Succeeding as a restaurateur in downtown Indianapolis is no easy task. There are a ton of places to choose from, and with a steak house on nearly every corner, finding a unique offering can be a challenge. But, hungry folks of the Circle City, you’re lucky. The Alcatraz Brewing Company has a table ready for you and yours.
Alcatraz Brewing Company opened when Circle Center Mall opened, and has been serving up some of the best appetizers, entrees, and desserts in the city ever since. Prior to this review, I had eaten at Alcatraz numerous times. I had never been impressed, and even while visiting the original location out in Orange, California I thought the establishment was nothing more than run of mill. But I got word through the grapevine they had a new chef, a new menu, and some new beers that I just had to try.
When you first walk into Alcatraz Brewing Company, you totally forget that you are in Indiana. Decorations hang all over the walls, and even the bathrooms give you the feel you are in the historic prison. When I arrived, I was promptly greeted by my server and taken to a clean table right in the center of the restaurant. It was a gorgeous evening downtown, with tables outside filling up fast, but I wanted to experience the restaurant for what it was, so I chose a seat inside to get the full effect.
Our gracious server’s name was Jon. After seating us, he explained how the evening was going to go. He told us about the beers we would be sampling, the appetizers that we would nibble on, the entrees that would fill our bellies, and the desserts that would send us off with a sweet ending. He also handed us a copy of both the dinner and lunch menu to look at. I always like to see what the menu has to offer past what we are sampling. Then came the beers.
The Man Behind the Beer
Beer is a crucial part of any dining experience. That is especially true if the beer is made in-house. At Alcatraz Brewing Company, you can order a Bud Light if you want, but why would you when there are several beers on tap that were made by the local brewmaster himself. The brewmaster at the Indianapolis location is Omar Castrellon. Omar actually started making beer on accident back in 1991. One day, he just decided to just give it a shot. Omar has been making beer ever since and has been with Alcatraz since 2001.
I had the chance to meet Omar during my dining experience. We chatted about his beginnings in making beer, the power of social media, and some new beers they have coming up at Alcatraz. Speaking of new beers, they actually just tapped the Devil’s Ale, which I will talk about here in a moment. He also let us sip on another beer that he produced not too long ago. You won’t find this beer on any menu. This beer was a new experiment that he is very proud of. And for good reason, because it was one of the best beers I have ever tasted. He explained the process a little bit. He adds bourbon-soaked wood chips to the beer to give it that added flavor. In a different twist, the beer actually gets better the warmer it gets. Its flavors begin to expand as it reaches room temperature.
Rather than just bringing out pints of all of their homemade beers, Sheryl and I both started with a beer sampler. You can order one of these from the menu for $6.25 to get a small sample of all their beers. Besides the fact that we were about to taste all six of their beers, out came a second sampler that had their current seasonal brew on it, as well as a sample of their brand new Devil’s Ale. So we got to start our evening by sampling all eight of their brews.
Another cool thing about the sampler was the beer menu they set the sampler on. Pretty much every brewery offers some sort of a sampler for their beers, but I have never been anywhere that puts a menu down describing the beers you are drinking. On this menu you were shown the name of the beer, as well as a brief description of what to expect when tasting the beverage. This is something simple, but went a long way for the overall enjoyment of those beers.
(I also liked the fact that the Alcatraz Brewing Company logo is everywhere. The logo is on the glassware, on the drink coasters, and even on the bags they provide for carry-out orders.)
Searchlight Golden Ale
First up was the Searchlight Golden Ale. Before I even began sipping on this beverage, I already knew what to expect. Our server called it their, “light and refreshing” beer and one that will please just about everyone. And we have all had this sort of beer before. Think Bud Light but with a cool name. But when I put my nose into the glass to see what this drink smelled like, I was pleasantly surprised. It reminded me of European ale, something that would leave a long and lasting aftertaste. And that is exactly what it did.
The Searchlight Golden Ale is 4.5% alcohol by volume and drinks almost like a crisp cider. You are immediately hit with a bitter start, but the beer finishes very light, crisp, and smooth. And that aftertaste I was talking about is dead on. The beer lingers on your tongue for a long time. This is a beer that you could drink all night from appetizers to entrees and even after dinner. Think of this as a party beer.
Weiss Guy Wheat
I am a big fan of wheat beers, as is Sheryl. But in our opinion, a good wheat beer is a Blue Moon. So when I placed this glass to my nose and took a whiff, I was shocked to not smell much of anything. The beer was also a bit thicker than what I am used to. But this beer is an American wheat beer, which I would later learn is not the same as a Blue Moon or beers like it. The process is different, leaving the beer without some of those orange flavors you expect from a typical wheat beer.
