29 April 2007

The perils of choice - Bell's Hell Hath No Fury at Shallo's

Conventional wisdom is that choice is a good thing. The more options available, the happier the person who may exercise those options, right? Well, psychologists are actually questioning this premise. In other words, they postulate that the more choices we have, the less happy we are. Just ask any New Yorker.

So that brings us to Shallo's Restaurant and Brewhouse, a beer-lover's sanctuary tucked into an inconspicuous strip mall on the extreme southern border of our beloved Naptown. As Chris has already mentioned, the beer choices at Shallo's are unbelievably impressive. Staggeringly impressive. Mind-blowingly impressive. In fact, they are so impressive that I felt a little bit of anxiety creeping in to my mind as I perused the beer menu. The thought echoing around my cranium was, "So many choices. So many choices. Hmmm...oh crap."

But then our special guest, Jim Schembre of World Class Beverages, thankfully demonstrated that the conventional wisdom about choice being good prevails. In other words, Jim showed me that the shrinks are full of dookie, at least when it comes to beer choices in Indiana. How did Jim do this? Well, aside from being a font of knowledge regarding fine malt beverages, Jim let us in on the business side of craft beers in the Hoosier State. According to Jim, the percentage of the market that craft beers hold in Indiana is minuscule compared to the markets in other states. Why? Well, there are a number of factors involved. Ultimately, it all boils down to knowledge, or lack thereof. We Hoosiers won't try what we don't know. After all, we're not a very adventurous lot. We like what is familiar to us. And, by and large, we Hoosiers are simply not knowledgeable about craft brews because they're not available in very many places in this state.

Fortunately, this is changing as more Indiana liquor stores and bars venture into the craft beer market, upping the collective beer knowledge of us Hoosier folk. The number of brewpubs in Indiana has also helped to broaden craft beer horizons here. In short, Jim got me to see that I should cherish the Hoosier drinking establishments that have lots of beer choices because these establishments are not many.

So, with peace of mind, I started with Brooklyn Brewery's 2006 Winter Ale. As I've noted before, BB's beers have always impressed me. However, I wasn't blown away by the Winter Ale, which is a Scottish ale according to ratebeer. It certainly was malty and dark like a Scottish ale, but it was lacking some "oomph" for lack of a better expression. Not a bad beer, but nothing special. BB's other brands are more reliable in my opinion.

Then, upon Jim's recommendation, we went for Bell's Hell Hath No Fury Ale as our feature beer. We were happy to find that Shallo's has this beer, which I'll call "the Fury," on tap. The Fury is a dark Belgian style ale that is 7.7% alcohol by volume. It's dark brown in color with a fruity nose. The prevalent aroma I got was a slighlty spicy, raisiny one. As a consequence, I expected the Fury to have a little bite to it. But to my surprise, the Fury is quite drinkable. It is what Jason would call a "chewy" beer because of the chocolaty, malty flavor, but it goes down easily. The fruity aroma also produces a raisiny flavor, yet the Fury is smooth stuff. I found that I had to slow down because I was drinking it a bit too quickly. Because of this smooth quality to the Fury, I found myself thinking of Spaten's Optimator, which is a KOTBR favorite. While the Optimator is a lager, the Fury is a pretty similar beer in my book, but is perhaps slightly fruitier in nose and taste.

My rating for the Fury: a solid 4 mugs.

So, Shallo's--you rule. Your beer selection rules. Jim Schembre and World Class Beverages rule. And unless things change soon, Shallo's is the undisputed heavyweight beer selection champion in the Hoosier State. What's more, Shallo's wears the title extremely well.

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