Surveying the Indianapolis Beer Scene, Part 2

A pour at Flat 12.

A pour at Flat 12.

If you read Part 1 of my Indianapolis beer tour, you know that I was impressed by what is going on in Indy’s beer scene.

On Day 2 of my trip, my hope was to hit one of my prime targets: Sun King Brewing Company. Unfortunately, back at the hotel at the end of Day 1, I realized the unthinkable – Sun King is closed on Sundays. How I managed to miss that when mapping out the tour, I have no idea, but miss it I did.

And so before I get into writing about the breweries we did visit on the final leg of the trip, I’ll say that if you go to Indy for beer, you must go to Sun King, and not just because they make a seasonal called “Bitch’n Camaro.” No, it’s just that I have never had a Sun King beer that disappointed. Even the odd Popcorn Pilsner I tried last year was intriguing.

Also, I was hoping to get a taste of Skulking Loafer, an English-style strong ale, which, according to the Sun King website, was released this month. Ah well, maybe next time.

Here’s a rundown and a few words about the experience at each stop on Day 2:

Black Acre Brewing Company: Two years in, Black Acre seems to have a nice following, based on the lively lunch crowd we encountered during our Sunday visit. The tap room, located in Indy’s historic Irvington neighborhood, is industrial-meets-wood-slats, with two big windows at the front of the shop to allow in plenty of natural light.

In addition to the house brews, there were several guest taps, but I was there for the Indiana beer, so I got a four-beer sampler including Monkey Hug, Phantom Cat, Saucy Intruder and Simcoe Pale Ale.

Monkey Hug is a hazelnut brown ale, with a big, nutty flavor and a nose to match. At 40 IBU and 6.4 percent ABV, it isn’t a huge beer, but it comes on pretty strong nevertheless with a big malty embrace. Come to think of it, this beer literally is like being hugged by a monkey. I think.

Phantom Cat, meanwhile, is a foreign export stout style, brewed with Magnum hops to give it an unexpected bite. According to the Black Acre website, this style of stout was brewed to be hoppier and slightly more alcoholic to help preserve it during long ocean voyages. My feeling is that if I was on that voyage, this beer would be gone long before we ever found land.

Black Acre's tasting room.

Black Acre’s tasting room.

Saucy Intruder is now on Black Acre’s “retired” list, according to its website, which means I may have enjoyed one of the last few tastes of this rye IPA. I found the rye to be a bit subdued – I like the rye bite, what can I say? – but I will give this beer credit for indeed being a tad “saucy.” At 75 IBU, the hopheads will gobble this up, if it ever comes back.

Finally, I had the Simcoe Pale, a pale ale made entirely with – you guessed it – Simcoe hops. It has a big floral nose and lots of lacing, but it is medium bodied and nicely balanced. At 6.1 percent ABV, it is just north of a session ale, but it sure drinks like one. Our server, Matt, said the Black Acre single hop is actually a staple, but with rotating hops.

Matt also said that the Monkey Hug was a total accident.  It was some left over Phantom Cat that didn’t quite go as planned, but turned out to be a pretty good brew. The name comes from a comment made when doing a cleanup, when someone suggested they needed a monkey to clean all the tight spaces in the brewery. And, of course, if they had one, they’d give him a hug.

All I’ll say is this: If you go to Indy, I highly recommend visiting Black Acre.

Flat 12 Bierwerks: Ah yes, another key reason I wanted to check out Indy’s beer scene. You just can’t beat a brewery that has a beer called “Clown Tears,” right? Flat 12’s inviting tap room offers free samples of about an ounce apiece, as well as a laid back atmosphere in which to enjoy a pint. Or two. Or three. And they’ll be served in clear plastic cups.

I tasted 12 beers while there, so I’ll spare you extended reviews; that said, it won’t be easy to pick a few favorites. Walkabout IPA was one of my top choices, featuring loads of Galaxy hops and a flavor profile that hints at grapefruit. Half Cycle IPA is a five-hop bitterness frenzy that hits you like a punch in the mouth. In a good way.

Meanwhile, Winter Cycle, a double IPA actually drinks much more smoothly despite a 107 IBU score and 9.3 percent ABV. Also, be sure to check out the Rogue’s Run Porter and the nitro version. Big, nutty flavors and wonderful, creamy bodies.

