A Brief Crisis of Faith in Indiana Craft Beer Gets Remedied by A Weekend of Community

A Brief Crisis of Faith in Indiana Craft Beer Gets Remedied by A Weekend of Community

by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap

Things haven’t been all soft lighting and happy thoughts in Indiana craft beer the last few weeks, and it’s had me a bit down. I don’t know if I was have been terribly naive or if things have really changed a bit, but recent times have called into doubt my faith in the Indiana craft beer environment.

Just Friday another brewery closed – Hydraulic Ale Works in Elkhart. It had only been open a bit under six months and Ryan Thompson was making excellent beers with a focus on Belgian styles. The Sartori Saison and the Eau Ver Compensate Quad (and others) were great and patrons raved about the food, beer and atmosphere. I had visited twice and had a good time on each occasion. So what went wrong and why didn’t this kind of things happen even two years ago? Sure a few places closed, but we’ve had three breweries close within six months of opening in the last 18 months.

All told, Indiana has had 12 closings in the last nine months. This is the first year ever for double digit craft brewery closings in the state, and we probably aren’t through yet. True, we’ve had some openings (17) and will have more, but when I think about the good beer people that are out of work or put in trying positions, it does have a negative affect on my attitude.

image credit: Indy Beer Week

Breweries go out of business for all sorts of reasons, often times due their own mistakes, but just as many are victims of circumstances out of their control. Even more to the point, I don’t believe many go out of business due to direct competition, there is more room under the tent for the incoming breweries. Still, it makes you feel bad to see so many go away.

But closings weren’t the only things getting me down – several issues aren’t for public consumption, but they’re still bugging me. Other things can be discussed generally, for example the airing of laundry. Opinions about how the industry should work have always been discussed when brewers/owners meet at events or at conventions/meetings, and as discussion do, they could get lively. But now these are finding their way into social media and it makes me feel like we’re acting less like a group working toward a common goal with the best for everyone in mind. Some social media discussions are civil and high minded, yet some degrade into non-constructive territory. Maybe it’s just the nature of social media, you don’t have the other people there to confront directly.

I don’t know if I am too new to Indiana craft beer to have seen this in the past and perhaps it’s been going on all along, but I can tell you that in the last couple of months I have heard more disappointing conversations than critical discussions were many sides have been articulated and defended well. It may be that these are tense times in Indiana beer and it’s coming out in the discourse.

So much of the talk from people around Indiana beer has been negative of late that it makes me wonder what I can be doing to help the situation instead of just focusing on the problems. It turns out that the answer has been in front of my face the whole time and just needed to be recognized; I have seen amazing thing like the recent Hoosier Buddy Project that used craft beer to bring attention to, and raise funds for, suicide awareness. There was also the YETI Orphanage Day at Indiana City on the 28th where a portion of every pint went to help local orphans and children in need.

Upland donated money from every fish & chips sold Friday night to a program to reduce the number of backlogged rape kits tested – craft beer did that. image credit Upland-FSQ

But even more basic, the events that Walter and I (and friends) attended this past weekend brought home the basic goodness of craft beer again, how it brings people together, how it helps people appreciate an artisan craft, and how it works to help those in the community. Four events over two days reaffirmed my love of the industry and the good that craft beer does, warts and all.

Upland tapping party and kick off of Indy Beer Week – Upland FSQ tapped Party Hammer Friday night, the first beer made at the new brewing facility in the Fountain Square neighborhood of Indianapolis. The IPA was great, but what impressed our party was the incredible crowd at the brewpub and the fun that was being had by all, both inside and out on the patio. There was laughter, there was drinking, there was camaraderie – craft beer did that.

Even better, Pete Batule (chief beer officer) and Zech Algood (lead brewer for the barrel aging program) from Bloomington were on hand to discuss and pour some amazing sours from the Upland cellar – among them the Ponche, the Starken, and the Country Boy collab with chocolate and mint (Funk Land Country Shuffle). To date, the FSQ location has been selling more sours than any other location, so this was a nod in appreciation of this and to help make the party special, as it was the kick off to the Indy Beer Week events.

Rick Burkhardt, a local craft beer maven and blogger under the name of Indy Beer Sleuth, has done the footwork to coordinate several events this week in a celebration of the Indianapolis craft beer scene. Check out the FB events page to see all the activities in which you can participate this week. This night’s event included a donation to have rape kits tested and entered into the DNA database (End The Backlog) with every fish and chips purchased.

Chris putting beating das boot at Oktoberfest. image credit: guy sitting next to us

In one evening at one location, we saw great food and beer bring hundreds of people together in a common place where the good vibes brought everyone together. We saw beer education to the public from top guys in a large company. We saw a charitable activity to help the community, and we saw the start of what one fan put together for the rest of Indianapolis’ beer fans – craft beer and craft beer people did all that.

Moontown Brewing 2nd Annual Oktoberfest – Our Saturday kicked off by driving northwest for Moontown Brewing’s Oktoberfest celebration. This event has sold out in both year’s of its existence, and will continue to do so because it is so well run. Cody and company had several beers tapped just for the occasion, and Moontown’s chef put together a great Bavarian menu for the day.

