Want a taste of northern Indiana's craft beer culture? Hike the beer trail

Competition is inherent to any business. The question then becomes, do you relish the fact and embrace this truth, or fear it? 

Leaders from northeast Indiana's craft breweries are proving that a culture of collaboration and trust is key to the success of the industry at large. 

Case in point: 22 breweries in seven counties across the region have signed on to participate in the Northern Indiana Beer Trail.

For consumers, the experience starts with a passport. Participants pick up a passport of one of several regional locations, and then buy something at the destinations listed on it to get their passport validated.

Because the breweries participating in the beer trail are geographically spread out, it’s a tiered system, with beer aficionados getting rewarded with various prizes, like T-shirts and hats, depending on how many breweries they visit.
Travel to Northern Indiana's craft breweries to experience a taste of local flavor.
But along with being a fun experience, the trail is the first of what this alliance of breweries hopes will be more ways to promote northeast Indiana's craft beer culture, regionally and beyond.

While an official collaboration among breweries may be new to the region, it's not a novel idea, generally speaking, says Mary Corinne Lowenstein, marketing director for Hop River Brewing Company. 

“The (craft beer) culture is very collaborative all over the world," she explains.

This spirit of collaboration has been a boon for brewery owners, making their mark on cities without an established or robust craft brewing scene. In Fort Wayne, Mad Anthony Brewing Company was one of the first brewers on the scene. For more than 20 years, it has garnered attention for its many awards and has served as a model for up-and-coming establishments region-wide.

Most recently, Mad Anthony took home a Gold Medal for its Auburn Lager at the 2017 Great American Beer Festival. 

But it wasn’t always that way, says Josh Volz, director of marketing and design with Mad Anthony Brewing & Shigs In Pit BBQ. He explains that the founders owe a debt of gratitude to brewers who believed in their vision when they were first starting out and taking a chance by opening a brewery in Fort Wayne.

“Twenty years ago, our guys learned from others (in Indianapolis)," Volz says. “All (brewers) learn something from the people who came before (them).”

Lowenstein, right front, is one of the leading organizers of the NIBT at Hop River Brewing.

In that same vein, the idea for the beer trail came out of a desire to share the wealth of knowledge that's growing across the region, so to speak. At the same time, regional organizers want to expose Fort Wayne area consumers to breweries beyond their typical geographic radius. 

Lowenstein, who has helped organize the Northern Indiana Beer Trail, says it's about building a craft beer community across northeast Indiana.

“We want people locally to be excited (about craft beer)," she says. "It’s larger than one individual brewery or just breweries in Fort Wayne.”

And perhaps it’s even larger than a pint. Some say the success of a region's craft beer culture can be a bellwether for the viability of other handcrafted products in the area and a tool for economic development. Josh Brames, head brewer with LaOtto Brewing, buys into that mentality. 

“(In recent years), there’s been a return to boutique neighborhood grocery stores, coffee shops, farmers markets, and more," he says. "Craft beer is crucial to shaping the localvore culture."

Participate in the Northern Indiana Beer Trail

The 2018-2019 NIBT passport is free of charge and available to pick up at the following participating locations:

2 Toms Brewing Co., Bare Hands Brewery, Chapman’s Brewing Co., Evil Czech Brewery, Gnometown Brewing Co., Goshen Brewing Co., Guessworks Brewing Co., Hop River Brewing Co., Hoplore Brewing Co., Junk Ditch Brewing Co., LaOtto Brewing, Mad Anthony Brewing Co., Man Cave Brewing Co., Orthocity Brewery and Smokehouse, Summit City Brewerks, Trubble Brewing,  and Wedgewood Brewing Co.

Follow the beer trail on Facebook for updates. 

Read more articles by Lauren Caggiano.

Lauren Caggiano is a Fort Wayne-based writer. A 2007 graduate of the University of Dayton, she returned to Northeast Indiana to pursue a career. In the past 12 years she has worked in journalism, public relations, marketing, and digital media. She currently writes for several local, regional, and national publications.
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