I should probably mention the Upside Down Blonde, a pilsner-meets-wheat beer with a really interesting mouthfeel and flavor. It is sessionable at 5.4 percent ABV and light on bitterness at 23 IBU, but doesn’t sacrifice complexity.

I really hated to leave this place, but was excited when I learned a few days later that Flat 12 plans to open a tap room later this year just a few miles from my house. See you there.

Oaken Barrel sampler.

Oaken Barrel sampler.

Oaken Barrel Brewing Company: This brewery just outside Indianapolis in Greenwood has been around for more than a decade, and the quality remains. The beers aren’t terribly adventurous, but they are solid and accessible.

This was as much a food stop as it was a beer stop, and we weren’t disappointed by either. I had spicy Cajun beef tips that were quite well with the hoppy and spicy Gnaw Bone APA, a nicely balanced ale that drinks bigger than its 45 IBU. I’d not had this in a year or two, and had forgotten how tasty it is.

I’ve also long been a fan of the Indiana Amber, a malty and mild amber ale with a caramel quality and just a bit of a hop bite at the back end. Good stuff. I also tasted the Razz Wheat, a raspberry wheat beer that Cynthia said tastes like ketchup (not sure what’s up with her taste buds sometimes), and Snake Pit, a super-thick porter with a big mouthfeel and yet a surprising drinkability.

By this time I was feeling on the verge of being a bit too tipsy, so I had to pass on trying the Superfly IPA, but I’ll get it next time, just as I will make it a point not to miss Sun King during my next visit.

But meanwhile, my liver needs to recover from this visit. That could take a few days.

This post was originally published by AlcoholProfessor.

Surveying the Indianapolis Beer Scene, Part I

Triton samplerSome call Colorado the “Napa Valley of Beer” because of the sheer number of excellent craft breweries in the state. Having grown up in Indiana and still visiting often, I might suggest that Indiana has a shot to be that state in the Midwest.

At the south end of Indiana, you’ve got the still-going-strong New Albanian Brewing Company, and at the north end you’ve got the outstanding Three Floyds Brewing. There are dozens of breweries of varying sizes in between, and more are popping up.

In fact, the Brewers Guild of Indiana website shows more than 50 breweries in the state. Granted, the Hoosier state is still well behind Colorado, which boasts around 140, but it’s impressive nevertheless.

As much as I would like to hit them all, my recent road trip was only for a weekend, so I decided to focus on Indianapolis. Heck, even in Indy I wasn’t able to hit them all. But I did get to 8 in a 24-hour period (and yes, I was a little worse for wear on Monday).

Here’s a rundown and a few words about the experience at each stop on Day 1:

Triton Brewing: Our first stop took us in circles a couple of times, but we finally tracked down Triton and its impressive brewery and taproom. Named for the son of Poseidon, Greek god of the sea, Triton was hopping the day I was there – my girlfriend Cynthia and I noted quite a few growlers went out the door during our visit. Always a good sign.

We sampled most of them and talked beer with operations director David Waldman. The Fieldhouse Wheat was fantastic, and made with Amarillo hops for a nice little kick. Sin Bin Belgian Pale Ale is not your ordinary Belgian ale, crisp and light with a malty flavor and surprisingly little sweetness (a good thing, at least for my palate). Magnificent Amber Ale also scored high points with its hoppy nose and smooth, malty, caramel-esque finish.

Both of us, however, may have liked the Deadeye Stout the best. It has such a big, roasted coffee nose that you’ll truly be thinking for a moment that someone threw a pint glass full of coffee into the fridge for an hour and then tried to punk you with it. But take a sip and you’ll find that it’s creamy and delicious beer, all right. In my tasting notes, I wrote, “Thank you, Triton, for this gift to our senses.” I wasn’t even tipsy at that point.

We also tasted Bee Java Brown, which Waldman said includes a pound of coffee per 15 gallons – and it shows. I ended my taste tour with Alt Lang Syne old ale, a dry-hopped version of German alt that comes in at 7.2 percent ABV but drinks like half that, and Three Tine Tripel, an 11.2 percent ABV beer that is sweet, dry and deadly.

The taproom has an industrial theme with wood accent, with natural brick walls in the taproom and lots of aluminum surrounding the bar. The space, Waldman said, was a mule barn in the 1920s and later housed race cars.

When the Triton crew first came to check out the place for a possible brewery, Waldman said, “We saw the race cars and said, ‘It’s a sign from God.’”

