A Very Professional Home Brew Fest, and A Cider Company That Maintains Homebrewing Enthusiasm

A Very Professional Home Brew Fest, and A Cider Company That Maintains Homebrewing Enthusiasm

by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap

The line has blurred between professional and amateur in so many arenas. The Olympics has become an event where one has to ask when each sport comes on if this one where the athletes are still amateurs or where the pros have taken over – hockey, basketball, baseball, the line has even greyed with things like gymnastics and swimming.

Cooking shows sometimes pit the amateurs against the pros, and there are times where it is hard to tell them apart – or maybe that’s just the magic of TV editing. Some people would even argue that the lines between news and entertainment are being blurred on most of the networks. It’s a complicated world out there.

In brewing, consistency and attention to the business side can often be seen as differences between home brewers and people who do it for a living. But even there, the number of people who now go from homebrewing to a commercial brewery (often a start up) is increasing drastically. The demands made on a brewer’s time and money is something that has to be dealt with when a brewer goes pro (you just can’t throw the most expensive ingredients in a beer), but one would hope that the enthusiasm and innovation would carry over from the home brew days.

The money to invest and the experience can often be seen in festivals too. That’s not a dig on amateurs at all, these people have day jobs and do brewing as a hobby. They don’t really have the money to invest in putting on a festival – and why would they want to, it’s not like they can reap the benefits of it – they can’t make money from their beer, and they don’t need a festival to bring people to their taproom.

Therefore, most festivals bring a few home brewers in as an adjunct to the commercial breweries so they can get some exposure and feedback, but a festival dedicated to home brew put on by the home brewers themselves is usually a low key affair, a bottle share on steroids. Except for this past weekend, Saturday the 22nd was the inaugural Indiana Homebrew Palooza.

Several home brew clubs from around the state converged on Grand Junction Brewing’s production brewery and taproom on 181st Street in Westfield to pour about 100 of the best home brews we’ve ever had. Everyone brought their “A” game, as they should of since this event was a fundraiser for The House That Beer Built from Habitat for Humanity of Boone County Habitat. Every cent of the money taken in from this event after required expenses went to defer the cost of the home being built for a deserving family.

The event was well planned and well executed; it would have been impossible to tell that this festival was all done by volunteers and on their off time. The set up was professional and the ticket sales and mechanism for getting people in and around was just as much a pro effort. I probably would have put the band closer to the attendees, but that was really out of anyone’s hands since the stage was built for shows at the taproom and couldn’t be moved.

The Bloomington Hop Jockeys were one of the clubs on Saturday. image credit: Walter

There were reader boards so everyone knew what beers were being poured and the clubs had beers for early and late tapping, just like at most festivals with commercial breweries. There was swag (stickers, pins, cozies, T-shirts) for give away and sale, and the band, food vendors, and games were as good as at any festival – all on a shoestring budget and short organization time.

The beers – they were great. There was in imperial stout served with a scoop of homemade ice cream and a lime kolsch randalled through fresh limes from MONK (Midwestern Order of NinKasi). There was an old ale going to the National Homebrew Competition finals next week and a plum sour from the Marshall County Brew Club who call Plymouth home. And the examples I gave from each of the two clubs were just some of the beers they brought. Every club had at least four – seven beers on tap, and many had more than that.

The host club, Circle City Zymurgy (CCZ), brought a lot of beers – everything from a leichtbier and an American Light Lager to an imperial stout aged on French Oak staves. The club had no fewer than 14 different styles of beer on tap or in bottles, including two fruited beers that I still can’t believe were able to run through draft lines they were so thick and juicy.

The Tippecanoe Homebrewers Circle (THC) is celebrating their 40th anniversary this year, making them the oldest club n the state by far. They had eleven beers on tap and a set of rotating bombers. Next to them was Indiana Brewers Union (IBU) with a half dozen beers on tap and a super-secret beer that riffed on their juniper berry rye IPA. Sunblest Brewers Association from Fishers had a spruce tip rye IPA that was one of the best of the day, and Foam Blowers of Indiana (FBI) brought many on point beers, including a hefeweizen, and scotch ale, and a very nice English Porter from Joe Werner.

