Six-pack or keg? You decide
By Will Carroll
I see you at Costco. You look, but not directly. You see it out of the corner of your eye and you think “I could get that,” but then you think about your wife or girlfriend’s reaction. You wonder whether that kegerator is really for you.
It’s a big decision and one that shouldn’t be entered into lightly. While it’s great for parties, it’s another appliance and whether it goes in your kitchen or your home theater, it takes up space. It hums. It sucks some power. None of them look that good.
You’ll also have to maintain it. You’ll have to keep it clean and keep the CO2 charged up, which means finding a gas provider.
But there’s one thing that most people don’t think of. A keg of beer is pretty big. You not only have to pick it up, drive it home and carry it in, but that weight you just lugged (or more likely rolled – please, let it settle for a couple days so you don’t pull foam instead of beer) is a LOT of beer.
What most people call a keg is a half barrel. That’s about 110-120 pints of beer. If you want to do the math, it’s 124, but you’ll get some foam and wastage, so let’s just call it 110 to be easy. Even a “Corny Keg”, which is 1/6 of a barrel is about 40 pints.
While you’ll save money per pint, remember that it’s a lot of beer. A lot of that beer you picked. If you’re having friends over, it’s not so bad, but when it’s just you? If you’re used to picking up a six pack of something that looks good, imagine picking up twenty six packs of it.
One of my first kegs was Leinenkugel Summer Shandy. It’s a perfect light summer beer. I got it in late May, just after having it while sitting in Miller Park watching a game. By August, I was a bit tired of the Shandy and wondering just when the keg was going to run out. Granted, that was a half barrel. I learned my lesson.
Many local breweries will gladly sell you a keg if you make the decision to go that way. Smaller breweries and newer breweries tend to be the ones that hold back. They may not have the equipment and they may not have the stock. Even the bigger breweries aren’t always going to have what you want on hand. Thought you might pick up a keg of Sun King’s Grapefruit Jungle? Don’t count on it — but you can always ask.
That kegerator might look like a great addition to your — wait, I can’t even say Man Cave with a straight face. It’s the dumbest term of the last ten years and is a marketing excuse to get guys excited about interior design. A kegerator might be a good addition to your beer drinking ways, but there’s more to it than just having something on tap.
I’m detecting a trend. Belgian inspired beers have always been big in Indy, but I’m seeing more and more Saisons. Oaken Barrel in Greenwood has a nice one on tap, while Taxman from Bargersville is starting with a house Saison called La Maison. Both are a good starting point, light enough not to really task the tastebuds, but offering enough of the Belgian spice and yeasty flavor to let you know if this one’s for you. It might seem a bit early for a Saison, which is really a better summer beer, but we can dream.
Bon Appetit’s latest issue says sours or wild beers are the next big thing. Ok, I don’t need a magazine to tell me the next big thing and as usual, Indy’s already ahead of things in beer. There are several of these styles around town, including a new one to be tapped this week at Triton. Upland has done several of this style, as has Sun King. It’s a new taste and can be very varied from beer to beer, largely dependent on what’s growing in the beer. Yeah, really. You don’t have to be that adventurous to try them and they’re perfectly safe.
I had hoped to have my story about the start of Indy craft beer this week, but even with the help of Ted Miller, Kwang Casey and others, the story just isn’t there yet. It’s a bigger story with more depth and detail than I had expected, and the tale is worth telling. It’s coming but not as quickly as I thought.
Finding Indy’s best beer means finding your favorite
By Will Carroll
There’s an incredible amount of breweries in Indiana. Just in Indy, there are so many that we have to wonder if there’s a — no pun intended — saturation point. The saving grace is that even with more and more breweries coming opening, it’s hardly a rounding error for the “MBC” (Miller Bud and Coors) industrial complex. There’s room to grow.
But there remains an eternal question. As each new brewery opens and brings out beer after great beer, people always ask me, “What is the best beer in Indy?” Luckily, there’s a simple answer.
There isn’t one.
It’s not a cop out. The best beer is such a matter of personal choice, of personal taste, of the brewer’s whims on any given batch, that even one you like today might not be your favorite tomorrow. That new brewery that’s opening up next month? It might be better still.
Breweries change as well. I’ve always liked Flat 12. The downtown brewery was one of the early boom-era places, and they’ve always made a nice beer. About a year ago, I tried one of their Half Cycle IPAs and was stunned. The fresh hoppy flavor and the crisp finish wasn’t what I remembered. What had changed? How did this beer go from good to great?
Quaff On, the oddly named brewery from Nashville, has become one of my favorites. It shouldn’t surprise me, since I loved Mark Havens’ beers during his time at Oaken Barrel. There’s a lot of crossover in Indy, with assistants getting to brew their own at new breweries, and with the community of brewers more cooperative than competitive, that’s a very good thing.
