An Autumnal Exploration – September 2021.
I need to unwind for a second.
Inhaling deeply the damp morning air. Summer on the very verge of Fall, I sit in my car out in front of Heritage Outpost on Wilson Avenue. My cup of light roasted drip from Guatemala, and my multicolor pastel sprinkled doughnut. Like an inverse cabbie after a long shift, I find refuge in my car after a life clockout. I just want to maximize the off time. I dunk my sprinkled doughnut.
I only dunk alone. I do this because if no one is around, well, does a dunk actually take place?
With my long cut sixty gauge Maduro and my pastry-tinged coffee, I hopped on Lakeshore Drive southbound for the trek to Indianapolis, Indiana. Blublockers fully rocked and windows down on the hatchback, I blasted “You’re Not Ready” by The Motion Epic while cruising. Nothing screams “dad on the loose” more than new retrowave bar rock, hot coffee, a perfect cigar, and a turquois lakeside view. A sax solo to make Sonny Crocket melt like butter.
Planning, from inception to execution for a beer trip is a dynamic outlay. Some key places you just don’t end up visiting, no matter how heavily your heart was set on it. Some venues are out of business. Some bars let you down, and some taprooms raise the bar. Some places you don’t even find out exist until well after you’ve departed the mainstay of leisure (i.e.: Loom).
What’s more, the spark is discovering other places while living the trip. That’s my axiom. Usually from word of mouth while hanging out beneath a vast tap list – and those experiences become the catalyst keeping you going. Barring some nuance, which will be stated below, it’s the mechanism that wets the appetite and the reason I love doing this stuff. You get to craft a whole new version of your trip in real time.
The idea was to hit Teays River Brewing in Lafayette at the opening buzzer. I wanted to get lunch and a few beers and then head to Sugar Creek Malt Company in Lebanon in order to become best friends with the owner, ending in a surefire restraining order.
Heading down I-65 after crossing over the border to Indiana I noticed the “Hell is Real” billboard display to my left. I thought enough of it to snap a shot for a group text fodder. It’s curious how the State of Michigan’s branding billboards “Pure Michigan” as you cross the border, really drive home a desire to spend time there. Indiana’s “Hell is Real” billboards, well, lets just say entering the Crossroads of America felt dark and caused a sense of void and a vibe of loneliness.
The billboard did flash me back a bit to the fear mongering I grew up under in church regimes and also reminded me a little of why I’m in therapy. When an idea of eternal torture is a bedrock of what your family believes in for generation after generation, you tend to grow up to own some baggage as an adult.
I let those ideas resolve and dissolve while coasting down the country highway for an hour, living that traffic-free lifestyle. Thinking back, the foreshadowing should have been clear. But I never saw it coming.
There it was. A wall of traffic as dense as a black hole, sucking me out of peaceful orbit in to an abrupt, gridlocked Tetris game of semi-trucks and tractor-trailers as far as the naked eye could see. I halted with everyone else to a dead standstill.
I sat. Both southbound interstate lanes were blocked.
Recalibrating Googlemaps over and over, every click of refresh, the commute time yielded longer and longer. 56 minutes. 67 minutes. 76 minutes.
After pondering the math on how long it might take me to get to my destination at zero miles per hour, realizing the answer was in infinite spans, and being like “fuck it”, I did a U-turn through the interstate median grass and jetted back north to exit on to the first backwoods country road I could locate.
The thing about living in the year 2021 is that every vehicle operator heading anywhere even remotely close to Indy had the same general idea due to their phone apps. Inevitably I ended up right back in dead standstill traffic, but this time on gravel roads surrounded by farmland. For hours, any brilliant idea I had to circumvent, ended in stalemate as all roads and cars funneled toward the Deathstar in a zombie tractor beam. At a certain point, sadly, as long as my car was at least pointing due south I felt productive.
After a few hours, entropy finally took effect as traffic began to scatter to the outskirts of Bumpkinland and I ended up traversing small town living. Adding in the hour shift to Eastern time, I was forced to cancel my visit to Sugar Creek. As the bottleneck finally opened up, depressingly enough there would be no witnessing of the Nordic malting house and there would be no frolicking through the barley fields.
