[Originally published in October, 2015]
This was a smorgasbord of beer, IPA’s specifically, similar to Fogo de Chao if they turned their attention from meat to IPA’s. transformed their taproom into a hop head’s amusement park where patrons were just several feet from twenty Indiana and nationally-known beers, with no worry of sweltering heat or pelting rain.
Andrew Castner, co-owner and head brewer at MashCraft Brewing led the Mr. Wicked’s Hop Bonanza, named after his own IPA. He told me he fashioned his event after one in Denver but was disappointed when he saw it in action, so he designed his in a much more interactive way.
To get such a diverse and quality field, Castner said that he relied on friends in the industry but received huge assistance from the several distributors in the area to nab some difficult-to-get beers. This allowed the sales reps to get out from the shadows and give them their chance to shine.
I arrived as the brewery opened, where five judges (two professional) had been hard at work for the last ninety minutes. Ok, not like shoveling gravel hard but this has to be a grueling exercise in flavor focus and taste deterioration, to handle this many hoppy beers.
I was appreciative that Castner and the judges were nice enough to allow me full access to their deliberations, and while listening, I wondered if they were discussing the very beer I was drinking.
If you didn’t already know, you could probably guess that they were judging IPA’s when you heard typical terms like grassy, floral and dank, but I raised an eyebrow when I heard a descriptor as like Pledge! More discussions of balance and style characteristics of various IPA’s followed, until they settled on their results.
Here is how the format went: the judges tasted all twenty entries right up front and used their notes to painfully drop ten of them.
Andrew hopped up on the bar and announced the beers that were not moving on. Think of this: Bell’s Two-Hearted, 3 Floyds War Mullett, Schlafly Tasmanian, and some really good Indiana beers were dismissed, much to the dismay of many in the crowd. In the next room, the judges heard the boos and ahs from the surprised or disappointed fans but they did not hear the announcement. They had no idea who stayed or who left.
The remaining 10 beers were judged again and the terms “west coast”, “vegetal” and “rubbing alcohol” character were tossed about by the judges. Andrew then announced that Founders ReDANKulous (Gold, GABF, 99 RateBeer) and Stone Enjoy By Halloween were just two of the six beers that were disqualified next. For the judges, more beer, and more work.
In deciding a winner from the four remaining beers, the judges came to a fork in the road and Castner was called in for technical clarification.
A brett beer was said to be bold and delicious, while another was described as “my opinion of what an IPA is supposed to be.” What to do? Much like a trial judge giving instructions to jurors, Andrew directed that the best representation of hops was the leading criteria to be followed in this format. With that, the judges had their answer.
Reaching the final four in this event must feel great for the good guys at Daredevil Brewing, and it’s sure to be a shot in the arm as Rip Cord becomes increasingly available. The thought of being a finalist along with Oskar Blues G’Knight (Gold, World Beer Cup, 99 RateBeer) must leave them with a huge degree of satisfaction.
But just think what this means for not-yet-opened Central State Brewing! Imagine the affirmation of your brewing philosophy (100% Brett) to have your infant beer, Fruity Pooty, a Brett-focused Double IPA, duking it out with none other than Fat Heads’ Head Hunter (Silver, World Beer Cup and GABF, 100 RateBeer) in a blind taste competition! So smooth and balanced, you would never guess that it carries a 10.8% ABV.
In a field splotched with some national heavyweights, Indiana more than held its own. However, only one beer could be christened as champion. Castner’s announced that Head Hunter had once again won the Hop Bonanza championship, which perhaps was of no big surprise.
Andrew explained why there is no shame among participants – himself included – if they have an early exit, stating that it doesn’t put too much pressure on a certain brewery to succeed because if you go out in the first round, you’re going out with nine other great beers.
It just further proves what I’ve been saying out loud a lot lately – Indiana takes a back seat to no one when it comes to crafting great beer. If you love your IPAs, you won’t want to miss the Hop Bonanza next year!
[This year’s Mr. Wicked Hop Bonanza version takes place Saturday, November 5, 2016, 1-4 pm.].
MashCraft Brewing is located at 1140 N. State Road 135, Greenwood, IN. 46142.
You can find me on twitter @indybeersleuth or at firstname.lastname@example.org.