Doubling Up at At First City Brew Fest and Columbus Craft Beer Fest: Your Breweries Work Hard for You

Doubling Up at At First City Brew Fest and Columbus Craft Beer Fest: Your Breweries Work Hard for You

by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap

Another Saturday (May 18th) and another couple of festivals for Walter and I – we’re lucky people. The observation that overarched the festivities this past weekend was appreciation for the breweries that come to festivals. The point was made obvious during our trip because we saw no fewer than six breweries at both of the festivals we visited! What it takes to attend a festival is daunting for a brewery, and doing two on the same day at the same time is more than twice as hard.

We, as craft festival attendees, sometimes forget how much our breweries go through to pour for us at festivals. Here – I’ll refresh your memory. They 1) figure out if a festival is good for them to attend (money-wise, location-wise), 2) find people to man the booth and find the money to pay them, 3) leave early in the morning to go to the brewery and gather all the necessities, and then drive to the festival.

Once they are there, they 4) haul everything to the booth site and set up the booth and jockey box, 5) deal with the weather, 6) deal with foam, CO2, and pressure issues, 6) smile and talk to everyone (this is actually a thing, some beer slingers have told me that they really don’t want to talk or be around people after a festival), and 7) deal with everyone asking what your highest ABV beer is (not everybody can talk intelligently about beer).

image credit: First City Brew Fest

Finally, they have to navigate 8) running out of beer, 9) breaking down and driving everything back home, and 10) clean everything and put it away before going home (or somewhere to get a beer). This is a lot to do for an endeavor that usually results in the brewery losing money. Yep, breweries pretty much lose money on every festival they attend. And here we have breweries attending two in the same day (or even more than that).

Therefore, with the idea in mind to thank the breweries for coming to the festival, our first stop was in Vincennes for the inaugural First City Brew Fest. The turn out was amazing for a first year festival. The “first” in the name doesn’t refer to the inaugural year of the beer party, it alludes to Vincennes being the first city of Indiana. Founded in 1732 by the French military, Vincennes was a military post for the protection the fur trapping territory upriver on the Wabash from the British. Then the area switched to agriculture and was permanently settled, becoming the first city of Indiana.

Forty-seven years later, the city earned recognition during the Revolutionary War, becoming the largest piece of land conquered by the Americans (the taking of Fort Sackville) by George Rogers Clark and his force of American guerillas. The George Rogers Clark Memorial in Vincennes is the largest memorial outside of Washington DC, and makes Vincennes one of only three American cities with a national park within city limits. Vincennes was the first city in the state, the first capitol of the state, and had the first newspaper, bank, and medical society.

That explains the First City name – now for the festival itself. Vincennes residents Tyler Simmons and Geoffrey Goodwin are craft beer fans and home brewers; they were looking for a hometown brew fest. Tyler told me, “We wanted to do this festival because we wanted to start a brewfest for our area.  SWIRCA brewfest in Evansville is a great festival, but we wanted something in the Vincennes area.”

The day and crowd at First City Brew fest were amazing. image credit: Walter

For an inaugural event, the Tyler and Geoffrey made a lot of good choices. The venue (the Vincennes French Commons in between the Indiana Military Museum and the George Rogers Clark Memorial) was huge – big enough for an expansion of the festival in years to come. There was ample parking, the layout was spread out enough to allow the breeze to come through and give people room to move, and the amenities (food, music, vendors) were good choices. Funds were procured through ticket sales for the 3 Nails Project, the charity partner of the festival. Bob Morrison from 3 Nails has built this enterprise from the ground up, and now they have many different causes with which they work, from national disaster relief to local food pantries.

Both Tyler and Geoffrey are home brewers, so the home brewing competition was a large part of the festival. Attendees could vote for their favorite brewers, and there were several to choose from. First place was awarded to Buffalo Trace Brewing ($500 Visa gift card). Their Class A’ Sass, a sassafras wood aged beer, and Persimmon ale were fan favorites. Second place went to Nettles Brewery ($300 gift card) and third was won by Kevin Brown ($100 gift card). Interestingly, Jeff Trimble of Buffalo Trace Brewing said he never wants to make brewing a job, he just wants to keep it fun, a hobby. On the other hand Chris and Eric of Nettles Brewing said that the ultimate goal is to open a brewery some day; so good brewers can view their craft beer through different prisms.

Six breweries we talked to and drank from at First City Brew Fest we also saw later in the day at Columbus. Some, like Quaff On!, Ash & Elm, and Mad Anthony were represented by their distributor at Vincennes and had brewery staff on the jockey boxes at Columbus Craft Beer Fest, our second stop of the day. Others, like Sun King, Carson’s, and Switchyard had their teams at both venues. St. Benedict’s Brew Works was planning to be at both festivals, but staffing issue emergencies made it possible to go only to Vincennes. It just reiterates the fact that going to festivals is difficult for breweries, never mind doing two festivals in a single day.

