The thick black beer slowly filled the snifter glass, as cocoa brown foam rose to the top.
Scents of chocolate, raisin and coffee wafted from the pint of Mariana Stout, the weighty imperial stout offered by Greenwood’s MashCraft Brewing. Head brewer Andrew Castner slowed the tap to a trickle, stopping the beer from overflowing for a perfect pour.
“The best part of about stout is you already have a wide variety inherent in the beer. You have your chocolate, you have your caramel, you have coffee. And you have a balance between the sweetness and the roasted barley,” Castner said. “There’s so much you can bring into it.”
Johnson County will be the epicenter of all things stout Saturday, when MashCraft Brewing hosts more than 20 breweries all offering their take on the malty beer. Participants will have the chance to sample dozens of different types of stout, while judges determine which submission is the fullest, smoothest, most quaffable beer.
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Castner and the rest of the organizers at MashCraft view their annual Stout Bonanza as a celebration of one of the most versatile and drinkable beers out there.
“People are interested in stouts,” he said. “When we look at things that we can build a successful event around, IPAs and stouts are the most popular. When you look at sales, those are the first two things craft beer fans are asking about. So we give the people what they want.”
Stout is a darker beer typically characterized by a roasted flavor that comes from the use of kilned barley. The beer is drier than India pale ales or lagers, though varieties can be made with sweeter aspects.
Though flavors such as chocolate and coffee have become the most popular ones to enhance when brewing stout, the beer offers ample opportunity for more experimentation.
Vanilla adds a smoothness to a traditional stout. Barrel-aging the beer in bourbon casks creates a depth that doesn’t exist otherwise.
Beer brewed with habanero, jalapeno and other hot peppers spike the beer with a jolt of spice.
“Red ales and IPAs don’t lend themselves as well because their flavors are a little more succinct, and they’re generally about matching the malt with the hops,” Castner said. “It’s a little bit harder to fit another flavor in there, because it might throw the balance off.”
For the past four years, MashCraft has thrown its celebration to stout. The Stout Bonanza is just one side of the brewery’s seasonal festivals, balanced by a day dedicated to hoppy beers in the fall.
Castner had the idea for the competition after attending the Great American Beer Festival, a brewer-centric convention and contest conducted every year in Denver, Colorado.
He liked the concept of a challenge pitting different beers against one another. But instead of doing it behind closed doors, as they did in Denver, he wanted to get the drinking public involved as well.
“We thought it would be fun to have the audience get into it,” Castner said.
Judges will blindly taste-test each stout featured in the bonanza. This year’s lineup is a combination of local and national breweries.
Mainstays such as Greenwood’s Oaken Barrel Brewing Co., Indianapolis’ Sun King Brewing and Black Acre Brewing Co. in Irvington will try their hands against widely known brewers such as Stone and Lagunitas.
“It’s fun to work with a lot of local brewers because they’re doing some super-creative stuff,” Castner said. “The lineup this year will greatly benefit from the stuff they’re doing. But there are regional and national brewers we can get here that are amazing, amazing beers that people will overlook sometimes.”
Shortly after the event opens to the public at 1 p.m., they will have narrowed the field of best stouts down to 10.
That’s when Castner will stand up on the bar, announce who’s out and who’s still in and let the audience take part.
“We take the tap handles of the breweries that have been eliminated, and as fast as we can, we set up kegs all over the room. People line up, and we fill their samples with the beers they’re most interested in,” he said.
That winnowing of the field will happen once more, before the judges announce their first, second and third-place winners.
MashCraft will be selling its own beers for people to sip on while the judging happens, as well as offering a special lineup of stouts for the event. In addition to its Mariana, it will have stouts flavored heavily with coffee, one with toasted coconut and others that haven’t been announced.
Water and soda will be available for people who want to take a break from beer.
Zoey’s Pizzeria, based in the Center Grove area, will be selling pizza by the slice during the event.
Music will be playing over the brewery’s sound system, but the real draw is when organizers put on a performance announcing the winners and who has been eliminated, Castner said.
“We’re the entertainment, getting up in front of everyone and making a show of it,” he said.
Mariana’s Stout Bonanza
What: A celebration stout-style beers, featuring more than 20 breweries from Indiana and beyond participating in a judged competition. Attendees will be able to sample the beers as well.
When: 1 p.m. Saturday
Where: MashCraft Brewing, 1140 N. State Road 135, Suite M, Greenwood
Cost: $25, or $5 for designated drivers.
Tickets allow access to the event, as well as five passes for 4-ounce tastings and a tasting glass to keep. Additional tasting 2-ounce tastings are available to purchase for $1 or 4-ounce tastings for $2.