I passed a few sad, limp “trump 2024” flags, sagging like baggy old men who fell asleep in the shower. One of those flaccid pennants was placed even higher than the United States of America flag.
The truth hit me like a full circle nightmare. I felt like I was grabbed by the neck and forced to see an area that prizes contradiction and illiteracy, while funnily enough, knowing it had to materialize on some plane, my only plan was to cruise safely past it with blinders on. That wasn’t to be. This is a segment of the country who lived through the trump tenure and actually thought, “hey that was pretty good!”.
It’s a world that exists. And you guessed it:
Hell is Real.
A two hour idea took me over five hours, but I was still determined to hit Lafayette to get lunch. As I spied in the distance, beyond the white, swirling windmills, a bustling southbound interstate reflecting like an oasis in the desert, I finally felt the pressure release. I took a breath.
At that point, not unlike the long lost Teays River itself, the only thing that could keep me from plopping down at that bar and enjoying an artfully crafted beer was a herd of wooly mammoth riding a mile-thick glacier.
Getting out of the car in the Teays River Brewing parking lot was something of an exercise in dad straining. Entire body sore from sitting for over five hours, I sauntered in to the public house. I took a seat at the forty-foot long oak bar carved from one single tree. With all windows opened and a glorious breeze sending notes of smoked applewood my way, I ordered the smokehouse pulled pork. I asked for various IPAs to keep the barbeque sweetness in an echo chamber. Bouncing around bitter and pine, after that car ride down, I reveled in that house-made barbeque sauce.
I rounded out the experience with a Märzenbier and a few closeout farewells to strangers I had been engaging.
I talked to the head brewer about any recommendations he may have for Indy. He shot back within one second, hair flowing in the breeze, and in pristine passion, “Black Circle Brewing”. I had not come across this one in my research. Based on his stoicism and seriousness, I dutifully filed it away, knowing that I would seek it out.
My place of stay, Bottleworks Hotel on Mass Ave at 10th Street, is the former Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Indianapolis, and at one point the largest bottling plant in the entire god damn world. Two billion Cokes per year per twelve acres of three-dimensional space.
Bottleworks District, a mixed-use campus of white terra cotta exterior and 1920s Art Deco at every inch seemed to scream prohibition era and jazz. In a mindblowing blend of one hundred years passed and luxury sprawled over beautiful terrazzo and subway tile, I got to explore. Patterns you’d never know were previously discolored due to forty years of nonstop cigarette smoking, and exposed I-beams of steel giving a sense of industrial uses past.
Color schemes in Coke bottle green and hotel room doors of vibrant, iconic Coke can Christmas red felt dazzling as I ventured the lobby and basement and each individual floor. A wall mosaic of vintage cameras and original photographs on the walls.
Garage Food Hall, the old truck loading, logistics and distribution center for Coca-Cola is a now hub for local proprietors and provisions – just across the cobblestone alleyway from the hotel.
I did wander about the string pinsetter bowling alley and vintage 1980s arcade one night, but I didn’t get to spend much time at the food hall due the hours of operation.
At this point it seems to be open after coffee time and closed before cocktail time. But it’s new. I read at the time of my stay, Bottleworks has only been open for a few months. I saw areas of the hotel that aren’t even operating yet. A library, and a really intriguing future cocktail venue called Sundry & Vice out of Over-the-Rhine, Cincinnati.
God I wish that had been open.
My delayed commute time on one end, and early taproom closing times on the other, squeezed out multiple ideas I had in terms of getting drinks and scouting about that initial eve. Roaming too far from Bottleworks only threatened to pare down my efficiency even more. So I strolled around local. Heading down College Ave, the first taproom I came across was Saint Joseph Brewery and Public House.
I was just north of Lockerbie Square when I came across the brewery situated in a beautiful two story brick, deconsecrated former Catholic Church building. The Archbishop started that joint in the early 1800s and shuttered it one hundred and fifty years later.
As twilight engaged, an official first beer of the Indianapolis Beerhundred was placed before me as communion. I was off. I took part in the sacramental offering to the gods by way of India Pale Ale. Bread and wine as one in a holy duality, a Eucharist was elevated in a liturgical, transubstantial shaker pint under trusses and archways. A living oath to Odin and all the poets and scholars who imbibed there before me in the pews and balconies, I toasted.
