There are plenty of lists of bests. And the best brewery is the one YOU like best, maybe close to you, with your favorite beer.
FIRST: Why did a brewery NOT win an award? Based on the recent Indiana Brewers’ Cup and other awards we can make a list of some of the most recently awarded breweries in Indiana. Keep in mind there are MANY factors causing a brewery to win awards!!
Here are huge factors that make a difference: How many beers did the brewery enter? Some breweries hold back. Others go crazy. The more you enter, the greater your chance if the beer is really good. What categories were entered? Some categories have less than 15 entries, some categories (IPAs) have nearly 50 entries. Judging is for top scores. How many categories? You can likely see the odds; enter a lot of beers with some in categories that have few entries and odds of getting a medal go up! Then there is the question of whether the bottle entered represents what you find on tap, canned or bottled. Big competitions make sure the bottles are handled and stored with care, but still a given bottle might not represent what the beer is like on tap. What about those special, small batch beers entered that none of us will ever taste unless you know the brewer? Yep. That happens, and it is not a bad thing but it may not represent the volume beer. Finally, if your brewery is more specialized on style, that brewer is limited on category entries. Examples: Taxman brews Belgian Style beer, is very popular for good reason and has won some awards but is limited in categories. Central State brews lacto sour beers so is even more limited. Okay, it is key to understand the background as some excellent brewers may not win or may not win many but might have great beer. These factors also partly explain why I brewery might win 8 medals one year and 3 another year (Sun King as an example). Now, on to the biggest award winners!
Last three years, top award winners:
Daredevil Brewing was named Indiana Brewery of the Year and Grand Champion Brewery in 2018 and 2017 by Ind. State Fair Brewers’ Cup. Records show Daredevil has over the past three years (2016-18) won 8 first place medals at the Brewers’ Cup, and 16 medals overall. Daredevil also grabbed a gold medal at the Great American Beer Fest in 2016. In addition to Lift Off as a core beer, Daredevil brews many lagers, in fact they shared they’ve brewed 19 different lagers since opening. Vacation Kolsh has won GABF Silver (2016), Indiana Brewers’ Cup Gold (2016), and a 2017 Can Can award Silver. They have 11 different medals for lagers since 2016. Before starting their commercial brewery the two founding brewers, Michael Pearson and Bill Ballinger, wrapped up more medals in the Homebrew category at the Brewers’ Cup than any other home brewers, several years in a row, and between them won an award in half of all total categories back in 2010 as homebrewers! Daredevil opened a production brewery in 2013, and moved to Speedway in June of 2015. (covered at indianabeer.com here).
Bier Brewery won Brewery of the year at the Indiana State Fair Brewers’ Cup several years ago, won GABF silver in 2015, and they have one four World Beer Cup awards from 2012 to 2018, a competition that is held only every two years. In the past three years they garnered 18 medals from the Brewer’s Cup in total. Their most consistent medal winner has been Barleywhine, a strong ale, and several medals including a World Beer Cup award have gone to their pumpkin ale. Their German style wheat ales, Weizengoot and Dunkel, have been award winners also. Perhaps the overall big winner is the Belgian Sanitarium that won gold at GABF in 2015 after getting silver in 2014 then snagged the gold at the World Beer Cup in 2016. Darren Conner is a quieter kind of guy, who likes to brew. Having started the brewery with his Dad, Jerry, in 2010 he’s had plenty of time to perfect the beers and he loves to perfect beer.
Sun King Brewery should be no surprise as one of the most awarded breweries. We combine Sun King downtown with Sun King Fishers which is how we believe most people look at the brand, and we count 8 awards from the Indiana State Brewers’ Cup in 2018 only and a total of 13 in the past three years. Sun King has also taken home a number of GABF awards with 5 in the past three years alone. Sun King Cherry Busey oud bruin or Flanders style tart red won GABF medals three years in a row! Sun King also has a long list of World Beer Cup awards. Dave Stout and Clay Robinson have built a business to be Indiana’s brewery and sell more beer in the state of Indiana than any other Hoosier brewery. Sun King brews a large variety of beers and it is not surprising that the medals cover a variety of beers and categories. Pachanga Mexican style lager has been awarded several medals since it was introduced but it should not surprise that such beers as Whip Fight and Number Stein British, an unusual stein beer brewed for the 9th anniversary this year, took Brewers’ Cup awards.
Flix Brewhouse brewer Chris Knott has been brewing excellent beer since joining the movie-with-beer-and-food chain to help them open the Indianapolis location. Flix has won 14 total Indiana Brewers’ Cup awards in the past three years, and won a silver GABF award in 2015. The Saison de Walt has won 3 years in a row at the Brewers’ Cup while a bier de garde style has won gold twice. The Oktoberfest is another beer that grabbed two awards. The beer is so good that I’ve never seen a movie there, although I would like to (read our story HERE)
These four central Indiana breweries have won almost twice as many awards as the ‘next tier’ of award winners from 2016-18.
Metazoa Brewing, the animal loving, wild-life supporting downtown brewery with a view (our story here) won four awards in 2018, with Irish Setter getting gold. Since John J. Hall became head brewer in 2017, from 7 Rabbits and originally Goose Island, he tells us he tweaked recipes a bit and that may lave led to the increase in medals (from 1 in 2017 and 2 in 2016). Metazoa had a silver at GABF in 2017.
Chilly Water Brewery of Fountain Square would also be in that next tier having medaled every year of the past 3, with a GABF silver for a delicious Smoke on the Lager rauchbier in 2017 also. This brewing operation has history back to downtown Indianapolis with owner Skip Duvall who was a fixture at a long-closed early brewery where he met and mentored Dan Krzywicki, partner and head brewer at Chilly Water.
Mad Anthony Brewing of Fort Wayne is 20 years old and has consistently won Brewers’ Cup awards these past three years. Mad Anthony also captured GABF gold for their Auburn Lager in 2017 and 2015.
Byway Brewing of Hammond, IN, also medaled each of the past three years for a total of six and was the Brewers’ Cup Brewery of the Year in 2016.
It is a slippery slope to keep mentioning breweries with fewer awards and it is easy to slight one.
ZwanzigZ of Columbus, IN deserves mention as GABF small brew pub of the year in 2016 winning GABF gold in 2017 for one of our favorites, Ghost Pepper Stout.
Backstep Brewing of Crawfordsville gets our mention as new brewery to watch. Brewer Josh Miller previously brewed with Chris Knott at Flix. Medal count first year after being open just half of a year, since late 2017: 3 at Indiana Brewers’ Cup this year! I visited with Josh in Backstep recently and will be writing a feature story on this new, award-winning brewery soon.
Reminder: the best brewery is the one you love where you love the beer and the people, or whose beer you love to buy either on tap or in packages, made in your backyard. I could continue to write about many breweries in Indiana, and if you ask why one has not won an award, maybe you should re-read my earlier paragraph. Some brewers just do not want to bottle up beer for a competition when they are busy sharing beer with locals!