I sat over lunch with my pal Joel Henard and had a couple beers recently. He had a Eville Wheat from Carson’s, an Evansville brewery, and he was surprised he liked it. Joel normally doesn’t like hoppy beers, and I didn’t expect a wheat to be that hoppy. Maybe Joel just doesn’t like certain hops and not hops in general.
That’s a nice insight from a random lunch beer at Scotty’s and a big step for Joel. You see, Joel drank Coors Light until about a year ago. I took him to Sun King, and now he’s a Twenty Tap and growler guy. Maybe I couldn’t save the guy who ordered a Coors Light next to me at Scotty’s, but I didn’t know him well enough to do a full on conversion either. I mean, you have to be polite about it.
So is there a best beer? No. Is there a best beer for you? Yes, absolutely. You owe it to yourself to try some new ones, maybe even challenge yourself a bit. Learn what you like and what you don’t. Grab some friends, some local beers and compare. Ask for a sample. Find a good bartender. Go to your local brewery.
Find your favorite. That’s the best. And that’s the best part of craft beer.
A couple quick notes before I go — in the coming weeks, we’re going to do a lot more in this space, including videos. I told you last time that I think reviews are boring. I can describe a beer to you, but it’s better to taste it, and we haven’t figured out how to send beer through the pipes of the Internet just yet. What I’d rather do is find interesting beers and talk to interesting people. It might be a local celebrity, a brewer, a restaurateur or even you. If you have ideas, I’d love to hear them, so either drop it in the comments, hit me on Twitter (@injuryexpert) or find my email.
One of my favorite beers is Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy. Leinie and Shiner have special memories for me and like many, so I was worried when Miller bought the brewery a few years back. But it hasn’t hurt them at all, giving them much better distribution and using Leinie as something of a testing ground. The one thing that bothers me is that Summer Shandy hit stores this week. If you live here, you know it’s definitely not summer! I love the lemony freshness of the Shandy, but at this stage, Leinie should just go ahead and make it a year-round beer. I’ll even let them keep the name if they want.
Three Floyds was the one local brewery to make the James Beard “long list.” It’s deserved and while Three Floyds does get some backlash for being big — damned hipsters — they do a damned fine beer. The region and the state are loaded with solid breweries, but Three Floyds is quickly becoming nationally known without losing their roots. Raise a glass to them, and here’s hoping we can raise another in mid-March when the short list is released.
Craft beer captures the spirit of Indy
By Will Carroll
For those of you that don’t know me, my day job is sportswriter. Yes, it’s a real job. A few years back when Indy hosted the Super Bowl, I felt like a one-man guidebook, pointing my fellow writers to great restaurants and places to see. There’s more than just St. Elmo’s in Indy, as readers of this site surely know.
It was an awesome week, as you all know, but one question nagged at me. It was one I just couldn’t answer, but was asked time and again: What is Indy’s signature food?
There are some simple answers. St. Elmo’s shrimp cocktail is a must for many and it’s hard to argue, but while it’s iconic and tasty, it’s hard to think that Indy’s signature dish is seafood. (Yes, there’s great seafood in Indy, but none of us are going to go fish the White River or Geist and call it fine dining, are we?)
I just don’t think a signature dish can be imported. Boston’s clam chowder? Maine’s lobsters? New York’s hot dogs? Well, who knows where those come from, but the Meatpacking District makes it believable.
Pork tenderloin gets votes, but while I can appreciate the concept, I’m not sure what it signifies. It’s the most processed, least healthy piece of pork and slapped on a sandwich. To me, a signature dish should represent the best of what our food suppliers and chefs have to offer while still showing the culture of the area.
That means that of all the dishes at all the great restaurants we have in the area, only one really stands out: beer.
Not just any beer, but all of the craft beers that have suddenly exploded on the scene. It’s the fight to get to the taste buds of consumers while remaining at the roots of what was, not long ago, just a hobby for many. It’s the entrepreneurial and creative spirit of the brewmasters. It’s the evangelism of some both in the industry and out. Call it a cult if you want, but it’s growing.
The barley, hops, yeast and water have come together with something else in Indianapolis to make a special place. It’s not one beer and not one brewery, but the spirit of what is fast becoming an industry that has really captured the spirit and character of Indiana.
I’m open to arguments, but next time the Super Bowl comes to Indiana, I may still point people to St. Elmo’s, but I’ll also make sure they know to cool their mouth down from the shrimp cocktail with our signature dish: a local craft beer.
