05 October 2009

HBG Classics: Roadtrip to Warbird Brewery, Ft. Wayne, Indiana

In the latest bit of unfortunate beer news, Fort Wayne's Warbird Brewing Company has closed. All of us at Hoosier Beer Geek are sorry to see them go, and wish Dave Holmes and the Warbird staff luck in their future endeavors. We visited Warbird's Fort Wayne facilities back in October of 2007 and found an immaculate brewery, friendly staff and a stable of tasty and highly sessionable beers.

My wife is from the greater Ft. Wayne area and I first heard of Warbird Brewing from the Ft. Wayne newspaper. What really caught my attention was the company founder's desire to serve his beers in cans. And his reasoning was sound: it did a better job of keeping beer than bottles. You didn't hear about many craft breweries doing that.

My first experience with Warbird Brewing, however, was at a bar in Ossian that served the T-6 Red Ale on tap. It wasn't until I returned to Indy that I finally bought a six pack of the T-6 Red Ale, which happened to be the only beer they produced and distributed.

That was a couple of years ago. Today, much has changed. They couldn't get past the public perception that canned beers are cheap beers, so now they put them in bottles. And they have added new ales to their collection. But Warbird founder Dave Holmes is still continuing his mission of brewing better beers. And on Saturday, Hoosier Beer Geek took flight and landed at his brewery where we were given a tour and a few samples.

It sounds kinda funny to hear Dave (seen above) say that he brews beers that his wife would like. But don't think of Warbird as a chick beer brand. He's not brewing Zima or wine coolers. But he's not brewing the super hopped, super malted, super complicated beers either. He's doing traditional ales. And he's doing a great job at it. More about the specific beers later.

Warbird is unlike most Indiana breweries, in that they have no restaurant, bar, or gift shop as part of their operations. They are a brewery in the strictest since of the word. Located near the Ft. Wayne airport in an industrial park, it is all about work when he is on site.

The brewmaster at Warbird recently left, leaving Dave with those duties. Though Chris Tallman (seen above) has been brought on recently, and I suspect that after a while, he will have the brewmaster title.

Marketing-wise, everything revolves around planes. Dave is a former military pilot and until recently would fly antique aircraft in air shows. He sold his plane, but his love for the old birds carries on as every beer is named for a plane. Military stencil fonts are found on their labels, packaging, and kegs.

Currently, there are four beers available in bottles. But they currently brew five styles. We were lucky enough to taste four of the five, and we started with the "Shanty Irish" Irish Ale. It is only available at JK O’Donnell’s Irish Ale House in Ft. Wayne, but it will be bottled and released for St. Patrick's Day next year. It is a very nice Irish red with sweet notes of molasses, brown sugar, and caramel, but with a little bit of hops. A great beer and my favorite of the four we tasted.

I should also point out that a variety of this Irish Ale is now on tap at the Rathskeller in Indianapolis as the "Rathskeller Red". Warbird is the new brewery for the house beer and first went on tap on October 16th, so be sure to check it out. We were informed that this new deal made the Rathskeller their number 1 outlet.

We also had the T-6 red ale, the Warhawk pale ale (above), and the Mustang golden ale (below).

All four are quality beers that everybody in our group enjoyed. Which brings us back to the "beers my wife would drink" statement. Four knights made it up: Kelly, Mike, Gina, and myself. I brought along my father-in-law and brother-in-law. Both have been trying to expand their beer pallet. But neither are big into big hoppy beers.

So I say again, everybody in our group really enjoyed all of the beers, geeks and novices. These are beers that are easy to enjoy and easy to convince others to enjoy. While the Mustang is not a lager or a pilsner, you should serve these to Bud and Miller drinkers and watch them light up as they discover what real beer tastes like.

Know someone who isn't big into the big hops of Hopslam, Hoptimus, or any other double, triple, quadruple, or any other numbered IPA? Start them on a Warhawk. They brewed this beer in the traditional sense. It has bite, but it doesn't leave bite wounds.

Speaking for myself, I'd say that all four beers would receive at least a 3 mug rating with the Shanty Irish getting at least 4. And while it is readily available in Indianapolis and most of Indiana, it is probably one of the most under appreciated breweries in the state. Which is a shame. I would recommend that everybody should try and take flight with Warbird.


  1. Too bad about them closing. I talked to the two guys who were at Festiv-Ale and they were interesting and generous. Good thing I bought the pint glass and T-shirt from them at what was likely their last event.

  2. Those guys were always some of the nicest people to talk to at the beer fests. Definitely going to miss them. I was shocked to read the press release on the Warbird website and discover that Warbird was available in 6 states. As far away as Texas in fact! I had no idea they got distributed outside of Indiana.