15 Nov Indy Brew Battle Bucks the Trend and Grows Significantly in Year Five
If you visited a brewfest in 2023, probably noticed that attendance wasn’t as robust as you might have remembered. Many festivals saw a decline in attendee number, even if the number of alcohol vendors grew (an issue in itself that we discus below). There are many possible reasons, 1) festival fatigue, 2) market saturation, 3) a decline in drinking, and 4) the economy and prices in general. Probably all of these factors are involved to greater or lesser degrees, but in 2023 they worked together to bring a noticeable decrease in festival crowds.
To be sure, there were some events that had increases in attendance or held their own. Maybe the biggest winners of the year were Haute Hops & Vines in Terre Haute, Shelf Ice Brewfest in Michigan City, Way Out Beer Fest in Lapel, Frigid Digits Winter Beer Fest in Indy, and Brewfari at the Indy Zoo. Each of these festivals grew considerably and sold tickets briskly.
We can speak best to the Indiana On Tap events and those we did consulting/marketing/ticketing for. We were lucky that we held our own for all our events, no significant decline (but also just small growth for a number of events). We believe that Indiana On Tap events, and those that we help organize/manage, did a bit better than average because we bring in a good number of artisan distillers, cideries, and wineries. Therefore, changes in drinking habits and preferences affected those events less than others. We believe it will be a strength going forward into 2024 as well.
In general though, beer events in Indiana were down about 15-20% in attendance in 2023, driven mostly by economic factors, based on what we learned from craft beer fans we met during the year. Our ticket buying metrics have always indicated that craft beverage festivals are, by and large, local events, and therefore we believe that festival fatigue for our events was avoided. People that attend Anderson On Tap make up a very small percentage of those people that attend Tipton On Tap, even though the two cities are less than 25 miles apart and occur within just a few weeks of each other.
The same might not be said of events that draw from larger areas and rely on a bigger number of vendors to pull people in. Most all these events had a decline in attendance and had to work harder to sell tickets (really, everyone had to do this). Hops & Coaster Drops held its own compared to previous years and the expanded footprint helped with this as well, but working to increase amenities and a community feel are probably the biggest assets for events in the near future.
There are more festivals than ever, but as we explained above, the more localized events, and those that involve the local community to a greater degree are the ones that will likely succeed in this environment, despite a higher overall number of events. Having a distinct niche helps as well, as with Lagers in Lawrence Oktoberfest and their wiener dog races and massive stein holding contest, the Brewfari event at night at the Indy zoo, or the revival (sorta) of the Meadful Things as the Ash & Elm ciderfest called Autumntidings.
More producers are doing their own events, as it brings more people directly to them, instead of the indirect draw of a festival off site. Plus, more vendors are thinking seriously about their staffing issues and whether or not specific festivals are beneficial to them – they are being choosier. That said, we do need to acknowledge that the Tasting Society Event for January, 2024, Frigid Digits Winter Beer Fest-2024, and Shelf Ice Brewfest -2024 have all expanded vendors for this coming year, with waitlists in case a vendor has to drop out.
With this discussion in mind, it brings us to the success of this year’s Indy Brew Battle, organized by the IBU (Indiana Brewers Union) homebrew club and held in the event space at Guggman Haus last weekend. A solely homebrew festival and competition, this is an event that Walter and I attend each year. As I’ve said before, there’s a special place in heaven for people that work this hard at making beer only to give it away for free – our happiness is just that important to them.
All the clubs that participated on Saturday brought A level beers. The club list grew for 2023, and included MONK, IBRU, IBU, FBI, Artesian Homebrewers, Great Fermentations, MASH Fort Wayne Homebrewers, THC, and a solo effort from Jeremy Klausing and his Klausing’s Mead brand. Not a bad beer, cider, or mead was found amongst the 50+ offerings, and some were truly outstanding. All the meads from Jeremy were stellar, especially the Maggie and the Glorious Mutation, and both Walter and I were big fans of Caligula’s Arrogance American Strong Ale from IBRU, the cinnamon vanilla cider mixed with the peach cider from Jed Lengerich of MASH, and the Amber Cerise from MONK.
The prizes for the homebrew competition were provided by Great Fermentations and others (see below), and this year the contest was for styles that came under the categories of Weizenbock, Witbier, Berliner Weisse and Gose. This year’s winners were 1) Joe Hanley with a Weizenbock, 2) Ben Martin with a gose – we loved this beer on Saturday, and 3) Mike Hanley with the same Weizenbock recipe as his son, but a different hop contribution. Everything was on the up and up, but the Hanley family was particularly successful on the day, perhaps from the hops advantage that a Hanley family member might have (Hanley Hops is a major producer in the state).
A great time was had by all; thanks to Guggman Haus for hosting the event and for brewing the winning beer with the winning homebrewer. The competition is open to dues paying members of the any Indiana homebrew club, which limits the entry of lone homebrewers, but it does promote the idea that club membership does improve beer quality, either by the club teaching the member, or the member teaching the club.
Indy Brew Battle hits all the targets for having a successful event in the current environment – a unique niche, a good charity partner (HVAF), located centrally, great product, an affordable ticket, a time of year not saturated with other events, committed “vendors” pouring their products, etc. Look for them to have continued success and congrats to IBU for bringing us a wonderful event.
Thanks also to all the sponsors and providers of prizes for the event: Great Fermentations, Hanley Hops, BSG, Amoretti, Milwaukee, Inkbird, Imperial Yeast, Omega Yeast, Five Star Chemical, Midwest Security, Fermentis, Spike, Circle Kombucha, Tilt, Escarpment Laboratories, Hunt Creative Group, and LD Carlson.