05 Feb WinterFest 2015 Proves It’s About One Thing Only: The Beer
There are beer festivals, and then there are beer festivals.
If you were at Saturday’s 7th annual Winterfest, presented by the Brewers of Indiana Guild, you likely know what I’m talking about.
There are many festivals that pride themselves on the “festival” side of the coin (and many that do it incredibly well); music, food, art, or competitions all take some spotlight there. You know the types, and you’ve undoubtedly had great times there. But Winterfest was all about the beers, of which there were plenty. Too many, you might say, if you are in fact a crazy person.
I was fortunate to have early access to the festival grounds as most breweries were setting up for the day, getting the opportunity to see a 100+ booth festival be built from the ground up. I imagine it was the experience fellow Indiana On Tapper Donovan Wheeler imagined he’d get while checking out set up the day before (check out his awesome piece here); to see the bones of a festival of this magnitude, surely the biggest I’ve ever attended, greatly opened my eyes to how much effort outside of making a beer a brewery must put forth for events like this.
As with the previous night, Michigan City’s Burn ‘Em Brewing was there early, their taps flowing for other brewers and vendors to sample before the gates opened to the approximately 6,000 ticket owners. Being thirsty and all, I made my way over to their booth to give myself a little warm up for the day ahead. Their associate poured for me Duke Silver, their special firkin, my first sampling of the day.
At this point we were still around 30 minutes from the gates opening for those that had purchased VIP/early-entry tickets, and upon checking Twitter I saw that Figure 8 Brewing had already tapped a bourbon barrel aged porter, offered to only the first 200 patrons. I made my way over to other pavilion quickly, not knowing how many people had seen the tweet. This beer was the first I marked as a perfect five in my notebook, which is ultimately meaningless since I stopped grading beers after this one because I am not a member of some faux-panel that arbitrarily awards what is objectively decided upon as the “best” beer at a festival like Winterfest.
Again, Winterfest was all about the beers. All of them.
Moving on, I made one last early stop to see my friends (well, I’d like to think we’re friends) from Cincinnati’s Rhinegeist. If you haven’t had a chance to visit their brewery located in the Over The Rhine neighborhood of the Queen City, then I feel sorry for you. Rhinegeist brought with them a beer called Mastodon, a Belgian-style dark that was in a class of its own, with pronounced notes of apricot, banana, and spice that lingered on your nose long after you downed your sample glass. Next time you make it to Cincinnati, budget time for a stop at Rhinegeist. And go see my buddy Parker at the Eagle, if the country’s best fried chicken and a top notch craft beer menu is something that interests you.
By now we had reached 2:00 PM and early-entry ticket holders had been unleashed onto the floor, so I made my way back to our booth to figure out a gameplan and mee tup with one of Indiana On Tap’s newest members, Cory Huffman. As we moved about the field, Cory recommend our next stop be Iechyd Da Brewing Co., out of Elkhart, where I sampled both the Centurion English IPA and a version of their Revolution American IPA made with lime, pineapple, and habaneros. Cory noted that he couldn’t detect the habanero flavors, but I think he was just trying to be a tough guy. The lime and pineapple notes in this IPA were very interesting and refreshing though.
I then took Cory to Danny Boy Beer Works’ booth for a Miss Ginger Witte and Rock n Rolla Imperial IPA. The Carmel, IN brewery is still young and already making great beers that stand out amongst what the Circle City offers. Next up was Indianapolis’ Tow Yard Brewing Co., and my first-ever sampling of their delicious stout. Tow Yard’s downtown location is fantastic to visit (free parking!), not just for their delicious beers but also their excellent food; I highly recommend the Hub Cap burger and carnitas fries.
