Another Saturday to Prove that Indiana Craft Beer is Alive and Well
September and October are great months for craft beer festivals. The weather has started to cool, the Sun is lower in the sky so sunburn is less of a problem, and the beer palates are changing from summer selections to darker beers so the spices start to come out. If that two-month period is prime, then halfway through that time must be ideal – September 30th this year.
The craft beer was flowing all over Indiana last Saturday, with several breweries pouring at more than one event. This makes things tough for small breweries – looking for enough manpower and beer (while still keeping the taproom stocked and manned), to say nothing of needing multiple tables, tents, and jockey boxes. Luckily, the festivals this year had enough volunteers to help pour, and the craft beer community is always willing to help out with equipment to loan.
The question is – where did you end up? Irvington for Black Acre’s Barrels on Bonna? Maybe you were a bit further north at Optimist Park for the 5th Annual Pumpkin, Cider, and Fall Beer Fest, or perhaps you went even further north for Hops & Props in Muncie to benefit the National Model Aviation Museum? Numerous Oktoberfests were playing out on Saturday, but perhaps the biggest festivals were in Valparaiso (8th Annual Valpo BrewFest) and Columbus (2nd Annual Columbus Craft Beer Fest).
No matter what you’re choice was, it’s likely that you got your tickets early. Columbus, Valpo, The Pumpkin fest – they all sold out this year. The pre-sale of German style Oktoberfest cans for the Daredevil Brewing Oktoberfest sold briskly as well. Basically, the entire state was at one or more beer festivals on Saturday. The fact that it was a college football weekend makes the sellouts even more amazing.
Columbus Craft Beer Fest. Walter and I landed at the Columbus Craft Beer Fest at Mill Race Park near the river in Columbus. We parked about a mile to the east at ZwanzigZ Pizzeria and Brewery, as they were the major sponsor of the festival and the hosts of the after party, but the parking was plentiful at the event. The Sun was out and there was a nice breeze; this made the great choices of beer even better. The large Mill Race Park Pond was encircled about halfway round with breweries tents, with the music stage and food trucks located just to the west amongst the trees.
So many breweries were on hand, it was hard to try them all. Lately I have been spending more and more time at the home brewers’ tents, and Saturday in Columbus was no exception. The Columbus Area Classic Alers, The Bloomington Hop Jockeys and the Indiana Brewers Union (a recent edition, founded in 2017) had some great beers. Each club had beers from multiple brewers, and as usual, they brought some great stuff. Oktoberfests, rauchbiers, multiple saisons – the offerings were varied and high quality.
The beers from the breweries were also great. I liked the Jackyale from Against The Grain best, a bourbon barrel aged imperial brown ale. Broad Ripple Brewpub brought three beers that we hadn’t had before, the Tart Lizzie, their new Oktoberfest, and an Irish red ale called Lost Red Glove. Evil Czech’s Dark Helmet rauchbier and VooDoo Vanilla Rye Porter were also excellent. The crowd favorite, and Walter’s as well, was the Black Death from Schnitz Brewing in Jasper. It ran out quickly as the line in front of their booth never disappeared. Even so, the lines at this sellout festival were never more than 3-4 people long. That’s good planning.
The home brewers and pros were unanimous in their praise for the organization of the festival. The volunteers were great, the instructions were plain and adhered to, and the help from the organizing committee was readily available. The ice flowed, the water was plentiful, and there were more than enough port-a-lets. Overall – an A+ festival. If there was one thing that Walter and I thought might have been changed, it was that the home brewers were placed at the far end of the festival. We would have placed them in the center, with brewers on either side. No big deal, but I want to make sure that everyone gets a chance to drink them.
Pumpkin, Cider, and Fall Beer Fest. The 5th annual Pumpkin festival had a new location this year, moving from the back parking lot at Union Jack to Optimist Park. The expansion of the types of craft drinks available and the move to the park paid off in ticket sales, with a crowd larger than they had ever experienced.
The pumpkin home brew contest was a BJCP-judged competition during the Pumpkin Fest. Unlike Whitestown BrewFest where the crowd chose the winning brewer, this was a beer versus beer event where the entries were judged with the style guide in mind, not just by popularity. A pumpkin Vienna Lager was the first prize winner, garnering the brewer a $100 Union Jack gift card, while Jeremiah Tyson’s Jack-O-Porter came in second. Jeremiah was the winner at the Whitestown BrewFest competition just a couple of weeks ago, but everyone agreed that the Pumpkin Vienna Lager deserved the win on this day. Saturday’s winner was Lucas…..something. Everyone knew his beer, but I couldn’t find anyone who knew his last name. Let us know who you are Lucas; your beer was too good for you not to get all the credit you deserve.
