The Big Winners at Indiana Brewers Cup 2023 – Small Towns, Small Systems, and Beer Flavored Beer

The Big Winners at Indiana Brewers Cup 2023 – Small Towns, Small Systems, and Beer Flavored Beer

by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap

On Saturday evening, July 8, the awards for the 2023 Indiana Brewers’ Cup (IBC) were handed out at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. One hundred and three medals were awarded in 35 categories, covering all the styles of beer, cider, and mead. Most importantly, it was a chance for a large part of the craft beverage community, both professional and homebrew, to come together in camaraderie and celebration of the industry.

We’ll talk about the homebrewers that put their hobby out there for criticism at IBC and the National Homebrew Competition in a few days, but today we’ll focus on the commercial breweries that submitted beers for judging. Please remember, not winning a bunch of medals, or not even submitting beers to competitions, is not a knock on anyone’s beer. There are millions of fantastic beers out there that have never won a medal, but medaling is an accomplishment which is, appropriately, recognized by one’s peers.

A big winner on the evening was Primeval Brewing in Noblesville. Owners/brewers Nathan Compton and Tim Palmer and their small town microbrewery were named Indiana Champion Brewery of the Year and Grand Champion Brewery of the Year thanks to the 17 points they amassed from their eight medals. You can see all the results here, but for the sake of helping you not have to sort through the spreadsheet, Primeval won: 1st in Strong European Beer for Chompinator, 1st in German Wheat & Rye Beer for Titus, 1st in British & Irish Stouts with My Pretty Irish Girl, 1st in the Saison category for Spring Fling, 2nd in Strong Belgian Beer for their M.C. Quad, 3rd in Smoke Flavored Beer with Rauch My World, 3rd in Pale European Ale for their Welcome to Helles, and 3rd with the Best in Show Beer category for Titus.

Sun King Brewing also had a great evening, winning nine medals, and with 3 points for a 1st, 2 for a 2nd, and a point for a 3rd, Sun King and Primeval both ended up with 17 points. However, Primeval was awarded the grand trophies based on the fact that they had four 1st place beers, while Sun King had one. Both were tremendous results, and we celebrate them both. However, the Primeval win does help point out two things 1) that small town, small system breweries had a fantastic evening at IBC, and 2) to-style beer done well is still a force in craft beer – beer flavored beer had a very good night.

Primeval Brewing with their hardware. image credit: Indiana State Fair

I talked to Nathan and Tim about these things and the honors they took home Saturday night. Nathan said, “The Indiana Brewers’ Cup means a lot to me personally because I was involved with running the competition for many years prior to starting Primeval. Competing as homebrewers and gaining the judge feedback on that side helped shape the recipes we now brew professionally. But the most satisfying thing is probably just the chance to step back and celebrate for a night after years of hard work.” Tim saw two reasons to be happy with the win, “To see all the hard work that has been put into building Primeval pay off in this way is great, and also to be able to bring this honor to Noblesville, our employees and all our patrons who call us home!”

About being a small, brewery with a big win, Tim said, “I think that this is one of the great things about this competition.  It can showcase how smaller breweries can make fantastic beers!  We continue to see this every year!” Nathan added, “I want to mention how much I appreciate the State Fair and Indiana Brewers’ Cup for keeping their entry fees reasonable. There are some competitions where entering is a hard decision for a small brewery like ours just due to the cost. So I think the accessibility of Brewers’ Cup helps small breweries show what they can do.”

Another small town brewery, Black Dog Brewing in Mooresville, took home a whopping 6 medals, including the winner for Best in Show beer for their Barrel Aged Current Mood #3 Imperial Stout. The brewery won medals in Belgian Ale (1st – Good Vibrations), Wood Aged Beer (1st – BA Current Mood #3), Specialty Beer (1st – Graffiti Road), Brown British Beer (2nd – Dillinger Brown Ale), Saison (3rd – Saison) along with the Best in Show winner.

McClure’s Orchard in Peru, yet another small town establishment (actually even more rural than most), took five medals in the cider categories, including a 2nd in the Best in Show Cider/Mead category. This is commendable to be sure, but perhaps a more remarkable feat was pulled off by small town brewery Creek Bottom Brewery of Oldenburg.

Creek Bottom is the first brewery (that I know of) to win medals for both beer and cider in the same IBC competition. Brewers Steve and Matt Stahley took home four medals in total, including a 1st in the Indiana Ingredients Cider & Mead, a 2nd in the Mixed Cider category, a 3rd in the Best in Show Mead/Cider, and then a 3rd in the strong UK Ale category for their Scotch Ale called McNickel – I love that beer.

Steve and Matt said, When a local apple orchard approached us about making hard ciders with their apples, we thought what a great way to support another local business.  Also adding ciders to our lineup would provide an additional option to our current customers and potentially bring in new customers that enjoy a great cider.  As we are licensed as a brewery, we are used to only being able to sell what we make, so it was natural to us to then become a winery so we could sell an in-house made cider.  Being the first to medal in both beer and cider at the IBC, helps to show our customers we take a lot of pride in what every we craft.”

Small town Pax Verum Brewing in Lapel won four medals as well, including the 1st place beer using Indiana ingredients (along with a 1st in the American Porter & Stout group, a 2nd in the pilsner group, and a 2nd in the Dark European Beer category). I really appreciate the inclusion of categories for Indiana ingredient beers and Indiana ingredient ciders and meads. It is important to recognize and laud the Indiana agri-companies that are contributing to the great beer coming out of Indiana and beyond.

Head brewer Colt Carpenter also spoke to this importance. He said, “It is important to us at Pax Verum to try and use local ingredients when possible because we believe local ingredients can produce amazing beers that utilize local terroir. I work with Caleb at Sugar Creek Malt to use his grain on a lot of our beers. We have installed a silo to use his Brewers Malt for the bulk of our base malt, and also use his Pilsner and specialty malts pretty consistently. We have been using certain hops from Crazy Horse for several years.”

