02 June 2010

KOTBR #105 - The Zoo That Is Fountain Square

There are a number of locations around Indianapolis where you can do some serious craft beer drinking. Broad Ripple comes to mind. Downtown. Mass Ave. But a favorite neighborhood for my drinking pleasure has been Fountain Square. While we recently lost our beloved Deano's Vino, several other restaurants and bars have come in with craft beer lists. The majority of joints enjoyed by the artistic and bohemian population have forgone the traditional B/M/C for craft beers from Indiana and from all over America. I would almost nominate Fountain Square as the beer capital of Indiana, except there are no breweries to be had here. Though from what we hear, that will be changing very soon.

But to take a page out of the Mark McGwire playbook, I'm not here to talk about that. I'm here to talk about the zoo that Fountain Square has. In particular the lion and rabbit exhibits.

The Red Lion Grog House is the latest British Isles-themed restaurant in Indy. The venue is a long narrow space with high, pressed tin ceilings and a long line of booth spaces along one side. The place was about 3/4 filled but the sound was very lively (i.e. I had a hard time holding a conversation with my companions). The waitresses wore plaid skirts and seemed very attentive. For food, we were only in a munching mood so we just ordered the Scotch eggs (which aren't as good as others, but still damn tasty; it's sausage around an egg, so how could you go wrong?) and the chips and spicy curry sauce (the fries were outstanding and the spicy curry sauce was top notch; if the rest of their food is as good as the fries, this place will be great).

On this night, we opted to go with Indiana beers. And the Red Lion, with their 8 taps, has 5 Indiana beers flowing: 3 Sun King and 2 Upland (plus Jenkins' Ear, which may be from Indiana, or it may not; depends on the day). We opted for the Indiana beer that went best with the Grog House's theme: Sun King's Wee Mac Scottish Ale. The clear copper/amber beer has a malty nose (I get hints of coffee) with a roasted malt flavor. Because the Sun King boys like their hops, you end up with a slight bite in the back of the mouth and throat. It has a clean mouthfeel, so it is an easy beer to drink. There are not a whole lot of Scottish Ales from Indiana readily available. The most well known is probably Three Floyds Robert the Bruce, which Hoosier Beer Geek reviewed early on. It did not rate favorably. And honestly, it is not a favorite beer of mine. Or a favorite style for that matter. But this is probably my favorite Scottish Ale.

This is the first of the four regular Sun King beers we have reviewed. Of the four, this is my least favorite. But it is still enjoyable, especially with the fried foods of the Red Lion.

The next stop of the evening is the petting zoo of Fountain Square, where interaction with others is a requirement, along with an ID that states you are 21 years of age. The White Rabbit Cabaret is, in fact, a functioning performance venue as well as a bar. The wide space has some comfortable chairs and couches as you enter, followed by a couple dozen round tables with chairs, and then a stage. There is a bar along one wall. We just so happened to arrive on Burlesque Bingo night, which adds even more to the zoo theme we had going. Bingo was called by a dirty clown with a Beetlejuice vibe. He was assisted by his brother, a mime, and between songs, a burlesque dancer did her thing. I could go on and on about how funny this shit was. But again, to paraphrase the Big Mac, I'm not here to talk about that.

The White Rabbit has four taps pouring three craft beers and PBR (at damn fine prices, I might add; the bottle list is great too). Sticking with Indiana beers (and continuing the zoo theme), we opted for a New Albanian Beak's Best (you know, beak... bird... birds have beaks...okay, I'm reaching. So what?). This American take on the English Bitter style has become one of my favorite go-to beers. It has a clean nose, a sweet first taste, and a hop punch that follows. Much like Sun King's Wee Mac, it is a highly sessionable beer. Especially if you drink like an elephant.

No, I don't even know what that means.

Although I consider myself an equal opportunity neighborhood visitor, it seems that more often than not, when sitting down for a beer, I'll find myself in Fountain Square. The impending death of Deano's pushed Gina and I across the street to Imbibe, a perch from which we regularly discuss the further development of the neighborhood and the ongoing influence of craft beer in the area.

On such development is/was the Red Lion Grog House - first noticed back in October of 2009 - a bar/restaurant that now has a few months under its belt. Previously known as the Red Lion Grog-less House due to a liquor license mix-up, the Red Lion now has a fully filled-out beer menu that focuses mainly on the typical suspects from across the pond.

The prospect of a god-knows-how-old Newcastle isn't enough to draw me into a place, and although Fountain Square's English pub box was previously unchecked, the Red Lion has plenty of worthy competition throughout the city - MacNiven's, Chatham Tap, Union Jack, and the Broad Ripple Brewpub all come to mind. Nevertheless, the formula has proven to be a good one, and I'll never complain about having another place to watch the English Premier League.

