(Un)Scientific Proof That There Are Many Ways To Enjoy Craft Beer In Just 24 Hours
Saturday the 10th of June was a great day for Walter and me in terms of enjoying craft beer. We attended the Crown Beer Fest in Crown Point, and this would have been sufficient for a great craft beer day, but there was more. We also visited some breweries and had a nice tasting share with some cans we brought up from Indy. All in all, a very good day, but it made me think about how different each of these experiences was.
In truth, there is no one correct way to enjoy craft beer. Walter’s favorite means to experience indie craft beer is with good friends, a long tap list, and five solid hours at one table. For me, it’s an hour and half each at four different breweries in the middle of the day, so that we can talk to brewers and maybe a dedicated patron or two. We walk out with new friends and some new beer knowledge.
It may not be our bag, but many people like to fill four growlers with their favorite craft beer and drink at home. That’s a perfectly legitimate way to satisfy your craft beer yen. Likewise, some people prefer to search out the rarest bottles from around the country and around the world. They buy and trade, but sooner or later, they end up in a bar or house with other like-minded people and they have a bottle share to destroy all previous bottle shares. Walter and I don’t follow the trading groups well enough to know what bottles come out when and how much that 2014 Dark Lord variant is really worth, but we don’t judge those who do.
Lots of indie craft fans dabble with several ways to enjoy their hobby, including going to festivals, drinking at breweries, bottle sharing at home, and drinking at the bar with good friends. And this was the kind of Saturday we had in northwest Indiana. Each mechanism for drinking and learning about craft beer was slightly different, and together they made for one heck of a day.
Depth Over Breadth: Pre-festival Brewery Visits. It took us a couple of hours to drive up to Crown Point for the Crown Beer Fest, but we forgot to factor in the time change. So instead of being about an hour early for the line, we were just over two hours early. Aha, what brewery is close by, preferably one we haven’t visited yet? How about lunch at 95ate5 Brewpub, it’s only 10 minutes away in St. John.
We thoroughly enjoyed talking to the two servers at the bar and Walter had a nice chicken salad sandwich with some killer baked beans. The High Five IPA was the only 95ate5 beer on tap at the time, but we knew they would have some of their other beers at the Beer Fest. In the mean time, we also had some Urban Artifact beer from Cincinnati and the Puffy Stack from Devil’s Trumpet. In all, a nice visit for our first time their.
Next up was the realization that our tickets didn’t require us to stand in line (sometimes its nice to write about craft beer for a quasi-living). That gave us almost another whole hour to enjoy some beer. Lucky for us, St. John Malt Brothers Craft Beer was just a mile away.
We walked in and Jim Estry, co-owner and president, was sitting at the bar. Well, wasn’t that fortuitous. We ordered a flight and a pint and then started talking with Jim. It was easy to so how proud he is of his brewery and its product. Soon, he had taster glasses spread all over the bar, showing off his beers to us, including a Tsenturion bomber bottle he cracked open just for us and a sneak peek at the Journeyman barrel-aged Tsenturion that wasn’t going up for sale for a couple of days.
Jim took the time to show us his brew house and a place to park for the Crown Beer Fest where we could miss most of the crowd, and he told us about which beers they would be serving at the festival. I look forward to many more talks with Jim in the future, and with St. John beers being sent to at least fifty accounts in Indy, we will get to drink their beer more often now.
Breadth Over Depth: The Crown Beer Fest. So our first two experiences of the day allowed us to talk to beerslingers that were relatively new to craft beer and hear what they were learning, and to speak with a co-owner who is in the middle of a very successful venture with his organization. And that’s the difference between going to the festival and drinking in the brewery. There was no way we could talk to anyone that long when at the festival – and yet we did have the opportunity to drink many different beers from a bunch of breweries. It’s a matter of breadth at festivals and depth at breweries.
Crown Beer fest was held once again at the Lake County Fairgrounds, an excellent venue for this large indoor/outdoor festival. The number of people attending was astounding, on the order of Winterfest or Microbrewers Festival. Despite the sellout, the lines moved quickly and the number of breweries allowed for short lines everywhere.
Walter was excited to see several breweries that we hadn’t enjoyed before, or those that we rarely see other than our visits to their taprooms. 10-56 Brewing doesn’t have a taproom yet, so these festivals are just about our only opportunity to drink the Jane Doe peanut butter porter. This time, I also got to try their new chamomile beer as well.
In similar fashion, the LO 2.0 double IPA from Wildrose is a beer we had never had before, and it did not disappoint. Flossmoor Station from IL, Route 2 Brews from Lowell, IN and Pokro Brewing from Griffith, IN were all breweries that we don’t get to drink too often, so it was nice to be able to get all of them in one place.
It was true that brewers were present at many of the booths. They were more than gracious when we said hi, asked a single question, or I tried to shove a business card in their hand and ask them to contact me when the brewery though they had something to put in print. But they just don’t have time to talk to anyone person for more than a few seconds when working a festival; it’s the cost of doing bigger business.
