In the professional division, Indianapolis-based Metazoa Brewing Co. was named 2021 Indiana State Fair Brewers' Cup Competition "Brewery of the Year," and Grand Junction earned Best of Show with their Mulligan Scotch Ale. Following right along, Metazoa gained 2nd place Best of Show with their nESBitter, and Upland snagged third place with Hazelnut Bourbon Teddy Bear Kisses.

Circle City Zymergy Club Member Keith Goldstein earned Best of Show in Homebrew.

Foam Blowers of Indiana was named Homebrew Club of the year; Circle City Zymergy gained the Bill Friday Club Award.  

FBI member Dean Steuerwald was named 2021 Homebrewer of the Year.

Judging for the 2021 Indiana State Fair Brewers' Cup Competition was closing in on the early afternoon session when I arrived at the Fairgrounds on July 9. A quick sweep of the room revealed tables with judges and stewards who have been showing up over the past two decades; alongside them, I spotted a few new to me—young-in-training candidates gaining experience alongside seasoned professionals and volunteers.

This 22nd event had just over half the size of entries the competition had grown to, reminding me of its early years when 'frenzy' and 'hectic' were not part of my reporting vocabulary. I dared to interrupt a 'best of show' deliberating session to say hello to the judges huddling over score sheets and again tasting samples. 

The other tables were winding down with judges filling in score sheets; these notes are as important as wins, a brewer once told me. His point was that the craft industry enters the Indiana Brewers' Cup because the judges are meticulous with suggestions for improvement. When a brewer is working with a specialty recipe, 'the feedback is gold.'  

Judging continued into the evening on July 10, with no public closing banquet. Instead, anyone interested in the first, second, and third place winners for Homebrew and Professional craft entries would have to tune in online. Judges coordinator Sandy Cockerham served as emcee for the online announcement.

Crunching the stats, as I watched online, the adrenaline was high—not quite as high as when I'm in the same room with the brewers also sitting on the edges of their seats, hurriedly noting accumulating points with each of their wins. Nevertheless, my tallies were showing neck-to-neck to the finish. Had it been alive, I'd have been a part of a standing ovation for Primeval Brewing, opening in Noblesville in the early stage of COVID-19. It was planned—they forged ahead. They now have seven medals to display: one Gold, four Silvers, two Bronze.

Sun King, celebrating their 12th anniversary, also would have had seven trips to the podium, including two Golds and one Bronze for the small-batch brewery in Fishers, along with three Silvers and a Bronze for brews from the College Ave. brewery in Indianapolis.

We'd have applauded four trips each for Bad Dad (Fairmount): one Gold, three Silver; Black Acre (Indianapolis): three Gold, one Bronze; Daredevil (Speedway): three Gold, one Silver; and Taxman (Bargersville): one Gold, one Silver, two Bronze.

The temperature was rising as I tallied: Upland (Bloomington) was at two Gold and two Silver when Cockerham announced their 3rd place' Best of Show." With the 2nd place announcement for Metazoa (Indianapolis), who already had three Golds and two Silvers, and 1st place Best of Show for Grand Junction (Westfield), with one Gold, one Silver, and two Bronze already in hand, the numbers clinched the final outcome for Metazoa.

Here's the email Q/A with Lauren Frederick, Vice President at METAZOA BREWING COMPANY:

RITA KOHN: Winning top awards in a challenging year is a testament to the grit of all Indiana craft breweries. Share the good and hard parts for Metazoa to stay focused throughout this past year and a half of COVID-19.

LAUREN FREDERICK: I'll start with the good parts. In the face of a challenging year such as 2020, our team was able to step back and take stock of what our customers loved most about our brand. Then we set to work to find ways that we could still provide that experience and stay connected with our loyal customers, despite the restrictions and limitations of the pandemic. I was personally floored by what the team was able to accomplish, and I think we all surprised ourselves with some of the creative ways we were able to keep the Metazoa experience alive in the face of that kind of adversity. It certainly brought us closer as a team and strengthened our resolve in the company. 

The hard parts were likely the same as many other breweries across the state and the country. First, there was no roadmap for how hard our community was going to be hit by COVID-19, and the impact on our business changed on seemingly an hourly basis. Secondly, breweries did not have any precedent for how long our businesses would be affected by the pandemic, so any effective planning was nearly impossible. Finally, there was a difficult balancing act for our management team during this time. We have a commitment to our employees and customers to prioritize their health and well-being. At the same time, any brewery can tell you that losing momentum in the market can threaten the growth of a business as a whole. 

2020 was not without its challenges, but now that we are slowly coming out of the pandemic, I'm happy to report that our team and customers are safe, and the Indiana market has not lost a bit of its enthusiasm for our beer and our mission.

KOHN: What has been the relationship with your constituency over this timeframe--March 2020 through to the present? What beer styles are noted as best connecting with what best satisfies your constituency's taste at this moment? 

FREDERICK: We were able to offer a variety of virtual events last year, various carryout specials, and we were able to maintain a connection with the market with off-premise placements around the state. As far as styles, our Hazy IPA series was actually created in 2020 by Nick Betzner and his team of talented brewers. Since its inception, this brand has received a great reception from the market. In fact, our flagship Hazy IPA, "Wicked Pawesome" has become one of our best-selling beers in our taproom since its creation and was awarded a Bronze Medal at both GABF and Indiana Brewers Cup [IN 2021], an incredible honor for us, especially given the competitive nature of the Hazy categories.