Does the Red Lion stand out? I'm not sure. The food was fair (though we didn't eat much), the beer menu is true to style but lacking in variety or creativity, and the space seemed loud. On the plus side, our server was more than attentive and the beer from Sun King hit a sweet spot. As a Fountain Square regular, I will revisit the Red Lion. I just don't know that I'd go out of my way for it.

As for the beer, if you're reading this site you've heard plenty about Sun King already. There's even a pretty strong chance that you've had SK's Wee Mac Scottish. The beer is the color of sweet tea, with very light lacing and a minimal head.

I picked up elements of tootsie roll sweetness from the nose, which was followed up with a malty sweetness throughout. The beer is highly drinkable - I'm not generally a fan of Scottish Ales, but I am a fan of this beer. 3.91 Mugs.

From the Red Lion we headed across the street and around the corner to The White Rabbit Cabaret. Going in, I knew nothing about the Cabaret, apart from the fact that I thought, "I don't like Cabaret". So once we settled in and realized that we were about to see an act, my first thought was "let's drink this beer and get the hell out of here."

But before we knew it, Burlesque Bingo started.

My notes aren't extensive, but feature the line "this is the most bizarre thing I have ever personally witnessed, and that's a good thing." Gina and Jason will cover the evening's events further than I will, but it's safe to say that I won't miss the next round of bingo at White Rabbit.

To accompany the entertainment we settled in for a pint or two of New Albanian's Beak's Best. The beer features a sweet malty front that's immediately chased off by a bitter bite. The nose is malty grainy goodness, and the beer tastes like a good brewery smells. It's a beer that's bitter in the best way. 3.99 Mugs.

I have a confession. I am head over heels in love with Fountain Square. You might even say that I am happy as a lark to be talking about it. It has an amazing collection of cool bars, super-friendly people, and an extremely cool art scene. We experienced all of that in our most recent trip.

At the Red Lion Grog House, none of us were hungry as horses so we grabbed a few appetizers and settled in to pick our beer for review. We decided that it was time to review a beer from our friends at Sun King Brewery and this time, we picked the Wee Mac. This beer holds a special place in my heart not just because it is the base for the Java Mac, but because I had the most awesome opportunity to brew a batch of this beer with Dave Colt one day last December.

The Wee Mac is a deliciously sessionable Scottish ale that is easy to find around town and is pretty consistently found in the tasting room at the brewery. The flavor is rich and malty with a sweet zing. It makes me proud as a peacock to be friends with the wonderful people behind this brewery. 3.45 Mugs.

After the Grog House we made our way over to the White Rabbit Cabaret. I didn't know a single thing about this place before we set foot in the door. To be completely honest, I felt meek as a lamb in there, a little uncomfortable even. If we had drunk our beer and got out of there as quick as a fox, it wouldn't have bothered me at all. The first thing I noticed as we sat down was that there was going to be an event starting any minute. Something called Burlesque Bingo.

By the time the show was less than an hour in, the crowd was getting wild and the host was being mean as a snake! If you told me he was somehow the bastard child of Emmett Kelly and Beetlejuice, I wouldn't be surprised. The show continued on and I found myself completely in love with the atmosphere. Seriously, like shout it from the mountaintops kind of love. I can't wait for the next Burlesque Bingo. If you're as wise as an owl, you'll join us next Wednesday (6/9 at 9pm) and see for yourself!

The taps at the Cabaret were as impressive as the show. A small group of taps, but enough choices available for any need. We chose Beak's Best from New Albanian Brewing Co. Another brewery that we Hoosiers can be proud to call our own, NABC regularly serves up one of the best collections of beer in the state.

The bitterness in Beak's Best reminds me of a refreshing glass of iced tea. The citrusy hops dance with the caramel malt, and the beer finishes with a balanced mix of the two. At 5.5% ABV, it's sessionable like Wee Mac, but it's so tasty that it could get you drunk as a skunk if you're not careful. 3.3 Mugs.

We didn't though. It was late, but we were enjoying the night. The only thing that would have made me as mad as a wet hen would be if we had left without stopping to see Brian at Imbibe. We took a spot at the bar and sipped our last nightcap as slow as a snail.

Sun King Wee Mac Scottish
Mike: 3.91 Mugs | Gina: 3.45 Mugs | Jason: 3.65 Mugs
KOTBR Score: 3.66 Mugs

New Albanian Beak's Best Bitter
Mike: 3.99 Mugs | Gina: 3.3 Mugs | Jason: 4.3 Mugs
KOTBR Score: 3.86 Mugs


  1. fun review - but c'mon, no pictures of the show?!? ;)

    I love Beaks Best - my favorite of the 2 NABC brews I've been able to sample. picked up a 1/2bbl of it for the kegerator and it was perfect for the job.

    Tom H

  2. The show pictures didn't turn out.. it's a pretty dimly lit place and we were across the room.

    Not to mention you might feel slightly pervy taking photos of the pretty girl in lingerie (even if that lingerie leans toward the more modest options on the scale).

  3. they should open up a grey goose cocktail bar next door!!