22 Aug Hops & Flip Flops – The Speedway Party For A Hoppy Summer
Time passes – there’s no getting around it. Summer is waning, and since there isn’t a way to prevent the arrival of autumn, we should at least find a way to celebrate that part of summer we have left. That was the whole point to the Hops & Flip Flops festival and block party held last Saturday at Daredevil Brewing in Speedway – well, that and really good hop-forward beers from around the country.
This fourth edition of the Hopsfest showed that a festival can reach a pinnacle, and when it does, the smart organizer chooses not to mess with success. The history of the event includes rotating breweries bringing their best hoppy beers, bands, and food into the evening, with 1000-1500 attendees. Why change what works so well? Shane Pearson, co-owner of Daredevil, told me that the first Hops & Flip Flops festival actually predated the brewery and taproom in Speedway. It was held in the Dallara Indy Car Factory up the street since ground had just been broken on that wonderful brewery that provides us with all the Muse and Lift Off we can drink.
The Speedway Chamber of Commerce and Speedway Lions Club had approached Daredevil as soon as the Speedway production brewery and taproom was announced, asking them to sponsor and host a craft beer fest to highlight and show off the new Main Street changes. It worked right into Daredevil’s plans as well. Shane said, “We really enjoy putting on the event as a way to help showcase Indianapolis as a craft beer destination and as a way to highlight the Main Street Speedway area of Indianapolis. The event brings a lot of traffic to our neighbors and for a lot of people it reminds them the area is just minutes from downtown.”
This strategy worked out well for everyone. The brewery got to show off what was in store for the neighborhood, and the city found a wonderful asset to help promote Speedway. It was rather forward thinking of the city to attach themselves to a brewery that wasn’t even in brick and mortar yet; they realized what a prize it was going to be to have Daredevil close by.
The morning’s 5K foot race also helped connect the festival to the town of Speedway. There were more than 350 masochists, and they snaked their way through the town and back to the brewery for a post race beer or yogurt. A post-race yogurt? What do they have after mowing the lawn, cheese souffle? The race festivities were done by 10:30, which gave those people doubling up on the day time to clean up and get back to Daredevil for Hops & Flip Flops itself.
The name for the festival, Hops & Flip Flops, came as a rhyming solution to the problem of how to make sure everyone knows this is a hop forward beer festival, while also being a celebration of the summer that is drawing to a close. Daredevil isn’t a completely hop-centric brewery, but they do make some exceptional hoppy beers, and the breweries they ask to join them for the festival feature hop flavors as well. And what is more reminiscent of summer than flip-flops? Both parts of the title are apt, and with National IPA Day having occurred only two weeks ago, the timing of the festival could not be better.
In the two following years, Hops & Flip Flops grew to over 1500 attendees and 25 breweries. This is spectacular growth for a new craft beer festival, but Daredevil’s owners and staff think that this enough. They aren’t looking for a huge festival though they could certainly get bigger if they wanted to; Shane told me that they are looking to keep it intimate so that brewers can interact with the patrons. It’s about craft beer and the relationships that one can build between breweries and drinkers.
However, not growing bigger isn’t the same thing as stagnating. The festival is fresh every year because only 30-40% of the breweries are the same from year to year. Most have participated only once in the past or this is their first year. For 2017, only 10 of the invited breweries poured last year, and new breweries included WarPigs Brewpub in Copenhagen, Mile Wide from Louisville, Modern Times from San Diego, and Harpoon from Boston.
Shane told me that 95% of the breweries they invite do end up coming to the festival – it’s that well regarded. Part of this might come from the great treatment that Daredevil gives each of the guest breweries – they buy the beer and pay an extra stipend for people that don’t usually distribute to Indiana, there is a party the night before at the brewery and then there is an after party for all the brewery representatives. Daredevil focuses on inviting owner/brewer operations to keep things as focused as possible on independent breweries, and they work with the breweries to provide the most interesting offerings.
