Indiana Breweries Score Victory at Beer Wars Competition

Indiana Breweries Score Victory at Beer Wars Competition

by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap

Indiana craft breweries have again scored victories on the national competition front. The 2019 Beer Army Beer Wars has handed out the hardware, with five Indiana breweries each taking away multiple medals. From 144 participating breweries all across the country and beyond, The Tap Brewery in Bloomington was awarded second place in the Grand Champion competition with five total medals in the 105 possible beer categories. Right behind them, Bier Brewery in Indianapolis added to its substantial medal count by taking home 5th place in the Grand Champion competition and five individual medals as well.

In truth, The Tap and Bier Brewery finished in 1st and 4th places in the overall competition, since the 1st place winner isn’t a craft beer brewery at all. The most points were achieved by 10 Barrel Brewing Company’s West Side Pub from Bend, OR. This brewery is 100% owned by AB-InBev, meaning that it is not a craft brewery, and to many peoples’ minds (including mine), they should not be eligible for craft beer awards. They do not compete on a level playing field with craft beer producers.

Beer Army is actually a burger company in New Bern, NC. They sponsor the competition and the take their craft beer very seriously. image credit: Beer Army Burger Company

The judging for Beer Wars at NoDa Brewing in Raleigh, NC over the Jan. 19-20 weekend, also awarded Flix Brewhouse-Carmel four medals, Backstep Brewing in Crawfordsville three medals, and Four Day Ray Brewing in Fishers two medals. Of the 105 beer categories judged, some had as many as 44 individual beers in the group. This was the third year for the Beer Wars Commerical Beer competition, and entries topped 800 beers again this year.

The Tap Brewery had a great competition year in 2018, and has started 2019 in similar fashion. Interestingly, the slate of beers that medaled at Beer Wars this year are for the most part different from those entered/medaled in the past. The Tap won three golds, for Social (American Lager), Snowdrift (English Strong Ale), and Old Wooden Head (English Barleywine). This was a repeat win for the Wooden Head.

Jarrod May, head brewer for The Tap commented, “Social is the one beer we are really excited about. As one of our year round beers and somehting we brew a lot of, it’s nice to know that our hard work is well received in the taproom, but also on the competition circuit. Plus, it’s a damn tasty American Lager.”

In addition to these gold medals, The Tap took two 2nds, for Frostbite (Belgian Dark Strong) and Smoky Persimmon (Specialty Smoked Beer). The persimmon was one of my favorite beers from 2018, with great flavor, great smoke, and a brilliant look. Overall, these five medals totaled to 21.03 points, good for 2nd place overall, tied with Hoppin’ Frog Brewery of Akron, OH.

image credit: The Tap

Bier Brewery also had five individual medals, including three golds. The firsts included Back Packin’ Brown (London Brown), Pumpkin Ale (Autumnal Seasonal Ale), and Sanitarium (Belgian Dark Strong). These last two beers are some of the most decorated beers in the state, so it isn’t surprising that they won top honors again. Even more, the Sanitarium and the Frostbite from The Tap gave Indiana a 1-2 finish in the Belgian Dark Strong category.

The other medaled beers from Bier Brewery were the venerable Marzen (Marzen category) winning silver, and John’s Porter (English Porter) which took bronze. The overall point total for Bier Brewery was 19.03, good enough for 5th place overall. The current haul for Bier puts their total medal count over 100 since their opening in 2011.

Flix Brewhouse in Carmel won four medals at Beer Wars this year, including two golds – Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dunkeldore (Munich Dunkel) and Saison de Walt (Brett Beer). They also were awarded a silver in the Belgian Tripel category for the Tripel Carmel-ite, a beer that has won several medals previously. Finally, Flix-Carmel win a bronze for their Blonde Ale called Glass Half Full.

Rob Malad, lead brewer at Flix-Carmel said to me, “Competitions like this can bring value, especially for a younger brewer like myself. Coming from Sun King and Kindred (Columbus, OH), I have worked for production breweries and am very confident in my process practices. Where I most need to grow as a brewer is in brewing beers that are true to style (helped by competitions) and creativity (not necessarily helped by competitions. Four of the six beers I entered were styles I was brewing for the first time, so competition provides into how stylistically accurate my interpretations are and where I can course correct in some recipes and processes.”

image credit: Backstep Brewing

Other Flix Brewhouses also won medals (a toal of 15 for the entire company), including those from Albuquerque, Des Moines, and Madison. The Madison location is the newest of the Flix Brewhouses, and its lead brewer is Nick Davidson, the owner and brewer of the now defunct Tin Man Brewing in Evansville. Along the same lines, Will Moorman is the Flix-Albuquerque head brewer. A Great Fermentations and Tow Yard Brewing alum, Will medaled with all six beers he entered at Beer Wars. Is there anywhere that the hand of Indiana craft beer doesn’t reach?

Backstep Brewing won three medals, a 1st and two 3rds, from the four beers they entered. The Black Hat Oatmeal Stout took gold, with the Frisch Alt taking third along with the Nine Daughters Berliner Weisse. Head brewer Josh Miller told me, “The oatmeal stout and Berliner Weisse are two beers I have been changing with each batch to get them where I think they need to be for judging. Specifically because they are year round beers in the taproom and they deserve to have some recognition behind them.”

Josh has put a lot of time into the Nine Daughters, as the Berliner Weisse is a difficult style to brew for competition. The style guide says one thing about acidity levels, but the judges go back and forth on how much tartness they like to perceive. He has gone to some pretty heavy science tools to measure the tartness versus the sweetness in an effort to get this beer right for both judges and patrons. Congrats on dialing this beer in, and Josh will cetainly continue to hone the style in the future.

Four Day Ray Brewing won two medals at the 2019 Beer Wars. Lantern Light, a German Exportbier won a 1st in its category, while Warring Factions (English Brown) took a silver in its. Warring Factions has won previous medals, but the Lantern Light was first produced in November of 2018, so this early win is a great accomplishment for brewer Mitch Ackerman and the FDR team. FDR only entered four beers total, so getting a medal for 50% of them is quite impressive.

We make great beer here. Drink it. image credit: Uncomfortable Yeti

Once again, Indiana seems to be leading the pack when it comes to medals:entries. For these five breweries there were a total 19 medals (21 if you count the two grand champion places) based on a total of only 35 entries. That’s a 55% rate for medaling. I’d be willing to bet that other states aren’t matching that. For those competitions on which I did calculations in 2018, Indiana was always in the top five for all states in medals:entries, and now I believe we are only getting stronger. This feeling was echoed by Josh Miller at Backstep, “The thing I was most excited about from this competition was Indiana’s overall performance in a rapidly growing competition.”

Congratulations to all the winning breweries and brewers. Beer Wars again shows how strong the craft beer environment is in Indiana. We should be proud of the innovation and attention detail displayed by Indiana breweries. Striving for competition medals is just another way that brewers show that they take their craft seriously and work hard for our state. Just another reason to love Indiana craft beer.


Walter’s words of Wisdom – It’s truly amazing that all phones in the US don’t smell like Buffalo wings.

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