Welcome to the first (annual?) edition of IndianaBeer’s staff picks of our favorite, and least favorite, things in the past year of craft beer! Sure…..we’re a little late to this party, but trying to come up with an authoritative list like this is challenging because we don’t individually visit every Indiana brewery, try every beer on the market, or attend every event. We’d love to make that sacrifice for you, but our resulting condition would become a pretty big drain on your tax dollars. Still, we do make our rounds in the craft beer world, and 2013 produced some wonderful memories and standout beers, events, and trends that deserve a mention here.
Our sincere appreciation goes out to everyone who visited our site in 2013. We’re looking forward to a great 2014 and making plans for some exciting new content and events. Cheers!
Best Indiana Craft Beer: RAM St. Olaf Barrel Aged Bock
This deep bock beer delivered excellently the flavors of the bock beer with rich, malt sweetness with a finish that still lingers slightly sweet accentuated by light hop bittering. Yet, this beer, to become a Saint, spent 9 months aging in a Harrison Hill (Indiana produced) bourbon barrel! This provided the vanilla notes with the flavor of the bourbon! Perhaps my choice is influenced by my affinity for bourbon barrel aged beer, perhaps because it is Indiana+Indiana, and perhaps because it was a ‘swan song’ beer for both Andrew Castner and Chris Knott as I knew at that tasting that both were leaving the RAM. However, I truly believe, after tasting hundreds of Indiana beers this year that this one shines on flavor alone and stands proudly as my choice for a local favorite in 2013.
Best non-Indiana Craft Beer: Brewery Ommegang Three Philosophers
With so many great beers I usually refuse to name a ‘best’ or ‘favorite.’ Yet, I have one! Well, two. Three Philosophers is a Belgian-style quadruple from Brewery Ommegang, (Cooperstown, NY) that is enhanced with 2%, yep just 2%, Kriek from Liefman’s of Belgium. Ommegang is part of Duvel Moortgat of Belgium providing wonderful opportunities for even more enhancement of the Belgian style beers. Three Philosophers is a limited release strong dark ale (9.8%) with notes of dark roast, raisins, dark sugars, and when fresh the cherry/kriek comes shining through. Background has banana esters with solid malt sweetness from 5 malts with a deep fruit characteristic going from raisins to molasses to a hint of chocolate, and the background of Spalt Select and Styrian Golden hops. This is a wonderful sipping beer. The brewery suggests it is a beer for contemplation. It is also a beer that can be aged although I drank some fresh on tap and then compared that to a bottle of the 2011 release which I found interesting but delivered more dark fruit with the cherry completely hidden, or just gone. Yet, I would be happy to contemplate on this beer many times and I look forward to next year’s release!
Best Beer Event: Bloomington Craft Beer Week and Festival
Sure there were many great events and some had more offerings, but even so how many beers can I conscionably taste in a few hours? While the Bloomington Festival is my ‘local’ so you may be crying ‘foul’ my defense and designation is based on three factors: 1) the venue, 2) the full week of local events including a brewers panel, and 3) the organization that included our own Nathan Compton heading up a giant recycle environmental effort! Most Indiana breweries and many out-of-state and national breweries made it to Bloomington where fresh air freely circulated through the quaint cover of the historic quarry building, which also makes this event a multi-level and architecturally interesting venue! Participation of attendees was fabulous with never a crushing crowd and usually an opportunity to chat with brewers. This is a perfect Spring event where the weather cooperated fully in 2013, parking if plentiful, and the only possible drawback might be the need for a few more restrooms and bus service. The concept of a week with local beer on tap all over Bloomington, special tappings with Indiana Breweries and their brewers, and a panel with brewers from Central Indiana which was very well attended, quite informative, and perhaps even raised a slight controversy or two without contention. The capstone for me to name this the best was our man Nathan working his @ss off before, during, and after the event to make sure this provided the lowest environmental impact possible.
Best Craft Beer Trend: Increasing Number of Local Beer Taps
While many chain restaurants are hanging on to 3 taps of Light, many have at least a few taps of fresh local beer. The trend of some bars not to even carry national beers gives us reason to cheer! This year shows even bigger declines for former big national yellow fizzy beers and increased growth of craft – and much of that is driven by the local restaurants and bars that are giving many customers what they are asking for which is good, fresh, interesting and flavorful craft beer!
