Mary Corinne Lowenstein was at Hop River Brewing Co., helping to get ready for the day's events. A private party was on the books, and the taproom at 1515 N. Harrison St. was closed for the day.
But the phone rang, so Lowenstein answered it.
“We're here to finish up our passport,” the couple on the other end of the line said. “Can we just come in?”
The answer from Lowenstein, who is director of marketing at Hop River? Yes, but only if they enjoyed a beer when they came in.
And so the couple came into the brewery, adding the last stamp to their Northern Indiana Beer Trail Passport.
But their visit, Lowenstein says, shows that participants in this relatively new program aren't just collecting stamps – they are collecting stories.
The Northern Indiana Beer Trail Passport began in earnest last year as a way for the local breweries to encourage people to explore the craft brewery scene in northern Indiana and discover what it has to offer.
The passport is available at VisitFortWayne.com and the stops on the trail should also have passports. There were about 10,000 passports printed in the fall, and breweries saw them flying off the bars, so to speak. For the spring, there was a new printing with an updated list of breweries.
There are 16 stops on the list – from one of the oldest, Mad Anthony Brewing Co., to stops in outlying areas such as Wedgewood Brewing Co. in Middlebury. When participants make their first stop, they get a sticker. Along the way, they can earn a coozie and when all stamps have been collected, they get a “really cool hat,” Lowenstein says.
With this new printing, Lowenstein is hoping to hand deliver the passports to breweries in the region. She says that she's spoken to many of the owners over the phone and via email but has yet to see the establishments in person.
“I haven't filled out a passport but I really want to do that,” she said
The idea of the passport began to surface as some of the local breweries – including Trubble Brewing, LaOtto Brewing and Mad Anthony Brewing Co. – came together to talk about ways to encourage a sense of community.
“The trail was a project to get everyone excited and have some buy in,” Lowenstein says.
There are similar programs in beer-centric cities such as Grand Rapids, Michigan, but the planning group wanted to be more inclusive of regional breweries. The group, which eventually became the Northern Indiana Brewers Association, created the trail based on the membership of the Brewers of Indiana Guild and the northern boundary.
By including more breweries, the passport program not only makes it more interesting for participants but continues to build upon the idea of community.
Josh Volz, marketing and design director for Mad Anthony Brewing Co., says the goal of the beer trail, is to get more people thinking about local breweries and take a deeper dive into the scene.
In Indiana, 3.2% of the total sales of beer are in the craft beer segment. Volz would like to see that number grow. And the owners of the local breweries believe that the key to building the local scene is to work together.
Indeed, the trail isn't just about getting people into the breweries but increasing name recognition for local breweries and solidifying their role in the local beer scene.
“The beer trail has been huge to be able to combine our efforts with the other local breweries,” Volz says. “It's now more of a group effort to get beers into local events and restaurants.”
Some of the breweries might have a tap at a local restaurant but together, they are doing full tap takeovers at restaurants and participating in more local events.
Hop River's Lowenstein points to the local brewers' collaboration with Germanfest to have a beer unique at the June event, as well as local beers available during the festival.
There will be a new beer festival, too, in the fall that focuses on barrel-aged beers. The local breweries, Lowenstein says, will use barrels from Three Rivers Distilling Co. to age beer for the event.
“There's a lot of organic happenings that started with the passport,” she says.
For Volz, the beer trail has also driven the brewers to focus on their craft. It's pushing them to learn new things, try different flavors and refine their styles.
“It's cool to see everyone being communal,” Volz says. “We might be different companies, doing different things and working to get our beer out there. But there's the thought that what's good for one brewery is good for the community.
“When someone does something good, it brings attention to the entire community.”
On the trail
There are nine possible stops for the Northern Indiana Beer Trail Passport in Allen County, four in Kosciusko County, three in Elkhart County and two each in Dekalb, Noble, St. Joseph and Steuben counties. Some breweries have multiple locations.
Allen County/Fort Wayne
• 2 Toms Brewing, 3676 N. Wells St.
• Birdboy Brewing Co. at SolBird Kitchen & Tap, 1824 W. Dupont Road
• Chapman's Brewing, 5735 Falls Drive
• GnomeTown Brewing, 203 E. Berry St.
• Hop River Brewing, 1515 N. Harrison St.
• Junk Ditch Brewing, 1825 W. Main St.
• Mad Anthony Brewing, 2002 Broadway
• Summit City Brewerks, 1501 E. Berry St.,
• Trubble Brewing, 2725 Broadway
• Auburn Brewing Co., 309 N. Main St., Auburn
• Mad Anthony Brewing, 114 N. Main St., Auburn
• Goshen Brewing, 315 W. Washington St., Goshen
• Iechyd Da Brewing Co., 317 N. Main St., Elkhart
• Wedgewood Brewing, 106 South Main St., Middlebury
• Othocity Brewery & Smokehouse, 975 Warren St., Warsaw
• HopLore Brewing, 100 S. Old State Road 15, Leesburg
• Man Cave Brewing, 10201 N. Indiana 13, Syracuse
• Mad Anthony Brewing, 113 E. Center St., Warsaw
• Guesswork Brewing, 108 S. Orange St., Albion
• LaOtto Brewing Co., 202 S. Main St., LaOtto
St. Joseph County
• Bare Hands Brewery, 12804 Sandy Court, Granger
• Evil Czech Brewery, 3703 N. Main St., Mishawaka
• Chapman's Brewing, 300 Industrial Drive, Angola
• Mad Anthony Brewing, 4080 N. 300 West, Angola