The point of the festival is to get your beer into the hands of as many people as possible while being as nice as you possibly have time to be. The hope is that you will make a connection, and can then build a relationship when they come to your taproom, or after they’re already fans and are buying your beer at the bars or in the stores.
With fifty or so breweries in two buildings, there was no problem finding really good beers. We were well aware that we had been tasting pre-festival and that we were going to be tasting post-festival, so this was one festival where we didn’t work quite so hard to taste every beer possible. Nevertheless, good beers were neither few nor far between.
By far, Walter’s favorites of the festival were The Dude from Crown Brewing and the El Cedron from St. John Malt Brothers. The Dude is a Crown porter infused with white Russian flavored coffee. Yes, Walter likes coffee beers, as if the three people who read my articles don’t already know this. On the other hand, the El Cedron is an IPA (Walter’s other true love – I come in a distant third) aged on Spanish cedar.
My favorites included some bigger beers – no surprise there. The Zero Discipline from 18th Street Brewery was a solid, solid NE DIPA. There was so much flavor, aroma, malt, and hop there that it could have spread out over three beers, but I ‘m glad they crammed it all into one. Beyond that, the barrel-aged Squatch barleywine from Crown was a great beer. It had good oxidation, good barrel, good hop and malt – there was no reason not to love this beer.
In truth, the hosts did themselves proud for the festival; Crown had quite a few very good beers. Those attendees we conversed with thought so too. Yes, we did talk to some other drinkers at the fest, but unless you go with friends or don’t care how many breweries you get to try, then your time to talk is just as limited as the brewers – I’m sorry, but I can’t help it. I find it hard to relax. I usually try to maximize efficiency and experience while at festivals. We were a bit more relaxed at Crown, but that is a relative term. I still wear Walter out going from booth to booth. And this leads to a very different craft beer experience than being at a brewery — which is my point today.
A Third Way To Go – Share Beer. After the festival, we drove over to Valparaiso to visit three more breweries that we hadn’t been to before. We had drunk a bit of Figure Ei8ht, and more from Ironwood and Four Fathers at festivals, but this was our first time in each of their taprooms. Each was a great visit, but we went a bit farther and took some beer from Central State Brewing for others to try. We often do this, take beer from one region of the state to another, or to people out of state. It’s a great way to share our love of Indiana indie craft beer with others.
In one of our visits, we met a couple who had been at the festival. We went over to a corner of the bar (so as not to draw attention that we were having a bottle share in public – a can share actually) and tasted some A Pointe, Party Socks, Uber Gose, and Lazer Raptor with them. This was a nice way to make new friends, talk beer and learn more about what people like. Plus, we got to promote one of our favorite breweries from our part of the state. We have spread Indiana beer in MI, KY, OH, IL, and MO as well; sometimes we crack the beer right there and sometimes we just give Indiana beer away, hoping that they will enjoy and come to Indiana to drink soon.
These are more in depth conversations with fellow drinkers, getting their opinions on beers they most likely haven’t had before. Lots of learning going on and yet another way to enjoy craft beer. And these experiences aren’t just us giving away beer, it goes both ways. Jim at St. John Malt Brothers didn’t have to break out the BA Tsenturion two days early for us, but it was away he could build that special relationship with a couple of drinkers who happened to be in his bar and were interested in experiencing as much as they could.
Likewise, owner/brewer Barb Kehe of Ironwood returned from the Crown festival just after we arrived in her taproom. She had been having a very fun day with the other brewers yet still had a bit of the Coconut Commodore Porter in a firkin from the festival. She took out the tap and started pouring glasses for everyone in the bar straight from the firkin. What a great host and what a great way to make sure she gives her patrons a maximum experience. Talking with her and with the people at the rail, we had just a great time. And we learned we weren’t far from yet another brewery we hadn’t tried before – more on this in a second.
Get Home In An Interesting Way. After a nice flight at Four Fathers, the last of three breweries we visited in Valpo, we made our way back to the hotel. Interestingly enough, Devil’s Trumpet was less than half mile from the hotel, so we stopped in and said hi – OK, we had one beer each.
The next morning, we took advantage of the suggestion from our new friend at Ironwood to drive east toward Walkerton. In the small lake community of Koontz Lake we found Koontz Lake Brewing, the establishment of owner/brewer Roger Holston. For a Sunday at 11:00 in the morning, we were happy not to be drinking alone, and our server was an enthusiastic conversation partner. We had a flight of seven different beers from Roger, including a very nice porter and a better-then-just-interesting California Common. After that, we meandered home through a handful of small towns, wondering why each of them didn’t have their own brewery – especially Logansport. Someone needs to take up the challenge of bringing indie craft beer to that small city. Logansport has 20,000 people and no breweries, while Griffith has 16,000 people and three breweries!
So that was our weekend, many new friends, many new contacts to learn more in the future, good beers that we can look for again in the future, a great festival for trying many beers, and a can share that allowed us to spread the Indy love. I’m not sure I could think of a better array of different craft beer experiences crammed into 24 hours – one beer festival, one bottle share, and seven brewery visits. Walter opted for water only on Monday and Tuesday.
Walter’s Words of Wisdom – You can’t put deodorant on a sweaty armpit.