Worst Beer Event: Dark Lord Day
Well it is not fair to rip on an event that I don’t attend, is it? And I am certain others enjoy this event making it worthwhile. But the concept of a beer being so rare that one must go on one day, get a ticket and realize that in the early days there might be a possibility you did not achieve your goal of coming back with the beer made Dark Lord Day a non-starter for me. Yes, I realize the rules changed and you should get 3-4 bottles as long as you stand in line but even last year 3F suggested if you were not Group A you might not get Vanilla. YES, I know it is mostly about sharing rare beers. Yes, I know Three Floyds has made great efforts at customer service. Yes, I believe the Floyd family are wonderful folks with a great brewery and I like their beer. So… this is not really a bad event. But it is an event that I’ve not been able to justify what, for me, would be the outlay of a few hundred dollars for two nights in a local hotel, food, beverage, tickets, beer to share, etc. So… at the bottom of my choices.
Best Indiana Craft Beer: Daredevil Brewing Lift Off IPA
In my opinion Lift Off IPA from the guys in Shelbyville has been one of the best and most consistent beers out of Indiana this year. Releasing the 4-pack of cans at an extremely competitive price only solidified them as the best beer available in Indiana.
|Upland Wolf Eye: Wolf Eye is a slightly tart berliner weiss style beer recently released by Upland. It is pretty well available around Indy, and is one of the few beers I'll order multiple, berliner weiss is probably my favorite style.|
|Sun King Pappy Fog: This special release of Velvet Fog was aged in 23 year old Pappy Van Winkle bourbon barrels. I was able to try it at the VIP tent at Microbrewers Festival in Broadripple, and it was easily the best beer available at the festival.|
|McClure’s Orchard Jalapeno Cider: McClure's Orchard has really broadened my view of how interesting ciders can be. Usually coming in between 6-7% ABV this spicy cider inspired me to make a few batches of my own Jalapeño Cider using apple cider from McClure's. I've only ever found their bottles at Kahn's Fine Wine and Spirits and at the orchard in Peru itself (which by the way sells cider and a multitude of other apple products even when they are out of season.) Parts of the orchard shut down between Christmas and April, but I believe the restaurant/tasting bar is still open during the winter months.|
Best non-Indiana Craft Beer: Oskar Blues Dale’s Pale Ale
I'm generally a big supporter of using proper glassware, that is never frozen, especially with hoppy beers, but there is just something about sipping this easy drinking flavorful pale ale out of the can it comes in. I'm loving having this and Oskar's Imperial Stout, Ten Fidy, regularly available thanks to Oskar Blues joining the growing list of great breweries distributing in Indiana.
|Goose Island Bourbon County Barleywine: Coffee BCS is a very close second only missing out to Barleywine because the Barleywine is brand new this year! The whole line up this year was spectacular including the Backyard Rye which is relatively hard to find in Indiana.|
|Local Option Morning Wood: While I love the Morning Wood, an oak aged coffee amber, really all of Local Option's beers have impressed me. Based in Chicago, IL but brewed on contract in Maryland and Michigan, the original location is a "Beer-cade". A "Beer-cade", for those of you who don't know, is a glorious place that blends an awesome craft beer draft and bottle list with an arcade. Sometimes the games are free. Why Indy doesn't have a Beer-cade is beyond me, but I fully support anyone who wants to give it a go.|
Best Brewery: Daredevil Brewing (Shelbyville)
Daredevil's first year was an outstanding success in my opinion. While the number of different beers they released this year may have been low compared to other breweries, all of them were outstanding. In addition to the social media presence, the overwhelming detail put into letting their customers know where to find their beer was done extremely well. I'm also very much looking forward to the Rare Devil series from these guys.
