Thoughts on new (and returning) breweries in the Indiana market

The recent months have produced some big news for breweries entering or returning to the Indiana market. Smuttynose hit our shelves first, followed closely by Green Flash. Dogfish Head announced a plan to return to Indiana by the end of 2013, while reminding Rhode Island that they've seen a fu!*ng map. And Oskar Blues….what the heck is going on with Oskar Blues? We haven’t heard any new information on a timeline since there was initial indication they would be here by now, but we also have no reason to believe it won’t happen in the near future. I’m still assuming the World Class Beer Spy wouldn’t be listing Dales Pale Ale if there was much doubt about that.

I have at least some experience with the offerings of each of these breweries, and they will all be great additions to our market. But as I considered writing up some thoughts about them, I was a bit surprised at how enthusiastic I felt about certain breweries versus others. So this post will have some thoughts about each brewery, but also my personal ranking of how excited I am to obtain these beers without driving to Ohio. So we can skip the “in no particular order” copout and move on with the rankings.

green flash 1. Green Flash Brewing (San Diego, CA)

This is probably old news to many who have found Green Flash products in their taverns and liquor stores over the past month: Green Flash makes damn good beer. Especially if you’re a hop head. This was hands down my favorite brewery we visited while in San Diego for the 2011 National Homebrewers Conference. It’s true that Stone is like the Disneyland of craft breweries, but Disneyland is overrated. Heck, the most memorable beer I drank at the brewery was an ESB, and you have to do a mighty fine job to make a style like that stand out in a sea of insanely hoppy beers and Belgian styles.

When I started thinking about how to rank these breweries, the question that comes to mind is which specific offerings will really stand out in an ever-expanding market. For me, I can gaze upon a sea of IPA offerings and the West Coast IPA is one that will grab my attention every time. At the risk of plagiarizing the brand name, this beer symbolizes the quintessential West Coast style with an extremely aggressive bitterness that melds into a wonderful cascade of citrus hop notes. Similar things could be said about the Hop Head Red for those who enjoy a little more malt character to balance out what is still a very hop-forward offering. One of the few offerings that hasn’t been overly impressive was a recent taste of their Double Stout. Too big at 8.8% to be an easy drinker, yet lacking the complexity of a Russian Imperial Stout, I would probably opt for Dark Horse Reserve Special Black Ale if looking for a something in that neighborhood.

There are a couple of downsides to buying Green Flash at your local liquor store. First, there is a slight premium built into the price of these products. Expect a 4-pack of their regular lineup to run $11-12. That’s not your typical 4-pack of pints that is becoming more common. That’s a 4-pack of 12 ounce bottles. Second, watch the bottling dates printed on the bottles. When I would seek out the West Coast IPA in Ohio, finding a reasonably fresh batch was challenging and it makes a big difference with this beer. We’ll have to see how well the chain works to get fresh bottles to Indiana, especially after Green Flash is relatively well established. On the upside, the product comes in very sturdy, uniquely etched glass bottles that are great for cleaning and refilling with homebrew :)

Try these beers: West Coast IPA, Hop Head Red, Palate Wrecker, Le Freak

oskar_blues_logo 2. Oskar Blues Brewery (Lyons, CO)

Given my past obsession with finding Oskar Blues beers in other markets, it seems a bit surprising to sit down and not be able to place them in the top spot. Maybe I burnt myself out on Oskar Blues binges on past trips. Maybe it’s still the haunting experience with GUBNA (more on that later). Regardless, this is still great news for the Indiana craft beer market. Similar to Green Flash, Oskar Blues rapidly made a name for themselves with outstanding beers that have capitalized on the American craft trend of bigger and hoppier. And I’d venture to guess that few nationally distributing brands started out in a town as small as Lyons, CO (population 2067); which is an absolutely charming little town at the base of the Rocky Mountains.

If West Coast IPA is a benchmark for American IPAs, OB’s Dales Pale Ale is certainly in the same category for American Pale Ale. A beer that nicely balances both aggressive malt and hop profiles, DPA was the first beer I ever tried from the brewery and still probably my favorite. A close second would be G’Knight Imperial Red, which was formerly known simply as “Gordon” until Gordon Biersch Brewery jumped into the craft beer cease and desist game. Compared to the Green Flash Hop Head Red, G’Knight has a much more aggressive underlying malt character and can put you down for the night at 8.7%. But while these two beers are standouts in a good way, the GUBNA Imperial IPA is the opposite for my tastes. Heavy on Summit hops, this one comes across with some ammonia/cat pee in the aroma and heavy garlic and onion in the flavor. Yummy.

To the best of my knowledge, Oskar Blues does not play the bomber game and packages everything in 4-packs of cans. Most cans are 16 ounces, while some premium brands like Ten FIDY Imperial Stout are reduced to the standard 12 ounce size. To continue pushing the boundaries, the brewery will begin canning Imperial Pints (19.2 ounces) of their Mama’s Little Yella Pils this year.

Try these beers: Dales Pale Ale, G’Knight Imperial Red, Ten FIDY Imperial Stout, Old Chub Scottish

Dogfish-Head-Logo 3. Dogfish Head (Rehoboth Beach, DE)

“Absence makes the heart grow fonder”

“Absence makes my sneakin’ around that much easier”

How the heck did Dogfish Head end up at number 3? Considering their importance in the craft beer revolution, their well-deserved reputation as innovators, and the fact Sam Calagione is Poppi’s dream man; they should have been a lock for number 1. Well, as the initial quotes alluded to, ya left town Dogfish Head and we found other loves.

