TAKE NOTE, PLEASE: Shop early for your Indiana craft beer holiday libations is the collective word from brewers statewide. Most are closing on Christmas Eve and throughout Christmas Day; HOWEVER, most are open on New Year's Eve 2021 and New Years Day 2022.

Ron Smith is playing it forward. Again. 

The first-ever Carmel Christkindlmarkt Bier Competition launched December 18, 2021, sixteen years after Smith nailed the 2005 Indiana Ultimate Beer Geek Challenge — designed to recognize homebrewers' contributions to the craft beer industry.

Conducted by Indiana-based World Class Beverages, Smith's "award" was for Upland to scale up the original 10-gallon winning recipe to 1,000 gallons and bottle and market "Castle Rock Irish Red Ale." On January 30, 2006, the launch took place at Kahn's Fine Wines & Spirits on Keystone Avenue in Indianapolis. About three dozen were present and applauding the rich taste spurred by molasses…and therein rests a tale…just ask Ron next time you see him. [Alas, the Indiana Ultimate Beer Geek Challenge is long since gone…]

Now, Ron has conjured up a different craft beer competition "where the entrants (pro or homebrewers) are "asked to do something festive with their beer and pair it with a food, snack, cookie, garnish, or something."  

Entries were judged openly (not blinded), and in front of a large Live Audience, on the stage at Carmel's Christkindlmarkt, with Travis Jerde as the Emcee for the event. The judges, Smith, a certified high-level Beer Judge, Cicerone, and Educator; Indy's food legend, author and educator Chef Thom England; and Certified Beer Cicerone, L.J. Whirley, who is Culinary Beverage Manager at Newfields, rated entries on the quality of the beer, how well the pairing worked, and the overall enjoyment.  

"We were pushing brewers to think about pairings, and harmony, balance, contrasts, etc. in flavors," said Smith. "The judges know this territory well. There were classic beer styles and spiced versions and paired with cookies, hand-made delicacies, cheeses, chocolates, and more. There was Lebkuchen, Stroopwaffles, Candy Canes, etc.," added Smith in the email.

Homebrewer Danna Korak gained the Gold medal with her Spiced English Mild paired with Reindeer Poop, "delicious droppings of hand made chocolate covered Bourbon soaked golden raisins (served in a little Santa boot). 

"A great beer, a great pairing, and doing it all in a festive manner that captured the full spirit and concept of the competition!" enthused Smith.

Homebrewer Todd Cogswell won the Silver Medal with his Imperial Stout paired with a sweet Henry McKenna 10-year Bourbon chaser. The Bronze went to Primeval Brewing for pairing their Rauchbier (smoked beer) with an Aged English Red Onion Cheddar Cheese. Honorable Mention went to Joe and Theresa Zimmerman for their Vienna Lager paired with a Lebkuchen (gingerbread cookie).  

Smith applauded Carmel Christkindlmarkt organizers Maria Murphy and Anna Baxter, "for all their support and being voted the 2021 #1 Christmas Market in the United States by USA Today."

Catch the awards video here: https://www.facebook.com/tracey.w.smith.39/videos/311956600656294

More Brews News

Taxman Brewing launched ordering online. Try it here: www.taxmanbrewing.com/shop. Beer and food are onsite in Bargersville, CityWay Indianapolis and Fortville.

Bier Brewery released their 2021 rendition of the multiple-awards-winning "Sanitarium" at their Taprooms at 5133 E. 65th Street and at 13720 N. Meridian St., Carmel.

Sun King's final 2021 Reserve beer release, Muckin' Around the X-mas Tree, is a fruitcake-inspired Barrel-Aged Scottish-Style Wee Heavy with candied fruit and pecans. 12.7% ABV | 30 IBU; in 2-pack and by the glass at any of their taprooms. Also at SKB taprooms, When the Lights Go Out, a porter brewed with locally roasted coffee from Tinker Coffee Co. for maximum aroma balanced with creamy malt sweetness and a dry finish, and Sun King Spirits Variety Samplers (50ml sample bottles). Each box includes Vodka • White Whiskey • Agave • Gin • Rum

Sun KIng's newly released "1869 Lager" comes with a taste of history: "In 1869 a new American tradition was born: college football. The first collegiate football game, College of New Jersey (now Princeton) vs Rutgers, brought 100 spectators, with Rutgers beating Princeton 6-4. Around this time (1865-1920), breweries started popping up all over the nation. The boom of American beer introduced German Lagers to the American public. These lagers were soon available coast to coast, aided by pasteurization and iceboxes. Lower alcohol content made lagers more palatable and accessible to the masses. With 1869 we pay homage to American brewing tradition and the great game of football."