Over the next weeks, months and years here at EatDrinkIndy, I want to capture that spirit and share it with you. I don’t believe we need another beer review site, though I’ll gladly give my opinions. What we need is to connect the expanding craft beer market in Indy with the people of Indy.
For many, it will be enough just to show up at the local bar or liquor store and see a local beer, but with so many options, it does get overwhelming. There’s no one right beer for anyone and certainly no “best” beer, so to me it’s about education, understanding and enjoyment.
The best beer is the one in your hand, of course, and the best writing about beer is the one that helps you find one for your hand. That’s what I’ll be doing here and I hope you’ll enjoy it and participate. I’m so excited to be part of Jolene’s venture here and can’t wait to show you what we have planned.
Beer tasting do’s and don’ts
by Liz Joss
With all the beer festivals, tap takeovers and microbreweries around town, plenty of beer is flowing through Indy these days. You can get an extensive beer education at little to no cost, or you can be that guy at the Chinese buffet, shoveling in the food only because he’s determined to beat the house. The current beer scene is about quality — not quantity. Some tips (from one of the people pouring your beer):
- Don’t believe “best beer” or “best brewery” lists. Everyone’s taste is different.
- Do keep an open mind. You’re here to try new things!
- Don’t announce that you don’t like beer, especially if you’ve never tried craft beers. That’s like saying you don’t like peas because all you’ve ever had are canned peas. And if you really don’t like beer, why are you here?
- Don’t gesture toward the sample beers and grunt. Use your words!
- Don’t ask for “the brown one.” It’s beer. They’re all brown.
- Don’t shy away from dark beer. Dark is a color — not a flavor.
- Don’t ask for “light” beer. Craft beers that are light in color aren’t necessarily “lite” as in watered-down.
- Do look at the IBU number (that’s International Bittering Unit) for an indication of how hoppy (or bitter) the beer will be.
- Don’t believe that high hoppiness equals good beer. Again, it’s just a matter of what you like.
- Do beware the alcohol content of craft beers (indicated by ABV for “alcohol by volume”). Especially if you’re touring several microbreweries in one day. And it wouldn’t hurt you to eat something along the way.
- Don’t shoot samples like they’re cheap tequila. Getting drunk on microbrews misses the whole point.
- Don’t stand at the tasting table and chit-chat with your friends when there’s a long line of thirsty people behind you.
- Don’t try to scam more free beer. It’s bad karma.
- Do be happy. It’s beer.
- Do be patient. Ditto.
Freelance writer Liz Joss lives in Indianapolis and only drinks mass-produced beers in emergencies.
Q&A with Ted Miller of Outliers Brewing Company
When people come in to Outliers Brewing Company at 534 E. North St. for its open house tonight, they’re going to see a great space — a huge space — one that seems tailor made for brewing beer. Ted Miller, of Outliers and its soon-to-be adjacent restaurant The Owner’s Wife, talked recently about how it all came together.
Q: So you have two buildings — how’d that happen?
A: When we did the walk through the first time, when we left, as brewers do, we walked down to the avenue for a beer. So we’re walking to Mass Ave., and one of our partners looks at the window there next door and says, ‘That one’s for sale too,’ so we called them right away. We called them from outside, and they were in there, and they said come in and take a look. We walked in and looked, and went down to Chatham Tap and sat down and had a beer and said, ‘Oh my God, we’re getting both of these damn things.’ That was probably two years ago right now.
Q: So work will start soon on the restaurant side?
A: A big hole is going in there [pointing to a wall]. That’s The Owners Wife. It’s a totally separate building, but it’s all going to be connected, which is why some major delays have happened. It’s historical. At one point we almost sold that building.
Q: It’s going a a brewpub rather than a brewery with a tasting room?
A: Everybody asks all the time: tasting room? No, we’ll have a bar. It’s called The Owner’s Wife. You can go next door and taste all you want. You can come in here and grab a growler or a t-shirt, and that’s fine.
Q: But you’re also supplying other restaurants, right?
A: We have four beers that we’ve brewed right now. We have such good relationships with so many restaurants and bars. By the second week of January, you’re going to be seeing it all over the place.
Q: How much will you be brewing?
A: We can brew reasonably 3,000 barrels a year in here, which is a big brewpub. It’s a very small craft brewery, but it’s a big brewpub. But because we opened this side first [the brewery], people’s perceptions are going to be a tasting room, a craft brewery. That’s what they’re seeing, even though what I’ve said over and over and over is gigantic freaking brew pub.
Q: What’s happening with craft breweries in Indiana right now?
A: Everybody outside of Indiana is looking at Indiana. When I became the president [of the Brewers of Indiana Guild] there were 26 [breweries]. There are 75 now. There are 25 licences pending, so you’re talking about 100 by summer.