On recent Satruday night, four friends and I drove to a nearby lake in order to say goodbye to a companion.
Bee Creek Brewery, out of Brazil, Ind., was never the most famous Indiana brew, nor was it ever the best. It was simply a solid brewery not to be missed.
Beer Advocate’s experts rated Bee Creek’s Honey Hoosier Wheat at an unheard of 94 percent. It’s also my favorite hefeweizen of all time. Their Clay County Coffee Stout and Hoppy Hoosier IPA were wonderful treats for an Indiana evening.
It definitely was on my top-five list for newcomers to the state’s craft beer scene.
You’ll notice my use of the past-tense. In a sad turn of events, Bee Creek Brewery has decided to close its doors.
“As a small, independent brewer faced with the increasing cost of grain and packaging,” Julie Forster of Bee Creek Brewery said on their website. “We found it impossible to produce and sustain a quality of beer that had become a benchmark of excellence.”
I was heartbroken when I heard the news.
Craft beer is booming in Indiana, but it is still a tough business. There are high barriers to entry in the market, which make brewing difficult for the little guys.
It is always sad when a family-owned, quality producer has to go under while mega-brewers who concentrate on quantity rather than quantity are able to spend millions of dollars promoting their newest, “PLATINUM” brand.
Bee Creek made the ultimate sacrifice to give up production completely rather than sacrifice quality, and I respect them immensely for that.
So my friends and I bought up a few six packs of Bee Creek’s fine brews in order for a proper farewell.
We had two six-packs of the Clay County Coffee Stout (a stout with extra-strong coffee notes, the most java-flavored stout I’ve had) and a six-pack of the Hoppy Hoosier IPA (a fresh IPA with strong hop flavor without the overwhelming bitterness all-to-common in the style).
We drove to Griffy Lake with one intention: to drink the bottles and send the empties off with an epic Viking funeral, in which the warriors of old would be lit on fire and sent to sea.
The lake shore was cold and quiet on Saturday night. Other than the lights of Bloomington creeping over the tree-line, there was no light but from the stars that were reflected in the calm, still water.
“There’s Orion, that one’s easy,” said one of us.
“One of the dippers over there,” said another.
“I can’t remember if that’s the dog or the lion,” said a third. “Isn’t it Ursa or something like that?”
We found a picnic table near the lake and each grabbed a beer. We could hardly see each other‘s faces because it was so dark, but someone pulled out a cell phone and a bottle opener to get us started.
“We’re gonna need a toast,” I said.
We raised our glasses.
“To Bee Creek. A damn good brewery. You will be missed,” said one of my companions.
We clinked glasses and took a swig.
“That’s good,” someone said.
“Yeah,” we sighed. “It’s just too damn bad.”
We sat around as we drank the last of Bee Creek, swapping stories.
Somewhere a goose trumpeted across the lake in the cold night.
When I was a 13-year old at summer camp, I explained to my companions, counselors told ghost stories about a terrifying, murderous, half-goat, half-man creature that loved to feast on sleeping campers.
The brute’s name was Goatman, and it made an unearthly scream that sounded oddly like the call of a goose on the lake on a dark night.
My companions laughed at me. Nobody would really believe in a Goatman. But the Lake Travis Mud Monster, maybe. Or The Hook, an escaped convict with a hook for a hand.
And then we did what guys do on a Saturday night with a few beers in-hand. We talked about work, about sports, about women.
We talked about our dreams and our hopes; our friends and our families. We debated God and science. We joked, we laughed; we complained about what bugged us, we commended what made us glad.
We drank good beer and had great times.
After we had enough empties to fill a six-pack, we put them in the cardboard box, put a long match in each bottle and took it to the water’s edge.
While a few prepared the pyre, we took the bottle caps and skipped them along the still surface of the water like small, smooth stones.
We lit the cardboard and shoved it off.
Someone pulled out their iPod and began playing Richard Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries”.
We took off our caps and placed a hand on our hearts.
Somewhere, the valkyrie women of the craft beer gods came swooping down to prepare the Bee Creek brews for enshrinement in Valhalla.
It was all admittedly a bit over-dramatic, but worthwhile nonetheless. Sometimes underwhelming occasions need unnecessary pomp. It’s what makes life more interesting.
The beer pyre quickly filled with water and flipped. The last thing we saw from Bee Creek was the last flames being extinguished from inside a bottle of Clay County Coffee Stout as it filled with water.
We left the long matches and spent bottles at the lake.
We hope Anheuser-Busch will help pick up the tab for cleanup.
Here’s to you, Bee Creek.