Marshall County Brew Club had several excellent beers Saturday. image credit: Walter

All the clubs comported themselves well and all deserve mention, including Bloomington Hop Jockeys, and the Artesian Homebrewers of Martinsville (nice milk stout). The entire afternoon was well received by the large crowd and showed that this was a professional type event with professional type beers. Now that we have made the argument for amateurs carrying on like pros, let’s look at another example, this one a third anniversary party for a professional outfit who brought out special products for their party that showed they definitely still have the enthusiasm of home brewers.

Andréa and Aaron Homoya opened Ash & Elm Cider Co. on the east side of Indianapolis (2104 E. Washington St. – for now) in June of 2016. Andrea is the CEO of the company and handles day-to-day business, while Aaron is an electrical engineer by day and ferments apples in the evening and on weekends.

Aaron had brewed beer and fermented wine and cider for years before Ash & Elm came to fruition, and he maintains that home brew tradition by still using only fresh pressed apple juice, no concentrates are used, even they would be cheaper and mean more profit. Aaron and Andréa know that making cider from fresh juice is the only way to do it – that’s a home brew mentality.

image credit: Ash & Elm Cider Co.

The ciders for the 3rd Anniversary Block Party reflected that attitude, including La Glace, an ice cider. There are eisbocks in beer where the unfinished beer is frozen and the ice is removed, thereby concentrating the beer and raising the ABV. But this isn’t how an ice cider is made, it’s more like an ice wine, except frozen apples are used instead of grapes that have been allowed to remain on the vine until after the first freeze.

There are actually two ways to make an ice cider, by freezing the juice to concentrate it or to leave the apples on the branch until mid winter where the weather dehydrates them naturally. This is a tougher process and some apple strains have been specifically developed just for ice ciders. However the result is the same, the sugars are concentrated before they are fermented in this style that only came about in the early 1990s. The result is a bold cider, which has also been aged in French Calvados barrels – it was amazing, Walter brought a bunch of bottles home. There was also Fickle Flame, a Belgian Quad type cider that uses heat to concentrate the sugars and is then aged in bourbon barrels – so we bought bottles of those too. Look out next bottle share, you guys are going to be very impressed.

image credit: Cider Seeker

Also on tap was the Olmo, a Northern Spanish sidra-style ale that is more tart, a bit funky, and less carbonated, as the centuries old type of cider that inspired it. It’s also a new idea that has come to America in the last couple of years. They had the Marigold Chai, which is infused with multiple spices and served as a semi-sweet cider and a Jamaican rum barrel aged cider. These innovative ciders are convincing evidence that while Ash & Elm functions as a professional, commercial cidery, they have the mentality of a home brew operation where caution is thrown to the wind and attention to creativity and a personal touch is paramount.

The party for the third anniversary was a down home kind of block party. There was food, music, special cider tappings, and everyone was invited. Ash & Elm chose to throw a neighborhood bash, no tickets were necessary, just show up for the music, food and cider. That again is more indicative of a home brew club activity than a highly orchestrated, ticketed event. That it was run professionally there is no doubt, but it had a small get together feel even though many people were there. On our way way home we passed by Sun King, and it looked like that place was rocking.

Walter and I have attended the Sun King Brewery Anniversary several times and we have always had fun. Their tenth anniversary party was the same day and time as the Ash & Elm neighborhood bash, but since we can’t be more than one place at one time, we decided to do the Ash & Elm party and we’re very glad we did. It led to the piece you just read, and helped us focus our thoughts on all the different ways people can enjoy craft beverages. Going from home brew that tasted professional to cider that was home brew inspired, we better understand now the width and depth of Indiana craft drinks.

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