We’ve lost other great breweries in my market (Avery, Great Lakes), but none had the same effect as when Dogfish Head left Indiana, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Wisconsin in 2011. But even for a brewery as unique as Dogfish Head, there were plenty of alternatives at that point. 60 Minute IPA? The field had leveled on that one long before. 90 Minute IPA? Tougher, but still plenty of good Imperial IPAs on the market. Indian Brown? Tougher still, but Boulder Beer Flashback is a pretty nice substitute. The one I really missed was Punkin Ale, but that is just a seasonal and nothing an annual run to Ohio couldn’t fix. Raison D’Etre and Palo Santo Marron were impossible to replace, but those were never everyday beers in my lineup.

For the record, I respect the hell out of the tough decisions Dogfish Head and other emerging craft breweries have made when faced with overwhelming demand. Taking the company public and risking the erosion of your culture and creative control is the easy way out. It was incredibly welcome news that these beers will be returning to Indiana shelves. You always want what you couldn’t ever have, and maybe I’ll start taking Green Flash and Oskar Blues for granted once they’ve been on shelves for a while. Being new to the market doesn’t make your beer any better, but how people perceive such a product can become slightly skewed. I’m not sure what my real point is here, other than trying to figure out how Dogfish Head ended up 3rd in my mental rankings. Words, words, words. Let’s move on…..

Try these beers: Punkin Ale, 90 Minute IPA, Palo Santo Marron, Raison D’Etre

smuttynose_logo 4. Smuttynose (Portsmouth, NH)

Smuttynose makes some good beer, and I can’t claim to have tried everything from their catalog or even a high percentage. But when I come back to asking the question of what specific brand will stand out now among all the current choices, I have a hard time coming up with one. The Big Beer Series, which I’ve seen priced as low as $5.99 for a bomber, offer some good values for you to try some more premium styles. I recall enjoying the Baltic Porter quite a bit. The Big A IPA seasonal offering is a very good, and reasonably priced, Imperial IPA. After that, the Summer Weizen, Pumpkin Ale, Finestkind IPA, and Robust Porter didn’t make the kind of impression on me where I would hone in on them in a liquor store. And sorry dog lovers, but their Old Brown Dog Pinups ain’t the kind of pinup I had in mind.

Try these beers: Big A IPA, Baltic Porter, Robust Porter

 

So who’s next? Will Lagunitas, with their new regional brewery in Chicago, finally decide to give us a try? Will Great Lakes ever return to Central and Southern Indiana? More California breweries could be a possibility with Bear Republic already in Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio; and Ballast Point now in Illinois and Ohio. Or could we really dream big along the lines of say……Russian River? Who would be your pick in the Fantasy Football League of craft breweries?

Cheers, Nathan

13 comments:

Kathleen Slauzis said...

I have read somewhere that Great Lakes is coming back....and I wish I could've remembered where I read that.

Mike Cate said...

I'd like to see Deschutes, Alpine and Odell make it this way. Wouldn't complain at all if Lagunitas or AleSmith wanted to hook us up either

Nathan Compton said...

Good call on Deschutes Mike! It looks like they've made it out to Illinois, but no further east yet. My guess is they'll go into Wisconsin, Michigan, or Ohio first....but we can dream right?

Matt said...

If we got Lagunitas and Firestone walker I would be a happy man. Across all styles I think Firestone Walker is the best in the country.

Bob Mack said...

Just to clarify - Oskar Blues products are NOT enabled on the World Class website for Indiana. They do appear in our database as some of our partner distributors carry the brand in other states. We do know that Oskar Blues intends to come to Indiana at some point, hopefully this year, but we do not know a date nor have they chosen a distributor.

Tom H said...

Totally agree about the freshness (dates on bottom of Oskar Blues cans, too). I'd wildly anticipated my first Green Flash 'west coast IPA,' bought some bottles in Chicago... got back home to find they weren't so fresh or tasty.

I feel like I used to see Allagash bottles a long time ago... ?

Very much miss Great Lakes. A keg I had of Dortmunder Gold still maintains a solid memory.

Jen Myers said...

I would rank Oskar Blues #1 here. Green Flash does some good stuff (palate wrecker, double stout, le freak, hop head red) but their flagship beer, West Coast IPA, falls considerably off the mark for me. And Oskar Blues Deviant Dales IPA crushes West Coast in my opinion. Oskar Blues Ten Fidy, G'Knight, and Deviant are much better than their counterparts in the Green Flash lineup. And Dales Pale is that awesome every day drinker that most people can be on board with.

Totally agree on Smuttynose, very average stuff and I'm not sure they will find success here.

I really wish Firestone Walker or Ballast Point would get out here.

Great post!
Cheers!

Kevin Myers said...

last post was not by my wife, Jen, but by me...Kevin. sorry. computer signing out issues...lol

Kevin Myers said...

I also, like Kathleen, heard Great Lakes is coming back...but haven't heard much else about it.

Nathan Compton said...

Thanks for clarifying about Oskar Blues Bob, I read too much into that. Was just looking for some glimmer of hope it was happening soon.

Totally agree with the mentions of Firestone Walker, but I don't think they've made it anywhere close to us yet. We definitely enjoyed some Double Jack while in Colorado this June.

Matt said...

Illinois gets FW.

Jake Keefer said...

A brewery I'm really looking forward to getting here in Indiana is Revolution. I've heard rumblings of them attempting to pick a distributor in Indiana for a while.

Nathan Compton said...

Thanks for the tip on Firestone Walker - just made it back from Chicago with some Union Jack!

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