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South Bend Brew Fest brings 41 brewers to Michiana

Forty-one brewers kept beer samples flowing for the 1,400 people who filled the Century Center on Saturday afternoon, Jan. 24, for South Bend Brew Fest. 

In its fourth year, South Bend Brew Fest highlighted Indiana and Michigan beers, though brewers from across the country were welcome to join the festival, said Leanna Belew, Century Center’s general manager. 

And that’s just what they did. 

With V.I.P. wristband in tow, I walked to the lower level of the center to get the lay of the land. I expected to see some familiar names among the 41 tables lining the perimeter of the center, and I did — including Schlafly joining the ranks from as far as my hometown, St. Louis, Mo. 

Elkhart’s Iechyd Da, as well as Burn ’Em, Evil Czech and Upland, to name a few, not only brought a handful of brews to sample, but also collaborated with Century Center’s chef Marc Rossetti to whip up food pairings for the V.I.P. ticketholders.

In case you didn’t already know, I’m a vegan. Thus, I wasn’t able to sample most of the food offerings, like the popular chocolate and nut-covered bacon Burn ’Em served with its Wrath of Pele beer. Nor did I grab a spoonful of the Kahlua-infused chocolate mousse to be enjoyed with Evil Czech’s Monk’s Trinity Belgian Stout. More for the rest of the 1,399 attendees — lucky them. 

Chip and Summer Lews of Iechyd Da Brewing served a caramel pretzel carrot cake with its Revolution American IPA for the festival. Iechyd Da is no stranger to sweet pairings with beer — you might remember the Elkhart brewpub had desserts paired with beers for Elkhart Dining Days back in October. 

“We gave Century Center’s chef an idea of the beers we would have and what notes were in the IPA, as well as foods that typically pair well with those beers,” Chip said. “Most people don’t think about pairing an IPA with a dessert.” 

But not every food table was a spread of sweets. Ryan Hamilton, who works at Oh! Mamma’s in South Bend, set out a table of cheeses, olive oil dips, crackers and bread to pair with South Bend Brew Werks’ SB 150 Wild Ale. 

At this point, you might be asking — just like I found myself asking — “Beer and cheese? Isn’t it supposed to be wine and cheese?”

“If anything, events like this show the craft beer scene is alive and well in Michiana.”

Not necessarily. 

“With beer, it’s easier to mix and match,” Hamilton said. “Beer and cheese pairings are, I think, friendlier than wine and cheese. It’s more about what beer or cheese you like — there’s no right or wrong answer.” 

Admittedly, Eric Strader’s beer knowledge far outweighs my own, but I did get a chance to have a few small tastes at the end of the afternoon: 

  • South Bend Brew Werks’ Stargazer — Really crisp and citrusy. I didn’t get a chance to try the Wild Ale it paired with the antipasti and cheese from Oh! Mamma’s. 
  • Iechyd Da Dragon’s Lair — This coffee stout was darker than what I am used to (for reference, I typically go for the Local Blonde at Iechyd Da) but as a die-hard coffee lover, I appreciated the coffee taste that was certainly present, but not overpowering. 
  • Burn ’Em’s Wrath of Pele — A somewhat spicy brown ale with toasted coconut. I get that there’s no middle ground for most people when it comes to coconut — you either love it or you don’t. I love coconut, but was a little unsure of how well it would work in beer. It was a good balance of sweet coconut to a darker beer … and Burn ’Em ran out of this one pretty quickly. 
  • Evil Czech’s Monk’s Trinity Belgian Stout — A dark and pretty strong beer. Here’s where V.I.P. ticket holders got to try a lighter chocolate mousse with the beer. 
  • Upland’s Barrel Chested Barleywine — The name of this ale had me stumped before I took a small sip. Don’t let its dark color fool you — this beer is sweet. 
  • 3 Floyds Alpha King — The crew told me this is the Munster-based brewer’s flagship beer, even touting the American Pale Ale the “king of beers.” 
  • Bare Hands Brewery Thai P.A — As the name suggests, an I.P.A. with a twist, including lemongrass and Thai ginger that was a little sweet and a little spicy at the same time. 

Planning the beer and food pairings took a few days, but senior catering manager Kate Louter said planning the sold-out event took weeks. Compared to last year’s turnout of just more than 900, Louter said expanding this year’s event made a big difference. 

Some changes and even some surprises are on the horizon for Century Center later this year, including an outdoor Jazz Brunch for South Bend’s 150th anniversary during Memorial Day weekend. 

“If anything, events like this show the craft beer scene is alive and well in Michiana,” she said. “Just like you have to have vegetarian and gluten-free options at restaurants, you have to have craft beer. It’s not something anyone heard much about even two years ago, but the craft movement has taken off.” 

And as soon as the beer stopped flowing, the crew wasted no time planning for next year’s brew festival. Belew said the team behind Brew Fest will meet next week to start tossing around ideas for next year.

The crew at Century Center already has some ideas for next year – none of which are set in stone – including possibly moving outdoors, opening up the entire convention hall, or perhaps making it a multi-day event. 

Follow digital producer Danielle Waldron on Twitter @DanielleWaldron

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