Electrification Day Brew Bash in Wabash Highlights Wealth of Indiana Craft Beer Choices When Plans Change

Electrification Day Brew Bash in Wabash Highlights Wealth of Indiana Craft Beer Choices When Plans Change

by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap

Everyone has weird days, there’s just no getting around it. You make a plan and then things get jumbled. Sometimes it’s a good change, sometimes you end up missing out. But no matter how weird your day goes, a weird day with craft beer is better than a weird day without craft beer. And when you tell the stories of Indiana craft beer as what passes for a living, most days involve craft beer. Therefore, weird is rarely bad.

Walter and I had a plan last Saturday (3/30), and some of it came off better than we ever imagined. A new-ish festival in Wabash turned out to be very nice and is something we will look forward to again. Then we learned of a short side trip, and we changed our plans. Then we got hit with a curve ball and had to change our plans twice on the fly. Finally, we abandoned our plan altogether and just had a nice beer and dinner. As far as craft beer goes, we’re lucky to live in a state that provides beer option no matter where you are or how your plans get changed.

Mid-morning Saturday we set out for the city of Wabash, Indiana to cover the Electrification Day Brew Bash. This festival benefits Heartland REMC customers and other Wabash County residents who are behind on their payments. That’s a good enough reason to have a festival and it fits in with their Electrification Day Celebration, but there’s more to it than that; there’s a good Indiana history story to be told.

The courthouse has a plaque commemorating the lamps that lit Wabash for seven months in 1881. image credit: The Street and the City

In the age of kerosene and gas lighting, a new boy came to the party in the 1800s. Sir Humphry Davy in England invented a new kind of battery in 1802 that used a connection that glowed as current passed through two carbon sticks that connected the cells. This was the birth of the electric light; the arc lamp specifically. This didn’t change the lives of the public at first. The light was improved over time, with new advancements through the decades. In 1874, Henry Woodward invented a carbon filament incandescent bulb that worked – sort of, but he eventually sold the patent to Thomas Edison. It was Edison in 1879 at his Menlo Park laboratory who invented the commercially viable incandescent bulb.

All of this has little to do with Wabash, Indiana. What does matter is that while much work was being done on incandescent lamps, there were also advancements made with electric arc lamp. Charles Brush (Cleveland, OH) of the Brush Electrical Company patented a new electric lamp and generator in 1879 and immediately commercialized it. Early in 1880, the city fathers of Wabash were looking for street lamps and found they could use the arc lamps of Brush for $800/yr. less than the incandescent lamps. They contracted Brush and he installed four arc lamps on the four sides of the courthouse dome that were 200x brighter than other lamps (38,000 lumens each, a 100 watt bulb is 1600 lumens).

On March 31st, 1880, 10,000 people crammed into a Wabash city that had a population of just 320. The generators were rev’d up by a threshing machine motor and lit the entire town at once, thus becoming the first US city to be completely electrically lit (just 4 months after Edison’s successful bulb experiment at Menlo Park). It was a huge success and Brush ended up with 80% of the street lamp business in America through that decade. Over time, he lost market to his direct competitor and his business was eventually folded into Edison’s General Electric. But by that time the role of Wabash was written in lights.

So the 2nd Annual Electrification Brew Bash is a celebration of this milestone, and is a good event for partnering with the Heartland REMC to raise money for Wabash County families trying to keep the lights on. Thirty-one percent of the tickets sales Saturday went directly to the charity project, and Heartland REMC did a raffle, took donations to raise additional money, and even matched all donations made that day.

Part of the crowd at Gallery 64 for the Electrification Day Brew Bash. image credit: Walter

The late March date and the weather made it very nice that this festival was held at two indoor locations right across the alley from one another. The Chapman’s Brewing Wabash Taproom served as check in spot and held many great brewery booths as well as the REMC booth, and then right out the back door was Gallery 64, a classroom space for the creative arts – jewelry making, art, and cooking.

The use of a second space to bring the city and festival closer together was a great idea. As the festival grows, more spaces in the immediate area can be brought in for even deeper relationship building. Over in the art and cooking gallery were even more breweries, and the cooking students made snacks available for a small charge in order that they could join in the fundraising.

A ticket for the festival included a t-shirt that publicized the festival and sponsors. This is an idea that I think should be implemented more often, if the festival can get the t-shirts for a decent price or donated. It advertises the festival all year long, it gives the sponsors something tangible for their money, and it raises awareness of the charity partner. The only downside is people carrying their t-shirts around all day, so maybe they can figure out a mechanism to get people their t-shirts as they leave instead of as they enter.