This was certainly true on Saturday. Not every attending brewery focuses solely on hops and not every beer was an IPA, but there were some amazing choices. The WarPigs Foggy Geezer played almost as well as the massively popular Lazurite on Saturday. I like Foggy because it has the fruity/floral aroma and juiciness without being the haziest beer in the world. A NE IPA can be great with just a bit of haziness. The WarPigs Brewpub representative was very helpful in explaining how the US distribution was being carried out by contract brewing in Wisconsin, under the direct supervision and hands on activity of the former Surly head brewer couple (Todd & Linda Haug) and the 3F head brewer (Chris Boggess).
Perhaps the most popular beer of the day was the Cupping Berries from Deviate Brewing in Indianapolis. It had a light blueberry flavor at the outset, with a nice back of the throat hops finish. People kept coming back for more of the blueberry, and then stayed for the Hop Opulency triple IPA. Also a favorite was the Tessie NE IPA from Mile Wide. This was a true hazy IPA, and stood out amongst several hazy IPAs from the various brewers. Finally, I was impressed by the IPA from Harpoon. This is a flagship beer for them, but has a specific bent toward an English IPA. It has a very good floral nose, but the malts balance the hops very well. It’s hard to believe we hadn’t tried it before.
All these innovative beers from imagnitive brewers got me to wondering. Hoppy beers often lead the pack when it comes to producing sub-styles and weird takes on current trends – where do the brewers get these ideas? Undoubtedly, most come out of their own heads, but do tweaks and kernels of inspiration ever come from what they see their colleagues producing? If they do, then walking around a festival like Hops & Flip Flops could really get the creative juices flowing for brewer/owner.
I asked Shane if the folks at Daredevil gain inspiration from the beers presented at Hopsfest. He said, “We enjoy trying beers from other breweries all the time. From enjoying beers from a brewery one way we come to invite someone to Hops & Flip Flops because we respect what they are doing. But most of the successful breweries we know get enjoyment from putting their spin on a beer style using their own preferences. Most breweries don’t really try to clone other beers but instead they focus on doing the styles they have passion for and in the style that they enjoy.”
I understand not wanting to clone someone else’s beer, but I still wondered if ideas get tossed around or invented when brewers doing similar types of beers all come together like this. So I also talked to Mike from Deviate Brewing about it and his views paralleled those of Shane.
Mike said that they do get around to looking at what other brewers do, especially when they bring beers to a festival, but that isn’t what drives their innovation when it comes to developing recipes. Mike said that he and Greg are basically foodies at heart; it is the flavor profile that they are intrigued with and develop on any specific brew day that drives that session and their product for that day. The festival offered much innovation on the hoppy end of the scale, but in the end, most ideas come from the brew house, not from wandering around Daredevil’s grounds seeing what everyone else is doing. This surprised me; I figured the beers of colleagues would spur riffs and new innovations. Maybe they do, but it must be unconsciously.
The two acres occupied by the brewery, including the patio, taproom, and lawn were well used for the festival. There was house music and live music from the White Lightning Boys as well as Craig Thurston into the evening for those hundreds of patrons who stayed after the festival proper was over. Tacos & Tequila were on hand along with Barbeque & Bourbon on Main Street to provide food beyond what is normally offered in the taproom.
All this added to a great festival and a banner day for charity partners Speedway Lions, Speedway Trails, and Brackets for Good. With this much success, one could easily envision Daredevil expanding not only the festival, but also the brewery and taproom. Shane said, “The taproom can be full an any day of the week but we like the size and how it works with our patio and lawn area.” But then he added, “We are only using half of our site right now and at some point we will expand the brewery and use the south part of our property.” That sounds good to me.
Hops were the order of the day for the second time this August, and it was well-deserved attention. It doesn’t appear that the hop craze will slow down anytime soon, and great festivals like Hops & Flip Flops changing up the brewery lineup each year will go a long way to keeping the hop mania fresh and ever evolving. Now that time is marching on and we are moving into fall – bring on the wet hopped beers!
Walter’s Words of Wisdom (Sarah Burns edition) – Government jobs are the best!
A special shout out to Jessica Leonard and Chad Childers of Inklin Customs for my new avatar image. See them for all your Magic: The Gathering custom work – some of their acrylic custom cards are made by Anthony Noel of Zwybie’s Custom Works. See this article about his tap handles, flight boards, and other craft beer paraphernalia.