30 May Won’t Get Fooled Again…Hopefully. Lessons from the Indy 500 and Beer Tourism
The Indy 500 had a surprising finish this past weekend. Josef Newgarden got buzzed on the 2nd red flag restart….but not on the 3rd. As Walter and learned from the commentators, you want to be close to the front but you don’t necessarily want to be in 1st when the green flag comes out. However, the majority of the money would have been on Marcus Ericsson late in the day – he was in first on the restart, he had led 20 laps already, he won last year, and that win in 2022 used a very late red flag restart. True, Newgarden had won the Indy car series championship twice, but he had gone 11 starts in the 500 and it was looking like this was the race he just couldn’t win.
Yet, the finish in 2023 didn’t reflect the odds or the expected outcome based on the data at hand. That’s a good lesson to learn again – and Walter and I relearned it this past weekend as well in the realm of craft beer.
On Memorial Day weekend (all honor to our fallen heroes), we let our daughter talk us into going to see The Lion King on stage again….in Madison, WI. We took off early Saturday morning and followed an itinerary that I made up last week. After checking the data I had on hand (our beer history on Untappd, Google Maps for brewery locations, Facebook for opening times, web lists of best breweries, and Untappd brewery scores), I developed a short list of breweries for us to hit on the way up to Madison and and on the back.
We try to go new places when we can, unless it’s one of our must gos – Fat Heads, Harry Stuff, Brewery Vivant, Ellipsis, or Marble, so this time the list was all “new to us” breweries. We stopped at Pig Minds Brewing in Rockford, IL and Rock County Brewing in Janesville, WI and had a good time at each. Pig Minds had a vegan menu for our daughter (my red beans and rice was excellent), and the beer was good, if not great.
We check into our hotel and walked to a brewery for dinner that was very close to Overture Hall, where the play was staged. This was the most anticipated brewery of the day for me, based on scores and my talking to other people. Young Blood Beer Co. is a pretty taproom, and the entire space encircles a view into their lower level where their small foeders currently house their first set of spontaneous fermentation beers. It’s going to be a couple of months before those beers are ready, but luckily Walter and I will be back in Madison for Great Taste of the Midwest in August. I’m anxious to see if they steam the foeders after the first beers, if they let the microflora grow, or if they choose to solera the beer by adding new wort to fermented beer.
Meanwhile, Young Blood’s current fruited sours didn’t disappoint us at all. They did some with lactose, and others without, and they knew how to handle both types. Their IPAs were a bit too much on the hazy side for Walter and I (Walter’s motto – whether it’s football or beer, New England sucks). However, their dank farmhouse made up for our thoughts on their IPAs – it was sooo good.
We had timed the day out pretty well, and by the time we finished at Young Blood, we had about an hour and a half to kill before the play. Lil’ Walter wondered if there was another place close by that we could check out – and there was. Great Dane Pub & Brewery was located just 275 ft. from Young Blood Beer Co. I had looked up Great Dane and it hadn’t made the grade based on my parameters – it’s Untappd score was 3.58, while Young Blood’s was 3.95. You’re now beginning to see where the lesson was learned….
We walked in the front door and I immediately loved the place. A 45 foot bar, likely pre-Prohibition, bar greeted us, followed closely by the greeting from the beer slinger in white shirt, black tie, black vest and Fedora. This was Shawn Cotton, half of our great experience that evening along with Brian Wambold. We looked at a list of 18 draft beers (all theirs) along with a couple casks that had caught my eye as soon as we entered. What I didn’t see right away were the three beer engines at the other ned of the bar – oh…my….gosh.
I’ll tell you right now that I’m very proud of the craft beer scene in Indiana generally and Indianapolis particularly. However… a pub with tons of their own beer, a long old bar, two cask ales, and three beers on hand pulls is just something that we don’t have. And I wish we did. And it kept getting better. Great Dane had lots of beer-flavored-beers; two different wee heavies, a bock, a doppelbock, a porter, an Irish red, two very different pilsners, a pale, and a great botanical IPA. How could a beer geek not fall in love immediately? …And they were all good!
I pondered how this pub had a 3.58 score…. and then it dawned on me. Maybe I shouldn’t be relying so much on overall Untappd scores. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING, about my research would have pointed to us having such a great experience at Great Dane. And yet there we were, having a magnificent time. Shawn and Brian were great – they talked to us about whatever stupid thing we brought up, they talked to us about the brewery (production brewery off site, some beer made here, three locations now), and we discussed Great Taste of the Midwest. Hey Bob, Shawn and Brian haven’t been to the fest yet; can we hook them up this year?
Our stop was at the original location of Great Dane (5 locations now), which is coming up on their 30th anniversary. The age explained some of the great vibe, but by looking around we discovered that they actually have three bars at that location, including a great, dark, rathskeller downstairs, and a wonderful walled beer garden. We didn’t eat there, but if the food isn’t low grade cat food, then there’s no reason Walter and I shouldn’t have our ashes spread at Great Dane.
We drove home on Sunday, with a stop at the great White Oak Brewery in Normal, IL, but it was listening to the race (any real fan who’s not at the track LISTENS to the race as opposed to watching it) that brought the lesson home. If I had been a stickler for word of mouth and Untappd scores, we never would have ended up at Great Dane Pub, and never would have had that great experience. Learn the lesson with us (again), take a chance, ignore the scores and the (supposedly) objective data, and live your life based on your experience and desires, not someone else’s. If Josef Newgarden had paid attention only to the data and the odds, he wouldn’t be Indy champ today.
Banner image credit to Bob Frey’s left index finger – my best friend’s brother-in-law, showing Mark along with Mark’s daughter, Amy Joe, at the 500 this weekend. Please note the Indiana On Tap T-shirt.