Arguably the biggest event on the annual Indiana beer festival calendar, the 19th annual Indiana Microbrewers Festival was one to remember. Well, at least we found a few staff members who claim to remember. Here are some pictures, observations, and beer picks from the big day.
Saturday July 19th, the Optimists Park and the Indianapolis Art Center once again welcomed the Brewers of Indiana Guild, Indiana Microbrewers Festival. With well over 75 breweries represented, the vast majority from our Hoosier state, there was no shortage of great beers. After some 5 hours of sampling and getting to know the friendly faces pouring those samples, there were far too many to list. There were a handful of standouts that remain in my befuddled post-festival memory though… and in no particular order, some of my personal favorites from this years event: Flat12 – The Good Wood. I liked the concept here. A standard, approachable base beer style separated into small batches and aged on different types of wood. We tried the beer aged on Maple side by side with the same beer aged on Ash. Picking out the differing flavors/aromas imparted by the wood was a lot of fun. Stone – Smoked Porter with Chipotle Peppers. I know, Stone isn’t exactly local, and this beer may not be one of those special one-off-you-can-ONLY-get-it-at-the-festival beers for the elite crowd. But it WAS really quite good. All of the components were there, but not muddled and not the palate wrecker you might expect from a beer with peppers and smoke. Rhinegeist – Zen. Look for a little more about Rhinegeist and their great beers in future IndianaBeer blog posts. Having made the journey to Cincinnati a couple of times this summer, we’ve become quick fans. And of all the great beers in the Rhinegeist roster, Zen is my favorite. If I could purchase it here in Indy I may well hang up my mash paddle and meager homebrewing habit. This is the beer I dream about when it’s June and I’m working in the yard or manning the grill. Zen is a hop forward, refreshing 4.8% session beer. I highly recommend the trip out to OH if you weren’t able to sample this beer at the festival. Taxman – We were fortunate to try both the wit and the saison from Bargersville’s latest brewery venture. Both were very solid beers. Slightly tart, refreshing on a warm day. Worth stopping by the next time you find yourself South of the capital city. Zwanzigz – We counted ourselves fortunate indeed to get a sample of the Rye-Ice Bock, Aged in a Rye Barrel. Rumor has it there may be a small amount of this beer available in the tap room in beautiful Columbus, IN. If you’re anywhere nearby, drop what you’re doing and go there. Now. Order this beer and count yourself in the number of fortunate sons who got to experience it before it’s gone. Complex isn’t really a big enough word, and a simple description from a simple blog writer won’t do it either. You need to try it for yourself to really get it. All told, this year’s festival was a wonderful event. Maybe a bit on the crowded side once General Admission ticket holders were on the grounds. But with the explosive growth of the industry, one can hardly complain about sharing beer passion with several thousand like-minded folks. We had great weather, great food, excellent beer, and made memories that will last a lifetime. Thanks to the Brewers of Indiana Guild for hosting such a great festival. And now, let the planning for Winterfest commence!
About half-way through the Microbrewers Festival at Opti-Park in Broad Ripple I saw the B.I.G. Director Lee Smith and new Communications Director Tristan Schmid to tell them I was not sure if it was the weather or maybe my attitude but this seemed like the best festival in a long time. The weather was perfect, and while there were plenty of people, lines seemed to flow quickly and most people looked happy! My personal goal is to find unusual beers or new breweries but also to talk the brewers and owners since this is like a “Brewery Reunion.” This was a great day for all of that. Zwanzigz Brewer Mike Rybinski had told me a week earlier he would have a special beer at this festival; but then he ALWAYS has a special beer at a festival. His Barrel Aged Scotch Ale had all of the delicious caramel and malt of the style with added vanilla and oak from the barrel where it aged for over one year! The German style Gose, rare style, has a truly interesting saltiness with sour. I would not go for the Cucumber Lime Kolsch served with a cucumber slice (just me) but hundreds were handed out. Figure 8 brewer Mike Lahti created quite a stir serving local Valparaiso ice cream with his own Root Beer – or did you get yours with the Rye Pale? Mike’s Camp 4 nut brown ale with chocolate, caramel, and cask conditioned (no exaggeration) coffee was a really complex offering at the firkin tent! Black Acre continued (as did Flat 12) the concept of a theme. While I always appreciate their beer, this time I was particularly struck with their pirates costumes. The guys were almost all dressed as female pirates! Turns out a bra can be a good glass holder – or so they told us! I almost forgot about the tasty RyePA seeing the bellies sticking out of their outfits! Thankfully there was one real pirate girl, at least her outfit made it appear so. Flat 12 went with a baseball theme. I somehow missed the “Shelled” Rye stout aged in Canadian whiskey barrels aged on cocoa nibs and peanut butter (really!) but enjoyed the George Brett B, APA with Brett and hopped with Bravo, Magnum, Chinook, and Citra. Brewer Sean was on hand to talk us through the beer while Head Brewer Rob Caputo told us he just spent a lot of time working on their new Jeffersonville, IN, facility. I finally got a Vacation, Kolsch that is, from Daredevil. I’ve been looking for that one all summer and it did not disappoint. This version is a delicious light ale, appropriately effervescent, with just a touch of a hop finish, far less than any other ale that is pale. Bare Hands Brewery of Mishawaka was a focal point for me, partly because I got the Mango Habenero 574, with a huge taste of mangoes but a nice spice from sliced, raw habanero peppers right in the