Forty-Nine Pro Breweries Take Home Medals from 21st Indiana Brewers Cup

Forty-Nine Pro Breweries Take Home Medals from 21st Indiana Brewers Cup

by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap

The highlight of the Indiana craft beer community’s summer took place on Saturday evening with the tasting, awards, and banquet for the 21st Annual Indiana Brewers Cup. Put on by the Indiana State Fair, IBC is one of the most prestigious competitions in the country, with both a professional and home brewers divisions. Today let’s talk about the professionals and later this week we will celebrate the wonderfulness that is Indiana home brew.

There were 33 beverage categories in which breweries could win medals this year, with blinded judging by an all volunteer judge and steward work force. Minimum scores had to be attained to be awarded a medal, and yet all but one medal was given out in the pro division. Forty-nine breweries from six states were awarded medals from the 690 entries. All in all, if you chose to enter a beer and won a medal – you’ve got a great beer. If you chose to enter and didn’t win a medal, chances are you have a very good beer that would medal at other contests.

Unlike so many things that are completely subjective in craft beer, the IBC had a definitive winner last weekend. Flix Brewhouse-Carmel took home the Grand Champion Brewery and Indiana Brewery of the Year awards with a total of six medals – yes, six. Head brewer Rob Malad and assistant brewer Jason Showalter won golds for their Marzen and Scotch ales, called Das Umlaut and Skrull Crusher, respectively. They had silvers awarded for their bier de garde (Super Power Potion), helles bock (Marvelous Maibock), and American IPA (Lupulus). Finally, they took a bronze for the Luna Rose witbier, which means that they won both the silver and bronze in the Belgian/French Ale category.

image credit: Flix Brewhouse

Brewer Rob Malad has a great brewing pedigree – first in Indiana, and then out and about the country. He had a great run in Ohio at Kindred Artisan Ales, and then came back to Indiana to take the position at Flix Brewhouse when Chris Knott moved to the corporate brewer position for all the Flix Brewhouses in the country and Josh Miller left to take the head brewer position at Backstep Brewing in Crawfordsville. Despite the changes, Flix has been raking in the medals for the last couple of years, and Rob has done nothing but up the ante on the medal count.

With 13 total points in the pro division, the coveted Indiana Brewery of the Year came to them for the first time, as did the Grand Champion Trophy (most awarded brewery regardless of state). The last two years these were won by Daredevil Brewing in Speedway. Rob was excited about the award and the medals. He told me, “This is a really cool honor for us. Indiana has turned into a murderers row of awesome breweries over the last several years, and the Brewers’ Cup has turned into a really tough competition. Not only do you have to have the best beer of a particular style, but the stacking of several styles into subcategories or individual categories makes it exceptionally challenging. To follow up back to back titles from Daredevil, for whom I have an incredible amount of respect, with our own says a lot. We couldn’t be more humbled to have been awarded Grand Champion Brewery. Just about every brewer in town has allowed me to pick their brain and helped me to make the best beer that I possibly can. I’m just truly humbled and honored to have found myself at the top of a very big heap of great brewers and breweries.”

It’s interesting that the brewery that gave Flix a run for its money in the brewery of the year competitions was Backstep Brewing, the current home of former Flix brewer, Josh Miller. Backstep took five medals home on Saturday night for a variety of beer styles. They won golds for their Dunkel Witz, a Munich dunkel and the for Lost Season, their Strong Saison. Silvers were had for their Prickly Pear Gose, Quinn Irish Stout, and their By Necessity, a California Common.

That gave Backstep and Josh twelve total points, just one point behind the people Josh calls his “brew brothers” at Flix. Josh takes a very scientific angle to his brewing, which isn’t that surprising since his degree is in biochemistry. Even though Backstep has only been brewing beer for a year and a half, Josh has already accumulated almost two-dozen medals. He told me, “For me personally, a scientific approach to making beer is how I maintain consistency and ensure a beer is as close to style as possible. Whether it be yeast cell counts, running titratable acidity tests, or making sure my water profile is exactly what it should be for each individual style – a scientific approach played a part in each beer that earned a medal at IBC. While I have a handful of year round brands and a selection of annual releases, brewing a variety of styles is important to me as it continually challenges me. I think the challenge is what really helps me focus in to do the research into each style, its history, and execute it with the highest degree of quality that I can.”

image credit: Backstep Brewing

It’s impossible to give the appropriate amount of attention to all the medal winners and to recount all the great beers of the competition (yes, I’ve had 82% of the medaling beers, ciders, and meads), but you can check out all the winners at the Indiana Brewers Cup website (here). However, some interesting things did stand out. First, school trained brewers, brewers that came up through the ranks, and home brewers turned pro all did extremely well at the competition. The key seems to be knowing a style, having a passion for brewing, and listening to the good feedback that they get.

