"Come on and hit this whiz!" says the massive man in line in front of me. Having about a dozen or so three-ounce beer samples in me helps me move past the inelegance of taking a shot of pressurized cheese out of the can strung around this stranger's neck. He then motions to the array of various pretzels attached to his string, I break off two, pop them in my mouth, and it's time for a three-ounce refill. We tap our plastic cups together — "Cheers!" — take a swig and head off in opposite directions to try more brews and meet more single serving friends.
Bloomington Craft Beer Fest is making its way back for its sixth year and that's a reason to celebrate. Taking place on April 9 in the historic Woolery Mill, a now defunct but scenic limestone mill, the fest will offer hundreds of brews from over fifty breweries.
The festival is a beer-drinkers Heaven, showcasing a vast array of classic styles and allowing brewers to really push the envelope and create some interesting and innovative beers. A few fan favorites will be making their way back to the fest including Columbus' ZwanzigZ and their popular ghost pepper imperial stout, Burn 'Em Brewing's usually vast and inventive selection, and the always sought after Three Floyd's Brewery from Munster. We will also be seeing a few newcomers like the recently opened Schnitz Brewing from Jasper, and Indy's newest brewery, Metazoa Brewing Co. This is your opportunity to branch out and try new styles of beer, I promise, if you just go for the same style time and time again your tastebuds will hate you by the end of the fest.
If you've never been to the BCBF or any of the other festivals put on by the Brewers of Indiana Guild, then I'll give you a little insiders tip. When you walk through the doors at one of these events, make your way directly to the Cask Tent. This is where the brewers bring their A-game and I've never been disappointed from stopping here first. It always features "super-rare and one-off batches of beer" from different brewers. Once these gems are gone, there is no getting them again and you get the chance to try beer the way it is meant to be served, straight from the cask.
Another awesome aspect of this fest is the inclusion of homebrewers, this means you can get beers that have never been sold in a store or tap room. Four local homebrewers will be sharing their beers with festgoers and it is always fun to see the brews they come up with. It also is a reminder to beer lovers that they have the option to start creating their own beer and if they study the craft and use worthwhile ingredients, they can brew beer that is comparable and sometimes even surpasses that of their favorite breweries.
Also, remember that story at the top, about my eating from someone's pretzel necklace? Well, don't come unprepared like I did and be forced to rely on the drunken kindness of strangers. Craft your own pretzel necklace. You can be fancy and add Cheez Whiz, cheese sticks, or even beef jerky, or keep it simple, but you will definitely want one to help cleanse your palate between offerings. I also highly suggest bringing water (keep the bottles sealed), those little samples can catch up to you fast and you don't want hundreds of people chanting "party foul" while you puke in a trashcan (I've seen it happen).
This is also your opportunity to chat with the people behind your favorite local beers. The brewers are right there, talk to them (as long as the lines are not crazy, obviously)! We are incredibly lucky to have a multitude of knowledgable and hardworking Hoosiers in the craft beer community who are excited to share their knowledge not only with one another, but also with the masses. So, at least take a moment to thank them and let them know you appreciate their hard work and dedication to providing us with a little bit of liquid love.
Speaking of liquid love, the Bloomington Craft Beer Festival is your way to show a little love to the Hoosier brewing community. #BtownBfest is a singular celebration of Indiana's craft breweries and for that reason this will be the second year in a row that they serve exclusively Indiana beers. This means all of the proceeds of the event stay in the hands of Indiana-owned businesses. So, you can feel good about yourself while you're drinking your new favorite beers.
One of the most important lessons I've taken from attending beer fests is, if you're going to make it through the whole thing, food is essential. No one wants to drunkenly tumble into one of the tasting tables, and with over 100 beers to try during the day there's a good chance you'll be on your way past tipsy faster than you think. Luckily, the brains behind the fest know more than just good beer, they've provided top-notch nosh too. Any experienced beer drinker knows just how filling beer can be. So, eat a lighter cuisine, my personal suggestion would be the refreshing ceviche from NoCo & Butcher's Smokehouse. If you're feeling a little more traditional, nothing goes with beer quite like a slice of pizza from Pizza X. Don't eat meat? Don't worry, Upland Brewing has you covered with their incredible seitan tacos.
While the food may help keep you from making an ass of yourself at the fest, it won't keep you legally sober. So, to get a little serious for a moment, have a safe way home. Whether you Uber to and from the event, have a DD, have Mom make you and your buddies sandwiches and drop you off in her soccer van, ride a horse (is it illegal to drunkenly ride a horse?), or any other way you may arrive and depart, just make sure not to drive yourself. If you do have a designated driver, they can purchase a DD ticket for $10 and that includes unlimited free water, coffee and soda. They have to be 21, so you can't get lil' sis to drive you with her learner's permit.
There will be plenty of entertainment for DD's, even if they don't like people-watching (which there will be plenty of). For the duration of the fest there will be five music groups playing toe-tapping, partner-swinging, beer-drinking tunes. Starting at 1 with Fiddle 'n' Feet, followed by Jefferson Street Parade Band, Electric Fences, Born Mountaineer, and finishing with Pork and Beans Brass Band at 4:45. In keeping with the theme, all of the bands are local, so — ya know — #SupportLocal and listen to these awesome Indy acts.
If you're wanting to prepare for the fest with some local beer, the week leading up to the fest is Bloomington Craft Beer Week (#BCBW2016) and that means you can get your hands on some special beers in Bloomington. The most intriguing of these is a special collaboration Hoppy Maibock created by Bloomington Brewing Co., Function Brewing, Quaff On Brewing, The Tap Brewing Co. and Upland Brewing Co. Each of the breweries will be doing separate variations on the same brew and tapping individual firkins during the week leading up to the event.
For the best overall experience at the festival, download the Drink Indiana Beer app (http://drinkIN.beer/app) to see the event map, mark favorites in the list of breweries, and get updates about the event. It is a must for making the most out of your day.
It's 6:45 p.m. I caught an Uber from the fest to my hotel, the Fourwinds. I'm sitting on a beach with a bottle of water in my hand, watching the waves lap. I'm more full than I am drunk, but I'm still sobering up. The sun is sinking in the sky, and I'm trying to think what my favorite beer was. Who can say, there were too many nearly perfect beers and how am I supposed to decide if that aged-Imperial pilsner is better than the chocolate, cinnamon Imperial stout? I'm not. I'm supposed to know I had a great day with great people at an important and exciting event for our great state. I stand up and make my way inside, I think I'm going to need a quick nap.Map your beer-sperience out beforehand!