22 Jul A Serendipitous Beech Bank Brewing Wednesday Evening
Wednesdays aren’t the biggest night for craft beer happenings, it’s why so many breweries offer specials or weekly trivia/bingo/singo/coloring/etc. on hump days. But here’s a short note about one particular Wednesday evening when a couple of things came together by accident and resulted in a very nice time.
Indiana On Tap hosted the 5th Rushville Libations by the Levee last Saturday, and at that event I had a chance to chew the fat with Darrin Hayward from Beech Bank Brewing in Beech Grove. He told me about the brewery’s first bourbon barrel aged beer release the week previous. Called Bluegrass Solstice, this beer is a solid stout enhanced by 12 months in a Knob Creek barrel. Darrin told it is was going fast, so we agreed that Walter and I would stop by during the next week to grab some.
Purely based on our schedules, we chose Wednesday to drive down to the Grove. It’s a lucky thing we didn’t wait until the weekend, because this beer is so good and is going so fast. It was also lucky that we picked Wednesday because by the time we got there, the taproom was packed, and it happened to be packed with some people we know and like.
The Indiana Brewers Union (IBU) was holding a meet-up/meeting at Beech Bank, which contributed to the crowd, but there were also people there from another local homebrew club called MONK (Midwestern Order of Nin-kasi), and Beech Bank owner Dave Farris was in the house as well, splitting time between the brewhouse and the taproom.
Beech Bank is a dog friendly taproom, and several other people had brought the pups to the taproom. In one case, it was a couple of sibling pups visiting for the first time, and they were fun to watch as they ran around, pulled on rope toys, and chased balls. Mike Hanley of Hanley Hops was on hand as well as part of the IBU crowd, but the first person we saw through the window as we walked up to the taproom was Joe Wootton, a leader in the IBU club.
It was good to see Joe and ask him how plans are going for the Indy Brew Battle (look for a website update soon), the club’s annual homebrew competition. He said, “The event will happen again this year, on Nov 12 at Guggman Haus Brewing. English browns is the category for competition this year. So far IBU, MONK, CCZ, FBI, THC, and maybe IBRU and MASH are in for the event, for which 100% proceeds go to the HVAF. Guggman Haus has agreed to brew the winning recipe, and Sugar Creek Malt Co., Hanley Hops, Great Fermentations, and others are sponsoring the event this year.”
Then we ordered beers, of course. Walter had the Southside Python, because it‘s a great American IPA that leans toward a west coast, and the only thing west coast that Walter likes, it’s an IPA. I got a glass of the Bluegrass Solstice, and I was glad I did. The Knob Creek barrel was fairly dry when the beer went in which allows the beer to shine; it’s not a beer/bourbon cocktail. The time in the barrel and some decent temperature variation give an already good stout some wonderful vanillins, a bit of oak, and just a hint of tannins. The ABV goes off at 8.2%, which means you could easily put back 4-6 snifters without calling for the Uber.
While we enjoyed our first beers, we talked with Mike Hanley about the expansions at the hop farm, and the hop industry in Indiana generally. It hasn’t been as easy to follow the doings of the hopsters in Indiana since the 2020 dissolution of the Indiana Hop Growers Association. I learned from Mike that Liberty Hops has closed, as has Indy High Bines (that one really surprised me). It’s a good thing that Hanley Hops is expanding in this same environment.
Mike says that he’ll have five varieties of hops for this year’s harvest, on his way to a goal of 8-10 in a couple more years. There are some newly name hops that he is growing (when experimental, the hops usually have a number, which is switched to a name when they are commercially available), including a couple of Citra/Mosaic-like varietals that won’t have the same trademark limitations to obtain them. He’s growing on about 3 acres now, with an eye toward 5 total acres and a consolidation of all his poles on one piece of land (currently has a half-acre on a separate plot).
Most interesting, we talked about the fact that he is no longer taking his hops to another farm for picking – he’s building his own harvester, yes, building it. The plans are available publicly from the University of Vermont; his biggest issues right now come from the supply chain and getting the right parts delivered in the needed order.
We’ll follow this story and will make a visit to Hanley Hops to see the harvester and sniff some hops. It’s possible that Hanley will end up as the second largest hop farm in the state (Howe Farms in Crown Point harvests a consistent 2 acres for three different varieties). Currently Hanley Hops provides hops primarily to Hog Molly Brewing, Shale Creek Brewing, Garfield Brewery, and SmockTown Brewery, but I imagine this will expand this year and in the years to come.
It was a nice evening of surprises, information, and good beer. Walking up to see a stuffed taproom on a Wednesday was a pleasant enough surprise, only to out paced by the bourbon barrel aged beer and the friends we found there. And I didn’t even talk about the fact that they had the Roch Bock on and I had two of those before we left. If the Roch Bock is on – you drink it. Selected for the German American Klub Oktoberfest more than once, Roch Bock is one of my three best bocks in the state (the others being the 1918 from Thieme & Wagner and the Bock from Daredevil, I guess I can’t count Pok’s Bock from Pokro Brewing since they are no more).
The take home messages – get to Beech Bank before the Bluegrass Solstice is gone, look for breweries that will be using the Hanley Hops, and keep an eye out for information on the Indy Brew Battle 2022, it’s a great afternoon of tasting homebrew.