It’s no surprise the idea of launching a live competition to crown Indiana’s best craft beer brewers began germinating at a local watering hole. Such a wholly appropriate setting is where Mike Sale and Ryan Coyle envisioned the BrewBracket Challenge. As the co-founders sipped – well, beer – they brewed up a full-bodied, flavorful idea: Create a bracket-style, single elimination tasting tournament. “The purpose of BrewBracket Challenge is to bring people together to taste and determine the very best craft beers,” explained Sale. “It also serves to promote the brewery that makes it to the top.”
In spring, 2011, the inaugural BrewBracket Challenge was held. “We did some small tastings and quickly determined that we could do this on a larger scale,” remembered Sale. About 150 people are expected to attend the fourth BrewBracket event, Bourbon Barrel Aged Beers, Saturday, September 29, 6:00 – 9:00 p.m., at Tomlinson Tap Room in City Market, downtown Indianapolis. Tickets are priced at $45.
Eight brewers will compete, this time with a new twist, er, taste. Each is required to have stored their beers in wooden barrels donated by Harrison Bourbon Company, a southern Indiana distillery. “These premium beers will have set in the barrels about three months soaking up the flavor and color of the bourbon,” explained Joe Eaton, brewer and owner of Barley Island Brewing Company in Noblesville, and the winner of the most recent BrewBracket Challenge. Eaton described the bourbon taste as “strong, alcoholic – a more in-your-face flavor. These beers will pick up some additional components from the barrels.”
Acting as both public tasters and judges, attendees sip and compare the tastes of two beers, picking a favorite. The randomly-seeded beers are served in two identical tasting glasses; tasters have no way of identifying the brewers. “A big component is making it a blind taste test. It strips away any bias,” said Sale.
The winning beers move on in their respective tournament brackets. Taster palettes are cleansed, and the process repeats until two finalists remain for the championship round. “People love brackets! That’s certainly some of the allure,” Sale said.
The winner receives the handsome Big Tap Trophy – and more importantly, bragging rights. “There’s a lot of camaraderie among the brewers. This provides an opportunity to exchange ideas, but no trade secrets!” explained Eaton. “It’s more about showing off products than it is winning.
Brewers participating in the Bourbon Barrel Aged Beers challenge include Barley Island Brewing, Bloomington Brewing, Flat 12 Bierwerks, The RAM, Bier Brewery, Figure Eight Brewing, People’s Brewing, and Triton Brewing.
Craft beer brewing is bubbling. In the early days, Indiana had 18 or 19 commercial craft brewers. Now there are 50, with another seven or eight in the planning stages. “There’s still room for growth,” said Eaton. “It’s been nice to see it hit big. People want quality, not quantity, in beers.”
Each BrewBracket has a featured charity that receives a portion of the proceeds. Additional information is available at www.brewbracket.com.