Saturday, June 18, 2005

One road trip, three Indiana breweries: Brugge Brasserie, Broad Ripple and Oaken Barrel.

Recently my friend Greg and I motored to Indianapolis to have lunch and beers at Brugge Brasserie, the city’s newest brewpub. Afternooncaps were taken just up the Monon Trail at the venerable Broad River Brewing Company, then on the Southside at Oaken Barrel Brewing Company in Greenwood.

Coincidentally, the city’s NUVO newspaper chose the same week as our road trip to publish a feature on breweries and craft beer in Central Indiana:

Down to Drinking, by Rita Kohn
Head to Head: The Individuality of Taste, also by Rita Kohn

We began at Indiana's newest brewery.

Brugge Brasserie

Brugge Brasserie opened just a few weeks ago. It is an ambitious effort to duplicate the food menu at a typical Belgian restaurant – mussels, crepes, stews and café snacks – and accompany these culinary highlights with house-brewed Belgian styles.

So far, the results are promising. Décor is clean and modernistic, befitting a sit-down Belgian restaurant more so than a traditional café, and the server was knowledgeable and attentive.

We began with a herring appetizer. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was composed of pickled herring chunks, something more in keeping with the Baltic shoreline than Belgium’s North Sea frontage, although in fairness, it would be almost impossible to replicate the marvelous “new” herring filets with fresh chopped onion favored in Flanders and the Netherlands.

For the main course, Greg chose Carbonade Flamande (traditional Belgian beer and beef stew), while I opted for two pounds of mussels from Prince Edward Island, Canada, with a choice (typical in Belgium) of a half-dozen broths.

The meaty mussels were served heaping over the edges of the requisite black pot, and required a careful stacking of spent shells to avoid an avalanche. I’m compelled to quibble with the presentation of the side of fries – which, as most people know by now, is Belgian national obsession.

Brugge Brasserie serves what to my experience is an inauthentic variety of seasoned fries, something rarely if ever seen in Belgium, and brings them to the table in a paper cone (seen at Belgian street stands and never at restaurants) intended for sticking into holes cut in the tabletops.

Gimmicky. The fries should be parboiled, deep-fried and brought on a plate.

The Carbonade was suitably rich and tasty stew. The version served at Brugge Brasserie comes in an oversized bowl; like goulash in Central Europe and chili in America, there as many ways to prepare and serve the dish as there are cooks.

To be a spanking new brewpub is to frequently run through house beers until supply and demand are adjusted, so only three beers were available on draft on the day of our visit, along with Lindemans Framboise. We didn’t look to see if bottled Belgians are available.

Traditional Belgian-style cloudy wheat, yellowish-orange, heavier on the coriander than the orange spicing common to the style.

After all, pilsner derivatives (Stella, Maes, Jupiler) account for more than 70% of the beer consumed in Belgium. Really. Pale golden, noble hops; fresh-tasting Germanic derivative, as intended.

Abbey Dubbel
Dark and yeasty, with typical Belgian fruity esters coming out as the ale warmed. Excellent with the mussels and the beef stew.

For such a young establishment, all the elements are in place at Brugge Brasserie for it to be a showplace of a decidedly underserved genre, although certainly there’ll be ample tweaking along the way.

To top off a fine visit, we had an interesting conversation with owner/brewer Ted Miller, who recently was interviewed at Indiana Beer.

Ted attended high school with Kevin Matalucci, longtime brewer at Broad Ripple Brewing Company, then was followed by Kevin as Broad Ripple’s brewer, so it seemed perfectly reasonable to stroll the Monon Trail two scenic blocks, dodging roller blades, bikes and noontime strollers, and visit Kevin and his beers, always great favorites of the Curmudgeon’s.

Broad Ripple Brewing Company

Founded by Yorkshire native John Hill long before microbrewing and Broad Ripple were fashionable, Broad Ripple Brewing’s English-style ambience and flavorful ales remain a benchmark of the Indy beer scene.

Kevin’s ESB and IPA are bona fide Indiana-brewed classics, maybe heavier in body than generally experienced in England, but fiendishly drinkable and tickling the palate with bountiful hops.

Kevin is a gregarious and funny man, and I always look forward to hearing his updates during my infrequent visits to Broad Ripple.

Greg had never been to the Broad Ripple brewpub, so I enjoyed telling him the story about how the quintessentially British pub interior – wood, tin ceilings, upholstered wall seating, stained glass -- actually has not been in place for a hundred years. When John Hill arrived on the scene in the late 1980’s, the building housed an auto parts store.

Oaken Barrel Brewing Company

For a pint shy of two years, Ken Price has manned the helm at Oaken Barrel’s brewhouse. He says that business is good at the restaurant and brewpub, which is strategically placed along I-65 in Greenwood, permitting southerners a final chance at good beer before traversing the painful distance back to Louisville.

Oaken Barrel is installing a larger mash tun and brew kettle, and Ken looks forward to using the increased capacity to fill more fermenters, more quickly. After a period just prior to Ken’s arrival at Oaken Barrel, when Oaken Barrel aspired to be a regional store shelf player in the Upland Brewing mold, the company has sidestepped and opted for being a brewpub that does some distribution.

A good American-style IPA and a seasonal Maibock both stood up quite nicely with a plate of well-spiced chicken wings.

Greg may or may not have eaten … count the beers, and you’ll understand why I’m glad he volunteered to drive.

1 comment:

barenada said...

Thanks for this. I've been thinking about taking a little day trip to Indy for several weeks now, and if I ever go I'll be sure to reread this entry first. Next stop, Cincy??