Winterfest 2014 Review

New venue, new breweries, and new writers for us………it’s time to revisit the season’s preeminent beer festival with beer picks, failed strategies, and other observations from Winterfest 2014.

gregsmall From Greg…..

Five-thousand attendees; eighty breweries; Four to Five Hours depending on your entry; well over 400 beers to sample: mission impossible. As our man Nathan pointed out just before the fest you must have a strategy, and even that can go awry once the crowd or a friend pulls you in another direction.

First the overall view: Great Venue, The Champions Pavilion at the Indiana State Fairgrounds eliminated the outside hustle in the rain to try specialty beers. Great volunteers, the Hoosier Beer Geeks organize a virtual army of folks who do everything from watch exits, take tickets, pour beer, assist crowds, assist breweries, and act as Ambassadors for craft beer and the event. Great Brewer Turnout, from the most established to the newest breweries including a number from out-of-state and several of those who have never been to an Indiana festival. We've seen a few comments about the line and entry times and given the first time in this venue we know Brewers of Indiana Guild will work to improve everything possible.

One of my strategies was to visit breweries I can't get to every day; sample from those that I know less. Thus, bypassing some of my regular haunts was difficult, and I did get back to some of them, but first a look at breweries we don't cover much:

We want to congratulate newbies like Wayne and Kathy Norris of Norris English Pub, Liberty, IN, for opening to fulfill their dream back in August and for their first festival. Norris English Pub is currently a nano-brewery distributing beer and working on a future retail location. Norris is focusing on English style ales (as the name suggests) with an Amber, Porter, Bitter, and American IPA. Their beers are smooth and without flaws for each style and we see they get some positive ratings on Untapped. Right now NEP is also producing other label beer for certain restaurants as well as having their own label beer on tap in just a few places.

18th Street Brewery of Gary, IN, is one we expect a lot out of. Owner/Brewer Drew Fox has a background in restaurants and hotels and took his home brewing experience to Pipeworks Brewing in Chicago. Drew had started with test batches at home while working a full-time job, morphed that to Pipeworks, then kept his focus (as Pipeworks knew) on opening his own place. He brought his concept to the Miller Beach, IN, neighborhood which is a stop on the Southshore Line Railroad and gets visitors from that city as well as locals to enjoy his brew. Currently brewing on a 3.5 bbl system 18th Street opened in late 2013. They offered a big and delicious "Hunter" double milk stout at 9% and a "Hunter Coffee" special release along with Lake Street Express American Pale (33 ibu) and Moon Walk Double IPA (66 ibu). All solid. A quick check on Untapped revealed high ratings.

Back Road Brewery of LaPorte, IN, has been around since 1996 and is one of those "local" brewers that attracts local customers. Look up reviews and you see words like "cozy" and "friendly." Their Blueberry Stout delivered plenty of blueberry flavor without overdoing and drew solid attendee comments. Their No. 9 barleywine also got very positive reviews. They were brave enough to bring a Bacon Spire Pale which was a little shy on bacon but did not offend.

Big Dawg Brewhaus, Richmond, IN, is one that has transitioned well from winery owners to solid beers, too. DownTown Chipotle Brown delivered a unique and tasty warming experience -- spicy and bold as promoted and a whopping 7.8% While not on the original beer list, a Belgian Triple made its appearance at 12% which was smooth, slightly sweet, and definitely warming. Two good beers, great conversation, and notes about the June 6 & 7 Viking Fest (more on that in our blog later) it was time to move on and not settle in too much.

Danny Boy Beer Works, Carmel, IN, is a small micro operating since the end of May, and a strong affiliation with Brockway Tavern in Carmel gave them an outlet and testing grounds for beer. KP and Prescott served up their Black, a 77 ibu Blck IPA with Citra and Cascade hops making a highly pleasing hoppy and balanced beer. Training Day is an assertive pale at 33 ibu but adding Galaxy and Citra hops to Cascade. Look for a Scotch at 7.8% to come from them soon.

