‘Twas a blustery day in early February, when the Brewers of Indiana Guild chose to hold their 9th Annual Winterfest at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. Who am I kidding? It was FREAKING COLD, thus the aptly named Winterfest. This year sported a selection of more than 100 Indiana micros and guest breweries from the Midwest, all pouring between two and six different styles to a sellout crowd of 6,000 thirsty Hoosiers and HooYaWannaBees! I overheard various guests mention their travel from nearby Chicago, Cincinnati, Louisville, and even as far away as Honolulu, Hawaii! I myself Uber’ed from the Residence Inn on the Canal in downtown Indy. That in and of itself should have been a sign of foreboding as the driver and I neared the intersection of 38th and Fall Creek PARKway. The parkway was a parking lot! The fairground was a spectacle of Biblical proportion. Like Pharaoh’s army chasing the Israelites through the desert, the swarm of humanity was exhausting.
Now, leave it to fairground management to schedule 5 of the largest events to hit Indy on the same bitterly cold Saturday in February, plus a minor-minor league Hockey game. All told, there was the beer festival, a Lumberjack wood working gala, Boy Scout Memorabilia auction, The Great Train Show and the Purdue Ag Alumni Fish Fry! I heard that there was also a D-List Porn Convention being held in the Barns, but I cannot confirm nor deny its existence.
Back to beer, or at least lines for beer. With an advertised sellout crowd, the festival planners failed miserably to execute the ingress of all 6,000 attendees in a timely manner. Many in attendance waited more than an hour to enter the West Pavilion to sample the carbonated concoctions from around the state. Much like the Israelites in the desert, it was a long, long walk. Except it was colder, much colder, and like the Israelites, the flock only had bread to eat. Okay, they had leavened bread in the form of pretzels hung around their necks with assorted jerky’s and beef sticks. Upon final entry into the pavilion, many of the adornments had already been consumed to fuel their warmth generating bellies while in queue. Back to this later, let’s get to the beer.
Once inside the hall, this year’s layout of the event was much easier to navigate than in years past, where the brewers were spread between two buildings. Having recently returned from GABF where the brewers are alphabetized by region, the haphazard positioning of Winterfest had no rhyme or reason. Now, don’t get me wrong here thinking that everything about this event was negative, it was a lot of fun and I tasted some crazy good brews! But let’s talk about the event from our perspective as homebrewers.
As a homebrewer, I enjoyed the experience of watching guests taste the fruits of my hard labor and hours upon hours of cleaning and sanitizing everything in sight. As a club, we were well represented by Tanner Andrew, Jarrod Otter, Nick Boling and myself. We shared our booth space with Wes and Bryan from Great Fermentations and together we represented homebrewers in a bright and shining spotlight! The first question after people tasted their beer for the first time was, “Where are you guys located?” My standard response was “Garages, barns, dark basements and spare bedrooms in our mom’s house around Indianapolis.” When people ask where they can get more of what you are offering, you must be doing something right!
From a style perspective, we poured a Milk Stout on nitro (Meeb’s Milk Stout by Nick Boling), a peppermint chocolate porter (Dark Mint Lord by Tanner Andrew and Jarrod Otter) and an East Coast IPA (Juicy Lucy by Robert Ecker). All three offerings were well received and fulfilled the needs of the thirsty public. Dark Mint Lord enticed those who kept swiping the leftover Andes mints in front of the table and asking, “Why the mints?” Tanner and Jarrod ran their beer through a Randall that contained a butt load of Andes Mints! What a brilliant idea and a perfect balance of the sweet chocolate mint flavor against the roasti-ness of the robust porter. Nick’s milk stout stood up against any number of stout offerings from other breweries. The creamy mouth-feel of the beer gas nestled among the residual lactose sweetness was tempered with just the right amount of acidic acrid roast we love in our dark beer. In an effort to introduce the New England IPA craze to Indiana, I created a simple yet extremely flavorful and aromatic IPA that was full of haze and flavor. Using flaked wheat and oats, as well as dry hopping during primary fermentation, and again four days later, this cloudy tang colored brew was loaded with Citra, El Dorado and Mosaic hops, but not the tongue turning bitterness that turn off many non-IPA drinkers.
Proudly supported by our CCZ brethren and sisters, adorned in their CCZ shirts, our club was loud and proud and could have poured much longer and pleased many, many more drinkers.
If you suffered through the long, long wait to get into the hall, the Brewers Guild has offered a gracious discount on upcoming events such as the Microbrewers Festival at Military Park or next year for Winterfest, where they pledge to have a more streamlined process in place to allow fest goers to enter in a more efficient and timely manner.
Until then, Cheers!
Rob Ecker, Winterfest 2017 Review