After tossing my due in to the offering tray, I walked further down the lane to Metazoa Brewing Company. There are a lot of dogs there. Loyal pups abound in an open concept engagement with skyline views.
Back toward Mass Ave I snuck in to Livery. The nice thing about being on a solo front is that you don’t need reservations to hop up to an empty barstool. And you only need one barstool. Walking by a velvet red booth I noticed pinwheel chicharrones set out on the tables for snacking. I took this as a wagon wheel nod to the former horse stable, previously without electricity or plumbing, in which Livery now breathes.
The main level bar with its brightly upholstered half-clamshells was at capacity, so I ascended a staircase in hopes of finding a second bar. One beat in the playbook I’ve put together: if you see a staircase, please ascend or descend it. You’ll never regret it.
I discovered an additional bar on top of the Latin inspired, beautiful bi-story former 1890s carriage house. Looking around, the series of cubes stacked and intertwined, peaked some architectural prowess.
I ordered a Respect your Elders. This Circle City take on an Old Fashion utilized Woodford Reserve, elderflower, lemon, mint and Peychaud’s bitters. I definitely got lamb empanadas. The cool cucumber salsa to the side lent an offset to the heat.
During conversation with strangers I pitched the evening up toward a capping with a Chocolate Rosa – a drink involving pomegranate, and poblano to play Twister with my empanadas.
Livery was monumental as a landing for my night. The pristine ambiance of a secret upstairs bar, tucked under the rafters with diffused lighting, clinking of cutlery and glassware and conversation in all peripheries tied it together. It had been forever since I’ve been anywhere. No television screens, no dogs, and no college sports stuff. Simply the Pure.
My plan for one last mezcal based highball potion was upended abruptly by my offending of someone at the bar. Now this is a phenomenon I’ve witnessed before. It’s very strange: Someone finds that you’re visiting from out of town, they feel annoyance by the places you want to visit, and they get offended when they can’t change your plans. Mind you this is always someone who you’ve just met and it’s always someone intoxicated. They offer up an unsolicited, unrequested, stupid idea.
This is in contrast to my previously stated workflow of asking people for input on local breweries. The inquiries don’t come with cluelessness on my part. Part of my education is understanding who is knowledgeable. Namely – I know by inherent feeling whom I should ask and whom I would never even consider asking.
I told this particular person that no, I did not in fact plan to drink in Broadripple until 2 AM. The reason I gave them was because I was 41. They seemed further entrenched in their anger by the idea that 41 is somehow too old to drink in Broadripple until 2 AM.
Of course I doubled down. That’s just who I am.
As I paid my tab: “Ok so I’m not actually saying that I’m physically too old to drink in Broadripple until 2 AM. What I’m telling you is that your suggestion sounds like a horrible thing to do and I would never want to do it. I did not ask you for your advice and my life is kind of a mind fuck right now so I’m actually looking forward to sleeping in my hotel room soon.”
Just then, at that very moment, tension palpable, my friend called me on the telephone. He was magically outside waiting for me to jump off the rooftop like Marty McFly trying to escape an irate, alternate timeline Biff Tannon.
Unexpectedly and unbeknownst to me, he was lying in waits below, in a hovercraft-converted DeLorean – gullwing door popped, ready to whisk me away. I didn’t ask questions. I just got in and we flew the fuck off.
It was pushing the midnight hour and Hoosier Capital businesses began to close up shop. We pivoted in to Upland Fountain Square within the shotclock and sidled up for a crisp pour of Champagne Velvet. A true pre-Prohibition style Pilsener of distinction. A lager without scruples, mind you.
The Beer with the Million Dollar Flavor.
Unavailable in Chicago as of this writing, the vessel of Champagne Velvet – a golden calf…and idol with nowhere for off notes to hide, was a stratospheric and memorable peak to officially and successfully close out the first night of the Indianapolis Beerhundred.
In the morning I sought out Coat Check Coffee, a paragon of the craft in an albeit for me, surprising location in the Athenæum Building. Built in the German Renaissance Revival, this complex was an historical hub for German immigrants who gathered and lived there to start up political, social, and musical clubs in order to preserve German heritage.
