“This is why I watch football games at home,” remarked my father as we crossed the threshold into this year’s Winterfest.
True, the din inside the Indiana State Fairgrounds’ Agri/Hort Building on Saturday was overwhelming, a sensory-overloading mishmash of boisterous brewers and consumers mingling over mini-pints. But their jostling and pushing did little to detract from the vast array of good, local beer on site.
Well, “good” by the standards of those who actually know craft beer. Right off the bat I was decidedly self-conscious of just how unqualified I was for this particular adventure. The extent of my beer knowledge is limited to comparisons of caloric content between the standard college-party offerings, Keystone vs. Coors Light.
It wasn’t until editing NUVO’s Jan. 26 cover story that I began to consider the nuances of craft-beer appreciation. The endless considerations in testing brews were baffling to me, but I was intrigued enough by the cliquish hedonistic culture weasel some tix to the sold-out event.
I felt like a fraud on Indiana Brewers’ Guild territory, armed only with the dumbed-down beer how-to bullet points found in last week’s merciful sidebars. To illustrate, were you aware that beer is made up of hops, yeast and water? Of course you were. I, on the other hand, was essentially embarking on the beer equivalent of a blindfolded joyride.
After collecting our roadmap programs and souvenir glasses, we stopped to take in our surroundings. The Guild had turned the space into a formidable convention center for Indiana’s beer nerds. And though the venue could have benefitted from more dump-and-rinse troughs stationed throughout, conditions were otherwise perfect for enthusiasts to browse the snaking labyrinth of brewery booths.
We started our Tour de Froth at Shoreline Brewery’s booth; I selected the Bavarian Bombshell, a brown ale, because our program’s description mentioned chocolate and I happen to be a hormonal 23-year-old girl. It’s my cross to bear. I would soon learn that choco-beer is just too rich for me past the first three sips. This revelation somehow did not stop me from sampling roughly four more variations.
Moseying to Mad Anthony Brewing Co. next door, my dad and I both tried out Good Karma IPA — again, I was lured in by the beer’s boast of caramel malts. Even to a rookie palate, the bitterness of the hops was striking. Next we made our way to Broad Ripple Brewpub’s booth; manning the bar were some familiar faces from our regular Sunday night dinners, who supplied us with the Monon Porter and the Marzen. I found myself again leaning towards the lighter latter.
Just a few stops down the same aisle, we discovered our unanimously agreed upon favorite at Bee Creek Brewery; their Hoosier Honey Wheat was a dream, for newbies and aficionados alike.
Though much of Winterfest’s appeal is its celebration of local breweries, we felt it would have been downright xenophobic to miss out on sampling the out-of-state brew lines. We never made it over to North Coast Brewing Co., but the east coast was well represented indeed.
Brooklyn Brewery’s Brown Ale almost did me in with its triple-threat backgrounds of coffee, chocolate and caramel. Massachusetts and Vermont transplant Harpoon Brewery was up next — truthfully, it was likely due to the novelty of their UFO Hefeweitzen that we were drawn to the vendor. I preferred the wheat beer to its bitter brother Leviathan Imperial IPA, which boasted a whopping 10 percent alcohol content.
We promptly got back to our Midwest roots though, tolerating the long lines in front of Sun King, People’s Brewing Company and NUVO’s cover darlings at Bier Brewery. Honestly, the wait was a hidden boon — plenty of time to digest and metabolize the rich samples.
With full bellies and a buzz, at least on my lightweight part, we left Winterfest very satisfied with the overall sampling experience. I’m still holding onto my embarrassingly obvious neophyte status in the craft-beer business; I’d do well to avoid serious conversation on the matter with a connoisseur.
But at the very least, I may now be able to hold my own on the customers’ side of the bar, equipped with the self-awareness that I’m generally a lager girl. Thanks to the fine, benevolent brewmasters of Indiana and beyond, I can shed the last threads of my collegiate safety blanket and branch out from my uninspired, often unsatisfying beer orders. PBR be damned!