History and Beer On Display at Conner Prairie “History On Tap”

I had a teacher in grade school, and who moved on to my high school, that made learning about American history fun. Well, not like baseball-fun, but maybe super interesting. He was a great teacher who had an uncanny ability of bringing history to life. Now I can’t say that I’m a history buff (“what do you have to do to be a buff?”) but it would be correct to say that I do have a thirst for it. Beer too.

And that’s what made the recent “History On Tap” beer event a perfect pairing because history at Conner Prairie actually does come to life, as Indiana living, and the art and science of brewing beer back in the mid-1800’s is presented to you.

“History on Tap” repeats itself every spring at Conner Prairie, enabling it to show off its wonderful outdoor, interactive museum of life in early Indiana. About 25 breweries, almost all from Indiana, provided guests with some of their all-time favorites in addition to some of their lesser-known ones.

My great friend and drinking buddy, Kurt, and myself arrived at Conner Prairie on a gorgeous Friday evening that was perfect for an outdoor event. The VIP ticket allowed us unlimited beer samples, $10 in food vouchers and even a pretzel necklace. Conner Prairie communications specialist, Melanie Hayes, was our gracious hostess and she gave us the lowdown on the event outside.

Kurt and I thought we would hit the furthest booths first but never ones to stick to a plan, we couldn’t help ourselves and stopped for beer as we came upon it. A handful of breweries lined the covered entrance and after those stops we headed to the scenery beyond. Moving back inside a large, red barn we came across more samples from Indiana’s finest. (Ah, I see how this works). When we made it outside again we came upon a gorgeous landscape, looking down over a sunny, hilly countryside.

We stayed in this area to listen to area beer master and Certified Cicerone, Ron Smith, as he supplied a short but educational session on hops, using really good local IPA’s as examples. We continued on by following several walking paths throughout “Prairietown”, leading to more and more beers stops until we came to the Golden Eagle Inn.

The “Indiana Old-Time Ambassadors” sat on the quiet front porch and their fiddle, mandolin and guitar only added to the mood as wanderers sat down next to them to listen. But, inside the inn is where it really got interesting.

Miss Suzanna Zimmerman and her mother were pouring their recently brewed “Cottage Beer”, out of stone pots but she graciously took a little time out to chat. She said her family owns the Golden Eagle so she brews for her family and guests, and she took her particular recipe from the 1831 cookbook, “The Cook Not Mad”. Here it is:

Take 1 pound of wheat bran, 1 ounce hops (Noble) and 2 ½ gallons of water.

  1. Boil all together until they sink, then strain into a crock.
  2. When the liquid is lukewarm, add 2 cups of molasses, and when it cools, add 3 teaspoons of yeast.
  3. Pour into jugs and the beer is ready in about one week.

Sustenance and other added health benefits were supplied to the family and Suzanna said brewing her “short beer” was a part of “woman’s duties”. However, she said times were changing a bit and men, including her brother, were also beginning to brew.

I found the beer to be murky, goldish-tan in color that had a nice, bready sweetness you should usually expect. Without fail though, 21st century drinkers on this night undoubtedly disagreed, calling it “flat” and walking away with varying degrees of disgust on their faces.

Shaking my head of this confusion (where am I?), we finally looped back along the paths in search of more beer. There were many central Indiana breweries that returned again for this year’s History on Tap, and they brought along a lot of the local favorites. Some newcomers here were Tax Man Brewing, Redemption Alewerks, Hoosier Brewing and Wooden Bear Brewing.

My favorites from the evening (in no particular order):

Broad Ripple Brewpub-”Tart Lizzy”, a sour made with black currant added after fermentation and I had correctly remembered loving this at last summer’s Microbrewers Fest. I think I even surprised myself because my original craft beer favorites were the English ales that BRBP obviously is known for.

Wooden Bear (Greenfield)-”Rye IPA”, a nice use of rye giving the IPA the right amount of spiciness.

Scarlet Lane Brewing (McCordsville)-Bourbon Barrel Aged “Vivian Red IPA”, base beer of a personal favorite gets complex here from the barrel aging.

Hoosier Brewing (Fairland)-”India(na) Pale Ale”, nicely balanced IPA, just enough hops. (Best beer I missed out on though was an “experimental” offering from HBC.)

Redemption Alewerks-”Atonement APA”, citra hopped, at 5.4% ABV and 42 IBU’s with excellent flavor. Tastes bigger than it actually is.

Two Deep-”Sloppy In Turn #3”-a light summer ale, citrus and biscuit flavors but at 6.6%, don’t mistake this for a session

Redemption Alewerks-”Goggles Porterzano”, an English porter with hints of Madagascar bourbon vanilla, strawberry and layers of cherry. This was perhaps my favorite of the night, Kurt’s too, as well for other patrons we heard from.

Since Kurt had never had anything from Scarlet Lane Brewing and knowing his fondness for stouts, I directed him to the Dorian Coconut Stout. In a few short words, he absolutely loved it! What else did he like:

Hoosier Brewing-”Hoopa” pale ale, a nice, well-done gateway or maybe session beer.

Redemption Alewerks: “Goggles Porterzano”.

Tax Man Brewing (Trafalgar)-”Per Diem”, a Belgian Pale Ale, sessionable at 5.0%, decked out with flavor and nice, fruity esters.

Lagunita’s Brewing (Petaluma,Ca./Chicago)-”Equinox”, a pale oat ale with Equinox and Simcoe hops. Stepping away from Indiana for a second, Kurt loved this beer, his first also from Lagunita’s. I agreed, an absolutely outstanding beer.

As the evening unfolded, Kurt and I talked about how this particular beer event was unlike any other, and rather than being part-of-the-act bit players in a drinking story, I almost felt like we were actually being taken back in time. Old Mr. Weimert would have loved this.

Being wonderfully organized with beautiful surroundings, friendly “town folk”, great beer and even the random rifle fire from Civil War soldiers that absolutely scared the bejesus out of everyone, this made Conner Prairie “History On Tap”, among the finest beer events we have ever attended. I won’t miss this in the future and I really hope that you don’t either!