns was the brainchild of the Corp. three years ago. They consulted the Brewers of Indiana Guild and particularly Ted Miller at Brugge Brasserie to get advice on how to run this sort of event and it has grown every year since. The craft beer festival serves several purposes; it promotes the weekend and the game, raises funds for the work of the Sports Corp., but also highlights the artisans of the city by offering a craft beer event for locals and visitors, even those that may not be fans of the two teams participating in the big game or might not even be sports fans at all.
This third iteration of the Taps and Touchdowns Beer Festival was held in the new Pan-Am Pavilion on Pan-Am Plaza on Friday evening before the big game on Saturday. The 5:30 start time (4:30 for VIPs) resulted in a late arriving crowd, but once things got rolling, the number of people was large, the beer flowed fast, and The Doo! Band rocked the joint. Just under two dozen breweries, a couple of wineries, the Garden Party Botanical Hard Soda Company, Ash & Elm Cider Co., and several food establishments were scattered around the periphery of the pavilion, with a nice holiday-themed seating area in the middle. By 7:30, every square foot of available space was being utilized.
Though the number of local breweries (with visits from Dogfish Head, Goose Island, and Urban Chestnut as well) wasn’t as high as for some other festivals, they made up for it by bringing several beers each. Chilly Water had six beers on tap, including a powerful and delicious imperial IPA called Day Tripper. The attendees seemed very pleased with the beer choices, especially those who traveled from far distances in order to cheer their teams in the big game. I spoke with more than twenty people who were visiting Indianapolis for the first or second time. In some cases they received tickets from friends in Indianapolis with whom they went to college, usually Wisconsin or Penn State since they were the participants in the championship game. In other cases, visitors purchased tickets or came upon the beer festival once they were in town. To a person, they were impressed with the beer and the atmosphere, and these are people who come from states with breweries like Central Waters, New Glarus, Victory, and Weyerbacher.
Walter was especially happy with crepes from Yolk! and how they paired well with a fantastic spiced tripel from Dogfish Head called Beer To Drink Music By. I enjoyed the Darth Udder Milk Stout from Ram Brewery downtown and their brewer John, as well as the Bushwacker English Strong Ale from Tow Yard Brewing. Many of the brews offered were house beers that we have had many times before, so Walter and I spent some time searching out the special offerings. Other people, less familiar with Indianapolis beer, told me that they enjoyed all the beers they tasted. I asked several visitors if the Taps and Touchdowns was something they would look for again if their team made it to the championship game in the coming years – most said they wouldn’t wait that long to come back and drink Indiana beer. Luckily, Indiana Sports Corp. helped out with that a bit.
The local hotels were supplied by the Sports Corp. with information on all the happenings of the weekend, including the beer fest, and this helped to bring in new drinkers to sample the wares if Indianapolis craft brewers. They also got more information on all the breweries and their locations. Before the game on Saturday there was also a more traditional tailgate party held on Georgia Street, again using the help of the local craft breweries. The festival breweries included many that are located downtown, closest to the Lucas Oil Stadium venue for the game. After all, all those fans were going to need places to rehash, celebrate, or try to forget the game once the clock ticked to 0:00. Where better to go than a local brewpub or brewery that they tried just the night before and which they know is only a short distance away.
Therefore, the craft beer community benefits from their participation in the Taps and Touchdowns and other events like it. However, immediate economic benefit isn’t the only reason they participate. There is a bigger reason – and it involves additional sport events, our great city and state, a sense of civic pride, and you.
The Pavilion where the festival took place is located in the former Indiana World Skating Academy, one of the many venues held over from the 1987 Pan Am Games. This highlights the work of the Indiana Sports Corp. in bringing world class sporting events to the city. Of course it’s great to have these games in town and to be known as a sports capital in the country, but the impact of these events on the Indianapolis economy can’t be underestimated. The Sports Corp. works with the Indiana Economic Development Corp. and the state government to support economic growth as well as cultures and educational programs that come from the tourism spending and exposure that comes with these events.
Indianapolis has been awarded the Big Ten Conference Football Championship Game through 2021, a testament to the work being done by the Sports Corp. and partners and to the enthusiasm, volunteer spirit and sports knowledge and fervor of the residents of Indiana. This includes the craft beer community in Indianapolis and beyond. Craft breweries owners and employees are some of the most community-minded individuals and entities; their participation in cultural, charitable, and in the promotion of Indiana and Indianapolis plays a role in generating the enthusiasm and community involvement that keeps these events coming to Indianapolis.
Craig says that the Indiana Sports Corp. does not hold many of these fundraising events, but that they are crucial to maintaining Indianapolis’ reputation for being able to successfully host large sports events; they are even thinking of ways to include craft beer in additional events, like the men’s and women’s Big Ten Basketball tournaments. Fundraisers like the beer festival help underwrite other parts of the event programs and bids for future sports spectacular and high levels of attendance go along way to impressing visiting delegations that will be making decisions on just what cities will be awarded specific tournaments and games. Ultimately, as civic-minded craft beer makers and drinkers, it is our duty to continue supporting and growing these craft beer/sports festivals. It is a matter of pride in our city, in our state, and in our craft beer.