When I did find it, after pausing in the lobby unsure of where to go, and then taking an elevator up one floor, I learned that Coat Check Coffee is located, well, in the coat check closet. When the brilliancy clicked, I knew I was where I needed to be.
Armed with a muffin under a blueberry sky, and a smoldering cast iron witch’s caldron of black, locally roasted pourover coffee, steam plumes rising to blend with the clouds above, I set out for a walk. With a biodome level of perfectly dialed-in weather, I had hours to do nothing but wander an enigmatic urban landscape, and I couldn’t think of a better way to relax. My next commitment wouldn’t be until a noon meet up with two friends at 18th Street Brewery Taproom on the Eastside.
I journeyed in awe through calming and historic Lockerbie Square. Cobblestone streets welcomed me as I surveyed and made reconnaissance of gorgeous Victorian houses in Federal, Italianate, and Queen Anne style architecture. On a meticulously laid brick sidewalk, I passed the museum home of Hoosier poet James Whitcomb Riley.
Just north, in what I would later learn to be Mass Ave Cultural District, I stumbled upon Kaffiene Coffee on Fulton Street. Hidden away in an industrial corridor I never would have noticed it if I wasn’t actively looking everywhere like a wide eyed lemur in search of edible snails, refusing to leave any stone unturned. My timing was impeccable, too, because I was just finishing up my first coffee.
Kaffiene reminded me of my sixth grade science lab classroom. Coziness blanketed in security. Pyrex beaker flasks, wooden furniture from the 1960s they just hadn’t ever thrown away, and a barista every bit as friendly as Mr. Caufield. I left in warmth, wrapped in appreciation that I had serendipitously fallen in to a café with such a high regard for the culinary artistry of coffee.
On foot I skipped eastward beneath the interstate in a hopscotch match involving a stone tossed too far. Zigzagging about Woodruff Place, crossing over Pogue’s Run (a two and a half mile-long urban creek, which mostly flows underneath the city), and I hit a garage sale.
I sauntered on along 10th Street. I started to notice a few places on my list like Beholder and Mayfair Taproom. Places that look extremely intriguing, but I just didn’t get time to explore. If the brunch gods allow, I some day will.
I Instagram DM’d Joey Potts, the original 18th Street Brewery label artist, who had recently moved to Indy, and I invited him to hang out at the taproom. He declined, of course, yet he offered up a recommendation nugget of gold, sealing a deal:
Black Circle Brewing. The second mention of this establishment from a second reputable source.
Bookended between the rambling mansions of Woodruff Place and the quirky bungalows of Irvington, my hike ended at 18th Street Brewery Taproom at high noon.
It was a teatime duel between my longing for solo relaxation, and getting down to beer business with two of my closest friends. I met one chap in the parking lot and we stood in solemn reverence, saluting the “Eastside Patio Love” mural to the rear. Another friend showed up after heading in from Fort Wayne, and we chose a table to feast on a meal of luxury under the trumpet blasts during the Rise of the Angels.
White and gray mosaic tile pieces spell out “18th Street” over the tap handles, reminding me of something that might appear below the Pink Line in Pilsen. Columns of staggering 18th Street spirit bottles line the vestibule of souls, on wait for the next chalice of manna. Skeleton paintings grace the walls in what I can only describe as an old Hardee’s location, in the best way possible. The floor tile gives it away.
There wasn’t as much heavy metal music playing so much as late 90s dance and pop. I can’t be certain but at one point I think I heard Blues Traveler. Drew Fox was not around at this time and the person waiting tables, apparently a Barbie Girl in a Barbie World, may have taken advantage of this by way of a Sugar Ray and Smashmouth-heavy playlist. God knows if she earned her way in to working for one of the best breweries in the world, then she must have the right to play what jamz she may, regardless of branding.
I don’t have any complaints. But I can acknowledge when the vibe is a little different than what it typically would be. Especially after having spent an ungodly amount of time at 18th Street Gary, and 18th Street Hammond, as well as Sour Note and the distillery. Not to mention awkwardly stalking Drew Fox at any local pub or beer event I happen to see him at.
The flow was off. But we paid our dues to Local One-Eight.
We took a ride to Bier Brewery up on 65th Street and we each indulged in an individual pour of Pumpkin Ale. Liquid pumpkin pie, man. Take it or leave it. Thirty minutes prior, I was listening to “Barbie Girl” at 18th Street Brewing. Sacred or profane, at that point in life I really just felt like anything could go. I no longer saw a basis.
