We're not Portland with dozens of breweries, yet Central Indiana enjoys a vibrant scene with a handful of brewpubs offering over a hundred variations in the three great traditions of beer: German, English and Belgian. Brewpubs craft their house brands on-site and offer a regular menu along with seasonal brews. With multiple honors from juried competitions that include World Beer Cup, Great American Beer Festival, Indiana State Fair and mentions in books by leading beer writers such as Michael Jackson, Central Indiana is enjoying its tradition as a brewing center with renowned brewers. For our Nightlife Guide, NUVO tried out the sampler tray at area brewpubs.
Alcatraz Brewing Company
40 W. Maryland St.
Beers lean toward German lagers, the fare is eclectic and "an excellent wine cellar" is highlighted for what's described as a "chic brewpub" that has one other namesake in California.
Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; bar until 1 a.m.
Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-midnight; bar until 2 a.m.
Sunday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; bar until midnight
Omar Castrellón graduated with a philosophy major and bio/chemistry minor. "I had a different agenda but got into beer." A native of Panama, he earned the brewmaster accolade the old way by studying with a German brewmaster and, like Ted Miller, took years to advance from being an apprentice to building state-of-art breweries in a variety of locations.
Castrellón's preference is to tone down the aroma. He referred to his crisp, clean Searchlight Golden Ale as a "good convention beer" with 10 percent corn flakes added to barley malt. Weiss Guy, an American-style wheat beer, brightened with a slice of lemon. The spring special, "Hoosier Honey," with 10 percent corn flakes added to a pale malt, is low on hops. Unfiltered, it proved to be a good sipping beer that travels into the nose from the middle taste, and puts a glow on with the malty aftertaste.
Closely observing reactions, Castrellón amplifies, "I'm experimenting all of the time by adding rolled oats, wheat and corn flakes to the barley."
Broad Ripple Brewpub
840 E. 65th St.
Traditional English pub decor and menu.
Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-midnight
Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-1 a.m.
Sunday, 3-10 p.m.
"We brew almost exclusively English ales with very little carbonation," said Kevin Matalucci, head brewer, adding, "Hard Indianapolis water is conducive to English ales. ... We have flagship offerings that I don't mess with because people have their favorites. The exciting part is coming up with new recipes for the cyclical beers. New ingredients come out that we want to try, and we want other people to try them."
Over the course of a year, over 25 different beers are on the menu. The staples include a malty E.S.B. Extra Special Bitter, a sweeter Red Bird Mild, a thirst-quenching Lawn Mower Pale Ale, a full flavor I.P.A. India Pale Ale and a rich coffee-dark chocolate Monon Porter.
Matalucci, who has been experimenting with dry hopping (adding hops to the finished product), prefers subtle spicing. An IU graduate with a degree in environmental science, he "got into brewing by way of waiting on tables, tending bar and hanging around Ted Miller," who preceded him.
1011 E. Westfield Blvd.
Fresh, handcrafted Belgian style ales and Continental lagers, homemade sodas and a full food menu of Belgian house specialties in a relaxed, family-friendly European gastro-pub atmosphere.
Monday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-12:30 a.m.
Friday-Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-1:30 a.m.
Closed on Sundays
In the midst of preparing for their April 22 opening, brewmaster Ted Miller spoke of this Belgian-influenced gastro-pub as "definitely the next wave of the way people want to eat." Offering high-end comfort food in pairings with beer and beer-ingredient recipes, the ambience and service are unified with the Belgian cuisine. Bruegel paintings give you a sense of the cultural heritage.
While other area brewpubs offer a few house-brewed Belgian ales, Brugge provides a full range of the classic style whose malt and yeast character is more aromatic and spicy than is English pale ale. Belgian red ale, with its sweet-sour character, has been deemed the most refreshing. The complexity of Flemish brown ales allows for a range of flavors and pairings from appetite-arousing to being perfect companions for toffee pudding and chocolates. Expect to have each brew served in its "absolutely appropriate glassware."
Partnering with Miller on Brugge Brasserie are his wife Shannon Miller, fellow Broad Ripple High School graduates Abraham Benrubi and Eli Schloss and internationally-based friends Charlie Midgley and Renee Stoltz.
The Ram Restaurant & Brewery
140 S. Illinois St.
Part of the Big Horn chain from Tacoma, Wash., the decor and food menu are American: "Big Screens, Big Burgers, Big Horn Beer."
Monday-Wednesday, 11 a.m.-2 a.m.
Thursday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-3 a.m.,
with DJ entertainment
Sunday, 11 a.m.-midnight
"Anything made by humans is art. Some we exalt, some not," points out Dave Colt, head brewer at The Ram. A graduate of Hanover College, Colt started at Circle V Brewing Company (1996-2001), founded by Mark Vojnovich, and earned his credentials through the old-fashioned Guild System, "learning as I was doing. Like any chef, it's combining biology and chemistry to combine the basic ingredients in slightly different ways to create distinctive brews that will be appealing to beer drinkers who want a better quality than a mass-produced beverage."
Even though The Ram is part of a microbrewing class of beers and patrons expect "the regulars" to taste here as they do elsewhere, Colt says he is free to be creative with specials, as is every other local brewer.
Of the seven regulars tasted last month, Indy Blonde, a golden ale, was particularly pleasant with its lemony-orangy aroma and citrus finish that totally surrounds the palate. Butt Face Amber hints of dark chocolate and caramel; its warming quality flowed through the body. The malt sweetness of Big Horn Hefe-Weizen provided a fruity quality reminiscent of banana and cloves for a refreshing cleansing effect. The Dopplebock is deceptive. With a malted milkshake aroma and taste, the 8.5 percent alcohol content can go unnoticed until you have to stand up.
Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery
10 W. Washington St.
With bistro fare, billiards, live entertainment and sidewalk cafe, it's a cross between European and American as part of the Denver-based Rock Bottom chain.
"Open daily at 11 a.m., till we wave the checkered flag."
"Being a brewer is a lot of cleaning," Dustin Boyer quips. "It's all got to be clean to work properly. Beer is the safest thing to drink."
A graduate of Southport High School, he started out waiting on tables at Rock Bottom and came in on his days off to help brewmaster Clay Robinson, who took him on as an assistant. Following three years as an assistant brewer in Colorado, Boyer returned to Indianapolis as head brewer in October 2004.
Despite being part of a chain, the beers he brews here are his own personal recipes. He points out that every brewer has a menu that covers the range of stylistic categories to satisfy the choices patrons expect. "We've got one for every customer, hopefully."
Raccoon Red, an Irish Red ale, is almost perfectly balanced between a sweet, soft malt and tangy, citrus hop. It's a tad more out front than the medium-bodied Sugar Creek Pale ale with its less imposing bitterness. This, and his choice wheat, are the most aromatic. The Pale ale with its piney nose and the White with a banana cream pie and clove nose appeal are truly exciting. While Boyer creates a different style of Stout with each brew, each is a perfect companion for a dessert that Rock Bottom's kitchen features.