03 Aug The Microbrewers Festival: Indiana on Display, And Yet There’s More to the Story
Last Saturday’s Indiana Microbrewers Festival was a celebration of Indiana craft beer. Just under one hundred Indiana craft breweries and some guests set up jockey boxes all across Military Park in downtown Indianapolis for an afternoon of craft beer and good times. More than 5200 attendees headed out from the check-in corral to the various tents when 2:00 rang, and the fun began.
This year’s Microbrewers Festival included some tweaks implemented by the Brewers of Indiana Guild after talking to attendees and brewing partners, as occurs every year. More tents were set up so that drinkers had added space to socialize near the brewery booths without being in the way, and the tents were more spread out to give a larger feel and comfort level to the entire festival.
The Drink IN app with a map and list of the pours from each brewery made the larger event space easy to navigate. In our opinion, this year’s festival was perhaps the most relaxed we have experienced; less rushing around, more socializing, and the lines were manageable at every booth. Of course, the great weather played a role in the great turn out and the success of the event. It was a Goldilocks type of day – not too hot, not too cold, hint of a breeze, enough sunshine to please but not burn, and no rain in sight – Mother Nature was definitely on our side Saturday.
Dan Gayle of Black Circle Brewing agreed; he was pleased with the changes made for spacing and thought that the games, the weather, and the open areas contributed to perhaps the most enjoyable festival of recent memory. Fewer people were in trouble by the end of the afternoon, and Dan said that the attendees seemed to ask about specific styles of beer and had a better idea how to navigate all the choices – there was less of the “give me your highest ABV beer” attitude.
The VIP hour was replaced with the IN Beer Brigade members area, with special beer pours, port-o-lets, and snacks just for the members. The cask tent was again a popular destination, located in near the center of the grounds. The beers were good and several of them blew fairly early in the proceedings. And all around the tent you could see people having fun, including the obligatory costumed groups, like the American flag jumpsuit romper crew.
The festival was a great time for brewers and breweries to talk with their competitors/partners, to catch up and talk over issues that have cropped up, or to just say hi and build community. As Dan summarized, this Microbrewers was enjoyed by both breweries and attendees – and boy, were there a bunch of breweries to choose from.
Tristan Schmid, Communications Director for the Brewers of Indiana Guild said, “It’s impossible at this time to hold a massive festival that has all of our member breweries, let alone every single one in Indiana, which is why we cap registration to 100 brewery/guest booths.” But despite this limitation, the selection of breweries on Saturday was quite diverse. There were new breweries, like Mind Over Mash from Brownsburg, Pax Verum from Lapel, Switchyard from Bloomington, OrthoCity in Warsaw, and Happy Brewing from Indianapolis. This is the first time a lot of people were drinking their beer and the comments were overwhelmingly positive.
There were big breweries (Sun King, 3 Floyds, Melvin) and small breweries (Cannon Ball, Wolves’ Head in Muncie), but it was this later group that got me to thinking. I noticed that many of the state’s breweries that weren’t present Saturday were the smaller, more neighborhood oriented breweries, places like Red Foot in Jeffersonville, Norris English Pub in Liberty, and New Boswell in Richmond. They’re definitely part of the brewing community and have good relationships with other breweries and the Guild, but I was wondering if the nature of their brewing business model, being ultra-local had something to do with their absence.
It would be easy for a casual, or even middling craft beer fan to get the impression that Microbrewers Festival shows all the beer that Indiana has to offer, but there is so much more. To investigate if the missing seventy or so breweries were just waitlisted because the space was limited or if my hypothesis about locality and festivals held water, I asked them why they didn’t pour at Microbrewers.
To make a long story short – being concerned about their ten-block perimeter instead of the state of Indiana did play a role in why some breweries did not attend the festival, but it was only one of three primary reasons why breweries weren’t there. In fact, the most common response was that a particular brewery didn’t have the beer or the staffing to commit to a festival, and this became a bigger factor the farther from Indy the brewery is located.
Chad Styner, owner and brewer at Guesswork Brewing in Albion (halfway between Elkhart and Ft. Wayne) said that his brewery is still a one-man operation, and that he just couldn’t free up the time to pour at Microbrewers Festival. This was a sentiment repeated by other breweries, including Noah Herron of Urban Brews, who told me, “We chose this time to not pour because our brewing equipment is too small and demand at Urban Vines for our beer is too high. We hope to increase capacity in the future which will allow us to do a few festivals in 2019.”
