04 August 2010

KOTBR #108 - A Great Divide at the Ball & Biscuit

The theme of this review was supposed to be “A Great Divide”—in other words, an epic conflict or disagreement. For my part of the review, I was going to write a goofy dialogue between Liam and Noel Gallagher of Oasis, who are famous for their king-size bust-ups. And you know, it probably would have been pretty funny (well, at least in my mind it would have been funny). But then I thought about how impressed I was with the location of our latest review, the Ball & Biscuit (331 Massachusetts Avenue, 636-0539, no smoking), and how I really wanted the essence of the place to shine through in my review. So here I am with a garden-variety beer review.

If you keep up on the Mass Ave scene, you probably already know about the Ball & Biscuit, which has been open since late June. For those who don’t know, the B&B is in the newish Three Mass Condos building (it’s the building that looks like a landlocked cruise ship). The reviews that I’ve read of the bar call it a modern speakeasy. That description seems apt given the bar’s exposed brick walls, mid-century modern fixtures, and vintage cocktail list. In fact, the place sort of looks as if an IKEA showroom collided with your grandpa’s cellar (in a good way). And the theme of the bar springs from the vintage microphone that is the bar’s namesake. You’ll see it sitting behind the bar along with other old-time radio paraphernalia.

The Ball & Biscuit’s offerings, from the cocktails to the food to the beer and wine lists, are aimed at the sophisticated palate. One’s enjoyment of the bar’s fare isn’t spoiled by cigar and cigarette smoke either because the bar is a smoke-free establishment. The cocktails, put together by the Ball & Biscuit’s managing partner and mixologist Zach Wilks, include artisanal ingredients. Among those ingredients are spirits from Wisconsin’s highly regarded Death’s Door Distillery. I’ve had Zach’s Sidecar and Sazerac and emphatically recommend both of these cocktails. Indeed, if you’ve never had absinthe, you’ll want to try the Sazerac, which includes a few drops of the anise-flavored liquor.

The food menu of small plates was created by Chef Brad Gates, formerly of Euphoria and now the man behind Brad Gates Catering and Events. Though the food menu is small, it has a good variety of fare, including several vegetarian dishes. I’ve had the olive plate, the hummus plate, and the brown sugar nut mix. All were wonderful; the nut mix was uniquely delicious because it included a dusting of rosemary in addition to the brown sugar.

While the Ball & Biscuit’s spirits and food are top-notch, we visited, of course, for the beer. The bar boasts eight taps and a fairly extensive bottle list. Both the tap and bottle lists are craft beer oriented. The only macro on tap is Guinness. The remaining seven taps include three Indiana beers—Three Floyds Robert the Bruce, Upland Wheat, and Sun King Sunlight Cream Ale—and four beers from a specific region of the country. During our visit, the four regional taps featured Colorado beers: two from Great Divide and two from Breckinridge. On tap from Great Divide were Hercules, a double IPA, and Hades, a Belgian blonde ale. On tap from Breckinridge were Avalanche, an amber ale, and the Vanilla Porter (self-explanatory, of course).

We haven’t reviewed many Great Divide beers (only one or two, if I remember correctly), so we chose the Hercules Double IPA. To simply describe this beer, it is a malt-dominated double IPA. I think that if you had blindfolded me and given me this beer to taste, I might have guessed it to be Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA, which has a fairly similar flavor profile. The difference from 90 Minute, however, is in the hops. Hercules has a hop character that is more floral and piney rather than citrus/grapefruit, which is the hop character that I usually get out of 90 Minute. Hercules is an outstanding double IPA, one of the better beers of the style that I’ve tried. 4.40 Mugs.

Downtown Indianapolis has needed a bar like the Ball & Biscuit for a long time. It gives beer geeks a sophisticated yet laid-back place to enjoy craft beer. Fortunately, the tap list will not remain static, so you’ll have opportunities to try new and different beers if you visit often. Zach told us that he plans to periodically change the four regional taps. After the Colorado beers are gone, next up will be beers from Northeastern breweries.

This is the dialogue I had with myself while perusing the menus at Ball & Biscuit:

“Should I have a beer or cocktail?”
“We are here to roundtable.”
“Yeah, but have you seen the cocktail list?”
“Have YOU seen the draft list?”

From the pleasing colors of teal and dark brown, to the copper bar and all that’s behind it, the Ball and Biscuit is an extremely pleasant addition to the bar scene in the city. We were fortunate enough to enjoy the bar and its offerings on a quiet Sunday evening which gave us plenty opportunity to chat up Zach (who is as pleasant as the decor), who was mixing ingredients for a new cocktail recipe as we spoke. He spoke genuinely and candidly about the bar, its name (it has nothing to do with the White Stripes song, btw), and things he hopes to offer in the future (cool playlists, new cocktails, more beer, etc.). Zach has all the things that make for a great bartender and one that you want to go see often.

In the end, I chose beer, and I knew I made the right choice (not that it was THAT hard) when I took a sniff of the Hercules. A deep inhale of citrus and pine aromas seem to fill my nose and chest so thick, it makes me think of what it would be like to breathe underwater. The taste and mouthfeel is everything I love about Double IPA’s, strong, bitter hop flavors balanced by a sweet and thick, malty back. The juxtaposition in flavors of refreshing citrus with chewy malt is one of my most favorite things about beer in general and being able to enjoy this beer in an extremely pleasant atmosphere is a big plus for me. 4.4 Mugs.

Perhaps the best indication of how much we enjoyed the Ball & Biscuit is the fact that we all wanted to skip the gimmicks and just write about the place. Jim and Gina have covered most of it; what stuck out most to me was the fact that the Ball & Biscuit was as sophisticated as any bar in the city, yet didn't in any way feel stuffy or pretentious. The folks behind the decoration have done a fantastic job of making a very comfortable and masculine sort of space. It even smells a little bit like you spilled lacquer in your brand new garage (the smell fades with continued exposure and I suspect will continue to fade - I'm sure it has something to do with that brand new lacquered bartop).

The beer, on the other hand, smells like heaven. Piney and grassy, with a sweet front that follows, a tiny hint of lacto-like sourness (I'm thinking Apocalypse Cow) - if I'm looking for a Double IPA on the menu, this is one I'll be more than happy to find. 4.4 Mugs.

Great Divide Hercules DIPA
Jim: 4.4 Mugs | Gina: 4.4 Mugs | Mike: 4.4 Mugs
KOTBR Score: 4.4 Mugs


  1. thanks for the review - I've been curious about this place, but have had the sense that the pricing is a bit prohibitive for us...

    Interestingly GD Hercules is what just came offline on my kegerator at home. I certainly agree with your praise, but it wasn't the best choice for the only thing to have around - for me it was a bit too heavy to have more than a few, so I found myself buying more 6packs than usual when I have a keg.

    Right now I'm finding I prefer my hoppy ales to be a bit drier and less malty.

    Anyhoo - cheers! Tom H

  2. One thing that I forgot to mention is that Zach said that in the future, the B&B will offer craft beer pints at a reduced price one night of the week. No word on when that will be though. As soon as we hear something, we'll let you know.

  3. Thanks for the review guys!One thing I'd like to mention in regards to Anonymous is our pricing is very fair. The cocktail list tends to be pricy, but we make make hand crafted artisan cocktails with the best spirits available. As for beers and regular mixed drinks we're right on par with the rest of our neighbors downtown! I guess what I'm saying is get your butt in here!