Salt Creek Brewery, just north of Bedford, IN, is not on everyone's radar but I've been there a few times and Owner/Brewer Brad Hawkins brought along several of his beers including a local favorite Vanilla Porter. While this was somewhat heavy on the vanilla I am reminded that Brad runs a truly local venue with good food, good music, and pleasing the local palates. So I accept the fact that while I might like a tad less vanilla if that is what the customers want, the God Bless Brad for running a successful local and colorful place almost in the middle of nowhere (Needmore, Indiana, actually)! This brew pub is located in a former auto and truck service garage with the grease pit clean but still visible. I want to give Brad a shout for his Bradweiser Black IPA, and for Von Bierbauch (means beer belly in German) alt beer. One of Brad's loyal customers is German and an inspiration for the latter. Local beer!

Carson's Brewery, Evansville, IN, made their first appearance as they have only been truly open in their new facility a few months. This is a brewery with a 20-barrel system and beautiful tap room. I wanted their Icesis (again) which at 7% is a nice, spicy winter ale. This spiced brown ale base delivers cinnamon and coriander. The Carson's flagship is Brown Cow brown ale going down smooth at 5% and 32 ibu.

Quaff On, Nashville, IN, is the production brewery which originally started with brew pub Big Woods. They get my nod for most improved brewer since brewer Mark Havens left Oaken Barrel to head up this operation. I had tried their current Busted Knuckle Baltic porter recently and got over for a sample of the Bourbon Busted which delivered 8% and was a great base beer enhanced with the wood.

Getting through the crowd after sampling several beers I knew it was time to get to some beers I really wanted to try from places I do know.

Flat12 Bierwerks Head Brewer Rob Caputo had teased me weeks earlier with a glimpse of Whorechata bubbling away in fermentation. I knew just enough to want to be certain to get some. Boy am I glad I did! The traditional Spanish & Mexican horchata is almost like an egg nog but no eggs and is made with rice, cinnamon and sometimes nuts and seeds. Rob's Whorechata had the smoothness of the rice and the spice of the cinnamon along with almond flour and lactose. At 4.8% I could have downed a couple of pints of this as a dessert, but I had more tasting to do. Then came the Centeno Grande, also by Rob, the Imperial Rye cousin of popular Pogue's Run Porter but with mucho Mexican pilocillo sugar, weighing in at 8% and oh so delicioso! Finally (hold your breath) El Tacquiria Bohemia Roja, with lime zest, cilantro, cumin, and chipotle peppers. Holy flavor, el guapo! Was this beer or lunch? I had to pry myself away!

Zwanzigz Brewing was over in a corner where I could get away from the crowd and hang out with owners Kurt and Lisa and brewmaster Mike Rybinski. Mike, a medal winning brewer before joining Zwanzigz, had lured me with a traditional Eisbock. Yep, Mike had used the traditional method of freezing a lager. Why? The freezing process forms ice crystals which lose 7-10% of their water creating a strong beer. This one had all of the character of a German beer with power! Mike also took their popular chocolate golden ale (again, a nearly clear ale -- not stout, not porter) and aged in in a bourbon barrel. Whoa! True chocolate flavor, ale qualities from the base beer, with vanilla and notes of oak. Of course, I had to have a sample (okay, two) of their now famous Fulcrum Imperial Stout on Ghost Pepper. We've written about this before as it deliver the wonderful roast of stout and slight, oh so slight, burn of the pepper.

Black Swan, Indianapolis, was calling. We'd already had the Pulla Chile Porter on a visit to the brewpub but just had to remind ourselves (wife and I) of the nice chile flavor with very little burn - more of a tingle at the back of the throat -- and 7.8% Then the blueberry Imperial Stout at nearly 10% but almost a Russian Imperial Stout with a subtle hint of blueberries -- nice!

SunKing , Indianapolis, was a quick stop and unfortunately I'd missed a couple I wish I had not but Brewmaster Dave Colt shared his Pink Taco sour ale aged in oak barrels with raspberries and hibiscus and Brett. Wonderful, flavorful sour.

