26 Aug Every Craft Beer Festival is Actually Two Festivals, as Illustrated by Double Thai Day and Beers Across the Wabash
Types of Festivals. Craft beer festivals take several forms. There are festivals put on by breweries for a specific purpose, perhaps for a release (Death & Taxes Day at Taxman Brewing), an anniversary (Windmill Brewing’s 4 year party with 21 brewery guests), or to highlight some special form of beer they work in (Sour Wild Funk Fest from Upland Brewing).
There are also festivals run by third party groups to highlight a city or community (Savor Lebanon or Munster Ale Fest), to raise money for a cause (Red, White & Brew Fest last weekend), to promote beer (GABF or the Brewers of Indiana Guild festivals), or to make a profit (Bacon and Beer Classics around the US). Finally, there are festivals that not craft beer-centered, but have a craft beer portion that is large enough to be used for marketing. These might include things like Wedgestock (primarily a music festival) from Wedgewood Brewing or Indy Pies & Pints for Arts for Learning in March.
These three types of festivals all came together in Indiana this past weekend (Aug. 24). Walter and I did a tour of the north half of the state, first stopping at Double Thai Day put on by Bare Hands Brewing in Granger, then to Lafayette for Beers Across the Wabash, and finally we stopped at the Indiana Bacon Fest and visited their craft beer garden. Therefore, we visited one festival put on by a brewery with guests, one put on by Friends of Downtown to support craft beer in the area, and one that was focused on something other than craft beer. They were all very enjoyable and showed off exactly what they were designed to show off, but in a way we actually saw six festivals on Saturday, the three that ticket buyers experienced, and the hidden festival at each venue.
The Hidden Festival. When the public buys tickets to a craft beer event, they expect certain things – beer being a big one. But they also expect a few amenities, things to enhance their day, and they expect to have a good social experience. They might speak to people they meet there, and they may see some people they have met before (depending on how many craft beer events they frequent). But mostly, they dance with the people they came with. You socialize with the group with whom you attended the festival.
Attendees can and should interact with the people pouring the beer. These often are brewery personnel, but they might also be distribution representatives or even volunteers. True, volunteers often don’t know as much about the beer, but you can learn about them, perhaps about the charity partner for the festival, or even about why they chose to volunteer. These interactions, and what you learn about the beer you drink are the major ways you grow from what the festival provides you.
However, on the other side of the tables there is another event taking place. The brewers and brewery personnel are serving you beer, but they’re also interacting with their brethren in the industry. Brewery folk work a lot, I’ve always said that these are the people who have the least amount of time to visit breweries and drink other peoples’ beer. But at these festivals, they get to see their friends, try something new and perhaps have their creative juices stimulated, and do some socializing – important because brewing is also a solitary game most of the time.
There is some interaction between the front of the table and behind it, especially if you visit a lot of festivals and/or have a local brewery at which you’re a regular and you know everyone, and in these interactions, you’re likely talking about beer. But behind the scenes with the brewers, there might be beer talk, personal catching up, professional questions, or just plain goofing around (they like to bring squirt guns). Breweries and personnel often have some beers held back that they may give away or trade, but in large part, it’s about being able to talk to people in situations similar to their own.
Not everyone knows everyone since they can’t get out very much, so brewers also take this chance to meet other brewers, sales rep.s, and beer slingers. At large festivals they may get to talk most with the people in the adjacent booths, but they should also have some time to wander around and try beer from other places and get to know the producers.
There you have it, two festivals are going on at once; each geared around craft beer, but one from within the industry and one from without. The 24th of August showed us these two inter-related events going at each of the three very different festivals we attended. Here’s what we saw, experienced, and tasted:
The 5th edition of Double Thai Day. Thai P.A. from Bare Hands Brewery is an iconic beer in Indiana. It was introduced in 2010 and was an early entry into the exotic flavors that are now common in beers. Then, in 2015, Double Thai was produced as a limited edition imperial version of the beer. Add in some variants over the years and switch from big bottles to cans, and you have the 2019 Double Thai Day release party and festival.
It’s an all day affair in Granger, with games, live bands, food trucks, and guest breweries that come out to help Bare Hands (and us drinkers) celebrate. This year Walter and I had beers from a half dozen or so of the dozen breweries there – not samples but big pours depending on which of the three tiers the beer was listed in. There wasn’t a miss among the beers we tried.
Of course we did the Thai P.A. and the Double Thai, but there was also the double dry hopped version of the Double Thai, and the Thai Haze version. My personal favorite, and pretty much the best beer I had all day was the Thai Session, having the eastern flavors of lemongrass and lime leaf along with raspberries and mango, giving a crisp summery ale – I don’t think I could do more than a dozen pints of that in a row.
The music was also great, from blues to rock to rap. The crowd increased all afternoon, and people danced and had a great time. But there was also that behind the scenes festival, the one that becomes visible when you are familiar with a good number of the people who make and sell the beer. Eric Foust of Bare Hands was everywhere making sure the day was going off as planned, but he still had time to talk with lots of people.
