Chelsea Bartrom and Amanda Lee confess a fondness for porters and stouts.
The 21st annual Brewed IN the Fort Craft Beer Festival was the ideal place to sample a lot of them Saturday. And the Huntington women, both 26, were hoppy ... er, happy ... for the opportunity to indulge.
“Last year, both of us were pregnant, so we couldn't come,” Bartrom said. “So this year, it's Mommy's day out.”
The festival allowed craft beer lovers to sample dozens of varieties in Headwaters Park East. Organizers expected about 2,000 people. Last year's event attracted about 1,800.
Among the 56 participating Indiana breweries, cideries and meaderies were Bad Dad Brewing Co., Upland Brewing Co., Evil Czech, 3 Floyds, Hop River Brewing Co., Junk Ditch Brewing Co., Deer Creek, Bare Hands Brewery, Ambrosia Orchard, Man Cave Brewing Co., Devil's Trumpet, 450 North Brewing Co., Goshen Brewing Co., GnomeTown Brewing Co., Hydraulic Ale Works, McClure's Orchard/Winery, Mad Anthony, Sun King and Chapman's Brewing Co.
General admission tickets were $40. VIP tickets, which allowed buyers to enter one hour earlier, were $60. Special $100 tickets, which supported Fort Wayne Trails, carried all the perks of a VIP ticket but also allowed entry into a special tent with complimentary food and access to upgraded, air-conditioned restrooms.
The trails organization received $65 for each of the latter tickets sold. Megan McClellan, Fort Wayne Trails' executive director, said the nonprofit hopes to clear about $10,000 from the fundraiser after paying for catering and other expenses.
Bartrom and Lee met their college friend Matt Mock at the festival. They wore homemade necklaces strung with pretzels, Froot Loops and Life Savers gummies.
“We went to the store and just looked for anything you could put on a string,” Bartrom said.
Organizers encourage the practice – especially with pretzels and Cheez It crackers – to help balance the alcohol, said Josh Volz, marketing director for Mad Anthony, which launched the event in its parking lot 21 years ago.
Food trucks were also on-site, and the organizers offered $10 discounted tickets for designated drivers. Taxis and ride-share vehicles were also available.
Attendees were allowed unlimited four-ounce samples in a commemorative glass they were allowed to take home.
“We like to say as many as you can responsibly drink,” Volz said, adding that people don't lose control at the afternoon event, which ended at 6 p.m.
Although the atmosphere was festive, the goal wasn't so much to throw a big party as it was to introduce craft beer lovers to new varieties. The organizers, Volz said, are “spreading the gospel of craft beer.”
Aaron Fenker, 31 today, and Kai Young, 31, are among the converted.
The friends, who both live in Fort Wayne, are also happy to break stereotypes sometimes associated with beer drinkers. Young was wearing a Healthkick Nutrition Center T-shirt on Saturday.
“You choose a very healthy lifestyle, and you choose to splurge a bit on the weekends. You have to live a little bit,” he said. “We're not your stereotypical guys getting smashed on Bud Light on the weekends.”
Fenker is more of a whiskey drinker but also enjoys craft beer.
“I've been big on bourbons, so I've liked some of the barrel-aged beers I've found here,” he said. “We like to try something new and different.”
“This event is about tasting and finding a new favorite,” he said.
Last year, Young sampled Bigsby White Stout, a beer made by Evil Czech Brewery in Mishawaka.
“It tastes like coffee,” he said. “It's a white stout. It tasted incredible. It's a great dessert beer.”
Among his finds this year was a maple-bacon-coffee-flavored porter.
“It's crazy,” Young said.
College friends Bartrom, Lee and Mock appreciate the chance to broaden their craft beer knowledge so much that they've made a pledge.
“We vowed today that if (the event) is still around when we're 40, we're going,” Bartrom said.
Mock, who lives in Fort Wayne, enjoys Sierra Nevada. If it's not craft beer, he's not interested.
“Yeah,” Bartrom said, “we don't have time for cheap beer.”