|Three Floyds Brewing Co: Always. Great.|
|Sun King Brewing Co: The brewery that really started everything happening in Indy right now is still simply put one of the best breweries in the state. They have a few beers that miss the mark every once in a while, but overall they are absolutely one of the best breweries in the state and no one can argue that.|
Best Brewpub: Twenty Tap (Indianapolis)
Twenty Tap just fits into this category because Kevin Matalucci finally started brewing in the basement a month or two ago. Between the seasonal menu, the 38 craft beers on tap, and the outstanding bottle selection no beer bar or brewpub comes close in my opinion. Chef Rob Coate, who is also in charge of the beer list, does an outstanding job here. Living so close makes it easy to get to Twenty Tap anywhere between 2-6 times a week for me. You'd think with all those visits the beer list would get repetitive, and how wrong you'd be. I have never looked at the incredible 38 beer draft list and have tried all 38. If you like trying new things get to Twenty Tap, and try the outstanding food too! I'm probably headed there right now.
|Black Acre Brewpub: This little brewpub on the east side of Indy offers another spectacular menu by Chef Mike Dike. I especially like the brunch served on Sundays from 11-3. After a rocky start in 2012 the brewers have really picked up their game and have an average of 10-12 of their own brews on at any given time. This place is absolutely worth the trip.|
|Broad Ripple Brewpub: With a change of head brewer comes a fresh look at the classic English brewpub in Indianapolis. The former Oaken Barrel brewer who has taken over is starting to stamp his own style on a few of the beers at the brewpub. When you make it in, I suggest trying the Dark Hero, a strongly flavored coffee oatmeal stout that I thoroughly enjoy.|
Best Beer Event: Upland Sour Wild Funk Fest
In the second year of this festival, the people at Upland improved on what was already my favorite festival of the year. This year having the pairings of fruits and cheeses at the pouring tables and the inclusion of the VIP presentation by Caleb only made it better. To say I'm excited to see what they do in 2014 is an understatement, especially now that I live walking distance from the festival.
|Brewers of Indiana Guild Microbrewers Festival: Perhaps the VIP experience wasn't quite as thought out as it could have been, but all in all I enjoyed the Microbrewers Festival this year, as I do every year. With some tweaks and maybe a slight price drop the VIP experience will be worth it and I know the good people at the Brewers Guild are doing everything they can to make the 2014's Microbrewers Festival even better.|
|Indiana State Fair Brewers Cup: This was my first time participating in any fashion at the Brewer's Cup. I judged 3 flights and a mini-best of show and I had a great time. The quality of the beer was outstanding; even though I did try the worst beer I've ever tasted, which was disqualified. All the stewards were great and the whole list of volunteers who helped out did an superb job. If you are involved with craft beer in any way in the state of Indiana you should be volunteering at the Brewer's Cup; it's really a great time.|
Best Craft Beer Trend: Canning
The push towards craft brewers canning instead of bottling is something I fully support. Some local Indy area brewers are even taking advantage of a business who has a mobile canning line to can their beer for distribution. Cans are simply a superior vessel and craft beer drinkers in Indiana are already used to cans, thanks to Sun King, making the introduction of cans from Daredevil, Oskar Blues, Flat 12 and others easier. I am ready to see some more specialty and dark beers from the local breweries going into cans. We all love IPAs but its time to see some stouts and weird/funky brews in cans on shelves.
|Actually Opening: I'm looking at you Outliers! Seriously though, with approximately 70 operating brewers permits in the state we are looking to add another 35 or so in 2014. Realistically we could see 100 operating breweries in Indiana by the end of 2014. CHEERS TO 100!!!|
Worst Craft Beer Trend: Craft Beer Hipsters
If you hate people who drink craft beer, and hate people who buy rare/specialty beers but still go to festivals and drive long distances to get rare/specialty beers you might be a hipster. These people can be a bit annoying, but generally they aren't hurting anyone so who cares.
|Session Beers: I had quite a few discussions with people about session beers back in the spring/summer. Oddly enough nobody is talking about session beers when its 10 degrees outside. I'm guessing when March rolls around they'll be back. Drink them if you like them, but I'll stick to interesting and flavorful beers, more often than not that means beers above 5% ABV.|
|Stubborn Beer Managers: I’m lucky to live in Indy, very close to Twenty Tap, however a lot of bars around Indy, especially the suburbs, and other areas of Indiana are slow to accept craft beer. Recently Clay, President of the Brewer's Guild, said that 60% of craft beer sold in Indiana is sold within Indianapolis. If all the new breweries are going to make it they are going to need to start converting taps in areas other than Broadripple and Mass Ave. Craft beer needs to break out of its comfort zone and challenge what people are drinking at chains restaurants and bars. This is going to take support from all 3 tiers, especially distributors, to get this done.|
|From Jason C…..|
Best Indiana Craft Beer: Three Floyds Zombie Dust
I know, I know…this would probably be near the top of the list for a good number of people. I’ve always maintained that I’m a craft beer geek for the common person so here is my boring, mainstream selection. Look, I’m still a hop-head at heart, I dig the Citra hops, and it’s friggin’ delicious so it’s my #1 choice.
