26 Jun A Bottle Release, a Home Brew Fest, and a New Taproom Kitchen – Quite the Saturday
Walter and I have a special place in our hearts for home brew festivals. No one tries harder to make a good product in less than perfect conditions, yet has more trepidation about letting strangers try their beer and tell them what they think. The rare home brewer relishes feedback and has enough experience to explain the in and outs, but most just really like making beer in a community of people that like to do the same thing.
We have done alot with Circle City Zymurgy here in Indianapolis, and many of their brewers are experienced at pouring their beer for festival attendees or having their beers judged in competition, but Walter and I were looking recently to branch out to other groups to see how they approach home brewing and what they think about when allowing others to drink their beer.
To that end, Jason Rich of the Kosciusko Kettleheads Club invited Walter and me to their 8th Annual Home Brew Fest this past Saturday in Winona Lake. This seemed liked a great idea to try some new home brew, so we set about designing a day that allow us to see some new things across the north half of the state and take in this particular festival in the evening.
Our first stop of the day was the opposite of having some home brewers allow people to try their beer for the first time. We made our way to Merrillville for the Heaven’s Court Release Day at The Devil’s Trumpet Brewing Company. This was the fourth annual party for the release of their Russian Imperial Stout, a fork and knife beer if there ever was one. The back lot was set up with both family and 21+ areas, and the food trucks from Leroy’s Hot Stuff and Lawney’s BBQ over to the side.
Bottles of the 2018 Heaven’s Court were for sale in the front of the building as 4-packs, while the Double Cherry Deee-Lite was sold in bombers. Around back were the tap trucks were pouring the special tappings for the day. I tried this year’s version of Heaven’s Court right off the bat, followed closely by the 2017 version which they also had on tap. We found the 2018 to be a bit boozier, have far less chocolate, but still had a bigger mouthfeel than the ’17 version. Both were good, I think we both preferred the ’18.
With the Surfaholics playing right next to the pour tents, we hovered in some shade and kept turning in token for more beers. We met a great guy from Valparaiso with whom we discussed the Barton’s 1792 rack house collapse (he had a bourbon T-shirt on), and we met a couple doing the long distance dating thing, with her in Carmel and he up north.
Walter’s Metazoa Brewing T-shirt was intriguing to the young lady and she wanted to know more about them. We explained the philosophy of the brewery and talked about the medals they have been winning, and several other people joined in the conversation, saying they had visited or heard of them. That pointed out two things to me – all the T-shirts and the talk meant that The Devil’s Trumpet event drew many knowledgeable fans, and that Metazoa is blowing up.
In all, we tried seven beers from the list of 21 special tappings and of course Walter had to have a My Ghetto, she can never pass up My Ghetto. We also tried the DT Pilsner, a recent edition sent out in 12 oz. cans. The beer is clean as can be, another example of craft beer making light lagers better than mega-beer, and the can label is interesting, but the absolute antithesis of the Heaven’s Court Label.
The canning of a pilsner is just one aspect of the recent big expansion of The Devil’s Trumpet. In late 2017 they opened a building in Hobart with a 25 bbl brew house, and they have a 7 bbl brewhouse for small batches and one offs. This beats the heck out of the 3 bbl system they had been using. The Devil’s Trumpet plans on exceeding 1000 barrels this year, more than triple their previous year’s output, and they have capacity for much more. With this added capacity, it’s no wonder they are canning, expanding distribution, and still have 21 different beers to tap on a Saturday afternoon.
About the middle of the afternoon we got back in the car and drove to Winona Lake for the Kosciusko Kettleheads Home Brew Fest. It was about hour trip, but we lost an hour on the way, so we got there just as the VIP line was forming. It was amazing to see how many people came out to drink home brew. Especially for a club that doesn’t really seek the limelight.
Jason Rich explained to Walter and I that he started the club in 2010 after the birth of his fourth child. With that much going on at home, it was impossible to keep driving to Fort Wayne to meet with the MASH homebrew club. The first meeting drew many attendees, but a good percentage of them were expecting a class on how to brew beer rather than a club, so the Kosciusko Kettleheads grew slowly that first year. Jason knew there were home brewers in the area, it was just a matter of getting the word out to them.
That next year the Kettleheads established the Home Brew Fest in order to reach out to more home brewers. This year’s iteration was the 8th, and it is really the only time they get out to show off their beer to the public. Jason explained that members of the club are really about making, enjoying, and sharing beer, so they don’t enter competitions or seek out beer festivals at which to pour. I thought this might be his personal philosophy, but as I talked to more and more of the club members, they backed up his claim and several added that this 8th annual event was the first at which they were pouring.