He also noted that the name Triton isn’t entirely an accident – due to the hard water in the area, all the water at Triton is charcoal filtered and softened.

“It’s all about the water,” he said. “The cleaner it is, the better the product.”

Waldman also noted that Triton’s five-year plan includes a second brewery operation and distribution in Kentucky and Tennessee.

BierBier Brewery: Bier is in a non-descript, pseudo-strip mall, but the interior is surprisingly warm and welcoming, with dark features and couches. There is a tasting counter at the back, and the restrooms are marked “Blondes” and “Stouts.”

There were several young women scurrying about handing out tastes and selling pints, while newcomers browsed through an awkwardly bound collection of laminated cards describing the brews at the bar. I had a DFG IPA that was very crisp, with a lingering hoppy flavor. At 130 IBU and 9 percent alcohol, one is all you should probably have, but it’s worth it. Nice.

Brett’s Stout is a lightly sour stout that has a nice complexity to it, with a smooth body but a tartness and dryness that surprise. Belgian Dark Strong is another high ABV one at 9 percent, and is an extremely fruity (grape) tasting dubbel-esque beer. The Belgian Pale was also nice and floral, while the Special K Kolsch, winner of three Indiana Brewers Cups from 2011-13, is grassy and crisp with a hint of banana. A true “lawn mower” beer.

The place was bustling and we had more stops, so we didn’t stay for a pint. I’d like to return when Bier is less busy.

Thr3e Wise Men:  This place felt a bit like a sports bar, set up like a faux ski lodge with light wood and antler racks along one wall, flat-screens everywhere and piped-in music, and a large, square bar.

Our server was friendly enough, but I was bummed to learn that a sampler included only three beers. I chose H&C Porter, Golden Zoe IPA and the Centennial Martyr Double IPA.

H&C Porter is made with local Hubbard & Cravens coffee and chocolate malt. It had a great flavor and fairly creamy body, but it was served a bit too cold for my taste – it muted the flavor a bit. Regardless, I enjoyed every sip I had.

Golden Zoe was lightly floral on the nose, crisp and drinkable, but I had a hard time believing it was the listed 82 IBU. Whatever the case, I could have sat there and drank the stuff all day. Also, it went particularly well with the pretzels and Zoe mustard.

Martyr Centennial Double IPA was like Zoe on steroids, at 8 percent IBU and 92 IBU. Now, this IBU rating I believe. The beer is made with local honey from Hunter’s Honey Farm in Martinsville, Ind., with Glacier and Falconer hops to make it dense and hoppy with a malt balance.

I ended up buying a pint of Rocky Ripple, a milder ale made with Cascade, Crystal and Glacier hops. It had better hop flavor than either Zoe or Martyr, for my taste buds, and ended up being my favorite on the day.

But one thing curious about our visit was that there were stacked bowls of popcorn behind the bar the servers were handing off to customers as soon as they sat down. We were the only party that didn’t get popcorn. Is there a secret password? Hmm.

Broad Ripple tanksBroad Ripple Brewpub: I wasn’t expecting this one – Broad Ripple, which is located in the north Indy neighborhood of the same name, feels more like an English pub than a modern craft brewery. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if much of the interior was shipped here from England, stripped from some long-defunct pub from the late 1800s. Dark, cozy and tight, the bar area feels like being in Liverpool.

The service in the bar area is a “pub snug,” order-at-the-bar situation, and I could find no evidence a

sampler was available. I decided to get a Red Bird Mild Ale and soak in the surroundings.

Red Bird is, as you would expect, an English style mild ale with lots of malt character. In fact, it reminded me a bit of Cains Finest Bitter, the pride of Liverpool, which sort of brought everything full circle for my pub experience.

We weren’t in a hurry, so in the interest of completion, I decided to grab one more pint – in this case, the Yorkshire Pale Ale (told you this place was British). It had a light orange body, very mild nose and nice rye bite. At just 22 IBU, it was very mild, but had enough bite to be quite pleasing. I really want to go back to Broad Ripple. Soon.

Rock Bottom Brewing: We didn’t originally intend to go to Rock Bottom, which is a Denver-based chain, but by the time we got back to our hotel room we were tired and starving and, well, Rock Bottom was just down the street. Hey, it’s a beer tour, so what the heck?

Fortunately, Rock Bottom always has a few extras on tap besides the more mainstream-friendly permanent brews, which are a bit light on the palate. In this case I got a nice surprise with four additional beers that made for an enjoyable sampler.

