A Favorite Festival Returns on August 3rd – Brews on Buckeye 2019 Is Unique Among Beer Events

A Favorite Festival Returns on August 3rd – Brews on Buckeye 2019 Is Unique Among Beer Events

With the return of Brews on Buckeye early this August, it’s appropriate to revisit the article I wrote after out first visit to the festival. I still believe that this may be the most social, happiest festival in Indiana each year, although it’s getting a run for its money from Rushville’s Libations by the Levee.

For 2019, organizer Kyle Gibson promises to stick with the formula that has been working for this festival, but that doesn’t mean they won’t have a few new tricks up their sleeve. Look for more breweries and new choices, and perhaps a few surprises (might a dunk tank be involved?). What’s more, Kyle and his team will have help at The Coterie this year, so he’ll get to spend more time at the festival – more Kyle means more fun. Read below to learn more about this crowd favorite festival as we saw it in 2017, and it’s only grown since then. You can order tickets here, but hurry, they’re going fast.

From August, 2017: Kokomo is a bit of a craft beer mystery town. Half Moon Brewing and Restaurant has been there several years and is very successful, and Tin Man Kokomo is enjoying success with its recent opening as well. But other attempts to populate the town with craft beer drinkers have been less successful. Craft beer bars and breweries (District Marketplace and Brass Monkey) closed not too long after they opened (2008) and the majority of bars in the city are straight AB-InBev kinds of places.

I remember a beer festival in Kokomo about 8-9 years ago that was poorly attended and distributor-driven. It didn’t last more than a year or two, and it wasn’t until 2015 that another was attempted. Yet this history is juxtaposed against a thriving home brewing scene (Howard County Home Brewing Club), boasting a former IBC best in show winner (Larry Barnhart) who has sold home brewing stuff out of the back of his cyclery (Back Alley Brewing). They have community brew days, and collaborate with people and businesses for beers.

Therefore, it’s hard to get a hand on Kokomo as craft beer town. Half Moon Brewing is one of the best restaurants in the city, so can you say that it’s the beer that brings the people in? Tin Man Kokomo is doing only one brew day per week as of now (many more now in 2019), and they some riffs on the old Tin Man beers as well as tons of new and innovative beers, so Kokomoans are learning to appreciate local beer. But the Hi-Mark has lasted for sixty years or more, so ultra cold mega-beer in iced mugs is still the staple of the town.

Tin Man Kokomo was part of the redevelopment of the downtown of Kokomo, including the old railroad depot. image credit: Tin Man Brewing

It is against this backdrop that the third annual Brews on Buckeye event took place last Saturday in downtown Kokomo. The downtown itself has rarely looked better, with redone streets and lots of esthetic redevelopment. It looks like Kokomo is moving forward with building and trying to lure people back to the downtown area. A couple of the features that are bringing people to the square are The Coterie and The Wildcat, a higher end bar and a restaurant, respectively, that occupy the first second and first floors of a building on the south side of the courthouse square.

Owned by a group of individuals, Kyle Gibson is the one that decided it was time to bring a festival to downtown to help with the revitalization. Kyle has long ties to the Kokomo area; he started bartending at The Hacienda years ago before he ran a nightclub called The Social for several years. Then Kyle expanded his duties and responsibilities when the opportunity to bring a hip cocktail/craft beer bar to Kokomo was presented to him.

The Coterie has a sophisticated feel with a down home attitude. The high-end cocktails come with a good dose of Kokomo friendliness. The Coterie is also a craft beer bar, with a strict policy of serving beer only Indiana craft breweries and which has a nice rotation of different styles throughout the year.

It was this emphasis on local craft beer and craft cocktails that convinced Kyle to start up a festival again in 2015. The first iteration of Brews on Buckeye ran from 5 pm to midnight (way too long) so there was a learning curve from which Kyle has, and continues, to benefit. The 2017 version ran from 5 pm (VIP) or 6 pm (GA) to 10 pm, but the music and dancing carried on a bit longer. Kyle told me has had the same team together for a couple of years now, and they work together very well. It made this third edition run smoothly; Kyle even had time to gab before the festival. He acknowledges that this, and festival itself, wouldn’t have been possible without this great team of co-workers.

