Surveying the Indianapolis Beer Scene, Part 2
All photos by Kevin Gibson.
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.
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 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.