Winter Tartan is a Scottish ale that is malty, creamy, dark and smooth. Think stout light and you’re getting close, and at 6.2 percent ABV, it packs a fair punch. Skip’s Stout is much bigger and has a hop sting to it at 48 IBU. Really smooth and enjoyable beer.

Very Pale Ale is a middle of the road session-type nitro ale that presents a creamy, medium body. I liked this, even though it didn’t strike me as anything really special. I finished up with Moonlight Porter. It was like drinking dark chocolate from a glass. I’ve actually had better porters, but this one is solid.

Better yet? I had one mean flank steak for dinner. I got the cheapest steak on the menu just to save four or five bucks, but I wouldn’t trade it. I think Cynthia had steak envy, even though her fish and chips weren’t bad.

And that ended Day 1 of the Indianapolis beer tour. (Well, sort of. Of course I took a growler back to the hotel. I slept well.)

Coming Soon: Part II – Black Acre Brewing, Flat 12 Bierwerks and Oaken Barrel Brewery and Restaurant.

Indy’s Flat 12 Bierwerks to open Jeffersonville taproom

Flat 12 Bierwerks, an Indianapolis-based craft brewery which just began distribution to Louisville, announced it has signed a lease agreement and plans to open a taproom on the Jeffersonville, Ind., riverfront.

Flat 12 beer literally began pouring in Louisville just this week.

The soon-to-be Flat 12 in Jeffersonville

The soon-to-be Flat 12 in Jeffersonville

The address for the new taproom is 130 W. Riverside Drive, which is just west of Cluckers restaurant, across from the Jeffersonville Riverstage at the foot of Spring Street.

Kara Gentry, marketing and PR contact for Flat 12, said the tap room will be next to a Mediterranean restaurant called Olive Leaf Bistro, which shows the same 130 W. Riverside address online. The taproom would also be just blocks from another brewery, Red Yeti, that is slated to open soon on Spring Street.

Gentry said a target open date has not yet been set, and an announcement will come later. The decision to choose Indiana over Louisville had a bit to do with state loyalty.

“Jeffersonville seemed like a nice fit for us,” Gentry said. “Already being an Indiana based brewery, it is more accommodating to stay within Indiana. In addition, Indiana has been very supportive of our brewery, so it is worthwhile to continue building that relationship but in a location that will be more accessible to our customers in Tennessee and now Kentucky.”

“We’re excited to embark upon this adventure,” said Sean O’Connor, Co-Founder/CEO of Flat 12, in a press release. “Customers come to our Indianapolis brewery taproom and appreciate the interaction with our brewers, the staff and one another. They enjoy the opportunity to try unique Flat 12 beers in a relaxed atmosphere where the focus is on a quality experience. We’re looking forward to bringing an element of that here to Jeffersonville.”

flat 12 taproom

Inside the Flat 12 taproom in Indianapolis

I visited Flat 12’s Indianapolis tap room this past weekend, and it is as inviting as O’Connor suggests. There is a tasting area adjacent to a gift counter and a cooler filled with six-packs and four-packs of Flat 12 bottles and cans near the main entrance.

There’s a larger tasting room with tables and a makeshift bar – plywood atop barrels – with natural brick walls and wood beams. The furniture consists of metal outdoor tables and chairs, and hanging lights help decorate the laid-back room.

Small samples (about an ounce) are free and come in small plastic cups, while pints also are poured into plastic cups.

The beers are all high quality and most are fairly aggressive, such as the ultra hoppy Half Cycle IPA and the ultra-smooth Nitro Pogue’s Run, a nitrogenated version of Flat 12’s Pogue’s Run that is balanced with dark grains and chocolate notes. The Upside Down Blonde is light but complex as a hybrid of pilsner and wheat beers. For lightweights, there are Clown Tears Extra Pale Ale and Baby New Year Mild Ale, both of which are lower-alcohol beers but with deceptive depth of character.

Flat 12, established in 2010, distributes in Indiana, central Illinois and east-central Tennessee, along with Louisville. The Jeffersonville tap room would be the first satellite location for the brewery.

“We like the location – it brings Flat 12 to Southern Indiana in a new and exciting way,” Co-Founder/Brewer Rob Caputo said in the release. “It also brings us closer to customers in Kentucky and Tennessee. We hope it will strengthen those relationships and that we will become part of the fabric of Jeffersonville and the entire riverfront community.”

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