Biggest Winterfest ever a celebration of Indiana Beer, Not without its complications

Biggest Winterfest ever a celebration of Indiana Beer, Not without its complications

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By Adam T. Schick for Indiana On Tap

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.


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Following that was Hoosier Brewing’s Pina Colada Stout, which tasted surprisingly like that candied coconut you get in a pina colada on vacation. Big Lug Brewing’s sour opened up with tart cherry flavors that then mellowed out to a chocolate/malty feel on the back end, and Tow Yard’s wheat ale aged in red wine barrels would be a welcome replacement to any actual red wine at your dinner table. And their new batch of Otis Redding? It clocks in at a hearty 11% now. Delicious.

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.




No Comments
  • Tommy
    Posted at 15:22h, 01 February Reply

    Giving the guild credit for all of the good is justified! It is also justifiable to give them shit for the bad. The guilds line about it being all about the brewers kept getting spouted on social media and the app. There are many different things the guild can do to make it about the breweries… but first it really has to be about the breweries.
    Some people with VIP Tickets didnt get in until 215-230pm. Why pay extra for the tickets. I know the guild uses volunteers, but it isnt very hard to train the volunteers to be efficient.
    Last years sample cups were pulled out of mothballs, brewers were asked if they had plastic cups to give to people that paid for tickets, and to beat all the firkin tent was a joke this year.
    The guild needs to step up and own the issues versus pumping out excuses and pissing off the brewers and people that allow them to continue their “Non-Profit” business. Maybe it is time for a change in the guild, or for a new guild!

  • Tristan
    Posted at 16:12h, 01 February Reply

    Thank you all for coming out. We truly appreciate your support of Indiana’s brewing scene.
    As with any of our events, there are definitely a number of things we can improve on for next year. We’ve noted all of the feedback, pro and con, and are already working to improve next year’s experience, as we do with all of our three annual festivals. We pride ourselves in throwing some of the best beer celebrations in the Midwest, and though they’ve grown through the years, we want to ensure they’re as good as ever.
    There were some logistics issues which we can smooth out fairly easily next time. Some of the gates did indeed have issues with wristbands, and we did run out of glass tasters. (Speaking of which, we’ll probably go back to plastic next year. And the plastic ones we used this year weren’t actually in mothballs, Tommy–I wasn’t sure if you were being literal about that, but want everyone to know they weren’t being stored in those chemicals.)
    Most Early Birds did get in on time, but we do know that some didn’t, and we apologize for that.
    We also know that we ran out of wristbands at pre-banding, which was more popular than we anticipated, so we’ll have plenty more lined up to go next time.
    The Cask Tent was crowded–possibly more popular than ever–and we’re already talking about ways to accommodate more fans there. This area is one of the most unique aspects of the event, and we want people to be able to enjoy it fully. (Personally speaking, it’s always been my favorite part of Guild festivals.)
    We’re also looking at ways to improve the flow of the fest overall–both when you’re first coming in, and once you’re in and sampling–and making sure there’s enough beer to go around. The taster cups were slightly larger this year, which is one reason why some beer ran out. We also sold more brewers’ tickets than anticipated, which was one reason for the larger crowd. However, we sold the same number of Early Bird and GA tickets as last Winterfest.
    Tommy, your concern about us focusing on our mission (or not, as it were) is justified, but we do honestly aim to fulfill the objectives in our mission (http://drinkin.beer/about/). Without the brewers, there would be no point for us to exist. Besides a few smaller initiatives, our support of the brewers is almost completely funded by these festivals, so we are dedicated to improving them and making them as fun and safe as possible for everyone involved. The money raised from our fests goes back into legislative and promotional efforts to support the industry and helps make things like the app (which is aimed at driving traffic to Indiana breweries), lobbying on behalf of the industry, and our annual Indiana Brewers Conference possible.
    We appreciate your attendance and constructive criticism and look forward to seeing you at future fests and at the breweries.
    Adam, you know how to get in touch with me, so any time you want to grab a beer, it’s on me. And Tommy, feel free to contact us through our website with further concerns, and I’ll make sure our team hears you. Our small staff of 3, our board of directors, and our volunteers all love Indiana beer and want to represent it as best we can, and we appreciate the feedback on how to do it even better.
    -Tristan Schmid
    Communications Director
    Brewers of Indiana Guild
    http://www.drinkIN.beer
    @drinkindiana

  • Chip Weaver
    Posted at 19:56h, 01 February Reply

    Adam, very nicely done article. You summed it up very nicely. My first Winterfest and possibly my last. All of the concerns mentioned can be corrected but I’m not sure I’m willing to make that gamble and see. I can spend my afternoon exploring any of the fine breweries in person versus battling a crowd. No need to repeat any of the commentary but I have faith that the Guild will address the issues and work to resolve them. Best of luck resolving things, the event is a good one and a few issues shouldn’t stop it’s success from continuing.
    Now on to some of what were my highlights. New Albanian never disappoints and Bob’s Old 15-B Robust Porter was worth the wait. Cedar Creek showed off an outstanding Double IPA. Bare Hands MOB Coconut Chocolate was all that the name states, but Bare Hands always steps up big when they approach the plate! And Rhinegeist’s Barrel Aged Panther left me craving for more. I’ve sampled many of Rhinegeist’s beers and I’ve never been disappointed but this one REALLY rang true for me. Nice to see the guys from Deviate show up with 2 new offerings that were both outstanding, despite Greg’s “wheel of fun”!

  • David
    Posted at 20:04h, 01 February Reply

    Nicely written. Thank you for keeping it honest. Sometimes I worry that Indiana On Tap focuses too much on the positives instead of some of the realities. You were spot on here, and I respect that. The event was over-sold and poorly managed. Let’s call it like we all saw it.

  • Kelly
    Posted at 23:00h, 01 February Reply

    My friend cut her foot on broken glass in the parking lot. Yeah.

  • Tommy
    Posted at 11:54h, 02 February Reply

    So, it is the breweries fault that it was oversold? But also, the fest is for the breweries… I am confused!

    • Tristan
      Posted at 12:20h, 02 February Reply

      Of course it wasn’t their fault–it was our bad for not managing the numbers more effectively. We want them to take part in the fests as much as possible.

  • Daniel
    Posted at 10:44h, 03 February Reply

    Crowded yes, but we had a great time talking while in the lines. Sure the event can be improved, but take it for what it is- a benefit. Thanks to all the volunteers.

    • John
      Posted at 07:08h, 09 February Reply

      “Take it for what it is – a benefit”? It’s not a benefit. If they didn’t do it someone else would. Stop accepting failure as the norm and demand better. We are the consumer and should be treated as such!

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