28 Aug Double Thai Day and Beers Across the Wabash: A Festival for a Beer, and a Beer Festival
It’s many a Saturday that Walter and I hit two craft beer festivals in a single day, and we always look for ways to compare and contrast them. What has become apparent is the idea that every festival has a niche that it has learned to fill, so each one will have certain aspects that are unique to that particular festival. This past weekend, it was easier to find the differences between our two stops because they were two very different kinds of events, one a beer release party with guests, and the other as a community celebration of local craft beer. But what was interesting was how much they had in common – besides the great beer.
It was an early start on Saturday as we headed north from Indianapolis to Granger for Double Thai Day, a release party for Bare Hands Brewing’s imperial version of their Thai.P.A. This year, the release party was one of the last events of the inaugural Michiana Beer Week. Specials and unique tappings were to be had all over the north this past week, from Goshen west to Michigan City. Bleachers in Mishawaka had special tappings each night; basically it was a week-long craft beer party. The weather was hot and sunny most of the week, but Saturday turned cooler and grey – our kind of summer beer festival weather.
The drive up from Indianapolis was wet for 146 miles of our 148 mile trip, sometimes spitting and at other times a deluge (around Kokomo – Kokomo is a storm magnet), but when we turned on Princess Way – the rain stopped. It stayed gray with just a bit of a breeze the entire time we were in Granger and then followed us down to Lafayette, but the temperature was quite comfortable.
This was our second trip to Double Thai Day, and this one had some very interesting new developments. Cans might have been the biggest change. Double Thai and its many variants were canned this year for the first time. The logo this year with the elephants is particularly striking, and made for good labels and T-shirts.
As part of Michiana Beer Week there was a clone war for the Double Thai; several regional breweries did versions of the Thai.P.A., putting their own take on the idea of a thai beer. Goshen Brewing, Crooked Ewe Brewery, Evil Czech, South Bend Brew Werks, Heavenly Goat Brewing, and Burn ‘Em Brewing all made thai inspired beers of various styles. The attendees each got a tasting ticket for each of the beers and there was fan favorite voting until the end of the event.
My favorite was the Thai Gose from Crooked Ewe Brewery in South Bend. It was very ginger and lemongrass forward but the gose still had the tartness and salt of the standard style. I loved it – it didn’t win. Walter was a bigger fan of the I’ll Be The Same Thai from Burn ‘Em Brewing in Michigan City. This was also a tart beer made from wheat and fruited with pineapple, orange, agave and spices. It was a bit milder than the gose from Crooked Ewe and blew first, so she was sure it was going to win – it didn’t.
The winner was Goshen Brewing’s My Bare Hands are Thai’d, a New England IPA – surprise. With 414 entries at GABF this year, it looks like NEIPAs are here to stay. The other beers were good too, and reflected Thai flavors to greater or lesser degrees, including the peanut milk stout with habanero from Evil Czech. I had nearly a pint and my mouth is just now starting to calm down.
Down the way from the Thai inspired breweries’ tent was the merchandise tent where people could pick up their allotment of Double Thai cans, if they purchased that ticket. By the looks of all the people carrying cases back to their cars, a lot of people went that direction. In between were the tents with the Bare Hands and guest beers.
Each guest also received a complimentary ticket for a pour of one of a Bare Hands or guest beer, and extra tickets were on sale just down the way; we bought extra tickets for sure. The Double Thai and variants were again excellent, perhaps a bit sneakier this year; either that or I just don’t taste the alcohol anymore. Our favorite of the day for the Double Thai variants were the Thai Coconut Chocolate Stout (the DDH Double Thai is always great), but perhaps our winner for Bare Hands beer in general was Braintree Way DDH NEDIPA.
All the guest taps were excellent as well. HopLore, Burn ‘Em, New Day, Funk Factory (the Meerts could have been one of our favorites, but we had the Oude Geuze Boon Black Label on Friday night), there were a bunch of great beers on for the afternoon. Live music from Robert Rolfe Fedderson & the Beer Hippies and others helped the afternoon along, as did the BBQ and the sausages (the potato hash was stunning). I think all of these contributed to the fact that this festival turns out to be something like an industry day each year.
It was great to see so many brewery folks and catch up with what’s going on. Tyler Hutchison, late of Elm Street, was there, as was Holly Cole of New Day and Chris and Monica Knott of Flix Brewhouses. Joe Hull from HopLore, several of the Burn ’Em guys, Mark Alstott of Mossberg and Co. (beverage canning)…… heck Corey Patterson of Brokerage Brewing was there and his brewery was pouring at our second stop of the day in Lafayette! There was lots of good socializing to be had, but perhaps it says something just a bit more. You can probably put your trust in a festival that draws brewery people on one of their very few days off. If you didn’t go this year, keep that in mind for next year – this is a festival that brewers like to attend.
About 3pm we had to jump in the car and head down to Lafayette, but the party carried on in Granger until early evening. We arrived at the John T. Myers Pedestrian Bridge about half way through the 7th Annual Beers Across the Wabash. In contrast to Double Thai Day, this was primarily a fan’s beer festival and a couple of things pointed in that direction.