|Bare Hands Thai.p.a., Iechyd Da Gumption Double Amber, New Albanian Mt. Lee California Common, People’s Notorious BIP, and anything that Crown Brewing does with their java porter (especially the Coconut Java Porter)|
Best non-Indiana Craft Beer: Founders KBS
I realize that this is a tough beer to get your hands on but once you do, I promise you, your taste buds will jump back and wanna kiss themselves. This bourbon barrel stout comes in at 11.2% but somehow manages to just melt over your tongue with smooth coffee, bourbon, & chocolate flavors. When I get one I tend to hug it and pet it and squeeze it and call it George.
Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye, Bell’s Two Hearted (oldie but goodie), Founder’s Backwoods Bastard, Green Flash Hop Head Red, Southern Tier Pumking, Stone Ruination
Best Brewery: Three Floyds (Munster)
I had to re-write this once I knew that this was also Nathan’s selection since he pretty much said it all. With Zombie Dust on the top of my list plus the murderer’s row of ridiculously great beers, Three Floyds is still the undisputed heavyweight champ of Indiana breweries.
|Bare Hands Brewery, Crown Brewing, Flat 12 Brewing, Iechyd Da Brewing, ZwanzigZ Brewing|
Best Brewpub: Iechyd Da (Elkhart)
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why my vote for best brewpub goes to Iechyd Da. My one and only visit (in case you missed the review click here) occurred shortly after they opened for business on a Sunday so the patrons were fairly sparse. However, something about the overall ambience of the place just struck me as welcoming and comfortable. The food menu consisted of artisanal pizzas and sandwiches along with a handful of nice munchies. Then, of course, there are the beers. I’ve already sung my praises with mentions in the best Indiana beer and best Indiana brewery categories. Put it all together and I’d strongly suggest making Elkhart a destination for your next brewery visit.
|Lafayette Brewing Company, Shoreline Brewing|
Best Beer Event: Winter Warmer @ the Lafayette Brewing Company
I set a new personal record, eight, for festivals in 2013 but my choice for best event was the easiest decision I had among all of the categories. There are many reasons that this long-running strong ale and barleywine event sold out just 40 minutes after ticket sales opened to the general public. First is because there are more high-octane brews in a relatively small area than what should be allowed by law. Next is that it’s held in the cozy confines of the LBC’s second floor venue with an occupancy limit of about 300 (and that includes the brewery representatives). Oh and what’s this? Some fantastic BBQ, plenty of tables and seating, tons of great raffle prizes, big hitting homebrews from the Tippecanoe Homebrewers Circle, and some pretty fantastic people. Huge beer festivals are overrated!
|Bloomington’s Craft Beer Festival (nice for a big event), Lafayette’s Beers Across the Wabash|
Best Craft Beer Trend: Cans
So sure, once opened I will most likely pour my beer into a glass or cup so why should it's vessel matter? I suppose I just like the added convenience that a lighter weight, less breakable beverage container has to offer. As long as I can get the same great flavor out of a can then sign me up! Added bonus, it’ll help me get past those pesky yellow shirts at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway every May.
|New breweries opening up everywhere!|
Worst Craft Beer Trend: Food Pairing
Fairly certain that I'm in the minority on this one and I'd surmise that beer and food pairing is really just starting to gain momentum. That said, my approach is simple. I’m drinking the beer I’m drinking because it has the flavor and characteristics that I want to experience in that particular beer. I’m eating the food that I’m eating because it has the flavor and characteristics that I want to experience for that particular meal. I really just don’t give a rip if a particular beer style would complement or enhance the flavor of blah blah blah… If I wanted to worry about this sort of crap I’d be drinking wine.
