01 Feb Biggest Winterfest ever a celebration of Indiana Beer, Not without its complications
Bigger isn’t always better.
Many people who attended this past weekend’s Indy Winterfest 2016 will agree with that sentiment.
Let me preface this by saying that this year’s festival, the eighth annual, was the biggest one yet, and also the most Indiana-centric Winterfest by far. That’s pretty damn amazing, and the Guild deserves all the credit in the world for building a festival that is so large yet features that many Indiana breweries. It is a testament both to the longevity of this festival and the continued successes of the Indiana craft breweries we all know and love.
That being said, we have to talk about lines. I wasn’t the only one who noticed them, and if you check social media or the event’s official facebook page, you’ll see many people raising their concerns, as we found the lines to be longer and more chaotic than ever. Claims of VIPs not getting in until nearly 3:00, and GA lines running out of tasting glasses for paying attendees are problems that need to be acknowledged. The Guild claims they sold the same amount of tickets as last year, which could be true, but the noticeable difference in crowds between this year and last leaves me skeptical.
Also, glass tasting glasses are a bad choice, especially at a festival of this scale held on hard concrete floors. The last 30 minutes of my festival were spent picking glass shards from my boots, and the walkways outside where people were waiting for Ubers and sober drivers were littered with broken glass, creating a dangerous situation for anyone not wearing heavy boots. The Guild says they’re already exploring going back to plastic tasters next year, and I think that’s the right move.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about the brightest of bright spots: the beer. The amazing, different, experimental, sour, hoppy, malty, sweet, beers. I kicked off my day with Iechyd Da’s Breakfast Cookies stout infused with peanut butter and marshmallows. A perfect sweet and smooth blend of flavors, with a mouthfeel that resembled a marshmallow pulled right out of the fire for s’mores, that was then topped with a Reese’s cup. Fun things are happening up there in Elkhart, for sure.
Noblesville’s Deer Creek broke out their Bum’s Rush Barleywine, aged in eight year old Four Roses Barrels. I love the vanilla and bourbon notes in barrel-aged barleywines, and Deer Creek’s does not disappoint. The mole Mail Order Bride from Bare Hands was a definite standout, and a beer we continued to hear about from other festival attendees throughout the day.
Heading back to Iechyd Da for their Just IPA was a great choice, as this balanced IPA was a welcome break from all the sweet and smokey stouts. Right next to them was Upland, where friend-of-the-site Jon McNabb was popping open sours at will. I finally got my taste of their Cherry Lambic, and boy did it not disappoint. Keeping on the sour train, Sun King’s Velour Soccer Mom, a brett sour with raspberries and hibiscus, was delicious and another welcome break towards the middle of the day.
At 4:30 I finally made my way into the firkin tent, which was a big mistake. Halfway through the festival, nearly every firkin was gone!
Okay, I think that’s my fault. Congratulations to all the breweries who took a chance on these beers for this unique Winterfest feature. It obviously went over well.
At this point, I ran into my Yelp! friend Allison Fisher, who let me behind the booths at Area D for a behind the scenes look at Winterfest. The lines outside may have been hectic, but there is no rest behind the booths for volunteers and brewers alike. Delivering ice, switching kegs, dealing with the drunken masses – it is all taxing, and everyone involved deserves praise. From here, I got to sample some amazing Triton and Flat12 beers (did you see their outfits!?!) and hang with Mike and Greg at Deviate, where their line was all the way backed up against the wall and then some (deservedly so).
Sprinkled throughout the day was Bitches Bank from 18th Street, Boomerango mango IPA from Burn ‘Em, Westy from Bare Hands, as well as delicious offerings from Rhinegeist, an amazing red wine barrel-aged beer from Taxman, the Double BaconFace brown ale from Wabash Brewing (celebrating their 1st anniversary in style February 6th), the perfectly balanced Smoked Porter from TwoDEEP, and the It Was A Dark & Stormy Stout by Books & Brews.
Indy Winterfest, this year more than ever, is a celebration of all that makes Indiana’s craft beer scene what it is. The breweries really do show up for this one day a year to show why they deserve to be in the conversation of the best brewing scene around. This year was no exception, and hopefully the Guild listens to the critiques of the more technical side of the day to make next year’s festival even better.