All the members we talked to said that they just like making beer. They understand the styles and the characteristics, but don’t want to be bound by them, so things like Indiana Brewers Cup or National Homebrewers Competition just don’t interest them. That being said, we had some very “to style” beers on Saturday – of course we also had some beers that were out there, style wise.
The festival had a VIP table with some high ABV beers, although Jason told us that they weren’t really the beers they planned on serving. Most of the big beers were so good that the members of the club drank them all in the weeks before the festival. No matter, what they did serve was good and interesting, including a dandelion wine with a quart of heads/gallon and spiced stout that just begged to enjoyed with Christmas pudding.
As we moved around under the large tent at Garden Park near the lake, we met Bob List, serving his pale ale called Yardwork. The name comes from the fact that all the hops for the beer were harvested from the trellis in his back yard. He is a photographer by trade, and another photographer told him that hops make a good background for photos, so he planted some. Of course, he was already making beer by that time; he’s been brewing since 1975, longer than most of the other brewers have been alive.
We also met Brian Kincaid (the Kettleheads should make a beer called Too Many Brians, everywhere we turned we ran into someone named Brian). He’s been brewing since 2013, but Saturday was the first time he poured at the festival. He knew of the club and having the Kettleheads close by was the impetus to get him started. As far as we’re concerned, his Funky Munkey Saison is an indication that he should definitely keep brewing.
There were brewers doing all extract kit beers, brewers doing all grain, several doing partial mashes, and more than a few making meads, melomels, and ciders. Walter found an IPA called Demon from Brian Larrew, who has been brewing for only a year. Nevertheless, his all grain system produced a great beer, and Walter dropped her token in his jar to vote for Demon as the best beer of the festival.
I, on the other hand, had a harder time voting. Jason Rich’s rauchbier (called I’m Like Sam the Butcher – he names all his beers after Beastie Boy lyrics) was very good, although he knew it would appeal to few. He told me, “A lotta people are going to dump this beer out right in front of me, but that’s OK. If everyone loved it, I’d be going back to the drawing board.”
In the end though, I voted for a Scottish Ale called Ugly Tartan by Daren Deffenbaugh. He scorched the heck out of the wort as it went into the kettle, giving him some amazing caramelization and good impression of peat-smoked malt – it was a good looking beer that drank way to easy. The votes were spread out amongst many beers by the time Walter and I took off, the nearly 300 people at the festival had some definite personal opinions about what had come out the best. In the end, Aaron Winey’s pomegranate sour was named the winning beer, while Mike McGuire’s Purple Rain cider was named best non-beer. Congratulations to everyone who poured, it just proves again why home brew festivals are great.
For us, we were happy to meet a bunch more home brewers and find a club that has a philosophy different than those we have encountered before. We’ll be following these brewers to see if one or more them decides to starting brewing commercially. Meanwhile, our day wasn’t quite over – we had one more stop to make.
As we dropped down south back toward Indy, we passed through Wabash. This is a quaint college town with a gorgeous old-timey downtown. Amongst the old buildings is Chapman’s Brewing – Wabash, a taproom with plans to brew a little beer – until Saturday came along. This was the day that The Berg Ale Haus (a restaurant in Huntington) opened a kitchen in Chapman’s. The place was packed, and the smell of the sausages, sandwiches and other food wafted out into the street, drawing in more patrons.
The sacrifice of a small brew house space in favor of food seems to have been a good decision. The bar manager said that on nights when there isn’t a concert at the Honeywell Center or a happening downtown, there are several people in the taproom, but nothing like Saturday. For all you aspiring brewery owners out there – having food is a huge draw. We knew it before, but our visit to Chapman’s just drove the point home.
Our real purpose for stopping was so that Walter could see the town, see how Chapman’s fits in to the downtown landscape, and of course to get some of the blueberry blonde that was released that night. People were walking out with two or more growlers of that beer besides all the pints being poured at the bar – so I recommend hurrying up if you want to try it. I also wanted to say congrats to Chapman’s for the gold medal they won for their Valiant Stout at the Can Can Awards a week ago.
Having paid our respects to Jerod Agler and Scott Fergusson and the rest of the Chapman’s crew, Walter and I headed back down to Indy, thoroughly satisfied that we had experienced three varied but purely Hoosier parts of craft beer in one day. One brewery is expanding fast and expanding their fan base, a home brew club where members make beer for the love of the craft and don’t think about winning awards or building breweries, and then a growing brewery that is focusing on both expanding via distribution and off site taprooms, but is still looking to provide the entire experience to their patrons by foregoing more beer in favor of a kitchen. Indiana craft beer has it all.
Walter’s Words of Wisdom – The rinse water for festivals should be pure water. Too much chlorine or other minerals can throw off the flavor of your next beer.