Evil Czech of Culver and now Mishawaka, IN, had all of their regular great beers we've written about but I can always enjoy the Dracula's Bite, smoked habanero black IPA. Warrior hop flavor and bittering with malt balance and pepper bite!

Bloomington Brewing is in my back yard and still I decided to get tastes of Ol Floyd's Belgian Dark Strong at 8.7% (big, bold, and flavorful), Bourbon Barrel aged Roggenbier that was a very balanced black rye collaboration with Black Acre (I love this beer) and BBL replicale!

Upland helped me get the Raspberry Sour for which I took a slightly larger than 'taste' pour to savor one of the better known lambics in the U.S.

I got to Black Acre, Indianapolis, and their nifty flight suits after the Earl Grey Belgian Wit was gone but found the Vertical Sun wit very delicious with a nicely spiced version and their Phantom Cat, Foreign Extra Stout at 7.4% with lots of roast quality.

Daredevil Brewing of Shelbyville, IN, offered several including one of my wife's go-to beers, Muse Belgian Golden Ale, and the J.W.P. Stout that is so much like pudding as a deep rich beer I could almost lovingly chew it.

And then the out-of-state breweries:

Arcadia Ales of Battle Creek and Kalamazoo is one I did not know. Operating a 25 bbl system they have been cranking out beer for 17 years. They are now being distributed again in Central Indiana. One uniqueness is their use of one yeast strain (Ringwood ale yeast). Their nut brown ale had a biscuit quality from Maris Otter malt along with five other varieties with a wonderful robust flavor. I doubled back for the tapping of their barrel aged Loch Down Scottish Ale which provided a nuttiness, caramel notes and wonderful vanilla from the oak.

Bell's of Kalamazoo, MI, was pouring Cherry Stout which I found had a robust malty chocolate with nice tart cherries; the only keg around of this year's Harvest Ale all of locally grown hops and Michigan barley which was smooth and silky at 5.7%; Wheat Love wheat wine, think barley wine but smooth, sweet and a bit funky (in a very, very good way); as well as Smitten rye pale ale.

Bluegrass Brewing Company (BBC) of Louisville can be a confusing quilt of brewing operations but the St Mathews and Downtown brew pub breweries were represented with a nice bourbon barrel porter that was nice light and spicy with vanilla, not to be confused with their almost-always-on-tap BBL Stout. I'll give a shout to Brewer Matthew Fletcher who was so nice to spend some time talking about what he's doing in the small brew space.

Against the Grain, Louisville, is one of my go-to places and my man the Hoosier turned Kentucky brewer Sam Cruz shared his Bourbon Barrel Rye with delicious rye spiciness and vanilla from the BBL with a heat at the end 'cause this sucker is 11%! He also had some 70K BBL stout which is a double recipe providing doubled up chocolate, roast, and some great vanilla notes coming in at 13%!

Urban Chestnut was represented this year and I've always enjoyed their Zwickel Bavarian Stout at their brew pub in St Louis and was able to have their Erlk├Ânig (named after a famed German poem) Pale Wheat Doppelbock -- a surprise of flavor. Thanks to them I also got Wolpertinger, a barrel aged chestnut brown beer with Bavarian Weissbier yeast and huge bourbon taste. If you don't know, Head Brewer Florian is German and left a huge brewing conglomerate of St. Louis (you can probably guess it so I don't have to make you ...weiser) to join with a a partner and open their own operation. They recently expanded to an even larger space while keeping the original brew pub.

There were clearly more I would have loved to sample and visit with but, alas, time ran out and I was left talking with Jim Matt, former QA head at Sunking and now Head Brewer at Rhinegeist, Cincinnati, OH, but could not sample the beer. Oh well, road trip!

jake_small From Jake…..

Like most of you, my Winterfest started in the cold cold rain outside waiting in line. As 5 hours passed in a glimpse I managed to taste quite a few new brews. Lets get straight to the breweries!