The beer at the festival was very good, indicating how strong this region is in the craft brew game. HopLore Brewing had their new NE IPA called Super Lemonhaze that will have its package release this weekend – a great hazy IPA with lemondrop and comet hops. 2Toms Brewing brought a key lime Berliner that will get them an invite to Sour Wild Funk Fest next year, and Bad Dad Brewing’s tart Mongo Beer was also very good. All the breweries were to be commended for their beer. Host Chapman’s had many beers (do the barrel aged RIOS if you have a chance), LaOtto had a nice saison that went toward the belgian end, GnomeTown Brewing’s Cole’s Smoked Porter was a stand out as always (look for a story about them soon), Hop River Brewing had a dry irish stout named after a Countess whose name I can’t spell, and we had a great conversation with co-owner Ben Jackson), Summit City Brewerks’ Mo Nelson Mo Problems had a ton of New Zealand hops , Kekionga Cider was there with their mango/pineapple cider, Orthocity had a big and bold new oatmeal stout, and it’s a good day anytime Mad Anthony brings their new Brut IPA.

Inside is Harry’s Old Kettle in Wabash. image credit: Walter

The MASH Fort Wayne homebrew club once again brought a couple of dozen beers that covered many styles, and the Huntington Beer Collective was also there pouring beer. I’m glad to see that more festivals are routinely bringing in home brewers (something I called for more than 2 years ago). In sum, the Electrification Day Brew Bash was very enjoyable and Walter and I look forward to returning next year to see how it grows – perhaps as many as 30 breweries could be at the next edition.

And this is where our day planner fell into the shredder. We were planning on heading straight back to Indy for Metazoa Brewing’s 3rd Anniversary Party and the Books & Brews‘ 5th Anniversary Party at the mothership, but Patrick Howard of Bad Dad Brewery clued us in to an after party at a location that we had never visited before – Harry’s Old Kettle. The fifty year old diner/bar has been a favorite of locals and visitors, and since 2013 when Harry and Judy Kilmer bought the establishment it has catered to the craft beer crowd as well as the cocktail crowd.

Many of the breweries at the festival brought kegs over to Harry’s for a great after party. We had some great food (we’re still smelling the smoked meats), some great beer – including Bad Dad’s new quad, and some great conversations. This turns out to be a venerable craft beer bar and restaurant and we’re glad we were turned on to it. We’ll be back again, and it won’t be very long from now.

After leaving Harry’s we started back to Indy, still with plenty of time to celebrate with all our friends at Books & Brews and grab a beer/pet a dog at Metazoa. We had our Books & Brews mugs in the car, so were ready to try out some La Cupacabranero, the smoked stout with habaneros and aged in whiskey barrels. But Mother Nature said, “Ha!” Our best laid plans were dashed to the pavement as we drove south and the snow started to pick up.

This was Walter’s first visit to Daredevil Hall, and my first time seeing the daredevil mural. By the way, he looks just like Walter’s father….really, he does. image credit: Daredevil Brewing

As we avoided Kokomo on the bypass, we decided that perhaps we should just pick one place to visit. It was slick and hard to see, so we decided that we would drive down to Metazoa, and if the weather got better, we could stop in a Books & Brews on Mass Ave. for a beer to help them celebrate. Besides, Walter really want to try Metazoa’s 3rd Anniversary Hazy DIPA with a ton of Australian hops.

Nope. Just about the time we got to Westfield, the snow picked up in intensity and the visibility was reduced even further; time for plan “C.” Walter was hungry, so we needed a beer to calm the nerves and some good food to soothe our souls because we were missing the anniversaries we had planned on attending. Daredevil Hall was on our way, so we pulled in and tried to stay dry as we ran in.

I had the First Noel Smoked Bock that has mellowed on the smoke with age, and Walter did the Go For Launch, the NEX series beer turned flagship. A hot sausage link later we lost the TV feed so we couldn’t watch the NCAA tournament; we toasted spring in Indiana and just headed home.

I managed to make a long day into a long story, but I think the takeaway idea is nice. We’re lucky in Indiana to have many choices for craft beer festivals and destinations. We have enough choices to change plans and finding something new, enough to have alternatives when plans are changed, and enough to have a close place for good food and beer in any situation. We may have had our agenda ruined by the weather, but we still feel beer-blessed.

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