20 March 2012

Five Great Hoosier Gateway Beers | The Hoosier Beer Geek Alternative

For someone new to craft beer, advanced topics like styles and ingredients can be a little overwhelming. Even a trip to your local craft beer seller can seem like a test. What's with all the weird beer names? What's the difference between ale and what I normally drink? And how in the hell can I keep straight all the different craft brewers out there?

We're certainly not here to make fun of what you drink. That's because we all started where you are right now. But if you're looking for a way in, your best bet is to start by just drinking better beer.

We like to help where we can. Therefore, here's our list of Indiana-brewed "gateway" craft beers that are good alternatives to the mass-market macrobrews that you see overloading the shelves of some liquor stores and hogging the tap lines at some watering holes:

A Hoosier Beer Geek alternative to Budweiser, Miller, or Coors:

Sun King Brewing Company's Sunlight Cream Ale. Let's say that you've been drinking Bud, Miller, or Coors since you were legally old enough to drink beer (or maybe before you were legally old enough to drink beer) and are looking to dip your toe into the craft beer pool. Chances are that you're not looking for a huge change from those beers, but you want to try something that you'd be proud to drink because it's locally brewed. Indy's craft beer giant Sun King has just such a gateway beer in Sunlight Cream Ale. Cream ales are very similar to the style in which Bud, Miller, and Coors are brewed; they usually have a moderate bitterness and a nice bready malt flavor. Sunlight Cream Ale adheres to this flavor profile but carries a bit more sweetness in the malt. Blonde ales also fit this flavor profile, so we've listed a few of those below as well.

See also: Fountain Square Brewery's Tractor Head Blonde Ale, Ram Restaurant & Brewery's Big Horn Blonde Ale.

A Hoosier Beer Geek alternative to Guinness:

Broad Ripple Brewpub's Monon Porter. If you like Guinness Stout, you undoubtedly enjoy the roasty flavors that are present in that beer. But craft-brewed stouts tend to be a bit much for some craft beer beginners because the chocolate and coffee notes are magnified, so much so that some of these beers drink almost like an alcohol-infused double chocolate milkshake. But if you want something that's not a radical departure from Guinness, we recommend Broad Ripple Brewpub's Monon Porter. You may be wondering, "Isn't a Porter different from a Stout?" The answer to that question is, "No, not really" (though in the interest of disclosure, some beer geeks would disagree). In fact, Monon Porter will provide you with a creamy consistency that's somewhat similar to what you'd get in a Guinness, especially if it's on the hand-pull at the pub. Plus, you'll get a little extra sweetness to back up the roasty flavors of the beer. Monon Porter is one of our top five beers under our arbitrary mug rating system.

See also: Fountain Square Brewery's Backyard Porter, Flat12 Bierwerks' Pogue's Run Porter, New Albanian Brewing's Bob's Old 15-B Porter, Rock Bottom Brewery's Hoosier Ma Stout (oatmeal stout or dry stout variety).

A Hoosier Beer Geek alternative to Blue Moon:

Brugge White. Blue Moon is brewed in the Belgian witbier style. Wits, as they're known, are usually brewed with coriander seed and orange peel, which produces the spice and citrus flavors one gets out of a beer like Blue Moon. If you're going to drink a Belgian-style beer in Indiana, why not drink one from a local brewer who specializes in Belgian-style beers rather than a beer brewed by Coors? Broad Ripple's Brugge Brasserie has been brewing outstanding Belgian-style beers for nearly seven years now. While more radical Brugge brews like their fruity and sour Pooka are what we often crave, we still enjoy Brugge White when it's on at the Brasserie. This beer exemplifies the Witbier style with its melding of citrus tartness and coriander spiciness.

See also: Oaken Barrel Brewing Company's Alabaster Wit, Upland Brewing Company's Wheat Ale.

A Hoosier Beer Geek alternative to Newcastle:

Barley Island Brewing Company's Dirty Helen Brown Ale. If you're drinking Newcastle Brown Ale, you're probably the type of beer-drinker who's looking for a little more "heft" in the flavor of your beer. Barley Island's award-winning Dirty Helen Brown Ale is an Indiana beer that might satisfy this preference for you, but be prepared: this beer is going to give you a fuller roastiness than Newcastle provides, along with a slight hint of nut, chocolate, and caramel. We don't feel that it's a huge adjustment from Newcastle, but we do believe that it's a nice step up in flavor.

See also: Crown Brewing Company's Crown Brown, Sun King Brewing Company's Wee Mac Scottish Ale, Three Floyds Brewing Company's Robert the Bruce.

