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.