With the flash of my ticket, my wrist is encircled with a lime green bracelet, and a double-shot glass is thrust in my hand. The blue-shirted volunteer winks mischievously and exhorts, "Bottom's Up!"
The “8th Annual Brewers of Indiana Guild Winterfest” took place Saturday night at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. It’s a veritable mecca for Indiana craft beer connoisseurs.
Over 85 brewers throughout the state came to the festival, bringing hundreds of different beer samples with them. The brew-a-palooza drew a crowd of over 6,000.
Local favorites Sun King, Triton, and Black Acre were all present and among the more popular booths. Even beyond the big-name players, there was no shortage of innovative set ups.
Quaff On!, based out of Brown County, had perhaps the most lavish set. Their neon green truck had actual taps on the side panel. Moreover, you could pass the time standing in the Quaff On! line by trying your hand at a larger-than-life Jenga game.
Doors opened to revelers at 3 p.m. (2 p.m. to those who purchased an Early Bird ticket), and the spirit of mirth was immediately palpable.
Strands of pretzel & cheese stick necklaces adorned true festival veterans. They serve a dual function, according to festivalgoer Kevin Salte. "They both absorb excess liquor and provide a snack for the hungry that no longer have motor control of their hands," Salte says matter-of-factly, downing the “It Was a Dark and Smokey Stout” from Books & Brews.
Party foulers are mirthlessly called out by the entire festival. Remember the ominous "ohhhhhh" from the class when you were called to the Principal's office in elementary school? It's a lot like that...only magnified by the echoing fair pavilion and the chorus of 6,000 inebriated voices.
"It's such a fun time. The beers are great and people really enjoy it," says volunteer Chris Hutson. "And no one gets too out of hand—not like going out to Broad Ripple. When you pay 50 bucks a ticket, you make sure not to get too crazy, but to just have a good time."
For Hutson, who has volunteered for six of the eight Winterfests, volunteering is the best of both worlds.
"It's a split shift, so once you're done, you can enjoy. And volunteers don't have to wait in line. This asshole is already off," he says, gesturing to his fellow volunteer Brett Thomas, who, mockingly air-cheers his glass. "Go grab me one!" Hutson hollers. Thomas smiles, giving him the finger, but nevertheless complies, bringing back a Danny Boy Black IPA from Danny Boy Beer Works.
"Definitely one of my favorites," Hutson proclaims.
Elsewhere, beer-enthusiast Nathan Lewis takes a brief timeout along the wall. "There are just so many. I wish I could get to them all!" he says. Lewis has been to several beer festivals across the state. He likes this one, but it's not his favorite.
"This one is great and there is so much variety, but the only drawback is the lines. They're so long just to taste one beer. When there's this many people, it makes it harder to get your money's worth. But we're having a good time," Lewis reports.
The thing that makes Winterfest stand out to Lewis?
"Oh the cask tent, definitely. Because they make things you're never going to get elsewhere. It's the best part."
The cask tent is a smaller area in between the two main halls of the festival. Lit by only two fluorescent lights, it gives off the exclusive feel of an old-time speakeasy, albeit with slightly less glam. In the cask tent, about 15 beers from a mix of breweries are offered.
All are brewed specifically for the festival and most are unobtainable at any other time. The variety is expansive, representing something for the hopps-lover to the ale-fan, including “Why Not”, a blueberry porter from Figure Eight Brewing that you could smell long before you could taste.
As drinks got dropped with increasing frequency, speech got slightly more slurred and laughs came a little more quickly, the celebration started winding down. Despite EMTs Jim White and Lisa Poe being on hand and ready to step in if anyone partied a little too hard, last call passed without incident.
"We heard that towards the end, things can get pretty rowdy, but we've been pleasantly unneeded," White says. Poe corroborates the tale, holding up the pink, white, and purple scarf she's been knitting all evening, uninterrupted.
As the merrymakers file out, all high-fives and giggles, it's clear to see that Winterfest '16 was a certain success.