Half Moon in Kokomo launched their seasonal Vanilla Red, a Smith creamy Irish-style Red "full of Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Beans, to complement their Brunswick Stew. They're pairing the Shrimp Fettuccine a la Rosa with MILF-n-Honey Wheat.

Triton Brewing is big on their food menu too: catch this choice just announced: This week, the Triton Bistro is introducing the Ginger & Guajillo Pork Taco. Flour tortillas, our scratch-made ginger guajillo sauce, house-smoked pulled pork, pineapple, fresh jalapenos, and a side of sour cream. They are served with your choice of side item. Their new seasonal is Head Splitter Imperial IPA (2021), a "big, bold brew made with Magnum, Summit, Galena, Cascade & CTZ Hops, balanced with the appropriate amount of malt.

Mad Anthony has two seasonals on tap: Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout and Smoky Rye Whiskey Barrel Aged Barley Wine. MadBrew adds: "Looking to join a great team? We've got open positions at all locations. Go to:  https://bit.ly/3xj8Hcx

Upland Brewing Company announces the opening of Upland Southport Bike Bar, a new tasting room location in partnership with Gray Goat Bicycle Company at 3850 E Southport Road in Indianapolis, IN 46237. The tasting room is on the top floor of Gray Goat. 

"This is an exciting new milestone in our journey to further explore the intersection of craft beer and cycling cultures. The Bike Barn is an inviting neighborhood gathering place for folks to share their passion for beer, bikes, and everything in between," emailed David Bower, President of Upland Brewing Co. "The new location will mirror the hours of the Gray Goat Bike Shop, making it the perfect stop for happy hour pints or 12 pack pickup for the weekend. Commuters will be able to order carryout beer online for no-contact curbside pickup."

"The Bike Bar is the perfect addition to our new flagship location and an amazing spot to grab a pint while you shop, wait for your flat change, or simply to meet with friends over a locally crafted pint," added Brian Gootee, owner of Gray Goat Bicycle Co. 

Wood-aged sour ales will be available for sampling at the Bike Bar every Thursday from 4-7 p.m.  

Upland is reopening the Bloomington-based Wood Shop on Jan. 7 and 8, from 5- 9 p.m., with brewers on hand "to share rare beers aged to perfection. Try a sample flight and take home a growler (or two) of your favorites! No reservation is necessary."

Easley Winery's annual Jolly Wine Sale runs through December 24 at 205 N. College Ave, Indianapolis.

And, closing out 2021 with a tutorial on the business of craft brewing in the now

Shane Pearson, owner/co-founder of Daredevil Brewing Co came to my rescue when I did a 'help, please, call out' concerning the impact of an avalanche of messages about an industry change with canning and how this affecting Indiana brewers:

"You hit a topic that I, unfortunately, know a lot about," said Pearson, in an email response. "Here is a brain dump. The important part is visiting your local brewery, whether to fill a growler or buy a 4-pack. These are local businesses that employ people in your community and most of your purchase goes right back into the community. 

"You are referring to the "Ball Customer Reduction Program." Nice name. Below is a link to a Brewers Association statement on the topic. 

https://www.brewersassociation.org/brewing-industry-updates/ball-customer-reduction-program/

"First, there are only three (3) U.S.-based aluminum can manufacturers. They supply cans for everything - not just beer. These reduction programs happen every few years so this is not new. This one is getting more coverage because of the timing and the size of this change to the Ball program so that it probably is going to impact some of the top 50 or 100 US-based breweries by size on their secondary brands. For the next 200-500 US-based breweries by size, it could mean they can't buy from Ball anymore because it makes no business sense. Again, for context, only ~500 breweries in the US make more than 5000 barrels of beer a year. This issue might impact 5 to 10% of breweries.  

"We are a Crown can customer so this news does not directly impact us. That said, if we had to make a 5 truckload purchase, we have 2 beers that make sense to do at that level. Maybe 3. I'd say for Indiana, there are only 3 to 5 breweries that have beer brands that they sell at enough volume annually to buy 5 or more truckloads of individual designs at a time where it makes good business sense. You'll see what I mean below when it comes to the fact it's a lot of beer.  

