21 Jun The 10th Crown Beer Fest Delights Crowd, Provides Us With Loads of Indiana Craft Beer News
We’ve talked often about the benefits and difficulties to breweries for participating in festivals. They can get some good marketing, introduction to new territory, and/or test out some new beers on a large crowd. However, there are also multiple reasons for craft beer fans to attend festivals. Yes, there’s more than beer at a festival.
Craft beer, if it’s anything, is a social activity. What’s the use of trying different beers from different breweries if you don’t have someone to talk about them with? Even truer, craft beer is just a lubricant for social interaction; it’s the power steering on the social interaction automobile – you don’t have to have it, but it sure helps move things along.
There’s also the travel aspect to festivals, you get to see a different environment and experience the places and people of that area. It doesn’t have to be long way from home to help you find new restaurants, new breweries, and new people. Along with those new things, a good festival is going to introduce you to new food, new music groups, and perhaps new artists or crafters. The best festivals take you out of your rut and introduce you to new things, whether it be new styles of beer, or new experiences. Then you get to talk about them with the people there – both old and new friends.
And yes you’re right, there’s all the beer, cider, mead, wine and sometimes kombucha. Festivals are a chance to step out of your beer comfort zone and learn about new beers, styles, and flavor profiles. Walter overheard a guy this past weekend walked up to a brewery booth he wasn’t familiar with and ask if they had any IPAs. When told that they didn’t – he just walked away. That’s not the way to make the most of a festival, in my opinion.
I try to look for new beers, for breweries making styles that they usually don’t, for styles that are more rare, or a beer that riffs on a style. Of course, if there’s a beer you have always enjoyed, by all means grab a splash and enjoy it again. A festival also gives you time with brewery personnel to ask questions and to give feedback on what they do. They love to have your reasoned opinions on what you think they are doing well or what they might try or change. Take that opportunity to be an engaged craft beer fan, but be fair and cordial. Don’t give a brewery a reason to dismiss your input.
This weekend we visited the Crown Beer Fest in Crown Point, put on by Crown Brewing with the assistance of Bosak Auto as major sponsor again this year (check out the website for the other sponsors as well). This was the 10th anniversary of the festival, as marked on the souvenir glasses, with the festival growing each year in size and scope. More than 50 breweries, cideries, and meaderies were on hand for 2019, including local, regional, and national names.
The Lake County Fair just south of Crown Point’s downtown was again the venue for the event, under the roofs of the Industrial and 4H buildings. There was some rain in the area, but since the check in and the corrals were under cover as well no one had to worry about getting wet. With nine food vendors to go with the craft beverages, this more of a food and drink festival than most, and that is appreciated by everyone getting hungry during the afternoon. There were even coupons for a free item from the food vendors, so there was no reason to go hungry.
The selection of breweries was pleasing, with the host brewery supplying a great number of choices. There were breweries from the region, but also from other parts of the state, including Indianapolis and further south. There were breweries we don’t get to try as often as we’d like since we live in Indy, like Evil Horse, Round Barn, and One Trick Pony. Manic Meadery from Crown Point was completely new to us, and it was a shame that Brandon from Logansport Brewing couldn’t make an appearance. Logansport is so new, I guess it’s good that they were busy enough at the taproom that they couldn’t spare the beer or people – it’s a good problem to have.
Many of the breweries had beers that they tapped only for early entry, or waited until later in the festival to tap. This ensured that there were interesting and new choices throughout all parts of the venue all during the event and it kept people engaged. And the souvenir pint glasses were just that, glass, so you could see your beer and have a usable item when you got home. As far as the beers we tried, Walter states that the Party Wolf from Greenbush and the Triple Tap from IBRU were two of her favorite IPAs of the day. I particularly enjoyed the Marionberry mead from Manic, the King Hamilton from Off Square Brewing, the Alligator Blood from Foreign Local, and The Jefferson Grisette from Ironwood Brewing.
There was a good amount of beer on hand; some people did start to run out of some selections as the afternoon worn on, but that’s actually a good thing for the breweries and keeps them participating in festivals. The worst thing to have happen for a brewery at a festival is to have beer left over. It has to be hauled out, and it represents a lost opportunity to have engaged a drinker with that beer. The best festivals have all the breweries run out of beer just as the event ends, and this means that some are going to run out earlier. No problem, there were plenty of choices.
We talked at the beginning of this piece about ways to use festivals as a craft beer fan – I do it by asking questions. Yes, Walter and I know pretty much all the brewers and many of the owners and people working booths, but the best question is always, “What’s going on at your brewery these days?” You don’t have to know them to ask that question, but if that doesn’t work for you, how about, “Tell me about your brewery.”
Granted, it’s easier to do this in the early entry period, but you can manage it during GA as well. If there’s gap in the line, or one person pouring and another talking, they will always be up for an honest question about their business – it’s why they are there.