I got to try Moon Walk DIPA by 18th St. Brewery from Gary, IN. Moon Walk comes in at 8.5% ABV and has a strong hop flavor that helps balance the high alcohol. In the next booth was Arcadia Ales from Battle Creek, MI who have previously been distributed in Indiana, however that was before my time being of legal drinking age. Zinc Distributing’s new craft beer manager Eric Fear signed a distribution contract with Arcadia on Friday. Start looking for their Sky High Rye a rye pale ale with west coast hops and an english malt backbone, and the Nut Brown Ale a Northern English Brown with a complex malt bill and balanced by a fresh hop flavor and aroma.

Next up was Big Dawg Brewhaus out of Richmond, IN. I was only able to try the Down Town Chipotle Brown Porter, but it was pretty tasty. I personally am a big fan of pepper beers, and ciders, this chipotle brown porter might have been a bit short in terms of heat but the smoke flavors and aromas offered by the chipotle paired with the light roast of the porter quite well. Over at flight school, Black Acre, I was able to try a Mango Saison which had a nice level of sweetness to balance some of the moderately strong saison flavors and aromas that otherwise would have overwhelmed the beer. I also like the Chai Guy, Chai Tea Milk Stout, a moderately spiced milk stout that is a little bit thin for the style.

Recently I have been making and enjoying quite a few ciders. I was not able to stop by New Day Craft Mead & Cider, but I am hoping to go to the tasting room in Fountain Square sometime soon though. I was able to try Virtue Ciders from Fennville, MI. Virtue was founded by Gregory Hall who was a Brewmaster at Goose Island for 10 years. The Red Streak was a classic English cider style that is slightly tart with a bright crisp apple character. The Mitten was a superb bourbon barrel aged cider. The BJCP have recently confirmed a separate cider exam for judges will be offered starting at the conference in June. Look for Virtue the next time you are out, they are making some really classical and flavorful ciders.

While the bigger venue was great in terms of spacing, that also meant that there were too many breweries to get to them all. The Hoosier Beer Geek guys and all the volunteers did a superb job and even my wait in the rain was pretty short. I’m looking forward to Lafayette Brewing Company’s Winter Warmer next weekend, and Cincinnati's Beer Fest the weekend after.

cooksmall From Jason C…..

I’m sure that heading into Super Bowl XLVIII, the Denver Broncos had a smart, concise, well-thought-out game plan for how they would defeat the Seattle Seahawks. Twelve seconds into the game, an errant snap resulted in a safety and two points for Seattle. The hours of study and preparation suddenly seemed to have taken an NFL sized blow to the head, resulting in a dazed and concussed Denver team that never recovered.

Much like the Denver Broncos, I had done some preparation for my big game, this year’s Winterfest. I’d looked over the impressive list of breweries that would be attending and made a list of must-visits. Armed with my pencil and composition notebook, I was prepared to jot down beers and breweries that left the strongest impression on me throughout the day. Additionally, I had decided to really hit the social media aspect hard with tweets highlighting both the festival and the breweries. Then, also much like the Broncos, I took my sudden and unexpected hit that knocked me off my strategy. I made a rookie mistake that cost me the game, I sampled too hard, too fast and wasn't able to recover.

So here are a few of my somewhat slightly blurred insights and fuzzy recollections from Winterfest 2014. First off, I’ll sing the praises of the new location. The Champion’s Pavilion was able to house the growing number of breweries, the Malt Shoppe, the Replicales, the Casks & Firkins, and hundreds of additional festival-goers in the warm, dry comfort of indoor accommodations. A claim that could not be made had the festival continued to be held in the Ag/Hort Building. A+ in deciding to move to expanded digs while keeping the event indoors!