Steve Lowe from South Bend Brew Werks was there and we talked for quite a while. We got to meet his new assistant brewer Erin. It was her beer we tried on Saturday, the Thunder Thais milk stout with black tea, star anise, cardamom, and coconut – though young, Erin is already an accomplished brewer. Joe Hull and Stefan King were there from HopLore Brewing and they brought a beer called The Safe Word is Mai Thai. They spent the day in front of and behind the tables, talking to Jordan Southwick from 2Toms Brewing, Bryan Corey and others from Evil Czech Brewery, Corey Patterson from Brokerage, and McKinley Minniefield from 450 North.
We spent some time with Rachel from Black Acre Brewing (they brought Bane of Odin, a great farmhouse ale). She and the twins were there, interacting with people from several breweries. I don’t pretend to be part of the industry group since I don’t make or sell beer, I just observe and comment from the outside. But it was nice to notice that even though this was sort of a workday, it also seemed to be a fun time for them. This festival is always a great time, and it is one that drinkers and breweries both look forward to each year.
Beers Across the Wabash. We then headed down to Lafayette and the John T. Myers Pedestrian Bridge for this year’s Beers Across the Wabash. All the local breweries from around the great Lafayette area were on hand to pour for more than a thousand enthusiastic beer fans. I’ve said it before and it’s still true, this festival has more different brewery T-shirts than any other festival we visit. From both near (People’s Brewing) and far (Belching Beaver and Trillum), dozens of brewery shirts were on display on that beautiful afternoon.
The bridge is a nice venue, but the festival may be outgrowing it, with lines for breweries stretching across the width of the bridge and curling back around. By 5pm (VIP started at 2pm), the beer was at a premium, and places like Misbeehavin’ Meads and Thieme & Wagner Brewing were completely poured out. Like I said, this group of people really love their craft beverages.
The music from the DysFUNKtion Brass Band was on the middle of the bridge, and Walter made sure to stop at The Guac Box for some chips and guacamole – she buys it every time we see them. The beers were great too, with new offerings from most of the brewers. Kopacetic Beer Factory had the Mad Face, a new Imperial IPA, and Norwegian Wood from Ironwood Brewing in Valpo was a fairly new kveik yeast farmhouse.
We again had the prickly pear gose from Backstep Brewing – because when you have a chance to drink that beer you do it. Likewise, Walter always drinks the Amazon Princess from People’s and the Blue Spruce tip IPA from Ironwood Brewing when given the chance. I wish we could have gotten there a bit earlier to try some of the beers from Shoreline, but like Theime & Wagner and Misbeehavin’, they were all gone by the time we queued up for them.
A great time was had on the drinkers’ side of the tables, but there was a great time behind the tables too. Sean Manahan, owner and brewer of Kopacetic chased Walter and I down when we first arrived to say hi and catch up. We talked about The Brews Cruise that is coming up this weekend (get tickets here) and the sushi beer collaboration that he and Jason Cook at Teays River Brewing (loved the headband Dr. J) that will debut at that festival. Josh Miller had a small bit of special beer put back for the other brewers and friends, and most of the brewery folks ended up there sooner or later during the festival. He hung out in back while the real brains of the outfit, Jimmie and Christine ran the booth.
Greg Emig of Lafayette Brewing split time between helping run the festival, manning the brewery’s booth, and talking to the other breweries and attendees, and Jarrod May from The Tap Brewery made his way from one end of the festival to the other jawing with other breweries and pourers. From what I saw Blaine Stuckey, co-owner of Mad Anthony Brewing and Jonathon Mullens from Broad Ripple Brew Pub spent most of their time pouring for and talking to the attendees, but Blaine does get around and Jonathon knows everyone, so they had other brewers coming to visit them.
We asked about Tom and Michele, the Bulingtons who own and brew the beer at Crasian Brewing in Brookston, and we heard they were at another event, the Indiana Bacon Fest in Delphi. As soon as they mentioned bacon I knew that Walter and I would be making the short trip over to get some food and visit the beer garden. So we took a photo of the teeming crowd at Beers Across and then headed to Delphi and the biggest crowd of the day.
Indiana Bacon Festival. We spent less time at the bacon fest but we wanted to say hi to some friends, and were close enough to do it. Cheryl and Sarah were in the beer garden from Bier Brewery, and Colin and Kirby McCloy were there from Taxman Brewing. And even though Crasian was there, we still didn’t see Tom or Michele, apparently they were pouring so much beer that Tom had to head back to the brewery to get more. Two wineries were there that were new to us, Fruitshine Wine who make sulfite-free wines and Whyte Horse Winery, both of them located in Monticello.
The crowd was huge for the bacon fest, and the stage had great local and regional bands, even the crowd in the beer garden was big and getting bigger while we were there. Cheryl from Bier usually takes time to go around and visit with the other breweries, but all three looked like they were pouring as fast as they could just to keep up. It was this festival that had the least of the hidden festival going on, but that was probably a function of how many people wanted beer. Plus, it was a long day, the festival went on from 3 -11pm, much longer than most beer-centric festivals, so they probably did get a chance to do some talking.
So that was our day, from festival to festival to festival, enjoying the attendees and the brewery people. Please remember that when you get to the front of the line and the brewer you wanted to talk to isn’t around right then or the pourers are getting a beer for someone behind the table, this is their festival too, and having a good time makes it more likely that they’ll make time to do other festivals. Never begrudge a brewer a new beer or a conversation, they don’t get too many of either.