"There isn't much good spin to put on the program. First, the large canning companies have always had a preference to work with larger breweries. The only thing new here is moving the minimum order quantity for a printed/branded can from one (1) full truckload, which has been the standard in the industry since about 2015. 

"Second, what is a truckload of cans, you might ask? The answer = a lot of beer for one beer brand. For context, the average brewery makes ~1000 bbls a year in total across many beer brands, and they are not using printed cans anyway. 

16 oz cans = 155,600 or 6483 cases or ~624 barrels of beer

12 oz cans = 204,225 or 8169 cases or ~590 barrels of beer

What breweries does this change to a 5 truckload impact? 

1. Ball customers. The other two U.S.-based can companies have not followed this action by Crown. 

2. How many breweries does this impact? That is hard to say, but it's probably only a few hundred at most like the existing 1 full truckload minimum already greatly limited the number of companies for whom it made sense to buy branded cans. 

"How do most breweries acquire cans today? Does this make much difference? 

1. A very large percentage of breweries already buy indirect from second-tier suppliers that buy blank cans (aka brite cans) from Ball and the other two suppliers and then sell brite cans direct, or they also sell services to apply labels or wraps to the blank cans. These suppliers will sometimes sell at one pallet or smaller levels. There is a huge second-tier industry for labels and can wraps. This news might be good for them as it pushes more people to use the second tier in some cases. 

"2. The difference is the cost of the can. Buying printed cans direct at volume will mean a brewery can be at $0.14 to $0.19 a can for the cost of packaging. When you have to do a label or wrap, you can be spending $0.50 or much more per can, depending on the amount being purchased. That cost of packaging gets reflected in where the brewery can sell the beer or how much they need to charge. This is why many breweries only sell directly from their taproom or self-distribute because it's not affordable to sell the beer through wholesale due to packaging costs added on top of the cost to make the beer. In some cases, breweries also sell through wholesale when they shouldn't because they frankly aren't making money because their costs are too high. 

"Are there longer-term impacts to the increasing costs for small to medium breweries? Is there anything consumers can do?

1. Yes. People should expect to see fewer options at Grocery and Liquor stores from smaller breweries over time because it won't make sense to sell through those channels for many.

2. Yes, always buy direct from a brewery if you have the opportunity to visit them directly because then they get the full purchase price."

And then came another message about mini-kegs. I did another HELP call out to Shane Pearson

here's the link to that email: https://vinepair.com/articles/mini-kegs-trend-craft-beer/

Here's Pearson's reply:

"The mini-kegs are 5L and are common for large European breweries. AB & Heineken are the most common you see in the US. Bell's is the only US brewery that I have seen with the 5L kegs. They do Oberon and Two Hearted in 5L seasonally. 

We looked into these a couple of years ago, so I'm familiar with them. I've thought about using these for Lift Off as a summer seasonal offering which is how Bells does 5L kegs for the Spring/Summer.  

The 5L kegs are not practical at this time for your average craft or neighborhood breweries due to the costs and specialized filling equipment involved. Growlers are the easiest and lowest cost all around. And then, of course, standard 12 or 16 oz cans or Crowlers.

5L mini-keg details

Pros

1. 5L = 169 oz. A growler is 64 oz or 1.89 L so this is about 2.65 Growlers 

2. Packaged with CO2 so it will have a longer shelf life like a professionally canned beer. Up to 6 to 9 months, depending on the beer. 

3. Recyclable just alike can 

Cons

1. The minimum order at that time we looked at these in 2019 was one container which is 3360 qty, and they ship from Europe. It was about $5 to $7 in cost per mini-keg for the brewery when you included shipping fees.

2. You need a specific type of filling machine to fill a 5L keg or you have to be able to adapt an existing filling machine to fill it with CO2 counter pressure.  

3. You need to sell a lot of these to recover the investment in the packaging and your filling equipment.

So here you have it: head over to your favorite brewery/brewpub for the best deals, for the best brews, on tap…. and dust off that growler you stowed in the garage when Ball first implored us to pick up a pack at your grocery or bottle shop. Onward to 2022.

Writer Beer & Society

There is nothing that cannot be discussed and worked out over a beer. Join me as I explore local beer, breweries and how they can civilize us.

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