But more important, we found several characteristics that tied these two festivals together – like the brewery T-shirts. Both festivals had a surprising number of people with T-shirts from festivals or breweries, and I know because I am always on the look out for them. I wore a Fremont Brewing T-shirt (Seattle, WA) on Saturday and I fit in at Double Thai Day. There were shirts from Stone, Angry Chair, Cigar City, and many others in Granger, and the number was superseded by Lafayette (it was a much bigger festival) but the choice of shirts was very different.
Beers Across the Wabash was a more local kind of festival, and the T-shirts reflected that. There were Crasian Brewing shirts, Kopacetic Beer Factory shirts, People’s Brewing shirts, etc… my Fremont shirt got mostly blank stares, not knowing nods or someone asking me if I had a chance to try The Rusty Nail. But who cares, this was a different festival, even if it did have a lot of commonalities to the other festival of the day.
Another of those commonalities was the weather. It’s not a secret that many people wait to see what the weather will be like before they buy a ticket. Seven days out, there were equal chances that Beers Across the Wabash would be rained on hard or that it could be 95 degrees and humid as a Jacuzzi. Neither happened, and I think walk up sales were the better for it. It was cloudy too a great degree, and got just a bit warm. Yes, I was sweating a bit…..but if we think back to Fermentation Celebration in July – I’m so glad it wasn’t sunny and 98 degrees.
Is there more we can glean about organizing a festival from the walk up ticket phenomenon? For one thing, waiting for walk up sales drives organizers crazy. Festivals often run at barely a break even pace, especially those put on locally or by a single brewery, so early ticket sales are forever a source of angst, waiting for the late rush and walk up sales to make everything OK. If you want to be a benevolent craft beer fan – buy early and hope for the best.
There is one last commonality between our two festival visits on the 24th, but first let’s talk a bit about Beers Across the Wabash. The crowd was great, a very enthusiastic group (including a person or two that had to be helped home). Walter also noted that Lafayette had a very diverse crowd, more women than average for a festival, and more African Americans and Asians as well. Was this a function of it being a college town – maybe, I just hope it is an indicator that the status quo is changing a bit.
We also noticed at Beers Across the Wabash that some breweries that rarely pour at festivals chose to make an appearance. This included Crasian Brewing in Brookston. Michele and Tom Bulington had made the decision to spend their first year on turning the taproom into a success, but this was a close enough festival that pouring sense for them. Likewise, Black Acre was there pouring, including that alfalfa hay kvak beer called Stormblast. Sound weird, yes it is, but it’s also fantastic. Ironwood came down from Valpo to pour and Half Moon came over from Kokomo, but perhaps the most interesting was Brugge Brasserie from Broad Ripple.
Brugge doesn’t pour often at all, but they brought a beer that was perhaps my favorite of the day, the Diamond Kings of Heaven wild ale. This was made more than a year ago now, but they hold some kegs back for special occasions – I guess this was one. I loved this beer, good and sour, but still with a malt backbone and some funk. There were great beers from Backstep and Shoreline and several others, but this stuck in my head as we drove home.
So, what was that last commonality between our two stops on the 24th – and be warned, I’m about to rant a bit. Beers Across the Wabash was the last event of the Greater Lafayette Craft Beer Week. They had specials and activities at many breweries through the week, including a bicycle pub crawl on Monday. It was a great week and many people were cued into how the Lafayette craft beer scene has grown. This paralleled the fact that Double Thai Day was the finish of Michiana Beer Week.
We love the idea of beer weeks. They just smack of community, and that’s what craft beer is all about. It brings patrons into closer contact with craft beer producers and providers in a way that working individually can’t do, and it’s just so dang true – the rising tide raises all boats. Craft beer has learned that lesson so much better than craft spirits or wine – working together and seeing each other as competitor/partners (thanks to Mike Layman for that term, it’s very appropriate) is so much more helpful to everyone in the industry.
So why doesn’t Indianapolis have a craft beer week? Indianapolis, a metropolitan area with nearly sixty breweries, doesn’t have a beer week. We’ve got pizza week, burger week…heck, we just finished wings week! But there’s no incarnation of a beer week in Indy. We need to work on that. Indy Beer Sleuth pointed out last year that of the 33 most populace US cities, only Indy and Detroit didn’t have craft beer weeks. So what’s up with that?
We could do a week leading up to Microbrewers Festival or Winterfest, but what about a new, sixty brewery festival in April or October as the final event of a week devoted to the greatness of Indy beer? Sounds like a natural to me. Ok, so here endeth the rant.
Final thoughts on our weekend – heck I didn’t even talk about the great Tasting Society Marketplace Members Event or huge bottle share we attended Friday night, but our Saturday was very memorable. First we had great discussions with industry folks in Granger and wonderful Thai beers both from Bare Hands and local breweries. Then we had great discussions with craft beer fans and more local breweries in Lafayette. Both festivals finished off craft beer weeks, both had better weather than expected, and both had crowds that were happy to be there, one with lots of industry and one with enthusiastic locals. In all, a great day.