Visiting Crown Beer Fest and Summer Sippin’ Lets Us Talk About Hard Decisions

Visiting Crown Beer Fest and Summer Sippin’ Lets Us Talk About Hard Decisions

by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap

Walter and I spent last Saturday at two craft beer festivals in northern Indiana, enjoying a beautiful day with great friends and great beers. The Crown Beer Fest in Crown Point was our first stop, which we then followed up with a visit to the Summer Sippin’ Craft Brew Fest in Plymouth. We had additional options – Corkscrew and Brew in Chesterton or the 7th Anniversary Party at Burn ‘Em Brewing in Michigan City, but timing and gas prices put a limit on where we could easily go.

It was a gorgeous day, a brief respite between the oppressive heat of last week and the similarly oppressive heat of this week, and that fact started Walter and I on a series of observations about decisions that have to be made when planning and managing festivals – our discussion concluded that there are no easy choices. Everything from invitations for vendors to whether to hold the event indoors or outdoors to whether to expand from last year – all decisions are open to second guessing and all make a difference for the bottom line.

Take for an example, whether to hold the event indoors or outdoors. Sometimes you don’t have a choice, there might be a location that you can get free or cheap, or you may be limited by size. Crown Beer Fest moved back indoors at the Lake County Fairgrounds this year after being held outdoors at Bulldog Park in 2021. Bulldog Park has a covered area, but you’re still definitely outdoors, at the mercy of Mother Nature. By choosing to have it indoors, you’re taking rain or wind out of the equation, but you also miss the opportunity to take advantage of a beautiful day.

Saturday was 72 degrees and sunny with just a bit of a breeze – the perfect day for an outdoor festival. Summer Sippin’ in Plymouth was held at River Park Square, taking advantage of the day, but it would have been a completely different feel (and walk-up ticket sales would have suffered) if it had been raining. On the other hand, Crown Beer Fest was just fine indoors, but think about how great it could have been in that mild sun. As an organizer, you just have to make a decision and live with it – believe me, I’ve tried planning an indoor option for an outdoor festival just in case – it’s dang near impossible.

Another example of a decision that has to be made and then lived with is whether to expand or contract a festival. Great tickets sales one year suggest that an organizer should plan for more attendees the next year, but that means make a bigger investment in the event. More vendors means more stipend money spent. Ordering additional cups means more money spent. More beer means more ice (ie. more money spent). If this is a fundraiser festival or has a charity partner – all these decisions make a difference to the funds brought in for a good cause.

This year is turning out to be a difficult one to gauge as to how many people are going to purchase tickets for festivals. Last year (2021) was one in which people were looking to get back to social events and being out with friends. Attendance numbers jumped last year for many festivals, and one would have thought that it might have continued for 2022, but it hasn’t been that easy.

Inflation and gas prices have made it harder to justify discretionary expenditures on things like beer festivals; yet that same inflation has raised the costs for festival organizers too. To break even with 2021, they need to bring in more people or significantly raise the price of tickets. Both Crown Beer Fest and Summer Sippin’ had good crowds, but growth anywhere has been hard to find. Now the organizers need to debrief and start to think about sizes and amenities for 2023 – it never gets easier.

Another comparison we made wasn’t between these two festivals, but between Northern Indiana festivals and those in the central part of the state. It seems that festivals up north tend to use much more product provided by distributors. National and regional brands are more prevalent at events in the north, while events closer to Indy tend to rely on Indiana produced product. It isn’t that one way or the other is better, they’re just different.

Using distributor product can allow for more options and less work on doing invitations (work = time and effort, and time and effort = money). Most attendees are casual beer fans, and like the idea of trying national brands that they like or have heard of, while locally produced beers are less known and don’t have the same name appeal. However, that’s what festivals are all about, letting brands become more well known and getting people seek them out.

In central Indiana, festivals like Whitestown Brew Fest, History on Tap, Rock the Junction, Frigid Digits, Haute Hops & Vines, and Anderson On Tap use Indiana produced product exclusively. Brews on Buckeye in Kokomo does use some distributor product, but it is a bit of an outlier. These festivals look more to support and feature local breweries, wineries, and distilleries who can then hope that people will seek out their taprooms and tasting rooms, or ask for them at their local watering holes. Once again, each model has its own advantages and disadvantages – they are just different from each other.

As for our experiences on Saturday – so much fun. Crown Brewing hosted the event to perfection again, including a nice corral to get everyone in quickly, and well spread-out booths so lines were less likely to cross. As a special surprise, we got to try the People’s Brewing Company Grisette called Grisetta Stone – remember people, you need to ask them if they brought a super-secret beer, many of them do bring a few cans or bottles of something special.

There were great choices all around the building. Fuzzyline Brewing brought four beers we hadn’t had, including their anniversary beer, Annie Blue. I thought I was being funny by asking Blockhead Beerworks if they had brought any sushi, but apparently I was the third person to ask that same day, but they did bring four new beers that we got to try for the first time. Hosts Crown Brewing did themselves proud with an interesting blonde doppelbock called Jailhouse Bock and a fantastic RIS called Robo-Uber-Bear.

Walter was partial to the tropical session IPA from Teays River Brewery called Everyday Sunshine (she compared it to Founders All Day, interesting name similarity). She also liked the Mind Your Colonel Coffee Copper Lager from Foamation Project, made with her favorite – Smugglers Coffee out of Lowell.

It took us just over an hour to get to Plymouth from Crown Point, and we arrived at Summer Sippin’ just in time to join a good crowd who was enjoying all the choices – a huge number of samples for a smaller, more local festival. The band on the amphitheater stage was great, the sun was warm and dipping into the west so that there wasn’t glare or a big chance for a burn. As a late afternoon to evening festival, Summer Sippin’ was a great recipient of the good weather, and people enjoyed themselves until the sun was down.

We doubled up on some breweries at Summer Sippin’ – 18th Street Brewery was there through their distributor, while the brewery rep.s were at Crown Brewing. Shoreline Brewery mimicked this model, with different beers at each fest. We loved the local breweries that were there, 10-56 Brewing was pouring great beers, from a fruited sour to a cumber and mint blonde. Koontz Lake Brewing had a hefe and a German Pilsner, and E Brewing amazed us again, this time with a non-alcoholic hop water, a couple of seltzers, and Walter’s favorite IPA – Melty Face.

I have to say, that I’m partial to the homebrew, like that of E Brewing, and the great list of beers brought by the Marshall County Home Brew Club. How many times can you get a medal winning old ale, a solera’d beer blend, a strong saison, and an experimental hop (Zamba) in a single hop pale ale. Not a miss or an average beer among them. Lakeville Brew Crew was there somewhere, but in a bizarre turn, we somehow missed them – I can’t figure out how that happened.

Thad and Christian from Michiana Beer Reviewers were at the festival and held another of their popular Best of the Fest contests, voted on by the attendees. The winner in a tight vote was Fessor’s Brewery from Argos, which had great beers on hand, including the talk of the event, the coffee stout called Beggar’s Tomb. Congratulations to Josh and company, and we suggest you visit them in Argos to see the large expansion they are undertaking for the brewpub.

Overall, a great double dip of festivals, with an evening stop at Sun King Kokomo on the way home. JD is producing great beers there, and he had ten his own beers on the board to go with ten beers from the mothership brewery in Indy. Great people watching on the patio and a good pizza from Oscars – a great ending to a great day.

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