31 May The Next Step in Craft Beer Festivals – Homebrew Palooza on June 22nd
Some trends in craft beer never reach their potential – like eisbocks – I think every brewery should have an eisbock. Other trends perhaps go too far and get too much attention, like standing in line for releases. And then again, some trends catch on and deserve every bit of notoriety they get. My example of this kind of movement in craft beer is home brew at festivals.
Almost every festival you attend these days has a home brew component, either with home brewers pouring their beer or some sort of competition amongst home brewers during which we get to sample their beers. Even small events can include home brewers; the last three Indiana On Tap Tasting Society member events have included some home brew. It’s hard to imagine that this trend would wear itself out because the brewers are always changing and the beers are always evolving.
Home brewers can make more interesting beers because they aren’t constrained by the cost of making large batches. If they want to add gold leaf to a beet sour, they can do it for merely an outrageous price, not the ridiculous price of doing it for 3-10 barrels of the same beer. Of course, now that I mentioned it, somebody somewhere is going to make a beer with gold leaf in it. But that’s one of the beauties of small batch brewing.
Now it’s time for the next step in home brew – a large festival completely dedicated to amateur beer makers. The Indiana Homebrew Palooza will take place on June 22nd at the Grand Junction Taproom (1189 E. 181st St.) in Westfield. And as good as that sounds, the charity partner and the cause for which this festival was conceived is even better. Since home brewers can’t be paid stipends for their beer (they’d lose their amateur status), almost all the proceeds for the festival go directly to The House That Beer Built, a project of the Boone County Habitat for Humanity.
I sat down with festival organizers Nick Boling and Jeremiah Tyson of the Circle City Zymurgy (CCZ) Home Brew Club in Indianapolis to talk about the upcoming festival (just three weeks away). The genesis of the festival came from Jerry Tyson, a pitch to do an Oktoberfest festival last year with German beers from all the participants. Unfortunately, the timing didn’t work out, so they decided to try and get something together for the summer of 2019. Nick and Jerry bounced ideas off each other and off other club members for a few months; they knew the idea of a home brew festival would work based on the popularity of home brews at Indiana On Tap Tasting Society events dedicated to home brew and from other festivals that had been featuring homemade beers.
They both agreed that they probably wouldn’t have pursued a festival if it hadn’t been for that first home brew night at the Indiana On Tap Tasting Society event in November of 2017. Nick told me, “A lady walked up me and said that the only reason she was there was because we were pouring. One, it makes you feel good, but it also tells you that this could work.”
That event sold out faster than any other Tasting Society night and the feedback convinced them that an entire festival could be driven by just home brews. But how to put it together and how to connect it to the community? These guys and their club aren’t made of money, so footing the bill to put on a festival was going to be a challenge.
One of the challenges to overcome was finding a place to hold the event that wouldn’t break the bank. Enter Tim Dall, who does a lot of work with House That Beer Built and knows Jon Knight, the owner of Grand Junction Brewing. A short series of talks led to an agreement to hold the festival in the parking lot of the 181st Street taproom at no cost to the festival. Just one more example of how craft breweries are supporters of both the industry and the community. What’s more, Jon was planning on putting in a stage in the front of the parking lot, so the festival would have a place to put bands with out investing in a stage and the insurance for a stage. Good on you, Grand Junction.
The fact that they were talking to Tim Dall clues you in to how early Nick and Jerry (and the rest of the club) had identified The House That Beer Built (HTBB) as a charity partner for the event. The CCZ club members had participated in the 2018 build for HTBB, including spending a day doing the landscaping for the house. The multiple interactions they had with the project convinced them that this was 1) a worthy cause, and 2) was something they wanted to help support monetarily, not just through labor. If the festival wouldn’t have been born with that first Tasting Society event, it’s just as true that there wouldn’t be a reason for the event without HTBB.
I also talked to Liz Qua, the Director of Boone County Habitat for Humanity, to get her input on the festival and its significance. Liz said, “In 2018 THTBB we partnered with Nick Boling and CCZ to help us build and meet our goal of $90,000. We had 6 brewers from the group come help build the house in Whitestown, IN and attended the Home Dedication in August. When they heard we were starting THTBB 2.0 they were all in and the Indiana Homebrew Palooza grew from there! Nick has spear headed the event which has gotten an exciting response from those wanting an event just for home brewers. We are so excited for this day and event – CCZ and Nick have been amazing partners and supporters of HFHBC. They already have their day scheduled for THTBB 2.0!”
So, what about the festival itself? Twelve clubs were signed up early, and I have been talking the festival up to the home brewers Walter and I meet, so there are more brewers coming on all the time, including brewers that aren’t associated with a club. Nick and Jerry’s work to bring on more clubs has even had an unintended consequence; the communication between clubs now is much better than it was before this enterprise started. Nick noted that there hadn’t been a lot of talk between clubs, even locally, but now they have met many more brewers and are talking regularly.
As it stands now, more than three dozen brewers (that’s like having thirty six different breweries) will be pouring more than 75 beers on the 22nd; that’s enough for Walter, but there will be more on hand too. Two food trucks are scheduled, Las Tortugas from Indy and Rolling Silo (the mobile version of Rusted Silo) from Lizton, and the band will be Dear Loser, a 90s cover band from Indianapolis. And yes, you will be able to vote for your favorite brewer – keep your wits about you, you rarely get a chance to really exercise your judging talents. I never pick the winner, my vote usually goes to someone that finishes four or fifth – but I don’t mind other people being wrong.
Feedback from the crowd is one reason that home brewers are willing to give away their beer for free at a festival, but the primary payoff is that they have an opportunity to help a good cause. The idea that they get something for their beer, even if it just the warm fuzzy of helping a cause, is important for the brewers. They are proud of their craft and want something in exchange for their beer – even if it’s just the knowledge that they helped a charity project.
In fact there is often some hesitance/resentment for pouring at a festival if the brewers are giving their beer away and they don’t understand where the money is going. That’s why it’s important that they make sure that all the participating brewers know about the charity aspect of the festival. For the most part, it isn’t that they don’t get paid, it’s just that some brewers don’t like when other people make money off their beer.
But many home brewers realize that there can be perks other than money – like exposure, growing fans, or growing home brewing as a hobby. It’s OK, they can agree to disagree. The take home message is that 1) home brewers make great beer and they are correct to be proud of it (some of my favorite beer), and 2) they are civic minded to the point of wanting to make sure that their efforts support a good cause.
I asked Nick and Jerry what a success for this first festival would look like. They are stepping in to uncharted waters and the outcomes are unpredictable. Jerry said, “If we have 700 people and a good donation to HTBB, that would be a success. “ Think of that, getting 700 people out to drink the products of what people would consider a hobby – you think you could get 700 people to a knitting show, or a even something as popular as a Magic, The Gathering tournament?
There was a big Magic tournament in Louisville a couple of weekends ago and they only had 600 people. Therefore, we can all agree that home brew is a popular thing – what we need to be sure of is that it isn’t just a fad. And the Indiana Homebrew Palooza should help that cause, given the quality of the product and the cause they support. Indiana Homebrew Palooza is hoping to donate $10,000 to HTBB just from the festival, that would be nearly 10% of the total cost for the home – a laudable goal that you can help achieve. Get out to support the people that will be your professional brewers for the next twenty years, and for the civic engagement they champion.
banner image credit: Indiana On Tap