I was not a huge fan of this beer, but not because of the taste. It honestly had very little taste to it. I was more upset because I had a certain expectation when I read that it was a wheat beer. This beer also does not come with a garnish on the side of the glass. I am not sure if that is because it was in a sampler or not, but most wheat beers have an orange on the side. Again, I’m stuck on the Blue Moon expectations.
Indian Brown Lager
Now we are talking. I am a big fan of brown lagers. This brew carries a slightly higher alcohol content, reaching 6.0% ABV. But you do not taste the higher alcohol content in the beer. But let’s start with the nose on the brew.
From the second this beer hit my nostrils, I couldn’t wait to taste it. The nose is quite dirty, for lack of a better word, and gives you that brown ale sense. After speaking with Omar I actually found out why that beer has such a dirty nose to it. The beer is well aged. It also is made with Cascade and Palisades and is extremely hoppy. One of their most hopped beers as a matter of fact. The finish is strong as well and stays on your palate for quite some time. I would suggest this beer by itself or with a burger or steak.
Pelican Pale Ale
I like pale ales. I like the name and logo on the Pelican Pale Ale, too. A cool thing about the beers made right here at Alcatraz is they each have their own logo. These logos are plastered all over the walls, so you can relate to the beer you are drinking to the logo they have provided. Other places, like The Ram and Rock Bottom Brewing Company, do this as well. It adds a little personality to the beers.
The Pelican Pale Pale is a little lower in alcohol content, coming in at just 5.0% ABV, but that does not mean it lacks in flavor. The beer is an almost copper color and the nose is intense with heavy citrus overtones. The flavors also match the nose perfectly. The start of the beer is what you expect from pale ale, but there are ton of spices toward the end. Those spices hang around, leaving the palate satisfied and waiting for the next sip.
The Rock Bock
I will be the first to tell you how much I dislike bocks. I have tasted my fair share of bocks and not a single one does a beer justice. Some of the more popular brands that you can find in local liquor stores, and even the double bocks, pretend to be this big, bold, enjoyable brew, and always fall short. Not the Rock Bock.
Out of all the beers I tasted at Alcatraz Brewing Company, this was probably my favorite. Or one of my favorites anyway! The nose did not impress me. There was very little nose on this brew. Most bocks are smooth, trying to be thick, leaving a bitter and coppery taste in your mouth. This one however drinks like a can of soda and leaves a carbonated and satisfying flavor on the back of your tongue. I would almost call the finish on this beer frosty.
Java Oatmeal Stout
I am a sucker for a stout. The thicker the better, in my opinion. I love beers like Guinness, just because they taste like chocolate milk more than an adult beverage. But when you add the word java to the front of it, and then throw in the added bonus of making it oatmeal stout too, you have one happy drinker.
You know how I said the Pelican was my favorite? Well, this one might be the new champion. This beer drinks just like a stout should, with a heavy and thick head and a smooth and narrow finish. You get a ton of coffee on the start of the beer, as well as on the nose. And the coffee that you taste is actually from a local gourmet coffee shop located right here in Indianapolis. The beer is huge, with 29 IBU’s, and packs a punch with 6.0% ABV. If you like coffee, and want a beer you can sip on all evening, try this one. This beer also gets better the closer it gets to room temperature.
Now lets move on to their seasonal brew. The Sledgehammer is a treat. This beer is intense, coming in at 8.0% ABV, but when it hits your lips, you would think you were drinking a fresh fruit juice. The beer has intense nose packed with grapefruit and apples, and leaves your nose thinking about a walk through a field of flowers before thinking about drinking a beer.
The taste of the beer hits you with those fruity flavors once again. It drinks surprisingly smooth, and you just don’t want to put this beer down. Later, our server asked us which beer we would like to try a pint of and I said the java stout. But I regret that decision. I should have said The Sledgehammer, because I miss that beer already.
All of the beers at Alcatraz are unique and have that homemade flavor to them. You can’t repeat the beauty in a beer made locally and you understand that from the second you order it. If you like their beers, even one of them, consider buying a growler. A lot of local breweries do this, but not too many offer pricing like Alcatraz. The growler is $14.00 at first but only $9.00 on every refill. And if you are free on Tuesday and Thursday nights, you can refill your growler for only $4.00. That is a lot of beer for not a lot of money. And remember that Alcatraz also has a daily-featured beer where pints are only $2.75 each. (This is only Monday through Thursday with no beer specials on the weekends.)
Starting off with some Appetizers
While we were sitting there enjoying our beers, Jon brought out an order of their spinach and artichoke dip and an order of their fried calamari. Sheryl and I are both big fans of both these dishes, and Jon made mention to their dip having the title of, “The Best Spinach Dip in Indianapolis.” I must agree. It was incredible. It was not your typical spinach dip either. It was served with a side order of baked Parmesan flat bread that was seasoned and baked in-house. The bread has a hint of garlic to it, and you are served a perfect amount of bread for the amount of dip you receive.
