Munster has become synonymous with craft beer largely because – OK, solely because – Three Floyds has called it home since 1999.
Looking to leverage that popularity, the Munster Ale Fest was held last weekend at Centennial Park, just across Calumet Avenue from the industrial park where Three Floyds is based. While that brewery’s annual Dark Lord Day attracts thousands of craft beer connoisseurs toting rarities from around the world to share with fellow fans, this was a fest that was far more locally focused – from the crowd to the breweries. And that’s OK.
Because the breweries that did show – for the most part – brought out the good stuff, with special tappings and barrel-aged offerings that helped them to stand out. Some phoned it in, simply relying on a local distributor to drop buckets of bottles on a table for pours of popular brews, but smaller breweries used it as an opportunity to introduce themselves to new drinkers and provide some personal interaction with their new friends.
The breweries were Midwest based, from Wisconsin to Michigan, with Indiana and Illinois breweries – not surprisingly – dominating the festival grounds. We’ve become so spoiled here, it’s hardly a surprise to have Founders, Goose Island and Two Brothers (and, naturally, Three Floyds) with a presence. But the Munster Ale Festival also provided opportunities for many to learn about places like JT Walkers in tiny, downstate Mahomet, Only Child from Northbrook and Green Bay’s Hinterland.
Saugatuck Brewing came down from Michigan with their amazing Neapolitan Stout on tap, which was a great surprise, while Plainfield’s Banging Gavel delivered an ancho chile-laced Russian Imperial Stout that was perfectly balanced and my personal favorite. Chapman’s, located a straight shot east down the Indiana Toll Road in Angola, might have gotten its name from area native Johnny Appleseed, but cleared up my confusion that they would be a cider-only place. As I evaluated what to try, I was encouraged to sample their Russian Imperial Stout – an “off menu” beer that was just as good as indicated when I got a smile and a nod when ordering.
Two Indiana brewers in neighboring spaces – Michigan City’s Burn ‘Em Brewing and Gary’s 18th Street – had consistently long lines all day with 18th Street’s Hunter stout a clear crowd favorite and plenty of folks intrigued by Burn ‘Em’s Mr. Tea, infused with (you guessed it) black and green tea.
Two tremendous Double IPA’s came courtesy of the folks at Chicago’s Haymarket Brewing, as Mathias was on tap, and Lansing’s One Trick Pony pulled out its Warlander late in the day for everyone to enjoy.
Another Northwest Indiana newcomer, Devil’s Trumpet, brought out its popular Make It A Cheeseburger IPA, while their Frosted Mini-Wheats-infused Cereal Hefeweizen drew curious visitors, as well. And conversations with reps from Chicago’s Argus Brewing helped us understand why we hadn’t been able to find their California Steam beer anymore. Thanks to a cease-and-desist order, it’s now Ironhorse Chicago Common.
But it was Michigan City’s Shoreline Brewery that had lots of folks buzzing, as they rolled out four barrel-aged offerings, with their 2010 aged imperial stout, Lost Sailor, lauded as a favorite by those partaking.
Though I had the VIP pass, I missed the early VIP offering from Three Floyds, but they had crowd favorites Zombie Dust and Arctic Panzer Wolf flowing late into the day. Unfortunately, the VIP perks ended with the early entry.
All in all, not a bad fest – the crowd of about 1,250 was a good one, with a nice mix of beer geeks finding some quality taps and locals simply looking to enjoy a few lagers with friends on a chilly fall day. It was the kind of fest that reminds you of how spoiled we are here. My only gripe (aside from the weather) was the need for paper tickets, as there was no option to have a ticket code scanned at the gate. Maybe next year. Because this was a well-organized and managed fest by Wisconsin-based Brewfest Partners on behalf of the Munster Civic Federation that surely will be returning.