|Fake mustaches @ beer festivals, sours|
Best Indiana Craft Beer: Zwanzigz Ghost Pepper Infused Imperial Stout
This beer I’ve tracked to every festival since first trying it on Winterfest 2013. I think it is amazing. It first hits you with the malt and chocolate tones and then the burn creeps up in the back of your throat. It isn’t over powering, but it is just damn good.
|Bare Hands Brewery - Peanut Butter Chocolate Stout, Black Swan Brew Pub– Sour Cherry, Brugge Brasserie – Getting’ Figgy with it Porter|
Best non-Indiana Craft Beer: Lakefront Holiday Spice Lager
This was a new one for me this year. I first found Lakefront up in Chicago during Labor Day weekend and was excited to see the Wisconsin brewery had distributed down here Indiana as well. (I’m looking at your New Glarus, it can be done!) I love the spiciness, the warm flavor, the consistency of ever sip. I love that this beer is good cold, but gets better and better as it warms in your hand. A true winter warmer.
|Southern Tier – Crème Brulee, Founders Brewing – Rubeaus|
Best Brewery: Bier Brewery
I have to give it to my neighborhood brewery. That little nanobrewery is kicking it up more and more and still makes excellent quality beer. I also like that after three years they are still keeping it going with a new mix up every week with some “classics” and some amazing seasonals. Plus Jerry, Corbin, Darren and all the rest are great people.
|Zwanzigz, Cutters Brewing, Iechyd Da|
Best Brewpub: Black Swan Brewpub
If I didn’t live all the way over on the northeast side I’d eat and drink so much at Black Swan I’d be a regular. Their food is always wonderful, fresh, and kept new with changing their menu. The house brews are high quality for a great price. I love their cream stout, maple oat ale, and their sour cherry.
Best Beer Event: Brew Bracket Oktoberfest
The Tomlinson Tap Room is a great place to host Brew Bracket, you get to sit, eat, chat, drink and vote and it benefits a good cause. The only downside to this Brew Bracket is it is only 8 breweries instead of the usual 16.
|History on Tap, Bloomington Craft Beer Festival|
Best Craft Beer Trend: Holiday Seasonals
I love pumpkin ales, I love Christmas ales. I love that more and more breweries are getting with these seasonals and producing their own little twists or some improving on the basic concept. This year I tasted double digit amounts of both of these beers and it made me extremely happy. I hope this is a continuing trend.
|Local Craft Beer on Tap, Local breweries getting into canning / bottling|
Worst Craft Beer Trend: Special Release Events
Now, I understand the hype of getting a special released beer, but some events are packed full of people, for an extremely overpriced bottle of beer.
|Recipes with Beer|
Best Indiana Craft Beer: Bare Hands Brewery Thai.p.a.
First off, I love IPAs. But the craft market has become so saturated with the style, many examples I try these days just kind of run together. So when a brewery does something truly unique with the style, and pulls it off beautifully, it tends to get my attention. Bare Hands Thai.p.a. infuses an IPA base with spices including ginger and lemongrass to pull off a beer that is remarkably flavorful and still well-balanced. Cheers to one of the best up-and-coming breweries in the state for breathing new life into one of my favorite styles.
|Barley Island Black Mystic Java Stout, Black Swan French Country Ale, Flat 12 Walkabout Pale, Sun King Grapefruit Jungle, Three Floyds Arctic Panzer Wolf|
Best non-Indiana Craft Beer: North Coast Old Rasputin
This pick was unavoidable following our group tasting of Russian Imperial Stouts. North Coast’s Old Rasputin is Exhibit 1a on the trappings of taking a wonderful beer for granted in the quest to try new beers in a growing craft market (Bell’s Two Hearted might be 1b…but I digress). Filled with complex flavor while maintaining an easy drinkability, Old Rasputin also offers a value that is difficult to beat. In an era of increasingly overpriced specialty beers, it’s nice to see the best Russian Imperial Stout on the market still available for a reasonable price.
|Great Divide Claymore Scotch Ale, Green Flash West Coast IPA (when reasonably fresh, check the bottling date before laying down your cash!), Ommegang Biere D’Hougoumont, Troegs Nugget Nectar, Two Brothers Domaine DuPage|
Best Brewery: Three Floyds Brewing (Munster)
Hype and trends provoke different reactions from different people, and they tend to elicit a negative knee-jerk type of backlash from me. But as much as I’m inclined to slot another brewery here, you have to set that aside and consider the full body of work: Alpha King, Gumballhead, Zombie Dust, Arctic Panzer Wolf, Alpha Klaus, Broo Doo, Moloko, etc, etc. I can’t objectively say that any other brewery can top that lineup. Do their beers always live up to the hype? Nope. Are they still the biggest bad ass on the block? Absolutely.