The Fade Salon did some wild beard art along with some crazy hairstyles during the festival. photo credit: Jason Keesling

The location, on Buckeye Street next to the old railroad depot (redone and home to Tin Man Kokomo), was an excellent linear space with brick on the street and verticals that made from a very insular feel and provided wall space for the light show later at night. There are several restaurants are on Buckeye, so the food options, which also included some food trucks (The Local BBQ had great pulled pork nachos), were plentiful. The music bounced off the brick walls on both sides of the street and helped to turn Buckeye Street into quite the outdoor dance club/bar.

And here is Brews on Buckeye really managed to knock the ball out of the park – rarely have Walter and I seen people having so much fun at a festival. Craft beer festivals are often about the beer; tasting, discussing, talking to the brewers – but here, the beer seemed to take a back seat to unabashed glee. The DJ helped; the fact that nine of the booths were actually craft distilleries helped; even the skateboard park within the festival helped. People were bouncing, dancing, drinking, singing, talking, eating – a very nice sight.

The breweries on hand represented some of the strongest in the state, and this is where Walter and I disagreed a bit. When I see something like 18th Street Brewing with no line – and they had the Hunter no less – I say to myself that here is a town that still needs some education. The three beers that Goshen Brewing brought were fantastic (an imperial strawberry saison, a traditional hefeweizen, and an Azacca NE IPA) – they won the beer day hand down. Yet Goshen found it easy to keep up with their crowd as well. And it wasn’t because there was a sparse crowd.

The event was very well attended, and the pouring was consistently active through out the entire festival. It’ just like people found other things to do than stand in line for another beer sample. Devil’s Trumpet and Triton seemed to be fan favorites – the Make It A Cheeseburger and the Mango Barn Phantom had good receptions. Deer Creek brought a nice selection that mimicked their Microbrewer’s Fest tap list. They had a maibock, a saison, and an imperial red; pretty heady stuff for a mid-summer festival and perhaps beyond the reach of many of the attendees. But that was just the thing, everyone was just so happy with whatever they had – the dump buckets went largely unused on this Saturday.

The venue for Brews on Buckeye lent itself to a street fair atmosphere with the tight buildings and the old brick surface. photo credit: Walter

One of those things was a rather ingenious booth set up by Fade Salon on Buckeye Street. Located next to the Quaff On! Brewing van, Danny Gold had an extra helping of people to pour for, made even more interesting since he was the only person working the Quaff On! taps. The Common Necessity coffee hazelnut stout flowed out the side of their green van while people watched shiny speckles, wild colors, or crazy up-dos being administered next door. Free shaves and dos did a lot to enliven the festival. Kyle’s business partner Dustin Ogle and Dustin’s wife Lindsey run Fade, and Kyle lets them go with whatever they want to do for the festival – this year the color-dyed beards with glitter were a big hit.

I guess this is one of the best pieces of evidence that Brews on Buckeye is less of a craft beer festival and more of a block party with good beer. Seth West, one of the volunteer pourers for the breweries, spent just as much time singing with the patrons as he did pouring beer. Everyone seemed to be just as much about the atmosphere and camaraderie as the beer. The light show delivered by Herm Productions in Indianapolis as the sun set and into the night did much to promote the street party atmosphere.

Anecdotally, one can also see the dichotomy of Brews on Buckeye on the internet. Even Microbrewer’s or Winterfest don’t match the number of people posting on Facebook about how much fun they had at the festival, yet when I recorded our tasters on UnTappd a day later, very few check-ins were made from the festival. Again, it shows the relatively lack of craft beer nerdiness at the festival juxtaposed against a plain, old fashioned, really fun time.

It makes it hard for me, a guy who derives a lot of his fun from the beer itself, to reconcile this situation. It’s much easier for Walter. Sure, she likes and knows the beer, but she likes people, music, and social outings more. As a couple we represent both sides of this festival. I guess that is my problem and I just have to expand my definitions of how to have fun with craft beer.

The success of Brews on Buckeye was something that will probably be seen in the money till once all the bills are paid, but the best signs of its success and future were on the faces of the attendees. Be on the look out for notices of the 2018 version of Brews on Buckeye – it’s guaranteed to be a party. The beer is better than just good, but the atmosphere and party make the day. Perhaps a festival like this could only be done in a town that is an enigma when it comes to craft beer; there were things for both the beer geek and the extremely casual fan.

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