And now for the most important details, the beers and breweries….umm, yeah. My notes amount to three, count ‘em, three beers before I just let myself go and completely abandoned any semblance of organized thought. I can say that I was excited to see Iechyd Da’s table directly in front of me as I finished checking my coat. Starting off the festival with an eagerly anticipated taste of their Breakfast Cookies Stout was a great way to kick-off the day. Hit up Three Floyds, gave the sour wheel a spin at Upland (password when I got there was Leslie Knope) then over to ZwanzigZ for a Ghost Pepper Imperial Stout, which I highly recommend.

Stopped by Country Boy for a Chestnut Brown Ale, an interest of mine since I also brew a brown ale w/ American chestnuts. Made my way to Figure Eight, Dark Horse, and Backroads and then, then came Bare Hands. This is where my game-plan went straight to hell and I threw my two interceptions. I've sung the praises of this brewery a few times over the past year and I’m sure I’ll do it again in the not-so-distant future. I managed to sample 8 of their 10 offerings in a relatively short period of time. As much as I knew I should diversify my sampling, I just couldn't drag myself away. Game over, turn out the lights, thanks for playing! I was effectively running out the clock for the remainder of the event.

There are a number of stops that I made throughout the rest of the day, Carson’s, Flat 12, People’s, back to Iechyd Da, I even managed to finally sneak out a tweet about Quaff ON! Brewing late in the day. I managed to make my way to the Replicales and some cask ales and sample a few of each. However, aside from overall impressions of really enjoying my selections, I must sheepishly admit that when it comes down to critiquing any of these beers, I dropped the ball! This loss is on me.

FINAL SCORE:  2014 Winterfest Breweries – 43, Jason – 8

Jason C.
@oldbeerdork

kevinsmall From Kevin…..

The Reinheitsgebot, or German Purity Law, has been around for over 500 years. This law pertains to beer in that it specified water, malt, and hops were to be the only permissible ingredients for brewing. Obviously, yeast was added to this list after the scientific advancements forged by Louis Pasteur. However, lacking sufficient amendments, this archaic law largely remains irrelevant these days. Recent trends within the American craft beer scene have facilitated the use of heavy adjuncts that most certainly underwrite our modern culture’s more refined palates. Therefore, I’m going to highlight some of the deviants from this year’s Winterfest while hoping you picked up on some of the sarcasm.

18th Street Brewery - Gary

Hunter: This phenomenal Double Milk Stout boasts an ideal balance between chocolate and roast with some softer vanilla and caramel notes.

Bare Hands Brewery – Granger

Thai PA: Super complex IPA that’s only strength isn’t blowing your palate away with bitterness. Great hop aroma and flavor combined with lemongrass

Black Thai: Similar to Thai PA, but black with a little more malt character that supports the extra heat.

Imperial Peanut Butter Chocolate Stout: Incredible dessert beer. Tastes just like it smells – delicious!

Broad Ripple Brew Pub – Broad Ripple

Gum Ball Lager: Tastes like bubble gum; lasts longer than 5 seconds.

Evil Czech Brewery – Mishawaka

Dracula’s Bite: A smoked habanero black IPA that showcases how hops can intensify the heat. Take note for your future culinary creations

Flat 12 - Indianapolis with respect to El Jabali, The Gimp, and The Gentle Pervert

Flan Porter: Flan infused porter that’s lot more appetizing than staring at a cold mushy spongecake

Molon Lave: The Lacto-Matic Milk Stout with coffee added makes this already delicious beer more complex. Throw in some Habaneros and you end up with a great malt backbone to cool the flames

Whorechata: Studying in Spain allowed me to come to appreciate horchata, but after a failed attempt of convincing a friend who was visiting Cigar City to fill up a growler with pints of their “Horchata Ale” in the bathroom (pints only?! ugghh) I resolved that I’d never have the opportunity to try such a beer. Flat 12’s example was one of my favorite beers from Winterfest and I’m really hoping to sit down with a full glass at the brewery.

Iechyd Da Brewing Company – Elkhart

Breakfast Cookies: A unique milk stout that was part of the general admissions “early entry”. However, I’m still not sure if anyone knows how to pronounce their name (it’s Yah-key-Dah).