A Hoosier Beer Geek alternative to Heineken, Amstel Light, or Stella Artois:

Upland Brewing Company's Preservation Pilsner. If you're holding a European lager like Heineken or Stella in your hands, you're holding a beer that's from the pale lager family. This family of beers includes the Pilsner style, which originated in what is now the Czech Republic. Like its European pale lager cousins, Pilsners are crisp, refreshing, and slightly more bitter than a Bud, Miller, or Coors. Bloomington's Upland Brewing Company makes a Pilsner that has become a Hoosier Beer Geek favorite. Preservation Pilsner is flavorful, but not so off-the-charts flavorful that palates not used to a true Pilsner will be shocked by it.

See also: Fountain Square Brewery's Workingman's Pilsner, People's Brewing Company's People's Pilsner.


  1. I like this post. I wonder if you did a blind taste test for those who generally prefer the domestic if they would choose the hoosier version. Sometimes I wonder if the price and the "craft" part scare hardcore other beer fans.

  2. These articles are always difficult to write because you might not know about a certain beer from a brewery, or else you might leave one out that others think are a good example.

    My favorite styles of beers are IPAs and pretty much anything lager. Craft brewers don't do a lot of lagers, and in most cases, I see why. That People's Pilsner is a THING, though. I enjoyed the hell out of that at the Valpo Brew Fest this last fall. Closest thing to a bohem pils I've had in this country other than Sam Adam's Noble Pils.

    One thing you might need to mention is that Heineken, Stella, Peroni and that swill (okay, here's a style of lager I am NOT a fan of) usually comes in a green bottle, which results in the flaw of skunkiness. I've seen many a Heineken green bottle drinker take a pull off those Heine party kegs and look at the beer and say, "Hey, this is the BEST HEINEKEN I've ever had." *sigh*

  3. I think it is great that you are showcasing some of the options that many people might not have even heard of.

  4. I'd also toss out Upland Wheat as a Blue Moon "drink alike." Had a keg at our wedding reception a few years and most attendees were BMC lifers - once they dropped the initial skepticism, they tore in with abandon and enjoyed it immensely. The suggestions are quite on point and I think this is a great article/series.

  5. @ Kathleen - I'm guessing that price and the "craft" tag do scare off some people, but I find that most macro drinkers are receptive to craft beer if you don't look down on them and don't ask them to dive into the deep end right away.

    @ Jez - I agree with you on narrowing down the selections. It was tough. If you have any more suggestions, drop another comment for us.

    @ Senor Steak - Upland Wheat has been added to our recommendations!

  6. I just didn't see Bad Elmer's Porter. But then, I've never had Bad Elmer, so I'm not sure if it's a good Guinness Stout substitute. The Belle Guinness from Back Road (LaPorte) might be a good substitute, but it's probably hard for you to get in central IN.

    Unfortunately, I think the Guinness served here (USA) is a travesty compared to continental Europe. I've heard that the UK version is even better than continental Europe. I'm not a big stout fan, though.

  7. I also find the craft beer drinker evolution rather fascinating. There are differnt "levels" I think U.S. craft beer drinkers can achieve, which I have observed:

    1. Discovers beer. Limited to the BMC beers, or cheaper brands of American Lager made by BMC.

    2. Finds a local American Lager and identifies with brand. Thinks it's a more "quality" beer over BMC (see POINT, LEINENKUGELS). Branches out into other beers by same company.

    3. Discovers non-offensive Craft beers (See Abita "Purple Haze", "Turbodog"; Shiner Bock; Bell's "Oberon", other wheat beers) OR finds Sam Adam's Boston Lager and finds the bitterness compelling. At this point, I've seen people level off if they go the Wheat Beer or Shiner route. Likely they will go through life satisfied at this point.

    4. Discovers IPAs. The best Gateway beer (IMHO) at this point is Three Floyd's Gumball Head Wheat. I can't even tell you how many people I have launched into craft brewing by introducing them into this. It's like *BAM* - you find out 2 weeks later they're buying sixers of Double IPAs.

    5. Open to all craft beers at this point.

    6. Moves into sour beers, guezes, and other off-the-wall, advanced styles.

  8. Jez - I find Bad Elmer's to be a bit bigger of a stout in terms of flavor and body. Something a craft beer fan would enjoy, but a Guinness drinker might find overpowering at first. Belle Guinness is an excellent suggestion, though.

  9. I agree with Rod on Bad Elmer's. Good beer, but probably too smoky for most craft beer newbies. I like the Belle Gunness suggestion as well.