I Went Down to the Crossroads, and You Should Too – Indiana Beer

When I cross the state border on I-80, the sign calls Indiana the “Crossroads of America.” One website encouraging people and businesses to relocate here cites the number of pass-through highways as a chief selling point. If I didn’t know better, I’d say this is a state that’s proud of helping you get somewhere else as quickly and painlessly as possible. While growing up on the Illinois side of the state line, I remember one Indiana waterpark’s commercials assuring me that “there’s more than corn in Indiana!”

It turns out there actually is more in Indiana than corn and self-deprecating humor. There’s beer—tasty, well-made, and plentiful beer that’s 100% craft—small brewing operations resuscitated Indiana’s beer scene in 1990 after a decades long dark age without a single in-state brewer.

Even so, Indiana beer seems pretty well hidden for any brewery not named Three Floyds. That’s not surprising considering the competition: Chicago is to the northwest, Michigan to the north, and Ohio to the east. When your neighbors are Revolution and Half Acre, Bell’s and Founders, not to mention Rhinegeist and MadTree and Great Lakes (to name just a few big players), it’d be easy—and unfortunate—to view the area in between as negative space.

But our crossroads are an end, not just a means. If you need a reason to visit Indiana’s beer scene, I can give you ten from all around the state without even including Three Floyds (whom I looove, but they’re already widely known). These are just the beginning. You’ll discover plenty more once you whet your appetite for exploration, and the brewers can take it from there.

Let’s break it down by region.

Indianapolis

Sun King Brewing – The largest brewer in Indiana took home three medals from the 2015 Great American Beer Fest in the cream ale, Belgian fruit beer, and aged strong beer categories, and snagged a fourth this year. These and more get served in a bright, industrial-looking taproom in the heart of downtown Indy. I’m particularly fond of their seasonal Fistful of Hops series, which rotates hop blends around the same malt foundation. Their most recent version featured Warrior, Azacca, and Cascade hops.

Brugge Brasserie – My favorite brewery in the city is a little north of downtown in Broad Ripple. The beer at Brugge is simply impeccable and they serve it

Main bar at Brugge Brasserie. Photo by author.

alongside a tasteful (and tasty) European-style menu of stews, meat and cheese platters, and crepes. It’s all Belgian-inspired, of course, and you’ll enjoy it alongside dark saisons with cherry, tripels, and boysenberry sours. Very few hop bombs here but if that stops you, only your palate will suffer. Seriously, try the Pooka.

St. Joseph’s Brewery – Just a few blocks from Sun King (among others, many of Indy’s breweries cluster together) is an old cathedral turned brewery. St. Joseph’s has a beautiful interior space with the fermentation tanks right up on the altar where they belong. The beer list is as delicious as it is numerous, but the flights are priced for easy sampling. Start by enjoying one of their staples, Confessional IPA, and it’s all uphill from there.

St. Joseph’s tanks mounted on a church altar, where they belong. Photo by author.

South Indiana

 Upland Brewing Company – Bloomington is home to Indiana’s third largest brewer (and one of the oldest). Upland’s staple brews can be found around the state but the sour program is where they really lead. Dozens of creatively fruited, spiced, and/or aged sour brews have been made to date, and you can try them at Upland’s sculpted Bloomington and Indianapolis locations or by entering the sour lotteries held throughout the year. What’s more, Upland spearheads the Midwest Sour Funk Fest held every spring in Indianapolis.

Tin Man Brewing Company – Located in Evansville, Tin Man is mainly a production brewery but it also operates a tasting room in a former 19th century tavern, with small batch releases every Friday. While they don’t make as many esoteric styles as other breweries on this list, Tin Man’s lineup of robot-themed concoctions will keep you interested. If you can’t visit the brewery proper, Tin Man cans are available around the state.

New Albanian Brewing Company – Just across the Ohio River from Louisville, New Albanian is my favorite Indiana brewery that no one I talk to seems to have heard of. They serve clever beers with clever names, like Black and Bluegrass Ale (lemongrass and blue agave) and Hoosier Daddy (cream ale), yet also put out aggressively hopped IPAs like Hoptimus, which holds its own against the Arctic Panzer Wolves and Enjoy By’s that you’ve probably tried already. Their Naughty Claus is my preferred Christmas seasonal to date. This place marks the southern bookend of Indiana’s I-65 corridor, and is a must-stop whenever I’m passing through.

Northwest Indiana

 People’s Brewing Company – IU has Upland, Purdue has People’s. Their lineup is one of the most diverse I’ve seen in the state that doesn’t sacrifice quality. Belgian tripels with added rhubarb, pre-prohibition lagers inspired by local defunct brewers from the 19th century, and an excellent holiday barleywine are just part of their ever growing cavalcade of offerings. A second location in Lebanon just opened this month, so even Indiana beer veterans have something new to check out.

18th Street Brewing Company – Take Exit 1 on I-80 near the Illinois border and you have a choice: turn south for Three Floyds or north for 18th Street’s Hammond location. It’s a tough call, but I say they’re close enough that you needn’t settle for just one. 18th Street Brewing has spent the last three years using eclectic and creative beers to carve out an honored place in northwest Indiana’s busy and competitive beer scene. On top of their coveted Hunter milk stout (plus variants like Hunter Vanilla) and its recent special release RIS, Bitches Bank, their Sour Note line of goses and various sour ales will keep you interested. Haven’t tried a mediocre beer from these alchemists yet.

East/Northeast Indiana

 Noble Order Brewing Company – I first tried these folks at a local beer festival and they stole the day. Blood orange wheats, apricot IPAs, and meads to boot. Located in Richmond, IN (off I-70 near the Ohio border) and paired with a local winery, they’re a fairly new presence but are already elevating eastern Indiana beer to a whole new level. Not heading that way? Check out their new tap-room in Zionsville (near Indianapolis) or else find them in cans around Indiana.

Long Line for Noble Order at a beer fest in Lafayette, April 2016. Photo by author.

Mad Anthony Brewing Company – These veterans concoct a solid selection of tasty brews and serve the greater Fort Wayne area with several restaurant locations. A longstanding pillar of their portfolio, Auburn Lager, took home a gold medal from the 2015 Great American Beer Festival. I’d go so far as to say that Mad Anthony, alongside Noble Order, provides a great counterweight to a beer scene often characterized by Indianapolis and northwest Indiana players.

Brian Alberts

Brian Alberts

Studies of beer in context, always in moderation. Click the link below and follow me on Untappd: Brewed_Culture
Brian Alberts

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