Second, I noticed that there was a spreading out of medals between the new and the established breweries. For example, Guggman Haus Brewing in Indianapolis knocked their first competition pitch out of the park. Head brewer Derek Guggenberger and assistant/co-owner Ryan Gorman have only been brewing on their system for a couple of months, yet they took home three gold medals at the 2019 Indiana Brewers Cup. No other brewery can make such a claim. Even more impressive, the gold medals came from beers as different as a milk stout (Winner’s Circle), American IPA (The Riverside), and hefeweizen (Guggenweizen).

Derek said, “For us it’s incredible to receive this kind of recognition after all of the hard work that we’ve put into getting open these past several years. Indiana has a great brewing tradition and it’s an honor to be in such great company.” Ryan added, “Honestly, we have been so focused on getting open and fine tuning every little detail that last night was the first time that I actually had time to step back and take everything in – and damn did it feel great.  The fact that we won with 3 core beers that we have been brewing, tweaking, and drinking for years just validated everything that we have been working so hard for for so long.  We still have a long ways to go to accomplish all that we set out for, hopefully we can just build off of this as we look to expand and grow in the Boyle Racing Headquarters next door.”

Fortlandia Brewing is even younger than Guggman Haus, yet they took home a bronze medal for their fruit beer, Grandma’s Strawberry Pie, and MashCraft-Fishers has been brewing beer for just over a year and they took a bronze for Stormcrow, their rauchbier. Mind Over Mash just celebrated their one year anniversary recently, yet they took home a silver for Diamond Daisy, their APA. Co-owner Mike Huffman remarked, “There were so many great beers from so many great breweries in so many categories. It was nice to receive recognition among such great competition.”

image credit: Guggman Haus Brewing

And yet, the breweries that led the craft beer movement in Indiana also won medals. Rock Bottom Brewing in Indianapolis, with head brewer Jason Cook won two golds and a bronze. Upland Brewing took home a gold and silver as did Mad Anthony Brewing in Fort Wayne. In addition, Three Floyds and Bloomington Brewing Company took home bronze medals. That’s both ends of the Indiana brewery age scale, which just shows you how strong Indiana brewing really is.

What’s more, Indiana brewing is strong in every region of the state. Fort Wayne did amazingly well at IBC, bringing home 11 medals from several different breweries. Every corner of the state was represented on the podium, but Louisville did well too with nine medals. The top of the pyramid was reserved for Indianapolis; 18 total medals, plus several medals for cities attached to Indy (Brownsburg, Carmel, Fishers, Greenfield, etc).

Part of the haul for the capital city was from Centerpoint Brewing, who took home three medals. They had two golds, including a gold for their experimental beer in collaboration with Circle Kombucha –Tiki Tango Kombucha Shandy. Owner Jon Robinson said of their results and the new innovative product, “We are extremely proud of the work of our production team at Centerpoint. Derek, Rick, and John work extremely hard to ensure a quality product in every keg and can that we distribute, which was validated Saturday night at the Indiana Brewers Cup. A gold medal for Centerpoint Black and a Bronze for Itza, our Mexican Lager is extremely satisfying, especially since Centerpoint Black is a core product that we brew continuously. I think the most impressive result is the success of the Tiki Tango Kombucha Shandy. The initial concept came from Derek based on a half empty glass of Kombucha that needed to be filled, so he topped it off with berliner weisse. We talked about it in house, then asked Circle if they would be interested in partnering with us. Of course, they said hell yes! Being able to work with a partner like Circle Kombucha to develop a unique beverage is unbelievable. They have a world class team that have a passion for creating something memorable and refreshing. Derek was able to work with Rick and John to find the proper process and product blends to get it perfectly balanced. Again, hats off to the production team – they nailed it, like always.”

The medals are great, and they do point out how strong the beer game is in Indiana, but the brewers and owners might have been happiest about having a night to join together, celebrate the industry in Indiana, talk in a relaxed atmosphere, support one another, and get revitalized for what they do. It’s a great group of people and they all deserve success. Next time we’ll talk about the people whose livelihoods don’t count on the success of their beer; they put themselves through this strictly for fun and social camaraderie. The home brewers are the backbone of craft beer, not just in Indiana, but everywhere.


banner image credit: Indiana Brewers Cup

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