01 Mar Craftbeer.com Names Deer Park Irish Pub in Fort Wayne as Best Indiana Craft Beer Bar for 2019
Craftbeer.com just released their list of best craft beer bars in the country for 2019 based on reader voting. Each state had a winner, with a total of over 7000 votes tabulated from December, 2018 to early January, 2019. Readers were asked to name their favorites and to tell why they are so great.
This year, nearly a third of the winners were first timers and Indiana fell into that category. Deer Park Irish Pub in Fort Wayne was named top beer bar for 2019. While this seemed to surprise owner Tony Henry and general manager Austin Eichhorn, it wasn’t a surprise to many other people. Fort Wayne has known about Deer Park for years.
This isn’t the first time Deer Park Irish Pub has won an award like this, in 2013 it was named Best Fort Wayne Bar by Fort Wayne Monthly. The bar opened way back in 1953, but Tony Henry purchased it about 21 years ago. Deer Park had/has a two way license, so Tony knew he was going to need a special hook to bring in customers who could go elsewhere to get specialty cocktails along with beer choices.
Tony’s entrance was just about the time that craft beer was beginning to emerge as different from mega-beer, and Tony saw that he needed to get on the better beer train. There wasn’t that much craft in Indiana at the time, or even nationally, so Tony turned to imports.
He started stocking import bottles, and slowly moved into the craft world as it expanded with the help of World Wide Beverage. He would buy from the best names around the country, quickly building a reputation for a good selection. Jacob Leinenkugel himself stopped by the bar and left a couple of signed paddles behind.
More recently changes have come in the form of more craft beer cans, and a new manager to lead the beer buying. Tony has taught in the Purdue University Fort Wayne Hospitality Management program and there he met a student name Austin Eichhorn. After graduating, Tony asked if wanted to come aboard with Deer Park, and now Austin hunts down the best of craft beer to put on draft or have in package for the patrons.
Austin scours the distributors’ and breweries’ pages and social media pages to see not only what is out, but what is coming soon. Because of this, he is able to get in some beers that others don’t know are out yet. It’s the key to building a great list, and has led to a strong and large selection. Deer Park has 13 taps filled with great beer, but perhaps most amazing, Austin told me that by this morning’s count they have 284 different bottle and can offerings.
But just having a good beer list isn’t enough to win the prize, so there must be more to Deer Park. They are located by the University of St. Francis, so they have college kids in, but their clientele spans young to old, and blue collar to professional. Tony knows that a major part of their success is that patrons like the community feel of the place; the 50 seats in the bar are filled with 50 friends, not customers. He told Craftbeer.com, “Deer Park is driven by the idea that a pub should be more than just a bar, but a place where people create memorable experiences. Ultimately, our real focus is on building community. We work to build a community of craft beer lovers within the bar.”
They have events like tap takeovers, St. Patty’s Day celebrations, and bands, but they also do things like Dancioke, which is exactly what it sounds like – a contest where patrons dance to music instead of sing to it. Tony hosts it under the name Tony Baloney, with 1st-3rd prizes for solos and couples alike. But there’s even more to why Deer Park is well loved enough to have the most votes and best comments.
Tony and Austin appreciate the artistry of craft beer; not just the product, but the packaging as well. That’s why they leave the bottle or can with the drinker after they pour it into a glass (always glass). They want the person to learn about the beer, the brewery, and the art by looking at, reading, and handling the package. It’s just another way to immerse them in the scene.
And as for the 13 draft lines, Tony and Austin don’t really want to expand on that number. They know that clean lines make for good experiences, and fresh beer is the way to go. They buy mostly half barrels because they go through beer so fast and because these are cheaper than sixtels – allowing them to get the customer a fresh beer, a rotating list, and pass on the savings to them as well in the form of a cheaper pint.
Deer Park sells to go beer to, passing on even more savings to the customer – it’s really this focus on their patrons that has made Deer Park number one in Indiana for this year. They may not get the most votes next year, but it won’t be because they have changed their ways – Deer Park has been pleasing people for many years, and they aim to be around for a lot more.
Fort Wayne has a lot of choices for craft beer, from breweries to off site taprooms, brewpubs, and bars. They have developed a reputation across the state, and having Deer Park Irish Pub recognized by a national entity doesn’t really surprise people anymore. Get out and visit Indiana’s craft beer establishments; you’ll learn to appreciate what we’re being offered, just as Tony, Austin, and Deer Park appreciate the people that keep coming back. It’s the connection that is the secret to winning.