Has the Pandemic Created Better Informed Drinkers? A Trip To Fish Moon Brewing and a Festival Say Yes

Has the Pandemic Created Better Informed Drinkers? A Trip To Fish Moon Brewing and a Festival Say Yes

by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap

As things loosen up around Indiana, Walter and I have been making more trips to breweries and events. After discussion amongst ourselves, our conclusions have been two; a) people are very happy to get out do things again, and b) overall, we think that people are displaying more beer knowledge than before the shutdown.

The first conclusion is a no brainer, people are indeed extremely happy to be getting out again. The ways in which events and outings happen have changed a bit (for now), and people have learned to work within the mandated restrictions and still have a great time, but they are will to attend. True, it appears that small towns seem to have a more relaxed attitude toward the mandates and things are more like the days of old, but the greater incidence of cases in densely populated areas and the increased fidelity to mask and distance mandates in larger cities seem to demonstrate that logic is winning out.

Small events, pub crawls, trivia nights, small concerts, and now festivals – the activity is picking up around Indiana craft beverage producers and retailers. And as the craft beverage drinkers come back, it looks like they have used their time to learn more about their hobby. Two particular incidents suggested this to Walter and I this weekend; one on our first trip to Fish Moon Brewing in Rushville Friday evening, and another at the 3rd Annual Lagers in Lawrence Oktoberfest on Saturday.

image credit: Fish Moon Brewing

Thomas Tetrault envisioned Fish Moon Brewing on Main Street in Rushville not long after he started home brewing about 3-4 years ago. He said, “I started home brewing just over three years ago with the idea of doing this on a larger scale. I started on a ½ barrel system that will be identical to 5 BBL system I brew on in the brewpub so the process is identical. I’m starting with four 5BBL vats. I was originally looking at opening a brewery in my hometown of Yorktown but after we had our fourth child, my wife and I started looking at moving closer to her parents in Rushville. I met John McCain at the first Libations by the Levee festival and we discussed the idea of opening a brewery and something Rushville was very interested in supporting.”

Now fully up and running after doing a couple of months of growler/howler fills only, Fish Moon Brewing has 6-8 beers on tap, and a full kitchen doing pub food choices and some signature dishes. They are serving on the back patio only right now, but will soon start serving inside the brewpub.

Walter and I met several tables full of people who were talking craft beer (not just Fish Moon beer), so of course we did some eavesdropping. We then joined on the conversations, passed around some Indiana brewery stickers, and generally asked the different groups about their likes, dislikes, places they’ve been, styles they prefer, etc. One particular father/daughter combo had lots if Indiana beer thoughts, including stories of their recent exploits around the state since the re-openings.

They were curious about the things we thought about and liked, and several people knew a lot about Indiana On Tap. While they had a good base of knowledge, they also talked about recent happenings (the switch from Flat12 to Rad, the openings in Fort Wayne, etc.) and talked about new national, regional, and local beers they had tried recently.

image credit: Indiana On Tap

Walter and I were sure that they were all well versed in beer; they knew of, had attended, and the townspeople in part were the reason for Rushville’s local craft beer festival (Libations by the Levee, to be held on Oct. 10 this year). But it was also apparent that many of the people at Fish Moon Friday evening had learned a lot recently, from news of the breweries to ideas about newer styles. It was apparent to us that they hadn’t sat on their craft beer laurels during the last few months.

Our conversations and thoughts carried over to Saturday, as we welcomed people and worked around the 3rd Annual in Lawrence Oktoberfest near Ft. Benjamin Harrison State Park in Indianapolis. It was a gorgeous day and a great turnout – once again it was easily discerned that the crowd was very much ready for a bigger event. Smiles and laughs were one indicator, but also because I asked many people.

It was a safe event, more spread out and with a limit on attendees. Several guests commented that the slightly lower number of people allowed them to ask more and better questions of the breweries – the response to a smaller crowd before the pandemic was usually just happiness that they could get more beer. I took this item to the breweries and asked several of them if people seemed to be asking better questions of them and/or having better conversations – not so much of, “What’s your highest ABV beer?”

Three brewers agreed that they had noticed and had even commented to others about the better questions coming in the three festivals that have been held this fall (two of them had been to both or all three festivals). Four other brewers or staff noted that they had been getting much better inquiries and conversations at their brewpubs and taprooms too. I suppose it must be true if so many people are noticing the same thing over the same time period.

Lagers in Lawrence on Saturday. image credit: Walter

The last pieces of evidence that the Indiana craft beer drinker is maturing were also overheard at Lagers in Lawrence. Goodwood Brewing from Louisville was pouring at the festival, and besides having people ask good questions about what kinds of wood and how long they aged the beer on wood, they also were interested in the details of Goodwood’s presence at an Indiana festival.

It seems that since Goodwood brews in Kentucky, Indiana alcohol laws don’t apply to them. To have them at our festivals, we must purchase their beer from their Indiana distributor (Monarch Beverage), and then we must rope off an area that will become a de facto part of Kentucky. No Indiana beer or spirits goes into our little piece of Kentucky, and no Kentucky beer comes out.

People were generally interested in the reasons why we were doing things this way, and they listened and questioned me intently. Everyone played along with the rule without complaint, and while I manned the gate to Goodwood’s area I got to listen to many good conversations. One group of guys was in deep discussion of the different hop characteristics between South America and Australia/New Zealand varieties. That was not the typical festival conversation before the shutdown – it might not be typical even now, but conversations like that are much more common since we have been back at it.

Walter and I are well aware that this is all anecdotal evidence for an increase in beer knowledge through the pandemic; nothing about this is very scientific. It good just as well be that the most ardent beer fans, the ones with the most knowledge, are the ones that are coming out now, so the percentage of good conversations will be increased. But I don’t think it’s as simple as that. People I knew before the pandemic are talking beer better now, and they have better beers to trade as well.

We’re interested in hearing more from more people. If you feel you’ve upped your craft beer game this spring and summer, let us know how you did it – reading on the internet, joining craft beer pages on Facebook, ordering beer over the internet? If you are brewery or taproom, have you noticed a change in patron enthusiasm, knowledge, or buying patterns (more subtle DDH lager orders as opposed to milkshake IPAs, or more questions about marzens vs. festbiers)? Let us know what you are seeing; I think we’re on the verge of a major shift in the knowledge base of the craft beer drinker.

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