What I learned this weekend, just from this single festival and just by being interested in their business:
18th Street Brewery in Hammond/Gary – I asked Mike Mendoza about the slow progress on the 18th Street taproom in Indianapolis. He said they are definitely moving forward, it’s just been so busy lately that they didn’t get the construction schedule set, and now it’s summer and construction crews are harder to come by and costly. The project is not in doubt, it’s just going to be a fall opening instead of this summer debut.
Burn ‘Em Brewing from Michigan City – We got to catch up with Robin Carey and hear all the goings on from the north and northeast. We also talked about Bare Bones Gastropub, Burn ‘Em’s new enterprise in LaPorte. They are open full time now, with what sounds like a stunning menu.
Illiana Beer Rackers Union (IBRU) – Besides drinking their beer, we talked to a father and son combination brew crew who are currently considering buildings in Crown Point as a home for their own professional brewery. It’s always good for someone in my position to hear about these potential breweries early so we can start to write about them. We also were happy to hear that IBRU will be one of the cubs pouring at this Saturday’s Indiana Homebrew Palooza at Grand Junction Brewing’s taproom parking lot (tickets available here).
Windmill Brewing in Dyer – The quality of this brewery always makes me want to write more about them, and now I have double the reason to make the trip to Dyer. Head Brewer Mike Glowacki is brewing those great Windmill beers, but he is also producing beer there under his own gyspy label – Foreign Local. Look for an article on this brewery in the near future.
Creatures of Habit Brewing from Anderson – Co-owner and head brewer Dan Stachowiak is looking to do some local distribution around Anderson. This means that he is ramping up beer production and is scrambling to keep ahead of the tremendous call for his beer from the people packing the new taproom.
Crasian Brewing from Brookston – Owners and brewers Michele and Tom Bulington tell us that they are splitting the brewing duties. Tom is brewing larger batches on their big system, while Michele is responsible for the one-offs and small batches. The Jailbreak DIPA from Saturday was an example of the latter, with a great flavor and rich color.
Tom also talked about a the QuickCarb system that he just got from Blichmann Engineering in Lafayette that allows you to carbonate a corny keg of beer in just under 30 minutes. Introduced in 2016, this is the first that someone has talked to me about it and I want to learn more.
Zorn Brew Works from Michigan City – They had lots of merchandise on Saturday and lots of information their changes. The Brewery Lodge is doing very well and they had information pamphlets about it (Walter took one so I guess we’re going for a visit). Also, Zorn is getting ready to finish out the full kitchen in their taproom so they can do a full menu. This will be a great addition to one of the unsung great breweries of the state. Look for even more styles of beer from Zorn, as Joe Pokropinski (formerly of Pokro Brewing) has joined the brew team.
Off Square Brewing from Crown Point – Dave Hellwege and company are looking to expand distribution of Off Square Brewing to the south, perhaps including Indianapolis. To help introduce themselves to the people in Central Indiana who don’t already know them, Off Square recently completed a collaboration beer with Upland Brewing in Bloomington. Look for the release in early July. There might be more news on Off Square in Central Indiana later, so stay tuned.
Fenwick Farms Brewing from Rensselaer – These guys are excited about the upcoming second Amber Waves music and craft beverage festival on August 17th. They are looking for the festival to grow by quite a large amount this year, and have invested in a billboard on I-65 as you go past Rensselaer. We’ll talk more about breweries and signage in the near future.
St. John Malt Brothers in St. John – The brewery is happy to report that the brew house is in place at the new production location and they are just about ready to resume brewing. It’s just in time too, the beer had been flowing fast as they said goodbye to their old location and as they took up digs at SJMB at 95Ate5.
Manic Meadery from Crown Point – Tony Qualls and Keith Cantwell opened Manic in December in Crown Point, doing wine, mead, and cider. They had a very nice selection and I’m surprised we hadn’t heard about them prior to this. They described their Napa Valley-esque tasting room for us and it looks like we’ll be back up this direction soon to pay them a visit
Pokro Brewing in Griffith – Dave Gizynski took over the management and brewing at Pokro Brewing from Joe Pokropinski in early 2019. The beers have remained high quality, as witnessed by the two bottles I took home a couple of weeks ago after a visit to the taproom. Dave is there more than 40 hours a week now, and with the help of the serving staff, the feel and atmosphere, as well as the Dyngus Day celebration, are just as good as ever.
Four Fathers Brewing in Valparaiso – The mobile taproom is about to come home to Valpo from Michigan, so you don’t have long to enter the contest to name the shipping container turned beer location on wheels. Jason and Beth have a leader in the naming contest, but nothing is set in stone and a new name could come in any day to take over the favorite position. (UPDATE – There is a winner in the naming contest – The Bomb Shelter was submitted by Mark Thorpe, congratulations) Look for the mobile taproom at the July 18th concert at the Central Park Plaza.
See how much you can learn by just asking a question or two at a festival? All the breweries are there, and they want you to be involved in their evolution – it’s part of building that personal relationship that is so important for their growth. Use festivals to become the envy of your beer drinking friends with your knowledge of, and appreciation for, Indiana craft beer. And whatever you do, drop me an email when you get something hot, I can’t rely on Mike Wilson for everything.
banner image credit: Crown Beer Fest