New Day – Fountain Square

Imperial Breakfast Magpie: Coffee-infused black raspberry mead aged in bourbon barrels. If you missed this; you messed up. Redeem yourself by finding it in bottles or on draft!

Upland – Bloomington

Sours: Yes.

nathansmall From Nathan…..

This was the first Winterfest to be held in the Champions Pavilion of the State Fairgrounds after years in the Ag Hort building. There was reportedly some consideration given to various alternatives, including moving the event outdoors. At the risk of sounding soft, I was pretty grateful this did not come to fruition given the cold rain we experienced on Saturday. When we first entered Champions Pavilion during Early Bird hour, the amount of space available in the new building looked very impressive. But with more tickets sold than ever before, I should know better than to jump to the conclusion that crowds would be inconsequential. Specifically, the center aisle became very difficult to navigate at times during General Admission. But such is life as the popularity of these festivals continues to grow, and Indiana continues to excel in the ratio of patrons to breweries. You could almost always find a line that wasn’t too long, which isn’t the case at some of the larger festivals I’ve attended out of state.

It probably isn’t pointed out enough, so I’d like to give some appreciation to the volunteers who bust their asses at this event so the rest of us can have a great day. In particular, the guys at the firkin booth were really working hard and doing an amazing job of quickly getting beer for waiting patrons. Their work kept the lines from ever getting too long in this area, and left drinkers in the enviable position where deciding which beer you wanted often took longer than getting service. Also of note was the volunteer working the portable toilet area. Moving quickly down the aisle to find open stalls for the next people in line, he kept the line moving far more efficiently than a veteran festival attendee has come to expect. Thank you to all the volunteers and staff who worked to keep things running smoothly throughout the day.

Now on to the beer……where Bare Hands Brewery was the big winner in my book. I wrote last year that Bare Hands had the potential to become Indiana’s answer to Odd Side Ales of Michigan, where an emphasis on spicing and other flavor additions generate some pretty creative ales. While that was meant as a compliment, it almost seems like selling them short after working through their lineup this year. The excellent lineup included creative spiced beers like the Black Thai with Thai Bird chili peppers balanced with somewhat more conventional, but still aggressive options, like the Honey Badger Imperial IPA with honey. My ultimate favorite was the Imperial Porter: big, rich malt character with a huge kick of hop flavor coming through in the finish. If you have not visited their brewpub in Granger (near South Bend), start making plans to pay them a visit now!

Additional beer notes from the day:

  • Upland isn’t usually the first brewery that comes to mind for IPAs, but I was very impressed with the Coast Buster Imperial IPA. You can find this seasonal brew at all Upland locations starting this Friday.
  • Tried a couple beers from Quaff On! Brewing and they may be really starting to hit their stride since hiring former Oaken Barrel head brewer Mark Havens.
  • While I’m a big advocate for avoiding long lines at these events, it was still nice to see a few longer lines at Zwanzigz when passing by that area. It means word is clearly getting around about a brewery that has really impressed us in recent years.
  • Tried several beers from 18th Street Brewery in Gary that were pretty solid. Given how new this brewery is to the scene, they look like one to watch for great things in the future.
  • This was my first opportunity to sample beer from Country Boy in Lexington, KY and the Chestnut Brown was outstanding. Despite my best intentions, I never made it back for another of their samples, but did hear several other people singing their praises. We always encourage road trips that involve brewery visits, and this might be a good reason to make your way down to Lexington.
Pick of the Day: Bare Hands Imperial Porter
 
Honorable Mentions
Bare Hands Peanut Butter Chocolate Stout
Country Boy Chestnut Brown (fermented with Kentucky Chestnuts)
Oaken Barrel Java Stout
Quaff On Busted Knuckle Ale
Upland Coast Buster Imperial IPA
 
Poppi’s Pick of the Day (tie): Bare Hands Peanut Butter Chocolate Stout and Thr3e Wisemen Coffee Porter

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