It seemed that being a larger distance from Indiana exacerbates the problems of staffing, time, and even beer, and this resulted in many smaller breweries from the far reaches of Indiana choosing or being forced to miss the Festival. It’s a shame because they have a lot to offer. But distance and amount of beer aren’t the only reasons for not attending, staffing can be an issue by itself if people are away or if the brewery has committed to another event on the same day.
Life happens; scheduling conflicts, especially in the summer, are going to occur unless a brewery is physically chained to his mash tun and his staff is tied to the tap faucets. Several breweries were absent from this year’s Summerfest simply because they had other things going on that day. Jim Estry of St. John Malt Brothers said they were participating at History on Tap at the Buckley Homestead in Lowell, and Joshua Hull of HopLore explained that their BrewGrass festival was also held last Saturday.
Jerod Agler of Chapman’s Brewing in Angola said, “Chapman’s was booked with company events this year. I have full intentions to be there next year; it’s a great event.” And Chris Weeks of Wasser Brewing had a family vacation planned for months, they taking their son back to his birthplace in California before he leaves for college later this month. No one can say that wasn’t a great reason to miss a festival.
Collaborations, day jobs, other festivals closer to home…. there were as many reasons as there were breweries who couldn’t make it. But for some breweries the reason not to pour at the festival was completely in their hands, and they chose not to attend because that is what was best for their business.
As I supposed above, some breweries are so focused on their neighborhood and their patrons that large festivals just aren’t part of their business plan. Many small neighborhood brewpubs use a different philosophy of business – they know that locals are their bread and butter, and in many cases these are located in small towns and become a focus of the town itself.
In these cases, pouring at a large festival perhaps a hundred miles away is going to make no positive difference to their bottom line and in turn will probably cost them a good deal. Add to this fact that in many cases, these are the same breweries that have smaller systems and staffs, so going to a big festival makes even less business sense. Richard Otey of Donum Dei Brewery and Distillery in New Albany said, “Being close to a metro area outside the state has business challenges different than the other parts of the state. Our market is well outside the area served by the festival. We feel that with limited personnel resources and time are better spent participating in as many local events as possible. This does not pertain to the guild, I understand that this is a fundraiser for the group as a whole and the guild has done some fantastic things for small breweries around the state; however, we have made a business decision not to participate in events where we do not have at least a chance of making a profit or drive traffic to our taproom.”
This is to the point and well reasoned, and is reinforced by the statement of Jeff Smith of Evansville Brewhouse who told me, “As a small brewery located in extreme southwestern Indiana, I doubt that pouring at events in Indy results in a measurable increase in business. I tend to focus on Evansville area beer festivals that support local not-for-profit organizations. With that said, I did participate in Winterfest 2018 and intend to do so again in 2019. Part of the appeal of Winterfest is the indoor venue that helps protect against adverse weather conditions.”
Some small brewpubs join the guild and others don’t because of their focus on small town business rather than statewide factors in brewing, and the Guild understands this. Rob Caputo, Director of the Guild said, “Almost every state has breweries who do not become members of their guild for a variety of reasons, and most states who do large festival type fundraisers also do not have full participation in the event for a variety of reasons.” Tristan added, “We commend their decision to focus on their backyard and those closest to them; it’s often a smart business decision with a positive impact.”
For example, The Seymour Brewing Company is a paying member of the Guild, yet they still did not pour at Microbrewers Festival. The owner and head brewer, Ritch Mettert, said, ”For us as a nano-brewery already running at capacity to keep up with the demands of our brewpub it is hard to justify taking the volume required and the staff to a festival. We really need to know that we are supporting our community locally or reaching people who would actually make the trip to our small town to feel like it is worth both the time and the lost revenue.”
Even the breweries don’t join the Guild still have access to a lot of the Guild’s support. Rob told me, “Brewers of Indiana Guild supports all Indiana craft breweries whether a paying member or not. This includes legislative support, access to Guild resources for goods and services, support on ATC and excise questions, basic listings on our app and website, and the opportunity to purchase tickets to our annual brewers conference. Paying members receive additional benefits including invitations to pour at Guild fundraising events, a ticket to our annual brewers conference, full listings on both our app and our website, member only special pricing from our business members, and Guild subsidized product testing.”
