30 June 2011

KOTBR #129 - A Local Brew in a Kick Ass Neighborhood Bar

Hidden in the depths of Mass Ave (if you consider crossing the cultural trail as depths) lies a building that is currently unmarked. If you are brave enough to step through the door (it's really not that scary) you will be rewarded with a thoughtful list of small plates, entrees, and desserts. Not to mention a fantastic selection of wine and local craft beer. You can even sit at one of the fine communal tables and get to know your neighbor, which I recommend. If instead, you sit at the bar, you will see a unique lighting fixture above your head, a very cool, very rustic beam with the lights embedded in the thick wood. They really did a beautiful job with the space and I look forward to going as often as I can. Very cozy and sophisticated without being stuffy.

The food at Black Market is nothing short of spectacular. We tried each of the small plates and were enamored with them all. The selections are a perfect mix of fine dining and comfort food. They offer brunch on Sundays, and lunch and dinner service during the week (closed on Mondays).

We usually hold out on reviewing new breweries until they've had some time to find their footing. We figured it was time, so we chose Flat12's Pogue's Run Porter. A nice, roasty nose followed by a pleasantly sweet caramel flavor. This is the favorite of Rob, their brewer, and it shows. 3.2 Mugs

I'll let my colleagues discuss Black Market in more detail. I'll just say that if you're into the gastropub thing (and Black Market is a true gastropub), you should get to Black Market as soon as possible. Otherwise, I'm certain that you're going to be waiting awhile for a table when you finally visit, especially as word gets out about this welcome addition to Indianapolis's roster of independent restaurants.

So let's turn to Flat12 Bierwerks' Pogue's Run Porter. Every brewery in this city has its forte. To name a few, Sun King has Osiris Pale Ale, Brugge has Tripel de Ripple, Broad Ripple Brewpub has Monon Porter, Barley Island has Dirty Helen Brown Ale, and Thr3e Wise Men has Golden Zoe IPA. Pogue's Run Porter is Flat12's forte, and it's a beer that Flat12 brewers Rob and Josh do amazingly well. I had this beer for the first time in March at Flat12's tasting room (which you should visit soon if you haven't been to this rustically cool space) and was immediately impressed by the beer, so much so that I couldn't stop at just one pint. My experience with the beer when I had it on tap at Black Market was just as good. Pogue's Run Porter is dominated by cocoa and brown sugar notes, with hints of raisins and dates. It has a pleasing, medium mouthfeel, a subtle sweetness, and a faintly hoppy finish. In short, it stands up well to any good American porter (for example, Founders Porter). If I were to put together a stash of Indiana beers for my zombie apocalypse shelter, Pogue's Run Porter would be one of the beers that got top shelf status. Of course, I'd have to convince the brewery to put it in cans or bottles first. How about it, Flat12? 4.15 Mugs.

I must start by saying that I love the beer style known as porter. It is a very old style of beer originating in England in the early 1700s. Porter is a style that really helped turned my craft beer enthusiasm into a craft beer obsession. It was the first style that really made me seek out as many other historical and creative examples as I could. I've traded, traveled for, or bought just about every type of porter that I can can get my hands on. American, English, Irish, Russian, Finnish, Australian, and hopefully I will be able to continue seeing someones newest take on either the historical English version or what porter has morphed into in the US. I've gone out of my way to try historical reproductions, home brewing many Washington porters (the first porter in the US, by George Washington himself), and studying the porter style more than any other. Fun fact, did you know that Guinness was still called a porter until 1974 until the name stout was added to it? And that Guinness still retains the historical brewing technique by using young and old (sour) beer? That technically makes Guinness the most widely brewed and consumed sour beer in the world. Porters were truly one of the first styles of beer that gave a country a beer reputation, and to this day I think it is most heavily associated with Ireland, but still have a very large appeal in Britain after almost disappearing from the brewing culture. I don't often get to geek out on the porter style as my wife tells me to shut my mouth when I start rambling about it. I also don't like that the BJCP makes brewers put true historical examples with a "sour" twang or brettanomyces into the specialty category, but that is how they are separated. Porter is a style that I can drink at any time and in any situation. Onto the Flat 12's version of their American porter.

