What goes better together than gambling and drinking beer? The event staff at the Blue Chip Casino in Michigan City, Indiana, felt it was only natural to formalize this union of activities a few years back when they introduced a beer festival at their facility. This year’s 3rd Annual Blue Chip Brewfest saw 1500 people come out to sample beers from Indiana, Michigan, Illinois and a handful of other nationally known breweries.
While the absence of a popular Munster, Indiana-based brewery that had committed to the event raised a fair share of eyebrows, there were plenty of up-and-coming brewers and old standbys to keep the crowd appeased. What became readily apparent as I walked the festival floor was that Indiana is quickly following in the footsteps of Illinois and Michigan as a growing craft beer destination. From northern breweries such as Bulldog, Bare Hands, Figure Eight, Shoreline, and Burn ‘Em Brewing down to Sun King, Flat12 Bierwerks, Triton and Upland, it’s easy to see there’s more than just corn in Indiana these days.
Aside from faithful favorites such as Greenbush, New Belgium, Southern Tier, Boulevard, Bells and Dark Horse, my Brewfest standouts were easily Bare Hands Brewery (Granger, IN) and Burn ‘Em Brewing (Michigan City, IN). I had the chance to visit Bare Hands’ taproom a couple months ago and was in hops heaven, sampling their pale ales, IPAs and stouts. They just installed a larger kettle yesterday and will continue to expand in the coming year. Burn ‘Em Brewing was started a few months back by Steev Murray, a Greenbush brewer, and they’ve already made a huge impression on area beer drinkers with their hop-heavy ales and other beers using adjuncts. These include their Joey Wheat (cold brewed with Infusco’s Kenyan Roast coffee), Hopkick Dropkick (a double Simcoe IPA with lemon and orange zest) and Gluttony (their 14% imperial stout that uses honey, maple syrup and cocoa). According to their site, they’re also brewing a banana IPA and smoked maple porter. Big things are ahead for both Bare Hands and Burn ‘Em.
In addition to the general tasting room, which housed about 40 exhibitors, the Brewfest also offered its VIP ticket holders the chance to try some not-so-common beers. For an hour prior to the general session, a separate room upstairs hosted limited-release beer/food pairings. These dozen or so stations were a fantastic way to kick off the fest and fill up your belly before tasting beers all afternoon. My favorites of the bunch were Flat12′s Van Pogue vanilla bean porter (paired with cheesecake) and New Belgium’s Cascara Quad (paired with dark chocolate covered cherries). Can you tell I have a bit of a sweet tooth?
An hour into the general session, the Firkin Beers session began upstairs and featured nine brewers’ selections. This was a good opportunity for attendees to learn about these cask-conditioned beers, which have not been cold-filtered, pasteurized and carbonated by outside equipment. Rather, they are housed inside the roughly 10.5-gallon firkin and are naturally carbonated by their resident yeast. Firkin beers are comparable to the ale beers that were produced hundreds of years ago before industrialization subjected them to processes that removed and/or killed the yeast, stripping the beer of many of its inherent vitamins, minerals, and perhaps most importantly, taste.
As opposed to most other beer fests that send you on your way after sampling beers for hours, attendees had a handful of entertainment options right on the premises following the Brewfest. In addition to its casino, the Blue Chip resort is home to a handful of fine restaurants, a spa, live music and theatre. Be sure to get your tickets early for next year’s Brewfest as I’m sure it will only grow in popularity.