Over 60 pumpkin/yam beers were complimented by Fall ciders and harvest beers such as spiced ales, wet hopped ales, and märzens/Oktoberfests. The Elysian Brewing Pumpkin Roadshow made its only Indiana appearance, so the local pumpkin beers were augmented by national beers as well. The drinking was accompanied by keg tossing contests, smashing pumpkins (NOT THE BAND), and pumpkin decoration contests, all helped by their larger space this year. To a person, the festival was considered a great success and should be held at the same place next year.
Barrels on Bonna. Black Acre Brewing once again held their barrel aged beer festival at their production brewery in Irvington (Bonna Avenue). Fifteen breweries were on hand, all serving their best barreled beers. Big Lug, Carson’s and Tin Man from Evansville, Barley Island, Scarlet Lane, Burn ‘Em and Bare Hands from northern Indiana – these were just some of the breweries on hand. The barrels used for flavoring the beers including wine, rum, whiskey, tequila, gin, and of course bourbon.
Black Acre had bottles of the bourbon barrel aged Beard Tax Imperial stout for all the attendees and extras for sale, and there were variants of Beard Tax for tasting and sale as well. This festival was also a benefit event, with the proceeds going to The Pour House, an Indianapolis charity that helps at risk populations deal with the problems, as well as social and legal complexities, of being homeless.
Valpo BrewFest. The 8th annual Valpo BrewFest was held on Saturday as well. Downtown Valparaiso was awash with happy attendees and great craft beer. Being in the northern part of the state, it was likely that breweries from Chicago and Michigan would be on hand, and they were there in spades.
Perrin Brewing and Greenbush Brewing, along with Founders, Bell’s, Dark Horse and others came down from the Mitten State, while Burnt City, Revolution, and One Trick Pony (one of Walter’s and my favorites) were in from Illinois. Middle Brow Beer Co. was there from Chicago as well, a brewery that we haven’t tried yet. Middle Brow makes it a point to donate proceeds from different beers to different causes; their motto is, “Drink Good, Do Better.” Likewise, TW Pitchers Brewing from San Francisco is new to us, but since they make only shandies, I don’t know how much I will be personally consuming.
The Valpo BrewFest had a Hoosier Brew Award for the top vote getting beer from an Indiana brewery. The attendees could vote for the beer they liked best, with this year’s winner being Windmill Brewing from Dyer. Co-owner Scott Vander Griend and co-owner/head brewer Justin Verberg brought six beers to the festival, including a 4 Roses barrel-aged Imperial stout called 40 Hulking Giants, a fruit gose, and a couple of beers with peaches – Memes and the Giant Peach and Peaches and Memes. They were obviously very well received. Of course the competition was fierce with all the Valpo breweries there (Four Fathers, Ironwood, and Figure Ei8ht), as well as beers from all over the state – 18th Street, Central State, Daredevil, New Oberpfalz, Zorn, and others.
Other Festivals. Several other festivals took place in Indiana on Saturday, but I can’t say a lot about them because I wasn’t there and hadn’t attended in prior years. Both Herron-Morton Place and Daredevil Brewing in Indianapolis held Oktoberfest celebrations. Herron Morton is close in proximity to several breweries that take neighborhood commitments very seriously, so Cannon Ball, Central State, Mashcraft on Delaware and Sun King all poured at this festival.
For Daredevil’s Oktoberfest, they didn’t even charge admission, but had polka and other live music in the evening, along with great daredevil beers and the can release for their German style Oktoberfest lager. Four packs could be pre-purchased online for pick up the celebrations, but they also had four packs for sale at the event. Purchases were brisk, but I’m hoping to find some for us in the next couple of days.
Deer Park Pub in Fort Wayne held its 8th Annual Craft Beer Festival with proceeds going to the Virginia’s Food Pantry. This festival was held within the Pub, but had a couple of interesting points. One, the Fort Wayne MASH Home Brew Club had members pouring their own beer, which is always nice. Two, Fort Wayne’s newest brewery, Hop River (1515 N. Harrison Street), was on hand pouring their own beer. And three, they had an imported cigar table from Riegel’s Pipe & Tobacco at the festival, because as owner Tony Henry says, “Nothing compliments a craft beer like a fine imported cigar.”
Finally, Hops & Props was a craft festival held in Muncie Saturday evening as a fundraiser for the National Museum of Model Aviation. It was held on the grounds of the Academy of Model Aeronautics at 5161 E. Memorial Drive in Muncie. New Corner Brewing was on hand for the fundraiser, where they poured craft beer while folks built model airplanes and had a contest to see which flew the farthest. Hmmm, beer and airplanes – interesting combination. Good thing they were models.
Craft beer in Indiana is alive and well. For so many events, some very large, to be successful on the same day means that our state isn’t saturated by any means. Selling out festivals and having breweries pour at 2-3 events in a day (I think Sun King had four on Saturday) means that there is still room for growth in the market. While this is all good – if you are planning a festival for next year, try to go for something other than the last Saturday in September.