He added, “winning the Indiana Only is special because it was a collaboration brew I did with Great Fermentations. Anita Johnson was the first person to give me a shot in the brewing industry, and Great Fermentations is always family, so making Thirteen & Thirty-Two with them for home brewers to make and then winning Gold brings it all together.”

Bloomington brewery, The Tap, and head brewer Jarrod May added to their considerable list of medals with four more at IBC this year. Take a look at this list: 1st and 2nd in Strong UK Beer for Old Wooden Head and Pipes & Plaid, 2nd in Scottish & Irish Beer for The Morrigan, and 3rd in Strong Belgian Beer for Delta Quadrant. Do you notice anything about those medals? Answer – they’re all European categories, and all the beers are European styles (English Barleywine, Wee Heavy, Irish Red, and Belgian Dark Strong).

Jarrod has won numerous medals in all styles of beer, including American styles, but here The Tap’s medals came exclusively in the European styles. I asked Jarrod about this, and he said, “We have a strong pull towards the classics and traditional styles [see? more beer flavored beer]. Each of the beers that medaled this year at Brewers Cup are in our normal rotation. The Morrigan has been brewed since 2016. We love British, Belgian, and German style beer and you’ll always find a few on tap from us at our locations. We have the capability of introducing and reintroducing these classic and traditional beers to people who may never see them otherwise.” It is also interesting to note that The Tap’s medals all came for to-style brewing, much like those for Primeval – more beer flavored beer.

Flix Brewhouse – Carmel and their brewers Josh Miller and Lindsey Perdue had another good day at IBC, following up their medals at several other competitions in the past couple of years and the brewery’s Grand Champion win at the 2019 IBC. The small batch brewery from Sun King in Fishers also celebrated four medals, including a 2nd in the Best in Show Beer for their Flanders red called Stupid Sexy Flanders.

That’s a lot of medals from some stellar breweries, but they weren’t the only ones to win multiple medals. Several breweries won two medals, including Crasian Brewing in Brookston, Creatures of Habit Brewing in Anderson, Daredevil Brewing in Speedway, Feed Store Beer in Bloomfield, Floyd County Brewing in New Albany, Guggman Haus Brewing in Indianapolis, Hog Molly Brewing in Columbus, Hop River Brewing in Fort Wayne, Junk Ditch Brewing in Fort Wayne, Metazoa Brewing in Indianapolis, Moontown Brewing in Whitestown, Teays River Brewing in Lafayette, and Wooden Bear Brewing in Greenfield. Congrats to all of them; hang those medals up proudly.

Further, a bunch of other Indiana breweries won a single medal at the event – they are all winners and should be proud of their accomplishment. These include: 2Toms Brewing in Fort Wayne, Bier Brewery in Indianapolis, Blind Owl Brewery in Indianapolis, Brokerage Brewing in Lafayette, Byway Brewing in Hammond, Field Brewing in Westfield, Grand Junction Brewing in Westfield, Gnometown Brewing in Fort Wayne, Goshen Brewing in Goshen, Mad Anthony Brewing in Fort Wayne, MashCraft Brewing in Greenwood, Science Project Brewing in Logansport, Triton Brewing in Lawrence and Upland Brewing in Bloomington.

Notice in these lists of medal winners are many small system, small town breweries. It’s kind of a subjective point as to what is a small system, what is a small town, but by my count, we had medals go to 15 different small system/small town breweries (compared to 10 in both 2021 and 2022). That’s 42% of the Indiana winning breweries for all of IBC in 2023. This means that no matter in what portion of Indiana you find yourself, you’re going to find great beer. Big city, small town, rural area, there’s beer to be found. Heck, we just had breweries/meaderies open VERY recently in South Whitley (E Brewing Company), Gosport (Lost in the Woods Winery), and 21 Guns Brewery (Jasonville).

Colt from Pax Verum summed up the complex environment of being a more rural brewery, “Sure, Lapel is a small town, but we love being there. We have a great relationship with the town and our locals. Pax Verum isn’t restricted to Lapel; we distribute all around the Indianapolis area and all the way to the Michigan border. We don’t view ourselves as a small town brewery, we say ‘we are out there,’ because you have to make the trip to the brewery but also we will push the boundaries of what people expect to find in a small town.”

Steve from Creek Bottom added, “When you have a small brewery, you have limited staff and resources, so every batch of product must meet the customers’ expectations, this drives you to focus on quality and to be a bit innovative.  When you, as a brewer, are also working at the tap room serving your beer or cider to your customers, who by the way are many times local friends and family, you get to hear feedback firsthand.  This can be a point of pride, or a way to make you think, how can I make this better.”

Finally, when traveling the state drinking all that great beer, be sure to give proper attention to those classic beers (as I’ve said, beer flavored beer). Breweries that give adequate focus to to-style brewing keeps the bar high for those styles that have been the backbone of beer for centuries. Certainly, breweries can make all different kinds of beer, but I appreciate those that keep at least one eye on those beers that form the basis of all others.

Again, congratulations to all the breweries that looked to improve their beer by getting constructive criticism from judges, it will make their beer better in the long run, and tells them what they are doing very well. But don’t dismiss a brewery because they didn’t win grand Champion, or any medals for that matter.

Perhaps they didn’t enter, perhaps they submitted great beers, just not one of the three best beers in that category – there’s no inherent shame in not winning a medal and it shouldn’t keep you from trying out a brewery. Drink them for yourself and decide for yourself, but always use the feedback you read about (like the medals won at IBC) to help make yourself a more knowledgeable drinker.

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