On a side note…….I may live in Indianapolis, but it seems northern Indiana is giving our scene a pretty good run for its money these days. What gives? The Michigan influence?
|Bare Hands Brewery, Bier Brewery, Crown Brewing, Iechyd Da Brewing Company, Oaken Barrel Brewing|
Best Brewpub: Half Moon Restaurant and Brewery (Kokomo)
While I can’t say enough about the exceptional beer quality at Rock Bottom College Park, Half Moon gets the nod here for overall experience. The Kokomo brewpub combines a high quality and diverse selection of beers with tasty smokehouse barbeque and a wide range of additional brewpub fare. And their beer sampler is done right: a solid sample of every beer on tap. Half Moon seems a bit underrated outside of Kokomo, but the packed house we’ve encountered on some visits suggests the locals recognize this gem in their backyard. Skip the bypass on your next trip through Kokomo, and treat yourself to a Half Moon visit instead!
|Black Swan Brewpub, Figure 8 Brewing, Rock Bottom College Park (Indy), Rock Bottom Downtown (Indy), Zwanzigz Pizza and Brewing|
Best Beer Event: Lafayette Brewing Company Winter Warmer
It’s a rare thing these days to find a beer event that doesn’t grow for the sake of growing, let alone one that has been around since 1995. LBC’s Winter Warmer started that year as a barleywine and strong ale tasting event for their Brew Crew program. While the event quickly grew to include a takeover of LBC’s second floor, additional breweries, and public ticket sales by 2002; it has never ventured beyond the walls of LBC’s downtown facility. While tickets are difficult to obtain these days unless you know a local Mug Club member (thanks Jason!), this unique event more than justifies the $45 ticket price. Consider the ratio of about 250 patrons and 19 participating breweries (an event where you actually can sample beers from every brewery without long lines), the free Beer-B-Que buffet, and free taxi rides home; and you get a uniquely intimate event with great breweries and high gravity beers for a chilly February weekend. An easy call for best event of the year.
|Brew Bracket Pale Ales|
Best Craft Beer Trend: Local Craft Beer at Bars and Restaurants
There were numerous occasions in 2013 where I was pleasantly surprised to find great local craft beer on tap when visiting a bar or restaurant. I’m not talking about businesses who have historically (or even recently) marketed themselves as craft beer destinations, I’m talking about your average establishment around the city that caters to patrons who couldn’t care less what IBU, SRM, Starting Gravity, or Final Gravity mean. It’s great to head out for a family dinner and find offerings from Bier, Daredevil, Flat 12, Fountain Square, Sun King, or Triton available to complement your meal. There is still plenty of room for improvement in this area, but it’s a real sign of progress when the average restaurant understands there is more to a good meal than offering BudMillerCoors for refreshment.
|Increased Diversity and Availability of Canned Craft Beer|
Worst Craft Beer Trend: Barrel Aged Beer Pricing
This is a touchy category because it tends to involve the ugly monetary aspects that have become a byproduct of craft beer’s commercial success. And yes, it’s hard to fault a business for charging whatever somebody out there is willing to pay. But as a consumer, I have to take issue with the pricing trends in barrel aged beers. Barrel aging is a valuable tool in continuing to push the boundaries of flavor in craft beer, and I respect the time and resources required of such an endeavor. But your beer probably didn’t become 5 times better just because you stuck it in a barrel. So forgive me if I pass on the opportunity to pay 5 times as much for the result.
|Beer Cocktails, Paid memberships just for the right to spend more money on beer (ie. Secret Barrel Programs)|
Best Trend I Want to Start in 2014: Combining Craft Beer and Burlesque
Who’s with me???