KOHN: Recognition for Metazoa brews has been consistent. What for you all is most satisfying because of the recipes that you particularly have embraced, and that exemplifies the soul of your mission as an advocate for a healthy environment for all-- plant life, humans, animals, etc

FREDERICK: The level to which the Indiana beer community has embraced us is beyond what we could have imagined when we opened our doors five years ago. Our brewers are meticulous with their recipe generation and practices and strive to make the best possible version of every recipe. Awards such as the Indiana Brewers' Cup provide the much-deserved recognition that our brewing team has earned through their hard work. 

At the same time, we know that in today's competitive environment, great beer is not the only thing that sells our product. Some of the greatest satisfaction for our team comes from encountering customers who are not just buying the beer for the taste; our greatest fans know that a purchase of Metazoa beer is an investment in a greater mission and they support us in our commitment both to great beer and animal advocacy.

KOHN: Moving forward, now what's the major challenge?

FREDERICK: Our next challenge coming out of the pandemic is getting back on track. We are in the process of increasing our production capabilities in order to meet the growing demand in the market and have some exciting growth opportunities on the horizon. As we cautiously move out of the uncertainty of the last 18 months, we are excited to grow our market presence and reach more customers with our beer and mission.

KOHN: What else?

FREDERICK: Thank you to everyone who has supported Metazoa and the Indiana beer community over the course of the pandemic. I hope that our industry is not quick to forget the teamwork and collaboration that were made possible (and were often necessary) during the last 18 months. Hoosiers are resilient as a whole, and if our breweries can continue working together as we have through this crisis, our businesses will not only benefit individually but also collectively as we work together toward a new level of excellence in Indiana beer.

I also reached out to Sharon Smith, APR, Director of Communications, Indiana State Fair Commission to learn how the ISF Brewers' Cup Competition made its 2021 comeback:    

RITA KOHN: What was the most challenging aspect of bringing back the Indiana State Fair Brewers Cup Competition after the hiatus from 2020?

SHARON SMITH: Thankfully, the brewing community stayed with us through the pandemic and the 2020 cancellation of the Indiana Brewers' Cup. When we made the difficult decision to cancel in 2020, we immediately pivoted to planning for 2021.

Our greatest challenges came with trying to plan for an event that requires in-person activity. This was what caused the difficult decision to cancel the in-person reception; however, we are proud of what we were able to accomplish by bringing some form of the competition back this year.

KOHN: What now, looking back, most energized the 2021 competition?

SMITH: We were always confident in the ability to host something in 2021, and we knew our brewing community was right there with us. The energy and passion came from the amazing dedication of the Brewers' Cup committee, Indiana State Fair staff and board, and the entire brewing community. A year like this reminds us how truly lucky we are!

KOHN: What will we all find special at "The Taproom" --a.k.a. The Grand Hall-- July 30-August 22 at the 2021 Indiana State Fair that is "Celebrating the Hoosier Spirit"?

SMITH: Fairgoers can expect their traditional favorites at the State Fair, including a rebrand of the Grand Hall to "The Taproom – an Indiana beer, wine & spirits experience." NEW this year will be Sun King's Funnel Cake Pastry Ale – being brewed for the State Fair. We also have a new Food & Beverage experience located on the north side of the Fairgrounds called "The Backyard: brews and brats"; another great location Fairgoers enjoy in their favorite beverage!

KOHN: What else do readers need to know about Beer, Wine & Spirits as part of the Indiana State Fair's dedication to excellence and good family fun as a part of building a caring community for all Hoosiers and visitors?

SMITH: This event is important to our community – for many reasons. We take great pride in bringing Hoosiers back together every summer to celebrate all things Indiana – including Indiana's robust brewing industry and its important impact on our state.

After the points were tallied, I caught up with Joe Zimmermann, Steward Coordinator, for his assessment of this very different rendition of the ISF Brewers' Cup:

RITA KOHN: What most spurred you all to bring back the ISF Brewers Cup Competition after the 2020 hiatus?

JOE ZIMMERMANN: The desire to return back to normalcy after the previous 15 months. We were hell-bent on conducting the competition in some form, even if it still meant using face masks or shields while judging the entries. Luckily, conditions and restrictions eased as we moved closer to the event.

KOHN: After deciding to move forward with the competition, what most challenged you all?

ZIMMERMANN: Planning. Usually, planning for a competition of this size requires meeting as early as October of the previous year. That wasn't an option for us for this year's event. Because of the pandemic, we also needed to get approval from entities we normally don't have to deal with. We didn't get the go-ahead until early May and had only one in-person meeting in June to finalize plans. Prep work that's usually spread over several months had to take place in just a few weeks. I had a total of 50 stewards that volunteered over the length of the event (but never more than 32 there at once)

KOHN: Looking back, what is most noteworthy about what took place?

ZIMMERMANN: I think this event served as a great example of the commitment the state's brewing community, both professional and amateur, has for each other and the craft. We were able to generate a lot of enthusiasm in a short amount of time. Our Indiana State Fair staff and volunteers stepped up in a huge way, as they always do. While this is a tough competition, the breweries, and home brewers all root for each other to do well, and that's very heartening to witness and be a part of.

KOHN: What else do readers need to know about this 2021 Competition?

ZIMMERMANN: Again, this was a tough competition. The fight for the top rankings between breweries was close. Of the 45 breweries that entered, 37 won awards! On the homebrew side as well, who won came down to the very end. This shows that there are fantastic beers, ciders, and meads to be found in our state. Get out there and try some. Visit a local brewery. Try some fantastic homebrewed lagers and ales at a beer fest. 

Coming up on The roundup of the 2021 Homebrew competition.

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.