Amidst The Noise And Lines, Great Beer And Friends Found At Winterfest 2015

Amidst The Noise And Lines, Great Beer And Friends Found At Winterfest 2015

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By Donovan Wheeler of Indiana On Tap

For part one of Donovan’s Winterfest 2015 coverage, check out “All Quiet On The Beer Front: The Day Before Winterfest”

Did I ever tell you the one about the time Wendi and I were in Indy, and I pulled into the parking garage by the Omni Severin Hotel? The one where I punched the button, took my ticket, missed a rather important turn, and found myself exiting that very garage only minutes later…?

“No charge,” the attendant said beaming.  ”You just made the five-minute cut.  It’s your lucky night!” Yeah…my lucky night. As Wendi laughed at me–reminding me that I was the south end of a pack-mule heading north – I rounded the block, entered the garage again, and paid much closer attention to the signs. After parking – Wendi still lost in laughter at my expense – I locked up the car and headed to the hotel. My lesson learned, I made my mental notes and promised myself that I’d never lose focus like that again.

I should have remembered that promise when I reached the Indiana Brewer’s Guild, Craft Beer Winterfest at the State Fairgrounds. I had just entered the place the day before to cover the setup for the winter’s biggest night in craft beer, so I felt confident, that we would pull in, park, and get to the pouring tables with ease.

It turns out that only knowing a small quadrant of the Fairgrounds doesn’t qualify as “local knowledge” (growing up in a tiny farm town and currently living in a small college town doesn’t help, either), and in less than seven minutes I found myself jammed into the exit lane on the other side of the grounds. Extremely stressed and upset (I called upon God, his son, and I think the Holy Ghost as well), I eventually got myself turned around, pleaded out of paying another five-bucks to get back in, and…thankfully…parked the damn car.

Once inside the Champions Pavilion standing among a noisy mass of humanity all passionately ready to share our communal love for craft beer, my stress was assuaged. Here, over 100 breweries…most from the Hoosier state but a few good ones from places like California and Brooklyn, New York had assumed their spots, and thousands of happy Hoosiers stood in line after line waiting to enjoy what I would argue was (certainly from a beer-quality point-of-view) the best beer festival I’ve attended thus far.

Unlike the summer and late spring events, which are often laden with pale ales and almost every IPA a beer drinker could imagine, the winter festival offered a wide variety of porters, stouts, and a host of other malt-based brews.  A porter fan myself, I dove right in, hitting the nearest booth (FBI) and sampling their rendition of the classic English beer.  A bit sharper, with a touch more bite than I expected from a porter, I was nonetheless a tasty brew, and from there my night only improved. Basket Case’s “Busta” Nut Brown Ale, Oskar Blues’ “One Nut” Brown and “Hey Joe” coffee-tinged stout, Grand Junction’s Porter, Summit’s “Nitro” Oatmeal Stout, and Three Pints’ Chocolate Raspberry Stout were all personal favorites for me in the dark beer collection.  Furthermore, Chilly Water’s Dark Side of Munic gave me the rare opportunity to enjoy a craft Dunkel, a beer style I fell in love with when I once spent much of my time in the Rathskeller’s Biergarten.  Besides that array of quality dark beers, I also balanced my palette by sipping down the occasional golden ale as well, including Summit’s Sága IPA, Quaff On!’s delicious Hoosier Red IPA, an amazing Blueberry Ale from LaPorte’s Back Road Brewery, and Scarlet Lane’s Vivian Red…all excellent additions to my list.


The latter of those beers was particularly impressive not only because it was fantastic, and not only because I chased it with a sip of Wendi’s Dorian Cranberry Stout…it was the reaffirming long wait in line which may have been the most satisfying part of the sample.  In a very short length of time, SLB (as their shirt logos claim) has charged to the top of the craft brew scene. Granted, they get a lot of attention because of the presence of their dynamic and engaging front-person, Eilise Lane, but what really makes the brewery a testament to the astounding growth of the craft scene in Indiana is their end result: simply amazing suds.

Other highlights singled-out the night for me as well.  While waiting in line to reunite with Planetary’s excellent beers, Doug Goins, whom I had met and written about not long ago, approached me with an outstretched hand.  He welcomed Wendi and I to the booth, gave me one of the top porters of the night (this one mixed well with vanilla), and we enjoyed a lengthy conversation about Planetary’s continued growth and the state of beer making in the area. Writing my piece for Goins and his major business partner Andrew Groves has turned out to be a personal highlight in my career, and having the chance to share an after-publication moment with both of them was certainly a high point for me.
Another happy meeting took place when I returned to the Burn ‘Em Brewing booth, where the day before I was moved to the point of enchantment by the hard-working enthusiasm of two of the company’s owners.  After greeting Matt Zakrzewski once more, I told him to “surprise me,” and he flashed me his grin, headed for the taps, and turned back saying, “I’ve got one I really want you to try.” 

They called it “The Wrath of Pelé,” a dark beer that tasted just like an Almond Joy bar.  Even now, when I think about that sample, I still can sense its taste in my mouth.  It was, simply put, my personal favorite of the entire night, and my only regret is that festivals like these don’t offer a “Full-Pint Last Call” because that beer would have been my pick.

PictureThe younger Wheeler serving the elder Wheeler. A cool moment.

But my favorite moment of the evening had less to do with beer…yet everything to do with it as well. When I walked up to the Bloomington Brewing Company set up, I was served by my son, Jim.  The beer he gave me, Old Floyd, was fantastic.  In fact, BBC is one of the best breweries in southern Indiana.  Although it doesn’t market on the same scale as its larger competitors, it does produce a solid range of beers.  As I stood near Jim, enjoying my sample, I couldn’t believe how much had changed for us. Eleven months earlier, during a typically cold Indiana spring break in early, Jim and I traveled around the city hitting a string of breweries, taprooms, and brew-pubs.  That trip inspired me to start writing about beer. But for Jim, who was watching one brewer after another excitedly share the results of their work was with us, it fueled a desire to become one of them himself.  The full-circle effect almost a year later was palpable, and it marked the end of what has been for both of us a very trying yet extremely rewarding trip around the sun.

Pulling off 110-plus-booth event in the middle of a Midwestern winter (even a reasonably mild one) is never an easy task.  But The Brewers of Indiana Guild, in conjunction with staff of the Indiana State Fair and the volunteer help of the Hoosier Beer Geeks, hosted a perfect event.  It was crowded, it was noisy, and sometimes the lines were long.  But if you want craft beer in Indiana to continue to thrive, then that’s what you want to keep seeing.



No Comments
  • Tristan
    Posted at 13:17h, 05 February Reply

    Great writeup, Donovan. Love the story about/picture of your son serving you! And I’m glad you enjoyed the event overall so much–our team put a lot of effort into this one.

  • David Kessler
    Posted at 14:27h, 05 February Reply

    Phenomenal description of the event. Very cool to read about that moment with your son.

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