25 Feb Getting a Bit Smaller Makes Brrr Fest in Bluffton a Bigger Deal
The Brrr Fest sponsored by Bluffton Now on Saturday the24th of February was a great success on Saturday. The reasons for this were many, from having a nice venue, to including a great homebrew contest and people’s choice awards for brewery and home brew, to having a good number of wineries and cideries. But none of these might have the main reason for the great day. It might just be because the festival was intentionally small, even smaller than the previous year’s event.
Brrr Fest’s intent is to highlight the Wells County Arts, Commerce, and Visitors Center and the town of Bluffton. The venue was very nice, and worked out just fine for the number of breweries, wineries, and attendees on Saturday. In terms of craft beer, the participating breweries were mostly from the extended local area, which is great for people like Walter and I who don’t get to drink Fort Wayne beer all the time.
But it was also great for the locals, because Fort Wayne beer is changing so rapidly. The festival featured Hop River Brewing, which has only been open a month, and 2Toms Brewing, which hasn’t even opened yet. There was also Mad Anthony, a stalwart of beer in the region, but iscurrently undergoing a renovation that assistant brewer Daniel was eager to talk about with the attendees.
HopLore Brewing in Leesburg has been open less than a year, as has Kekionga Cider Co. right in Fort Wayne. With all these changes (and another I will discuss below), the Brrr Fest was also a great way for locals to acquaint themselves with the growing sphere of Fort Wayne and Northeast Indiana craft brews.
The attendance for the festival was about was a little over 250 people, which seemed to be just the right number. This goes to show that there are things more important to creating a successful festival than large attendance. When I mentioned above that they improved the festival by making it a bit smaller I wasn’t talking about the attendance (which actually grew this year), I meant that the number of participating breweries was slightly smaller this year, but that was because last year’s event had many distributor representatives pouring packaged beer from breweries that currently sell in that region of the state.
This year, the distributor booths were gone, in favor of having the breweries themselves pour the beer, even if it meant having several fewer breweries represented. The number of attendees was just right for the day, giving everyone a chance to speak to the brewers and owners and learn more about the participants and their products. And with the progress in the Fort Wayne craft beer scene, there was a lot to learn.
Being able to try the barrel aged wee heavy from Summit City Brewerks, the Double Agent rye saison from Junk Ditch, the Wry American Imperial Red ale from Chapman’s Brewing, and the Tasty Waves common from Trubble were reasons enough to go to the festival, but they weren’t the only reasons. The homebrew contest and pours were a major part of a great afternoon. Homebrewers Steve Cukrowicz and Amy Hanning manned the Pour Misfits booth with three of their beers, while the Huntington Beer Collective had three a couple of very good offerings as well.
Yet, the sheer number of beers from MASH Homebrew Club from Fort Wayne was something that was hard to overlook. Twenty, yes you read that correctly, twenty beers from this club ran the gamut from lagers to NE IPAs, from scorched wee heavies to a chocolate chili milk stout. There were at least eighteen MASH brewers offering their beers, and they represented themselves very well.
The organizers conducted homebrew and homemade wine contests along with the festival, so winners were announced for individual beers via judging. But each attendee was given a ballot so they could vote for their favorite brewery and their favorite homebrew and wine as well. The favorite home brew for the people drinking Saturday was a New England IPA called No Wheezing the Juice from Paul Moore of the MASH club, while the judged winner of the home brew contest was a Strawberry Berliner weisse from Dan Voors and Sam Snyder.
Walter had picked the Orange Dreamsicle as the beer she thought would win the contest after tasting many of the entries. It’s a very complex beer, with several layers of flavors coming on at different points. First there was a hop bite, followed by the orange and finally ending with a lingering cream feel and flavor – nice beer, guys. I liked the wine barrel aged blackberry porter from the Huntington Beer Collective booth; also a complex beer with several layers and a pleasant aftertaste.
In terms of the favorite brewery of the day, the winner was a brewery that isn’t even open as of yet. Tom Carpenter and Shannon Meyer of 2Toms Brewing brought out a maple rye whiskey variant of their Dark Necessity Russian Imperial Stout that was a big success. I know Walter lost some drinking time because she wouldn’t quickly down this taste and she definitely passed up other beers in order to savor the Dark Necessity. Apparently, many of the other people at the festival felt the same way.
Look for 2Toms to open their taproom in the 2nd quarter of 2018 at 3676 North Wells Street in Fort Wayne. That location just happens to be next door to the Fort Wayne Curling Club, so any of you who have caught the curling bug from this week’s Olympics coverage will have a place to go for shuffleboard on ice as well as for beer. I don’t think there has been a more anticipated brewery opening in the state in several years, perhaps since Clay Robinson and Dave Colt got together to open Sun King.
In every aspect – food, wine, cider, pro beer and amateur beer, Brrr Fest was a complete success. People asked good questions, wanted to know more about the beers and breweries, and discussed the beers with new and old friends. All the breweries did a great job bringing representative beers, and Walter and I learned much about projects going on in the northeast. Jerrod Angler at Chapman’s has several collaborations upcoming, and another brewery there will have exciting news about a high profile collaboration in the next couple of weeks.
One brewery I didn’t mention yet (on purpose) was GnomeTown Brewing. I include GnomeTown in the changes going on in Fort Wayne not because they have changed, but because my perception of them changed on Saturday. I had mistakenly believed for the last couple of years that GnomeTown was a “brew on premises” or “brewlab” operation alone. Certainly, they do have groups come into brew small batches on their system using GnomeTown’s recipes and main ingredients, but they make their own beer too.
Walter and I found out Saturday that they brew beers for sale in their owner group’s restaurants, for a few contracts, and for growler and taproom sales. This is the problem of living two hours away, you develop and then accept incorrect ideas about breweries that you don’t interact with regularly. Our interest was piqued at the Brrr Fest when we talked to head brewer Mike Flaherty and tried their smoked porter. Later in the day we stopped in at The Hoppy Gnome for a pint and a discussion with assistant brewer Brandon and owner Paul Shuey and learned some very interesting things about their operation. Look for an in depth profile of this brewery and the brewlab experience in the near future.
More great things will come from Fort Wayne area beer before next year’s Brrr Fest, so be on the look out. Some homebrewers might be considering going pro, the Birdboy Brewing taproom will have a year under their belt in Roanoke, and Auburn Brewing might at last be open. The 2019 Brrr Fest will highlight those changes while at the same time supporting the important underlying base of professional brewing, the home brewers. That’s a good recipe for a festival, not matter what the size.
Walter’s Words of Wisdom 1: It’s interesting to have a festival partially in a ballet studio – it’s gives new meaning to a ballet barre.
Walter’s Words of Wisdom 2: Small festivals make it hard to use the dump buckets. Whether you are going for small tastes so you can try more beers or you find a beer not to your liking, you don’t won’t to pour it out where a brewer could see you do it. At smaller events, especially during VIP time, it’s harder to discretely empty a glass and move on.