In continuing a survey of Indianapolis beer, we carried the goblet and crossed the seal of the sacred Order of the Phoenix in to the original Sun King Brewery back on College Ave. They had a Flanders style Oud Bruin called Cherry Busey, aged in a plethora of barrels on Montmorency cherries, and blended. I’ll be god damned if I didn’t buy a round of beers named after Gary Busey for my crew and anyone else in the general vicinity.
Soon we found ourselves cozying up to a table at Kumas Corner Indy to something brutal on the record player tuned down to drop C. The familiarity abounded and for the first time since the pandemic encapsulated my reality, I was able to order a High on Fire.
Pineapple, medium temperature, red bell pepper and some sort of spread, indulgent flavors illuminated by the fires from the depths of Hell (which is real, according to Indiana). This is all on pillows of soft pretzel, mind you.
Happiness and sorrow enmeshed – together they assemble. As one sits alone, across from you in a vacant chair, never forget the other is asleep upon your bed. Am I only discussing a hamburger?
I paired my dripping monstrosity with a Nosteratu from Great Lakes, a seasonal imperial red ale as thick as blood and as vibrant as the harvest moon. Only the elusive vampire itself could come about transmorphing from a silver wolf to hide the moon from the sunlight in a crimson glow.
I took one of the more unsuccessful Uber rides of my life that night back to the wrong hotel. It was one of those rides where a few minutes in, it registers that the car wasn’t the same make, model or color of the car described in the app. At a certain point you understand that you’re in some car you don’t belong inside of, and the idea of being murdered, well, even as a full grown man – it does cross your mind. What defense do I have to some guy pulling out a revolver? I didn’t think to bring my brass knuckles or my stiletto switchblade. I was MORE than happy to get out at the wrong hotel.
I walked back to Bottleworks from wherever the guy dropped me, curious about who paid for that ride.
Before heading to sleep I stopped at the hotel bar in Modita for a remarkable cocktail called Season Tickets. Bourbon over some sort of floral concoction with notes of baked cobbler and stone fruit. A skee-ball ticket attached to the rim by a tiny clothespin snatched ever so swiftly from a cherub’s diaper. My ticket to enter Dreamland to slumber aloft the cherubim who would drape above, golden silk bedding in a land where no toddlers wail.
Will I be awoken by a phonecall of terror?
I cannot say
The skee-ball ticket to Dreamland gets you in
Only not to stay
By the final day I had decided on excess. I thought it well to hit two coffee places right in a row again. I woke up and pajama’d myself down the elevator to Blue Collar Coffee on the main floor of the hotel.
I bided my time in getting ready, and took in the full appreciation of the large and radial, ancient alien copper UFO of a showerhead. Raining down its cleansing waters, it dispersed over me like I was showering in the middle of a rainforest.
Paper cups? Nah. I drank bottled water and Zombie Dust from champagne flutes in that room because that was how the fuck I was rolling on my final morning of the Indianapolis Beerhundred.
Running my hands along the vivid maroon velvet pool table in admiration of its craft, I made my way through the former filler machine room-turned-hotel lobby. I checked out of Bottleworks and I hopped in my car. Sipping coffee while heading over to get coffee from Provider Coffee on 16th Street.
Provider has the same owners Coat Check Coffee and they’re in the Tinker House Event Space, a building historic in its own right. With tall ceilings, exposed structural masonry and polished brass, the owners of these places do know what they are doing.
Coffee and long drinks in a curated list. I wasn’t able to spend much time at Provider but it felt like a venue I would not only frequent, but also move closer to, if I lived in Indy.
I swooped passed a duckpin bowling alley, directly in to Square Cat vinyl in Fountain Square. Marching right by the old pirate traditionals, boogie records, psych rock and Hymns of German folklore – I have tunnel vision with the subgenres I get in to for years on end. I lost track as I flipped through records of accord to the tune of New Wave, Shoegaze, Chillwave, Synthwave, and the obligatory search for the few hip hop 12-inch records on my list that never seems to shorten.