Rob added, “There are additional benefits for our paying members, but these are the primary, high profile, benefits that we currently offer. We continue to add benefits based on member feedback from our annual survey, and as opportunities are presented to us from those businesses that support the craft beer industry.”
The way all this works out is fairly serendipitous – the Guild doesn’t have room for every brewery in the state to pour. Co-incidently, not every member is going to be able to pour and the business philosophy of some breweries means that they probably won’t joint the Guild or pour. So, take the number of breweries that are going to have a scheduling conflict – it’s about 15-25, changing every year but fairly consistent, then add the number of breweries that don’t make enough beer to keep their patrons in beer and pour at a festival (20-30), the breweries that are happy being ultra-local (10-15), and the number that are just too new to start pouring at festivals (5-10). This gives you about 60-70 breweries. The remaining Indiana breweries are just about the perfect number for the size of the Guild festivals, including the upcoming South Shore Brew Fest (update: this festival has been postponed to 2019) and the Broad Ripple Beer Fest at Opti-Park in October (the 27th this year). It’s nice how these things work out.
You can see all the great breweries that poured at Microbrewers Festival last week by looking at the website or the Drink IN app, but I urge you to also seek out and patronize the list of breweries below that did not get a chance to pour at the festival, for whatever reason. Indiana beer has a lot to offer, and an educated drinking public needs to know about all of them.
Breweries that didn’t pour at Microbrewers Festival: 10-56 Brewing – Knox, 2Toms Brewing – Ft. Wayne, 95Ate5 Brewpub – St. John, Back Alley Brewery – Goshen, Bad Dad Brewing – Fairmount, Barley Island Brewing – Noblesville, Basket Case Brewing – Jasper, Bird Boy Brewing – Roanoke, Books & Brews – Indianapolis, Brokerage Brewing – W. Lafayette, Brugge Brasserie – Indianapolis, Bulldog Brewing – Whiting, Central State Brewing – Indianapolis, Chapman’s Brewing – Angola, Craisan Brewing – Brookston, Crooked Ewe Brewing – South Bend, CT Doxey Brewing – Anderson, Donum Dei Brewery – New Albany, Elm St. Brewing – Muncie, Evansville Brewhouse – Evansville, Fenwick Farms Brewing – Rensaelear, Figure Eight Brewing – Valparaiso, Floyd County Brewing – New Albany, Four Fathers Brewing – Valparaiso, Gnometown Brewing – Ft. Wayne, Guesswork Brewing – Albion, Heavenly Goat Brewing – Granger, Hoosier Brewing – Fairland, HopLore Brewing – Leesburg, Hunter’s Brewing– Chesterton, Iechyd Da Brewing – Elkhart, Koontz Lake Brewing – Walkerton, LaOtto Brewing – LaOtto, Lil’ Charlie’s – Batesville, Mad Paddle Brewing – Madison, Man Cave Brewing – Syracuse, Nailer’s Brewing – Whiteland, New Boswell Brewing – Richmond, New Oberpfalz Brewing – Griffith, Oaken Barrel Brewing – Greenwood, Old 41 Brewing – Terre Haute, Point Blank Brewing – Corydon, Pokro Brewing – Griffith, Powerhouse Brewing – Columbus, Raintree Brewing – New Harmony, Red Foot Brewing – Jeffersonville, Riverfront Brewing – Shelbyville, Salt Creek Brewing – Needmore, Shoreline Brewing – Michigan City, St. John Malt Brothers – St. John, Shaggy Ass Brewing – Clinton, Shale Creek Brewing – Franklin, South Bend Brew Works – South Bend, Summit City Brewerks – Ft. Wayne, Tell City Brewing – Tell City, The Seymour Brewing Co. – Seymour, The Vincennes Brewing Co. – Vincennes, Tin Man Brewing – Evansville, Tin Man – Kokomo – Kokomo, Turoni’s Main St. Brewing – Evansville, Twenty Below Brewing – Indianapolis, Urban Brews – Westfield, Union Brewing – Carmel, Wasser Brewing – Greencastle, Webster Brewing – Greenwood, Wedgewood Brewing – Middlebury, Wildrose Brewing – Griffith, Windmill Brewing – Dyer, Zorn Brew Works – Michigan City