Entering the Brewers of Indiana Guild Winterfest at the State Fair grounds with my oldest son Cal Saturday there was a giddy thump in my heart: the promise of endless samples of micro-brewed beer.
Once through the doors a lanyard is placed around our necks with a handy rubber O-ring that cradles a small drinking glass. Love it, love it, LOVE IT! Don’t have to hold the beer glass while I’m eating.
Did I mention I love it?
We hit the closest row of brewer’s booths, getting 2 oz. samples at World Class, BBC, Victory and 3 other breweries in a sipping flurry. It’s only when we make it through the Harpoon, Brooklyn, Rogue, Pyramid, Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada booths I realize we’ve already had the equivalent of 2 beers.
There is a passing notion to pace myself.
And frankly, I don’t like some of what I’m drinking. So before the next sample, I ask the brewer to dump out the last half of the last brewer’s sample from my cup. This endears me to the guy. He winks, nods and smiles as if to say, “Yeah, that guy’s beer sucks.”
All along the way we’re filling our swag bags with free bottle openers, coasters, and a broad assortment of stickers I have absolutely no use for, but hell, they’re free. I even get a Bell’s Brewery temporary tattoo. Sah-weeet!
There are fashion trends at work. People are wearing homemade necklaces made of ordinary cotton string strung with pretzels. Some get clever with a big baked pretzel as an eye-catching pendant, surrounded by smaller store-bought pretzels. Drink a little beer – eat some pretzels - repeat as needed.
I have no pretzel necklace and suddenly feel naked.
Neck Beards Abound!
Cal proclaims, “Lotta neck beards here,” as we move to the second aisle of booths. He’s right. There are a lot of guys pouring brew with neck beards – you know, where the guy doesn’t shave his neck. This is often accompanied by a gray or muddy-khaki button up shirt, occasionally accessorized with a sock cap.
In all, it’s a pretty mellow crowd. You’d think copious drinking would lead to trouble, but no. The fact that everyone is drinking a depressant might have something to do with it. Folks smoke around the campfires in the Beer Garden, helping each other lite up, making room for strangers, letting others cut in line I front of kegs.
The Rinse Tank: Nobody wants stout foam in their porter.
Halfway down the 2nd row I realize I’m not really an India Pale Ale (IPA) guy anymore. This style was originally created for transport to British troops in India. The extra hops acted as a preservative and the extra strength allowed for bottle fermenting on the long journey ‘round the horn of Africa. I learned to like it back in the day when it primarily came from England and India. But when the American microbrewery craze hit in the late ‘80s, the IPA seemed to morph into a super-hoppy, tongue-burning, blazing guitar solo of a beer. And like guitar solos, the first couple are pretty damn cool, then I just wish they’d stop. And they like to give ‘em cute names like Good Karma, Yellow Snow, Bitter Woman, Torpedo Extra.
Yeah, whatever beer dudes. I’m not looking for beer acrobatics. As I age, I find I admire the finessed dipsy-doodle more than the in-your-face-slam-dunk.
I start requesting more stouts, porters, Scottish ales, lagers and the rare Czech-style pilsners.
Somewhere in the fog of booth hopping someone calls out, “Kurt,” and grabs my arm. It’s Marsh Davis, President of Historic Landmarks Foundation. Known the guy for 20-plus years. He gives Cal the, “I knew you when you were this high,” routine. We catch up and move on.
Cal has taken to inserting himself in the background of group photos. He’s tall, so he stands behind any group of strangers posing for a picture, then makes this bizarre ugly face (at right).
The most endearing thing about the microbrewery movement is that many of those pouring samples actually brewed it themselves. They’re trying to carve out a little flavor identity in their Indiana Town. I sampled beers from Aurora, LaPorte, Brazil, Brown County, Kokomo, Lafayette, Auburn, Warsaw, Elkhart, Crown Point, and yes, Noblesville’s own Barley Island. The crowd is bias in favor of these little guys, with a nod of respect toward the big guys who were once little guys, with the exception of the chain restaurant brewers like RAM – which I actually heard someone boo as they passed up a sample.
As Cal and I stumble out into the cold air of the Fair Grounds there’s a warmth in my chest, clouds in my head, and a latent IPA burn on my tongue. And almost immediately, there’s our designated driver, my 19-year-old son, Jack pulling up beside the Coliseum.