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Bloomington Craft Beer Festival 2016: What I learned

Lessons in beer from the brewers and beer-drinkers


  • Brewers of Indiana Guild
Brewing is a business. Taste and palate are regional. Brewers create recipes to appeal to local taste and palate.  To stay in business, people who sample a brewery’s beer have to come back — often — to enjoy it either on premise or at another location and they must take it home in a growler, can or bottle.

The 6th annual Brewers of Indiana Guild Bloomington Craft Beer Festival at Woolery Mill featured beers from 40 Indiana craft brewers. It’s not remotely possible to get to every brewery. Many patrons told me they had a plan before they got there and most often the plan was  get to know breweries from elsewhere. The result? “The same style tastes different.” In what way? Either stronger or weaker — multilayered or simpler — brewed to traditional expectations or somewhat to extremely experimental. “I think location [of the brewery] has a lot to do with it,” offered one patron. “If it’s a first time craft brewery in a place where Bud and Miller are the norm, you can’t expect a huge [flavored] beer to sell. I guess you have to start where the taste is and build up.” Smart observation.
The crowd at Woolery Mill - BREWERS OF INDIANA GUILD
  • Brewers of Indiana Guild
  • The crowd at Woolery Mill
One patron mentioned he’s come every year and in his estimation some of the newer breweries “are really growing a craft beer following. They now are making beers that can stand up to an Indianapolis or Bloomington market, where we expect full-flavored beer.”

Another patron said he was in pursuit of brewers he’d visited last year and was going back to check out changes. I asked for a report. “Upgrading. Definitely bringing people up the ladder,” was the evaluation for those that were new last year and returned with offerings beyond the core brews that pretty much stayed the same.

Brewers make a point to visit colleagues from elsewhere as well. One brewer said he especially tastes other brewery’s beers in the style of his best selling house beer to determine what makes his distinctive—or not. Another brewer said he scouts to learn what other styles he should think about introducing to his local clientele. A third said he samples to determine if his beers will have a chance in another locale, based on what the “resident” brewery is selling. Most of all, brewers just like to catch up with each other.

The brewers of Daredevil Brewing Co. - BREWERS OF INDIANA GUILD
  • Brewers of Indiana Guild
  • The brewers of Daredevil Brewing Co.
For this writer, festivals provide an opportunity to learn what patrons and brewers care about. I was one of 3,600 who showed up on the coldest April 9 I can recall. I marveled at Steve Llewellyn bringing 27 different batches from his Bloomington-based Function Brewpub. You go the extra mile when you’re the local brewer heading up the event, he explained. I caught up with Indiana University professor Matt Bochman, whose burgeoning wild yeast project is getting lots of attention. Expect a fuller report in a few weeks.

The most amazing moment came with walking up to the Lafayette-based People’s Brewing Company table and seeing a young man attired in a vintage golf sweater with an emblem announcing Thieme & Wagner Brewing Co., that traces itself back to around 1862 and continued to 1918. David Thieme introduced himself as the sixth-generation in a beer related family.Yes, more to come about this Purdue student with an eye towards the business end of brewing.

And then there was the young man who wanted a selfie with me. "Oh?" I countered. “It’s your hat — after drinking Bell’s Two Hearted I became a craft beer fan,” he enthused. In deference to not offending any Indiana brewery by choosing one over all the others, I’ve been wearing the Bell’s hat—what’s not to love about Two Hearted?

Tristan Schmid, of the Brewers of Indiana Guild, reported at the close of the event, ”Ticket sales support Guild efforts such as the new Drink Indiana Beer app—which features turn-by-turn directions and info for the state’s 120+ breweries—as well as [supporting] the first official magazine guide to Indiana breweries, to be published in May. A portion of proceeds for the event also benefited Lotus Education & Arts Foundation. “ The Summer Indiana Microbrewers Festival is July 30 at Historic Military Park in downtown Indianapolis.

Fun Fact:  Indiana beer historian Bob Ostrander traces brewing in Lafayette to 1842, with closures in 1918. Lafayette Brewery Inc., started after Repeal in April 1933 and replicated the original and much loved Thieme & Wagner Ye Tavern beers. LBI closed in 1953. Greg Emig opened the modern craft beer brewpub, Lafayette Brewing Company in a former furniture store. LBC is now the second oldest brewpub in Indiana. Emig was Broad Ripple Brewpub’s second brewer before starting up LBC.


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