We had a rendezvous at Love Handle, the very place that use to occupy the venue where 18th Street Indy is right now. Waffles and fried chicken and house made hot sauce to blend with a tall boy of Daredevil IPA under a fascinating collective of thrift store decor. Throw in an additional coffee? I was on another playing field.
So…Brewdog is a bit of an anomaly for my beer friends and I. On one hand we seem to perpetually be stuck in the glory days of 2011 where over-the-top was king – where Brewdog was making outlandish beers and one-upping everyone and collaborating with 3floyds and stuff. On the other hand we can’t turn a blind eye to the beer culture controversy that punk rock capitalist Scotsmen Brewdog always seems to be in.
Regardless of how apologetic I am these days, in an experimental guise we wanted to see if my friend could reveal his Brewdog tattoo at Brewdog and in turn have both of us hoisted on to shoulders and showered with applause. Or at least be given a fun acknowledgment. We’ve talked about it for years.
I get it. My friend has a Brewdog tattoo. But here’s the thing; in 2010, a friend of ours secured four bottles of Tactical Nuclear Penguin, a 32% ABV beer. That’s not a typo. At one point it was the beer with the highest alcohol by volume in the entire world, and they only brewed enough to fill four hundred bottles. You might imagine the demand for these at the time. They each came wrapped in brown paper and every individual one had a unique, hand-drawn penguin cartoon.
The experience at the time of uncorking and letting flow those bottles into four, full 12oz glasses in a Lincoln Park apartment is one of massive, adorable ignorance. Quickly realizing that the beer was basically blended malt whiskey, we crafted zip lock bag funnels and returned the 64 proof liquid to the bottles. Re-corked and re-caged, only to be transported home on the Red Line. Certainly a hilarious memory for us, and it helped solidify a four-man crew.
My friend showed up to a beer gathering in my apartment one night in late 2012 with a tattoo of an original penguin drawing from the paper TNP bag. A pure and noble true-life commitment to a crew, and a vow to never dime and never sway until tossed in a coffin. Switching crews? Look, we’re not about that life. We’ve gone down with bigger ships in the past.
After flashing the TNP tat to the maître d’ we envisioned the Indianapolis Brewdog bar becoming like a championship locker room after a 2007 Colts Superbowl with Tactical Nuclear Penguin, and Sink the Bismarck being sprayed all over us in glorious praise. $20,000 taxidermy squirrel bottles of End of Days being popped in our honor in a celebratory spirit.
In an anticlimactic reality, we sat at a table and the waitress approached only to ask us if we were “okay with hops”.
There would be no unveiling of the tattoo that day.
Where dwell the Ghouls
By each spot the most unholy
In each nook most melancholy
There the traveller meets, aghast,
Sheeted Memories of the Past
-Edgar Allan Poe
Approaching Black Circle Brewing at Refinery46, and hearing the brutal melodies of live Norwegian black metal echoing from the neighboring industrial coldness was enough to inspire anticipation in a rudimentary carnival of suspense as our feet did drag the gravel ground.
Lonely cemeteries contain graves full of silent bones. But the living dead? We dance upon the ash during the Autumnal Equinox – the very spark of the Fall season in the Northern Hemisphere.
At 2:21 PM the alignment occurred as I was sipping a rye IPA as bitter and as cutting as Mister Ouija’s planchette, beneath colossal walls of horror VHS tapes. Red neon and purple black light illuminated the metal brutality on stage while Michael Meyers slashed away on a small, grainy television behind the bar. I was home, my friend. I was home.
We talked scotch and Japanese whiskey on the back deck that day. A valuable conversation that I will always cherish with a memory of ghastly dwarves harmonizing on Ibenez Warlocks – pink eyes darting in to my being. Paranormal entities. Tools of the devil.
The Indianapolis Beerhundred was in the 200th lap of the circuit. I didn’t want to let go. My friend bought a round of Skeleton Key coffee porters and we clanked tulip glasses in cheers to a backmasked record, chanting atop a black throne. We became brothers that day. Brothers of the bloody butcher corn.
In an oracle, the VVitches of Salem sent us to Black Circle. It was meant to be from the onset, and in a testament to the subconscious mind’s ability to direct motor activity, it closed out a solo beer trip-turned crew beer voyage.
It showed me that since hell is real – my salvation, well, my salvation is beer travels and friendship.