"Beer in Colorado" is dedicated to that divine elixir born of the marriage of water, malt, hops, and yeast as interpreted
by those living in Colorado. Follow the author as he visits every brewery in the state, creates experimental homebrews,
attends beer festivals, tries interesting beers from around the world, and spreads the good word of beer. Prost!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Beer Not in Colorado: Homecoming

You can go to a five-star restaurant but you’ll always long for mama’s cookin’.  You can vacation in exotic locales but you’ll always sleep sounder in your own bed.  No matter where life takes you, home is home and it will always, to some degree, draw you back.
Life has taken me to Colorado and the state has treated me well ever since I moved here in 2004: the beer is great, the skiing superb, and the people active and friendly.  I have no plans to uproot and replant myself outside Colorado and I suspect that my dying breath—hopefully an event for the distant future—will occur within her borders.  But, for all my blustering about the superiority of Colorado, this is not technically “home” for it was not the snow-capped peaks that graced my newborn eyes but rather the corn and soybean choked fields of Indiana.
It only takes a cursory glance to see why I chose to move out of Indiana and resettle in my current location: Colorado trumps Indiana in almost every category.  However, my Hoosier blood incites me to defend my home state in a number of isolated situations.  The Rockies, Nuggets, and Avalanche may be my favorite teams in their respected sport but you’ll never see me at Invesco Field unless the Colts are in town.  You can keep 3OH!3 and The Fray, I’ll stick with John Mellencamp and Michael Jackson.  Red Dawn was a kick-ass movie in nearly all respects but Hoosiers is the best sports film ever made.  Period.  I have a foot in both states and, although I think it was a wise choice to move to Colorado, my heart still goes out to Indiana.
It is this unshakeable devotion that coaxed me back to Indianapolis this past weekend to run the OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon (colloquially, the Indy Mini) for the fourth time.  Sure, it would be easier to just run a local half-marathon but then I’d be missing out on America’s largest 13.1 mile race as well as the local flavor that comes out in droves to serenade runners as they make their way to, around, and back from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  There just isn’t a half-marathon in the country that has comparable fanfare with the Indy Mini.  And the best way to re-carb after a good day’s run?  Beer. 
After the race, I took a deservedly long shower, clothed myself (complete with Ranger IPA trucker cap), loaded in the car with my mom and Nic, and headed out to three breweries that were recommended to me by a local contact.  Regrettably, after my run, I was tired in both body and mind and thus did not have the energy to take meticulous tasting notes.  Please forgive the superficial nature of the following reports.
Our first destination was Sun King Brewing Co., a brewery that looks like a converted bowling alley.  It is one of those industrial-style breweries wherein the actual brewing operations take place in the same room as the tasting area.  They gave tours but it seemed unnecessary since all the equipment was in plain sight just thirty feet away.
When we walked through the door we received four tickets and two unattached beer can tops: four tickets for four tasters of the year-round brews and two can tops for two tasters of the seasonal offerings.  I think the tasters could have been twice as big and they’d still be a reasonable size for patron and business alike but it was nice to try everything that they had to offer without getting rip-roaring drunk.  It’s not as if Sun King is readily available in Denver so I was happy to drink my way through their whole line-up and still be sound-of-mind enough to enjoy the two upcoming breweries.

My thoughts on the tasters:

Osiris Pale Ale (5.6% ABV, 50 IBUs): Osiris has medium-level bitterness.  It falls somewhere in the top-middle in my personal hierarchy of best pale ales.  This is a great beer for warm—not hot—weather.
Wee Mac Scottish Ale (5.3% ABV, 23 IBUs): I oftentimes avoid Scottish ales because I enjoy highly-hopped, sparingly malted beers.  Scottish ales are the polar opposite.  Knowing my apprehension towards Scottish ales, I suppose it diminishes the honor a bit when I say Wee Mac is the third best of that particular style I’ve ever had after Great Divide’s Claymore and Odell’s 90 Shilling.  Like the annual Boston “R” Pronouncing Contest, there’ll inevitably be a winner but there isn’t much prestige in the victory because, c’mon, look at the competition.  Wee Mac’s not the best beer in the world but it is one of the best in its field.
Sunlight Cream Ale (5.3% ABV, 20 IBUs): Like the name suggests, there is an evident creaminess to this beer.  It is a very light beer with a milk-like consistency that is great for summertime drinking.
Bitter Druid ESB (5.8% ABV, 43 IBUs): Of the four year-round beers, Bitter Druid has the biggest hop bite.  Although Osiris has a higher IBU level, it just didn’t taste as intense as Bitter Druid.  Though bitter, it does not overwhelm the palate and the drinker can enjoy this beer without much grimacing or shivering.
Inside Sun King
I also had two German-style seasonal ales (an alt and an amber) but, as I mentioned, my brain was on power save mode and I can’t remember any details about those two beers.  I do remember them being quite good, though. 
The next stop on the brewery tour was Thr3e Wise Men Brewing Company.  Unlike Sun King, Thr3e Wise Men is more polished; it has a formal bar and restaurant area and all brewing equipment is safely displayed behind glass.  Having opened on January 17, 2011, Thr3e Wise Men is also an exceptionally new brewery to hit the Indy beer scene. 
Thr3e Wise Men

Inside Thr3E Wise Men
Falconer's Flight
 I ordered the seasonal Falconer’s Flight Black IPA (8% ABV, 32 IBUs) which was very tasty with its mix of intense hops and roasted malts.  It doesn’t seem like the right season for this type of seasonal beer what with the dark malts but one mustn’t fall into the trap of being too persnickety about pairing beers with the time of year.  Falconer’s Flight may be a bit dark for May drinking but it’s still an appetizing brew regardless of the climate.  Besides that, the high hop character is spring-like so, really, Falconer’s Flight has qualities that are half winter orientated and half spring orientated.  
If Thr3e Wise Men is the new kid on the block then the Broad Ripple Brewpub is the grizzled veteran.  Broad Ripple Brewpub, having opened in 1990, is Indiana’s first brewpub and it is the oldest operating brewery in the state. 
We sat on the patio because the weather was remarkably pleasant for Indiana in May.  I ordered the E.S.B. Extra Special Bitter (5.6% ABV) and enjoyed the sweet yet bitter drink as the Midwestern sun warmed my cheeks and bicyclists meandered down the uncongested road.  This is a true neighborhood hangout.

A basketball hoop=sure sign you're in Indiana
Although I’ve spent 18 years of my life living in Indiana, I was almost completely unaccustomed to Hoosier beers until this past weekend (I was quite familiar with the defunct Warbird Brewing Company from Ft. Wayne but nothing beyond that).  There may be fewer breweries gracing the cornfields than there are the mountains but the breweries I visited in Indy still represent only a small percentage of all breweries in my home state.  Still, I feel as though I now have a basic understanding of what beer in Indiana is all about.  Indiana is not the beer hotspot that Colorado is—not by a long shot—but I wouldn’t be surprised if a national player rose from the ranks of Hoosier beer in ten years or so.  Three Floyds Brewing Co. in Munster is already a superstar in certain circles; which of its in-state brethren will join it at the top?


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