Sun King brought along Marty, their 13 foot tall piñata logo for the Panchanga Mexican Lager. This was a great visual for the day, but the beers were even better. Sun King’s Rum Barrel aged Touched by an Angel was a standout, as were the Burn Them All DIPA from Vince and St. Benedict’s, the Virtue in a Locket from hometown Vincennes Brewing, and the Sherbet Fusion Gose from the home brewers called Experimental Error Brewing.

The crowd was great at Columbus Craft Beer Fest – they had been waiting for over a year for this one to come back. Image credit: Walter

We enjoyed talking to all the brewers and distributors, including Chad Lewton of Craftroads Beverage and David Porter from Terre Haute Brewing Company. The entire festival was extremely well run and a great success with over 600 attendees. Tyler stated that, “We would consider this first fest as our learning curve.  This is the first event we have ran on our own, and we just hope everything goes well!  We are kind of coming in blind and have never seen a brewfest from the other side of the table.  A success would be that people have a great time and get to enjoy a handful of beers and hopefully tell their friends about the event, so we can grow the festival to be one of the largest in Southern Indiana.” We look forward to seeing how this festival will grow next year.

With the sun shining and breeze blowing, we headed east to the Columbus Craft Beer Fest, back after a 2018 hiatus. This is also a very well organized fest, as witnessed by the smooth entry of folks were told about (we didn’t arrive until a couple hours of the festival were in the book), and by the volunteers tossing out bottled water to attendees to make sure everyone stayed hydrated. Columbus Craft Beer Fest was originally organized by a group of Columbus residents acting as a 501c3, but has now been handed over to ZwanzigZ Pizza & Brewing and headed up by the more than capable Caroline Letzel with advice and guidance from the original organizers.

The gorgeous venue for the event was again the Mill Race Park and the park itself is one of the beneficiaries of the charitable donation made by the festival. The organizing committee earmarked funds for several Columbus causes, including the Just Friends Adult Day Care Services for people that have Alzheimer’s and Dementia and Turning Point Domestic Violence Services. With the breweries forming a semi-circle around the pond and the amenities to the outside, all the attendees had everything at their fingertips.

Some of the beers were already gone since we arrived late, but we found many people and beers that satisfied the soul. Wayne Patmore of Carson’s Brewery brought out the last keg of his Dragon Breath, a porter aged for five days in a Tabasco barrel – it hadn’t mellowed from last summer’s debut. This was a special treat for the Columbus patrons because he didn’t have it in Vincennes. We also met up with the Switchyard Brewing folks for the second time of the day. At Columbus they had the six-tap jockey box, but at Vincennes Jeff Hall was using the three-tap box that he recently built for their smaller events.

While we didn’t get to try all the beers/breweries of the day – Hoosier Brewing was out of beer by the time we arrived (including the Kiwi Pineapple Splash that several people raved about) – we did get some wonderful samples. Standouts for Walter included the Complexity Amplifed from 2Toms in Fort Wayne, a west Coast IPA dry hopped like and East Coaster and fermented with kveik yeast. I very much liked the Corporate Cake sweet stout with chocolate, coconut and vanilla from Jason Cook at Rock Bottom, while the Hiss strawberry and tea infused cider from Friendly Beasts Ciders in Bloomington was definitely a fan favorite.

The bottle share at Dark Lord Day is epic. image credit: Homebrew talk

We also got a chance to try many of the home brewed beers from the clubs Indiana Brewer’s Union, Bloomington Hop Jockeys, and Columbus Area Classic Alers. Both festivals of the day were smart to feature home brew, and more festivals are including home brewers as part of craft beer events. Look for home brew to be present at most of the festivals throughout the summer and to take the starring role at the Homebrew Palooza on June 22nd at Grand Junction Brewing’s Taproom in Westfield.

It was nice to see six breweries at the two events we attended Saturday, but they weren’t the only breweries doubling up that day. Taxman Brewing was representing at both Columbus and at another event you may have heard of – Dark Lord Day. Co-owners Nathan (newly minted President of the board for the guild) and Leah Huelsebusch were there for the Brewers of Indiana Guild and Drink In beer at Three Floyds annual beer release/festival/bottle share/music bacchanalia. Sun King Brewing was pouring at Dark Lord Day too, which made it three for them on Saturday.

Walter and I haven’t attempted Dark Lord Day before, although friends of ours tell us it’s a good time. The music is a bit boisterous for us, and pictures show what can happen to you if you over-indulge. I think we would enjoy the festival and the bottle share, but we aren’t into trading and reselling beer, so the Dark Lord bottles and variants hold less intrigue for us. Should we go? – you tell us. Whichever way it goes, the take home message for the day is to appreciate what breweries and organizers do to put on these events, and how much work it is for breweries to attend a craft beer event. Make sure to thank them for showing up and being nice; it’s a long day for them.

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