Drinking your way to the heartland of America

Posted: February 9, 2013 by Franz Solo in Out-of-Town Brews

Editor’s note: Franz Solo does not have much time to write these days between working full-time, being married, owning a house, and all that grown-up stuff, but he was able to find all the info he needed (and the pics to go with it) to finally recap his late-2012 trips to locales beyond ABQ. Sometimes stories, like beer, get better with age. — Stoutmeister

Our tale begins on a trip to Indianapolis for the Vikings-Colts game last fall. We first hit up Rock Bottom Brewery in downtown Indy for some pregame festivities. My expectations weren’t admittedly too high as one never knows what to expect from a national chain, but I was pleasantly surprised indeed.

The Kölsch at Rock Bottom Brewery in Indianapolis is better than most chain brewery's beers.

The Kölsch at Rock Bottom Brewery in Indianapolis is better than most chain brewery’s beers.

The Kölsch I started with was crisp and full of subtle citrus notes with a generous, hoppy finish. Over the course of the evening and a follow-up trip the next day before we headed out of town we tried the Oatmeal Stout, Red Ale, IPA, Double-Down IPA, Belgian White, and my personal favorite, Rocktoberfest.

All in all the brews were good by my standards, although I definitely saw a trend towards a lighter element for most of the beers we tried. They all held up in terms of flavor and complexity. The one thing I missed out on was a bourbon-barrel-aged porter that sadly was not on tap at the location we visited. Oh, well, perhaps next time.

Our second of the three breweries we visited was the Ram on our way back from the game. After sampling their Buttface Amber Ale (yes, that was its name) and Big Red IPA, I chose the latter. As a definite fan of American-style ales (Rogue’s American Amber Ale is a particular favorite of mine), Big Red was bold and flush with hops almost like an IPL, but more bitter, and I could well have spent the day nursing a couple of these.

We also had the aptly named Total Disorder Porter, which was decent but not all that memorable. I think this beer and some of the other darker varieties in the area were somewhat muted in taste as the more plentiful lighter beers appealed much more to the local drinking scene.

The list of standout beers at Sun King in Indianapolis.

The list of standout beers at Sun King in Indianapolis.

Our third stop was Sun King, which was a longer walk from downtown than expected, tucked away behind industrial construction and some law offices. This turned out to be well worth the walk as the taproom sits right on the main brewing and bottling floor. The scent alone was like a little slice of heaven — pungent hops with subtle malts were like an explosion of beer to the nose!

We tried the Wee Mac Scottish Brown, the Osiris Pale Ale, the Sunlight Cream Ale, and the Double Osiris Pale as well. Of the four the two standouts were the Sunlight Cream, which was incredibly smooth, and the Double Osiris Pale which was a creeper in terms of hops but a damn fine pale ale to be sure.

On the whole, the visit to Sun King left me wondering: where are all the ambers and stouts, porters and imperials? It was the wrong season, I guess. As the lone local brewery we visited, Sun King was quite decent for lighter beers; the two chain breweries offered a wider selection but lacked much in the way of over-the-top, brawny beers. This is not to say that I did not thoroughly enjoy the beers I had, just to say that I noticed the absence of experimental and non-standard varieties.

The beer flight at Upstream is reason enough to visit Omaha.

The beer flight at Upstream is reason enough to visit Omaha.

Onward to Omaha! I only had time to sample one brewery while I was there, but it was good enough to keep me coming back for a second and a third visit. Upstream is on located on the outer edge of a charming part of Omaha with cobblestone streets and many old and interesting buildings.

On my first visit we had our beer flight which went from lightest to darkest and included two seasonals and a cask-conditioned ale. Standouts from the flight were the Capitol Premium Pale, Raspberry Lager, and the Nitro Stout. In my opinion, the Premium Pale outperformed their IPA in terms of overall balance and hoppy goodness, while the Raspberry Lager was a delightful combination of fruit flavor and a very crisp beer. But for this stout lover, the Nitro was king; lush and smooth as glass, black as obsidian with a gorgeous, dark brown, creamy head.

Nitro stout and Omaha steak are about all one needs in life.

Nitro stout and Omaha steak are about all one needs in life.

I had this one on my second visit as well paired with an aptly famous Omaha steak (not a food blog I know, but damn it was simply divine). On a final note, the cask-conditioned ale I tried at Upstream was as rustic and burly as one would expect, with loads of unfiltered goodness for those who like the old-fashioned approach. I was advised before my trip not to miss The Crescent Moon Ale House with their fifty taps on my visit, but alas, it was not to be. All the more reason to go back!

In conclusion, beer is alive and well in America’s heartland. There are plenty of reasons to fill a glass or a growler or two. I suspect that my earlier musing about the lack of many burly beers in Indy may have something to do with the prevalence of many glorious BBQ joints and such burgers as Rock Bottom’s 2am (huge burger, cheese, with a hash brown patty and a fried egg on top), as a double stout may well have exploded this hungry traveler! All in all, I can definitely recommend trying out any of these heartland breweries; they served me well on my travels.

Prost!

— Franz Solo

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Comments
  1. alexisfisher says:

    Omaha is also home to Krug Park, a great bar in the hipster Benson neighborhood. KP & Crescent Moon were both on Draft’s 100 best beer bars in the US for 2013. I think Omaha is a bit behind in small/craft breweries, but a few are in the planning stages now.

    Good luck venturing out of the Old Market on your next visit to Omaha!

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