There were bands, traditional costumes, games, contests, and the best Oktoberfest decorations west of Munich. Walter was very impressed by the Lord of the Ryes, a dry hopped roggenbier that brought out the best of the hop flavor and the rye spice without becoming harsh and remaining balanced. My favorite of the new beers was the 2019 Follow the Lederhosen Vienna lager; it had excellent malt flavor while still being extremely clean.

the decorations at Moontown really added to the Oktoberfest mood. image credit: Walter

However, it all would have gone for naught if there weren’t a whole lot of craft beer fans that wanted to come out and celebrate together. Take Walter and I for instance – we normally are walking around, getting information from breweries, talking to individuals about what they like and don’t like, and then moving on. But at Moontown, we got beer, sat down with a new-ish friend (Chris Stringfellow of Traders Brewing and Bier Brewery), and just relaxed and talked while we enjoyed the music, the movie in the background, and helped drain the boot after the opening toast and song.

Walter got the bubble in the boot and spilled some beer which was a bit embarrassing since Beerfest was on the screen over the band and we had all just learned from Fink how to avoid the boot bubble. The DysFUNKtion Brass Band played drinking songs and lots of German chants to involve the crowd. Everyone in attendance basically became one group, all working together to have a good time – craft beer did that. The fun kept on well into the night, but we had other events to see and experience.

Black Acre Beard Tax Release and Barrel Aged Beer Fest – We moved to Irvington for the last two events of the day. First was the celebration of everything RIS with the release of this year’s Beard Tax and variants from Black Acre Brewing. This was our first visit to their new Beer Garden, and it didn’t disappoint.

Few things bring people a sense of well being and community better than drinking great beers in a pretty beer garden. It also helps if you have a yearly release and its variants that help develop a conversation – is this year’s release better than last year, here’s what I’m tasting, etc. There was a great crowd at the release day and celebration of barrel aged beer, the Beard Tax was again good, but I think the stars of the afternoon were the Feral by Nature Peach sour and the 2017 Grains in Regulation English Barleywine. The peach was very stone fruity with enough tartness, while the barleywine is just now starting to develop some sherry-like qualities. Another couple of years and it could be perfect.

We met two friends at the event and were later joined by our nephew and his girlfriend, so we again had a great time just kicking back and enjoying the company. I also got to see other people enjoying themselves and it emphasized how good craft beer is at lubricating conversations. We met someone who had been to one of our favorite breweries in Seattle, and this just reinforced how craft beer can turn strangers into friends.

The Black Acre beer garden is a great way to bring people together – craft beer did that. image credit: Walter

People were there from far away, but many people walked over from their Irvington homes. Black Acre’s presence had people out in the neighborhood, got more people their vitamin D, got at least one guy a free beard shave, and helped build a legacy of beer with a yearly release to help bond the brewery to the community – craft beer did all that.

The event ended at 6pm, but the beer garden was open into the night. Meanwhile, we walked over to Our Lady of Lourdes for our final event of the day, the Irvington BrewFest.

Irvington BrewFest – Besides the fact the this event is a fundraiser for emergency activities at Our Lady of Lourdes, the Irvington BrewFest does more to bring the community together than just about any other event. Volunteers from the community put on and run the festival entirely, which shows how committed they are to their cause, and breweries came out to help that cause.

This festival doesn’t start until 7pm every year, so it mostly takes place under the stars, with large communal tables and live music that allows for conversation. We ran into both old and new friends there, from Georgia, to Marc and Angela, to Carlos, and we had great conversations in a very relaxed environment. This festival is one of the most laid back of the year, the beers acting more as a glue to hold the whole thing together rather than the focus of the night.

Irvington BrewFest makes a difference for the community and for craft beer fans – craft beer did that. image credit: Walter

Having 8-10 breweries there pouring samples, many bringing Oktoberfest beers, meant that people could try just about everything and then sit back to talk about them – or anything else. Also, the ability to make a donation and get a full pint of beer helped people to slow down and gave them more time to talk rather than moving constantly from one booth to another. Amy Petrone does a great job with this festival and even though it is smaller, I wouldn’t change a thing about it……. but Walter suggests flatter ground for the port-a-lets next year.

Irvington BrewFest is an important fundraiser that brings the community together on the grounds of an important community institution. The breweries are happy to participate for the cause and they facilitate and great evening of community – yeah, craft beer did that.

Conclusion – With the thoughts I had been having and the things I had been observing concerning Indiana craft beer, I easily could have spiraled down into a negative place. Fortunately, a jogging of my mindset helped me to the see the good again, and this was sparked by the great people and events we experienced this weekend. Even better, I realized that it doesn’t have to be events that show you the good of craft beer; every time you go out to the various taprooms and gather around a beer in a bar, you get reminded of why this is a great industry and does great things.

Walter and I visited four events this weekend and each worked to restore my faith in what the local craft beer community has achieved, what it continues to achieve, and how things aren’t as bleak as they appeared just several days ago. It may seem trivial, but a good weekend of beer has reminded to see the good in other things too.

banner image credit: lancerveteca.com

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