By Will Carroll
I’m always a guy for a good Indiana beer, but sometimes you have a look a bit outside the borders. There are some great national craft brands and some go-to beers that can be found by a little looking and a little luck, like the Lakefront I had last week. This week, I looked a bit north and a bit south for what was happening in beer.
For the north, there’s a lot of nice beers coming out of Chicago. I say nice because despite the size of the market, there’s no dominant player. Three Floyds, just over the border in Munster, is the closest thing and despite having a rich beer culture, Chicago seems a step behind Indy for once.
One of the larger crafts is Finch, which has done interesting variants. For a warm spring day, I thought their Cutthroat Pale would be a nice one for sitting on the patio and watching a ballgame. I was right, but the IPA variant isn’t one of my favorites. It has a lot of bitter on the aftertaste and about nothing else. This is despite a sweet taste up front from the orange peel they added. There’s more orange on the nose than the palate, but nothing explodes or dances. This is a decent enough beer, but besides the ridiculous meringue-like head that comes from the large bottle, there’s not much here for me to recommend.
Then I headed south, figuratively, to Cincinnati. There’s an Indiana-like explosion of craft beer in this traditional German town, but it’s not all traditional German beers. (I’m actually a bit surprised that they don’t have more in the way of old-school “pure German”beers, like one of my favorite breweries, Franconia out of the Dallas area.)
The Cincy beer I tried is anything but traditional. It’s a Hop Bomber, a Rye IPA from Rivertown Brewing. Rye IPAs are getting more popular as variants to IPAs that have an extra spice bite while maintaining the hoppiness that is popularly expected in craft brews.
With a name like Hop Bomber, I expected something like a Hopslam or Black Acre’s Hop Pun. Instead, the hops are very light. There are some more complex tastes, like tea and herbs in there, but aside from the aroma, there’s much more rye than there is hops. That’s not bad, just unexpected. There’s only about 50 IBU here, so it would make for a nice summer beer as well, and would stand up well to barbecue or burgers.
One note on the Hop Bomber is to freeze it. I drank one quick, so it wasn’t chilled down all the way, and it was good, but even less complex than when I drank one later. Rivertown recommends drinking it at 50 degrees, but I’d say that colder might be better.
There are a lot more beers from surrounding states —Illinois, Ohio, Kentucky and especially Michigan, where there’s some of the top craft brewers in the country — that are worth checking out.
The excuses for why people drink cheap beer at the Indy 500 has always been price and access. Sure, the yellow fizzy stuff is a bit cheaper, but there’s not a significant difference in some cases. Actually, it’s that last word — cases — that I think might be the problem.
I think the problem is quantity. Good craft beer is often in cans, but you’re more likely to find a four-pack than a 24-pack and let’s face it, you want a full cooler at the track, not a dainty Belgian with a touch of coriander.
No craft brewery is ever going to compete on quantity or (hopefully) compromise its quality to put out more beer, but I’m surprised no local places have done more to go for the race. Sure, there are specials like Flat 12’s Hinchtown beer, but how about a 12-pack of that in the nice Flat 12 cans?
Be safe at the track, bring your own local beer, and I’ll see you next time.