We followed the short Indy run with samples of Bloomington Brewing Co.’s Hopstradamus, a giant imperial IPA hopped with Falconer’s Flight and a really nice pine flavor. Around the corner, I had a chance to catch up with Matt Kriech and Damon Carl, our good friends from Wabash Brewing. As I sipped on their delicious Portage porter, they told me that business at their northwest Indianapolis brewery has been so exceptional, they ran out of the first batch of their new IPA in only four days. Worry not, as they’ll be upping production on it this coming weekend. Be sure you’re there when it’s tapped.
Next up was Triton, a personal favorite of mine, if not for their awesome than definitely their awesome Broad Ripple taphouse. Triton brought with them multiple unique offerings, so I made the decision to try as many as possible for you, the reader. You’re welcome.
First up was the Nutty Professor Peanut Butter Brown. Not usually my thing, beers with peanut butter, but this beer avoided the overpoweringly sweet and rich flavors I’ve come to expect with that name. Next was the 5 Alive, a firkin version of their Railsplitter infused with citrus. Talk about a lawnmower beer.
Post-Triton, Cory and I ran into Doug Talley, founder of the GnawBrew Beer, Art, and Music Festival, held annually just outside Nashville, IN. GnawBrew was my favorite festival of 2014, and I can’t recommend enough that you buy a ticket (and a tent) for this year’s outing. Doug pointed me to Crown Brewing’s booth, specifically to The Dude, the Crown Point brewery’s coffee porter.
It did not disappoint.
Cory, who admitted to not being especially fond of the style (I think we can still be friends), accepted that The Dude was a mighty fine coffee beer. At the time I claimed I’d pour it over my cereal, but I’m sure I still stand by that. From Crown, we kept to the northern part of the state and visited Granger’s Bare Hands Brewery, who brought a certifiably insane 31 taps with them. 31! Cory and I both opted for the Thai PA, an IPA brewed with Thai spices and lemon grass, and agreed that, after chewing, it tasted nearly like a serving of pad thai. That’s a pretty cool experience with an IPA.
After Tin Man, Cory and I stopped by Black Acre (check out our friend the Indy Beer Sleuth’s story on them and their part in building up the Irvington neighborhood, if you haven’t), where I sampled a version of their Bitter Life IPA infused with coffee. As The Beer Sleuth reported, this was a delicious beer, with coffee notes so powerful I’d almost mistake it for a porter. Following that up with an IPA from Westfield’s Grand Junction, a coffee-infused Diesel Oil stout infused with coffee from Columbus’ (the Indiana one, not the second rate Ohio one…) Power House, and an outstanding barleywine from People’s Brewing Co., Cory and I were set up for a good afternoon.
Now, at this point, some Winterfest participants were doubling down and going for whatever four ounce pour offered them the most alcohol. I thought I’d see what that fuss was all about and move onto the tent set up between the two pavilions that housed many of the casks provided from the breweries. Cory and I made our way to the front and ended up splitting Tow Yard’s Ale Roker and Figure 8’s Raven Tow oatmeal stout firkin. Boozy, fruity, amazing takes on what a “beer” can be.
Before returning to the Indiana On Tap booth for a shift, Cory and I passed by The Devil’s Trumpet Brewing Co. for one last fill of our cups. Sampling both the Holy Mountain and My Ghetto IPAs, we agreed that these were possibly the two best beers we tasted all day, and definitely two of the best IPAs I’ve tasted in my years of drinking craft beer. The Merrillville brewery may be young, opening just last year, but they brought their best to Winterfest and it showed in their exceptional beers.
After my stint at the booth, I decided to suffer through what was possibly the longest line of the day for a shot at a taste of Columbus’ (again, the much superior Indiana one) ZwanzigZ, and their imperial stout made with ghost peppers, a favorite of many fellow Indiana On Tappers, and for good reason. Hoooooooo boy does that bear carry some heat, but it works so well with the chocolate and roasted flavors typical of the style. Easily the best peppered beer that’s ever hit my mouth.
I’ve written about more beers and breweries from Winterfest than I believe I have from any other festival, and for good reason – (wait for it) Winterfest was all about the beer. The patrons and breweries there knew that, and now you do too.
See you next year.