I feel sorry for my dad and all his friends. Granted, they never had to endure the agony that was Prohibition (you know a decade’s worth of back room gins and whiskeys loaded with those “natural substitutes” which eventually made your head twitch and your eyes shut down). But even though my old man’s brews were legal, they were mostly the same variations of that watered down lager everyone drank—beers with names that matched the sounds their bodies made as the stuff worked through their systems. Fast forward more than a generation later, to a modern world where the craft beer explosion is transforming a nationwide industry. In the Hoosier state, that transformation has been redefining a good time with great friends at the local watering hole. And while it’s true that a sizeable majority of Indiana’s brewpubs and taprooms concentrate in the Circle City, for travelers heading west, great pints of craft beer await as well.
Black Swan Brewpub: Plainfield
Since its opening in 2010, this small-batch brewery just off I-70 has always been one of my favorite evening hangouts. It was here I learned what a “flight” was. It was here I put down my first IPA. It was here I transitioned from the vanilla stuff to the real goods. In this dimly lit setting where the darkened panels absorb what little light the bulbs cast off, where the high-backed bars wall you off from the ambient voices and clinking silverware, the atmosphere is better than intimate, it’s sensual. But by far the best place to settle in is by the bar. No more than a half-dozen seats long (but backed up by a cozy mixture of pub-tables and booth seats), it’s here where you can hunker down, and savor a sweet Scottish Ale paired with the “Swan’s” famous French fries. Give me the mixed herb toss with the sun-dried tomato aioli dip any time.
Brew Link Tap Room: Plainfield
Along the National Road, in what some of the locals call “Old Plainfield,” sits a tiny, nondescript taproom in a ranch-style, Carter-era strip mall. Inside, to the right you can sit on the sofa and watch the ball game. If the game’s a bore, grab a buddy and play some foosball. To the left, in the traditional seating area, bring your friends together at either the high or low tables and savor some of the most consistently brewed beers west of the capital city. Quickly becoming famous for their Murphy’s Blonde Ale, I never hesitate to latch onto a pint of their Ivory Stout—a rich beer which looks to the eye as if it should be a pale, but instead hits you with a sort of European deliciousness. They offer two different IPAs, make a killer Octoberfest… Honestly it’s all good. All of it.
Taphouse 24: Greencastle
While your designated driver rolls you along the bucolic vista sweeping either side of US 40, you might miss one of the best hidden social hangouts in Western Indiana. Seven minutes north of The Great Road, in downtown Greencastle, north of the DePauw University campus lies a brand new university-funded campus attraction. Brightly lit, Taphouse 24 mixes a perpetual modern sterility with an old-century warehouse décor. But on the other side of that bar, marked by inconspicuously numbered wooden tap handles is an arrangement of two-dozen rotating craft brews—the overwhelming majority of them produced in Indiana. No doubt, the beers bring me here, but when I do settle in for a meal I find myself a fan of the jambalaya. If you want to savor one the best named dishes on the menu, check out the Wrath of Cod, a fish plate a certain yours truly named in a late night, multi-pint casual survey.
Wasser Brewing Company: Greencastle
Three blocks from the Taphouse, the first craft brewery in West Central Indiana blends into the small town’s quaint cityscape. Owner Chris Weeks, an avid stickler for what he calls “abiding traditions,” always makes sure he has two or three beers on tap which follow those heralded purity laws from days long gone. Using a carefully pitched German yeast, most patrons rave over his hefeweizen: a consistent and sweet beer making for an easy transition to from the mass-market palate to the craft beer world. Wasser’s array also includes a delicious pale aptly dubbed “Hoptimism;” a sweetened “Old Gold;” and my favorite, a multi-hopped concoction called Super 8. The last beer’s moniker is better than appropriate given not only the beer’s range of eight distinct hops but the brewpub’s history as a one-time Packard dealership.
Sonka Irish Pub: Terre Haute
Halfway between ISU’s Memorial football stadium and the university’s downtown campus, Sonka Irish Pub has forever been a local and college favorite. A generation ago, this was the bar where you could find a Guinness—back in the days when everyone else thought it was a book with that photo of the dude smoking 110 cigarettes at once. Today, Sonka has embraced the craft beer culture, and offers a wide arrangement of taps. Want a rich, dark porter on a scalding hot July day? There you’ll find it. While I usually settle for the club and a healthy batch of fries on the side, my friends are huge fans of the Reuben and the Italian Beef. Settle down, enjoy the beers, work through the thirty-year-old box of Trivial Pursuit cards and have a great time with the people you love.
Mogger’s Restaurant and Pub, Terre Haute
History oozes out of the dark woodwork of M. Mogger’s, but the legends, the rumors, and the stories change based on who you ask. In the pre-prohibition days, it was here where the original Terre Haute brewing scene dominated large swaths of the Midwest. Here was the spot where the regionally famous Champagne Velvet (and smooth lager, now owned by Bloomington’s Upland Brewing) first flowed. Some of my good friends who worked there in college, tell me stories of the underground rooms, where kegs were chilled when beer was legal, and where later kegs were hidden when beer was not. True? I don’t know, but sitting at the bar, you’d be crazy not to think that maybe under your feet is that vault Geraldo Rivera was looking for when he hosted that long, silly television special.
Terre Haute Brewing Company, Terre Haute
Across the street diagonally from Moggers, in the remnants of a building also used by the old pre-prohibition brewery, the old Terre Haute Brewery lives reborn. Skillfully blending old features such as skylights and structural woodwork with new world design, the brewery’s inviting scene sets the mood for a long night of pints and good times. The bar side cosmetically fronts the actual production site behind it, while the large reception side of the building sports a beautiful mini-bar, plenty of open seating, and a large stage perfect for live music. Once you’ve settled down in front of your Stiffy Green IPA, ask a local about the story about the legendary stone bulldog behind the beer’s name.
These are hardly all the great spots along the National Road. From Stilesville’s rustic Cornerstone Pub, to Greencastle’s Swizzle Stick Bar and Fluttering Duck, to the Haute’s Copper Bar and Verve Nightclub, Western Indiana’s landscape is punctuated by dozen’s of perfect places for a quick beer or one of those long, deep conversations with friends–the kind you and those friends often think back on wishing you could repeat them on command.
Want to plan a trip on the Historic National Road? Check out A Road Trip 200 Years in the Making: Historic National Road.