cask. They doubled up this year with a Double Thai PA that had all we’ve come to expect of this beer in seasoning but the extra hops. Yet, what made this tent so special was Bare Hands owner Chris Gerard has recovered enough from his terrible accident to be there serving beer. The brewers of Indiana really pitched in to hold events which helped contribute to paying Chris’ hospital bills. Scarlet Lane brewery is one of our newest with their tap room actually opening the day after Microbrewers Festival. Three medals at the Brewers Cup 2014 shows they are getting early credibility for owner Elise Lane and Head Brewer Chris Knott. Their Paeonia uses the Indiana State flower, peony, in a delicious saison that won silver this year. Their Dorian stout, a base for award winning coffee stout, is one of their regular beers and exhibited a great roast character. Sun King offered special tappings with one of my favorite, Lonesome Dove, bourbon barrel aged triple that delivers plenty of the flavors from the barrel supported by some sweetness and nearly bubble gum character of the Belgian style. Upland’s Head Brewer Caleb poured Light Synth for us! Light synth is a collaboration of 50% New Belgian Brewery’s Felix (an oak aged sour ale) with 40% Upland Sour Reserve oak aged plus 10% oak aged cherry lambic with cherries added. The complexity of this beer is amazing. Big Dawg of Richmond offered their Freya’s Chosen Viking Ale a Norse beer with heather tips, juniper berries and honey using grains soaked in birch wood. Unusual may not be a strong enough word. Bloomington Brewing had the Ol’ Floyd’s Belgian Dark Strong aged in bourbon barrels alongside a randle infused Quarrymen pale ale. Of course they had their silver award winning Ten Speed Hoppy Wheat and their Gold from last year Rooftop IPA. I tip my hat to Carson’s brewery of Evansville to my first beer of the festival, their delicious Brown Cow English brown ale. Brewer John Mills walked away with 3 awards this year at Brewer’s Cup. Tin Man of Evansville had the Pink Peppercorn IPA that took a silver this year at Brewers Cup. The spice is truly amazing. The grounds are very nice and provide a pleasant atmosphere to walk around, yet this festival is so large and spread out with clusters of brewers making it easy to get sidetracked with talk or from the crowd. I missed a few beers that I truly intended to try.
“Quality over quantity”……it’s a familiar refrain in the world of craft beer drinkers. Sure, it may be just a bit disingenuous to dismiss the quantity aspect when a massive crowd descends on Broad Ripple to binge on 4 or 5 hours of beer drinking. But it actually seems to apply to the experience at this year’s Microbrewers Festival. First the good: I can’t think of another Microbrewers Festival where the overall quality of the beer I sampled measured up to this year. Now the bad: Who the hell had any beer left in the six o’clock hour this year? Not many it seemed, so the few that did attracted a sizable crowd. The most disappointing aspect is several of the breweries on my “must try” list for this year ran out of beer before I could get there. Ah well…can’t really say I didn’t get my money’s worth in the first few hours anyway. To the committee who planned the Port-a-Johns this year…..bravo!!! It’s amazing how beer festivals across the country chronically underestimate the need for bathroom space when thousands of people are there for the primary purpose of drinking beer. Listen up festival organizers….this ain’t rocket science….people are going to need toilets. And if you need an example of how to do it right – look no further than Indiana’s own Microbrewers Festival. Rather than being centered in a huge cluster with even larger lines, the facilities were well spaced and plentiful throughout the festival grounds. Lines ranged from minimal to virtually nonexistent. What a rare pleasure to attend a festival that didn’t require a half-hour wait for the privilege of peeing in a plastic box. These festivals have grown to the point where a comprehensive review of the breweries is impossible. So we always try to target places that are outside the Indy area and find the up-and-coming Hoosier brewers that we just can’t visit everyday. These folks end up receiving well-deserved accolades in posts like this, but they also become destinations for future beer trips. It’s the large festivals like this which have introduced us to the likes of Bare Hands, Iechyd Da, and Zwanzigz. Word clearly gets around and the lines for these breweries have grown longer with each passing festival. Well, add a new one to the list this year as Culver/Mishawaka’s Evil Czech Brewery was the day’s winner in my book. They hit the coveted festival combo of offering a diverse, unique lineup (Belgians, Specialty IPAs, Peppers, Coffee, etc.) with solid technical execution. I sampled four of the beers at their table and all were excellent. Their line was minimal when we passed through the area – that will change in the future and you need to check them out if you haven’t recently. I suppose it probably didn’t hurt that Poppi had a lady boner for the server’s vintage dress. But I digress…..on to the beer picks: Pick of the Day: Evil Czech White Reaper (Belgian White IPA with honey and lemongrass)
|Bare Hands Brewery – Pineapple 574 DIPA|
|Figure 8 Brewing – Black Corridor Imperial Stout (served with a scoop of ice cream)|
|Iechyd Da – Fearless King (Smoked Rye Porter)|
|Shoreline Brewery – Barrel Aged Big Bella Scotch Ale|
|Three Floyds – Evil Power Imperial Pilsner|
|Zwanzigz – Gose Beer (wheat beer with coriander and salt)|
If you did not get enough sampling or you did not go, consider the 45 minute drive south of Indy to GnawBrew in beautiful Brown County this weekend, starting Saturday, 2:00 PM. Featuring 20 breweries + wineries, music, art, and a free primitive camping spot, this is an ideal and more intimate way to get to know local, Indiana breweries. The venue is Valley Branch Retreat (Map here) From newer brewers Tow Yard, Taxman, & Quaff On to established Powerhouse, New Albanian, Zwanzigz, and Fountain Square, you have a great chance of sampling. CLICK HERE for Tickets