To many, Indiana is a flyover state full of cornfields, basketball, and, until a few years ago, one half of the Manning brothers. But Midwest beer geeks know that the Hoosier state holds a secret stash of exceptional breweries. These breweries are clustered in three areas: north along Lake Michigan (including the outskirts of Chicago), central around Indianapolis, and throughout the rolling hills of the south.
As with many states, Indiana gives birth to scores of breweries each year. The list below represents the pick of the litter. The first three breweries are Indiana’s big guns—these breweries are the largest in the state and represent Indiana well. The last two are smaller, niche breweries that showcase the creativity of smaller Hoosier brewers. Brugge is part of the (relatively) old guard, but takes bold risks with the styles they produce. 18th Street Brewery is the best in class of Indiana’s newest breweries and foretells a strong future for Hoosier-state craft beers.
Why you should go: 3 Floyd’s motto, “It’s Not Normal,” exemplifies their aggressive, in-your-face brews that consistently top American craft lists. The brewpub, just south of Chicago, is a stop on many a beer geek’s bucket list. Here, a snarky wait staff serves up metal music and a meat-oriented menu (recently, they have begun to accommodate vegetarians, but most of their entrees are variations of meat topped with meat, served with a side of meat). The brewpub, although popular, is small, so get there early and expect a wait. Just passing through? Pick up a few bottles from their to-go counter to the left of the pub.
What to try: Dark Lord is the brewery’s best known seasonal. Released annually at a one-day event that is both massive and notoriously poorly organized, the beer is worth the effort. Dark Lord is pure sorcery—a cauldron of dark roasts and chewy pit fruits. Missed this year’s event? The beer cellars well, so find a geek sitting on a vertical and try one with a couple of years on it. Want something fresher? Zombie Dust is a highly sought after Citra-hopped bomb with bright, tropical notes. Or seek out Gumballhead, named after a Chicago-area graphic novel character. This crisp and assertive ale redefines wheat beers.
Why you should go: Recognize the name? Upland’s brews made frequent cameos on NBC’s ? Parks and Recreation. But when visiting Upland, leave the Pawnee jokes at home. Upland actively works to change the way people see its state. The brewery’s name references the pre-historic glaciers that flattened Indiana’s central and northern regions but left the southern part of the state unscathed. Bloomington and points south are unexpectedly hilly, offering ample hiking and biking. For this reason, Upland calls its corner of the state “The Other Midwest,” promoting an outdoor lifestyle in a midsized college town, even hosting its own cycling team.
What to try: Upland holds lotteries throughout the year for their sour beers—barrel-aged blends or lambics brewed with fruits like persimmon or kiwi. The beers are tart and not for the uninitiated, but compete with some of the best sours on the market. Want to pucker up to something different? Try Teddy Bear Kisses, a chocolaty Imperial Stout to snuggle up with on a cold night. Or try one of their core offerings—Dragonfly IPA is a solid, go-to version of a Midwest IPA.
Why you should go: Sun King opened in 2009 with the goal of becoming Indianapolis’ brewery. Six years later, the brewery dominates the entire state. Co-owners Clay Robinson and Dave Colt, with the help of three other partners, started the independent brewery after years of brewing recipes for a multi-state chain establishment. Today, they have maxed out capacity and are building an additional production facility. Sun King only distributes in Indiana, but made national news in 2014 with their “legally required food menu.” The menu, which includes a $10 Hot Pocket and a glass of $5 Rehydrated Condensed Milk, is a response to a state regulation requiring food service in Indiana taprooms.
What to try: Sunlight Cream Ale, the brewery’s flagship beer, is an approachable, easy-to-drink brew for those new to craft or those who relish well-made versions of nearly extinct styles. Osiris, another core beer, is a sessionable but aggressively hopped pale ale at the other end of the spectrum. Want something more colorful? Visit the taproom and ask for the King’s Reserve Series. These limited release beers highlight the best in brewing (and in beer names), with gems like Cherry Busey or Stupid Sexy Flanders.
Why you should go: Brugge Brasserie is unlike any brewery in the state—and possibly any brewery outside of Belgium. The gastropub adds a Belgian-inspired note to the hip Broad Ripple area, home to three other breweries: Broad Ripple Brewpub, Triton and Thr3e Wise Men. At Brugge, the food is as much a celebration as the beer. Start with a medley of locally made charcuteries and imported cheeses. Then, order the moules-frites, which come with 2 pounds of Prince Edward Island mussels and a cone of thick-cut fries. Try the mussels in a classic Belgian broth, or go bold, with flavors like citron, red curry, or blue cheese.
What to try: Start with Pooka. Brugge makes the oddly named sour with boysenberries, giving it a beautiful pink hue. Tart and refreshing, Pooka’s acidic bite cuts through fatty pâtés or salames, complementing the flavors of each. Pair your mussels with Tripel de Ripple, a 10% ABV Belgian-style tripel named after the brewery’s ‘hood. Still thirsty? Try one of the selections from Outliers Brewery (Ted Miller owns both Brugge and Outliers). Outlier beers offer more traditional American craft styles that pair well with fries.
Why you should go: 18th Street Brewery is an upstart story that exemplifies the new crop of breweries challenging the established order. Brewer Drew Fox began as a homebrewer, made friends at Chicago-based Pipeworks and Spiteful breweries, and then, brewing on others’ equipment, established his own gypsy label. After a successful Kickstarter campaign, Fox built his own brick-and-mortar brewery in Gary, Indiana. Within a few weeks of opening, Fox garnered Ratebeer.com’s coveted #1 New Brewer in Indiana for 2013. Two years later, the brewer hosted a Barrel Massacre event to rival 3 Floyd’s Dark Lord Day and is building a larger production facility to double production.
What to try: Sinister Double IPA picked up Ratebeer.com’s award for Best Beer in Indiana last year. This 9% ABV bomb uses Falconers Flight, Zythos and Cascade hops to create a nose exploding with mango and pineapple. However, it is 18th Street’s sweet stout, Hunter, which is making the brewery famous. Like a classical composer, Fox continually develops variations on the Hunter theme. Look for barrel-aged versions infused with exotic flavors like cherries, coconut, coffee, or orange.