This was the very first beer that I had from Flat 12 right before they opened, and the beer that I've had the most from them. It is the only beer I've ever bought from a growler from them, and the beer that I order the most from them. I've had their other offerings on tap, but this beer is truly the finest beer that they make. I don't mean for that to sound like a slam against their other offerings, but for me this is their finest beer. I mean to buy another beer at the tap house, but I just never buy anything other than the porter in a growler. I think this beer is a great mashup of the American brown porter and robust porter. It has very good hints of chocolate and a sweet toffee-liked roasted grain flavor to it. What I like most about this beer is how refreshing and quaff-able this beer is drinking. The mouthfeel is smooth and medium bodied. It is a porter that is drinkable all year long. 4.0 Mugs

I also must say do yourself and favor and get down to The Black Market. Indiana is so chain resturant driven, and if you look at the stats, one of the lesser drinking craft beer states, but places like the Black Market are really helping to change that perception. They have a solid tap and bottle list, and we had all of the appetizer plates they offered. I would recommend the tongue and pork belly. I just love the space and feel in there. I will certainly be a repeat customer.

I've been reading Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard's Let My People Go Surfing lately. Patagonia's focus lies not in being the first to do something - Chouinard refers to borrowing or outright theft of ideas more than once in the book - but to doing those things better than anyone else and making them your own.

Black Market is not a unique idea - owner Ed Rudisell admitted that many of the ideas came from restaurants in other cities - but it is exactly the sort of restaurant Indianapolis needs more of; Confident in who we are as Hoosiers, from the updated Indiana classics on the menu, to the shared spaces that show faith in the idea of Hoosier hospitality and Indianapolis community, and a beer menu that places its focus on our breweries.

As we gathered as the Knights of the Beer Roundtable, we made our way through the appetizers: house pickles (including pickled egg), welsh rarebit on bread made from Broad Ripple Brewpub's spent grain, locally sourced duck buns, and a pork belly dish that turns the idea of pork and beans on its head. All left us happy. Happy enough - in the case of Gina and I - that we returned the next evening to take on a few entrees. The pork schnitzel and duck dumplings did not disappoint.

To call Flat12 Beirwerks a unique idea would also be false - they were the first of many to come who look to follow in Sun King's business model, building a production-only brewery and an audience from the inside out. As a result they're often compared to their near-eastside neighbors, a rivalry unfair to both. The doors Sun King opened were always doors - it's to their credit that they may have opened them wide enough for others to walk through.

Although the Indianapolis market has gotten more competitive as of late, craft still only makes up 2-some percent of the Indianapolis market (as of last I've heard), lagging far behind the 4.9% national average. As breweries begin to dot the Indiana landscape - I heard another one just the other day, a special new brewery (on the northwest side, in case you're wondering) - awareness goes up, and hopefully market share follows. It doesn't matter who was there first - only whose beer you loved first, and how it opened the door for you.

Flat12 Porter (or Pogue's Run Porter) is a beer that stands on its own and can open doors. A deep brown body, cocoa powder nose - this porter is definitely on the sweeter end of the scale, balancing fruity elements with a hint of cocoa on the back end. Further in and warmer, more of that cocoa powder comes out, but the sweetness never goes away. It's a highly drinkable porter that can be equally appreciated by old drinkers as well as new ones. 3.4 Mugs

Flat 12's Pogue's Run Porter is my favorite beer in the Flat 12 lineup, so it's probably good that we reviewed this one first! Up front, this porter greets you with the subtle scent of roasted grains, french roast coffee, cocoa and a touch of sweetness. The kind of understated nose that a porter should have. The mouthfeel isn't too heavy but carries and interesting creamy character. Flavors of cocoa and roasted barley are the stars of the show, but a bit of sugar and charred bread can be found in the background. Overall this is a very solid, roasty porter that flirts with the idea of a sweet stout. A nice porter, any time of the year. 3.4 mugs

Oh and the Black Market? Holy crap does this place have character. Between the communal tables, mixed materials and great lighting, there isn't much I could say negative about this place. Every small plate we tried was excellent and I would order them all again. A lot of thought obviously went in to each dish and it shows. I'm crossing my fingers that the 2-way liquor license keeps the crowds down, but a bar with an atmosphere this polished is going to be packed in no time. I highly encourage you to check it out now before you have to fight to get in. Tip of the hat to Ed and company, you've raised the bar significantly with this one.

Flat12 Pogue's Run Porter
Mike: 3.4 Mugs | Gina: 3.2 Mugs | Jim: 4 Mugs | Jason: 4 Mugs | Rodney: 3.4 Mugs | Matt: 4 Mugs | Jess: 3.4 Mugs
KOTBR Score: 3.62 Mugs

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