The spinach dip is served in a fairly large bowl too, and rather than dip the bread, I suggest using the provided spoons and smearing it all over the flat bread. It will make for a more enjoyable experience.
The calamari was delicious as well. It was served with a side of cocktail sauce, which I had never had before. Most places will serve it, if with any sauce at all, marinara. So the cocktail sauce was a nice touch. It was also spicy, but not too hot. For the size of the calamari, it was just right. But there was also a specialty sauce served with it. Rather than cocktail, you could dip in a chipotle aioli sauce. This sauce is so good that if I could, I might take a bath in it.
The sauce was sweet to start, but left some fire in your mouth by the time you were finished. But the initial sweetness made up for it. My mouth was confused from the first item. But it was so delicious it didn’t matter. And it complimented the thin breading on the calamari. If I had to say any one thing about this dish it is the soft and subtle breading that covered the squid. It was a great way to start off the evening, and was just the right amount for a three-course meal.
Garden Fresh Salads
Next came one of their garden fresh salads. They have seven different salads on their menu, but I could not have chosen a better one on that list. We were dished up a full order, split onto two plates, their baby spinach salad. Now, you might think that a salad like this would be boring with some spinach leaves and perhaps a handful of random toppings. But no, this salad was incredible. Not only was it packed with fresh spinach leaves, but it was doused in their white balsamic vinaigrette dressing. It was almost too much dressing, because I love the taste of spinach.
Not only did it have all of this tasty dressing and spinach leaves, but also red onions and crumbled bleu cheese on top. Oh, I’m not done. On top of that came some of the freshest grilled tuna that I have ever eaten. It was served slightly chilled and the split salad was the exact right amount of food for two people. It was not too much, and would actually serve quite well as an appetizer on its own. Out server said that a lot of guests actually order a full salad and split the plate for that very reason.
Now for the Main Course
Before we could even finish our salads, out came out main course. And I was not ready for this. In front of Sheryl went a chicken pesto calzone; for me, a full rack of their award winning BBQ ribs. These are not just your everyday BBQ ribs; they come drenched in their signature Hoisin BBQ sauce. This sauce has actually been a staple for Alcatraz at events like Zoobilation.
The chicken pesto calzone was pretty significant, too. It took up half the plate. If it were a pizza, it would cover the entire plate. One thing that Alcatraz offers with their pizzas is the option to make them all a calzone. Now, you might be saying, “If the pizza itself is turned into a calzone, isn’t it the same experience?” Well, yes and no. The pizza itself will come out just as that, flat and over loaded with toppings. But the calzone has a different baking process, and takes those same toppings and lets them sit and cook mixed with one another. Regardless, they are both delicious and there is no extra charge to turn a pizza into a calzone.
Back to the ribs. The ribs are served with a side of hand-cut French fries and a side order of Cole slaw. I am a big fan of both, deep fried potatoes and freshly prepared Cole slaw. But I was more focused on the ribs and that incredible BBQ sauce. The fries were good, don’t get me wrong, but i couldn’t stop from dipping them in the BBQ sauce that was oozing off these ribs.
One thing that surprised me with the ribs was how hard they were to eat. I am used to ribs being tender where the meat practically falls off the bone. But not these ribs. You actually had to get in there and work to get the meat off them. But it was actually okay. Because the more you worked on the ribs, the more sauce got on your hands, and the more you could enjoy licking that off later. But in all seriousness, I was hoping the ribs would be a bit tenderer. I actually took some left over ribs home with me to enjoy the next day. They are much better the night you order them. Still delicious, but not as enjoyable as they were fresh out of the kitchen.
Just when I finished with the ribs, polished off the rest of the calzone, and took my last sip of beer, the last thing I wanted to do was to keep eating. I sat back, loosened my belt, and let out a big sigh of relief when Jon came and took our plates away.
Ending with the Sweet Stuff
Just then, Jon got back to the table with our dessert. I have never been a big fan of desserts. Not sure why. I mean, I love a good cookie, some bread pudding if you have it, or a giant slice of ice cream cake. But I am never one to order it when I go out. But here at Alcatraz, not all of their desserts are sweet. First came the strawberry shortcake that was not your typical strawberry shortcake. Rather than using pound cake, they use a sweet, made-from-scratch biscuit. They cut it half, cover in whipped cream, and then top it with sliced strawberries and some more whipped cream.
But there is one thing missing. Where is the ice cream? I don’t know about you, but every strawberry shortcake that I have ever eaten has had some vanilla ice cream with it. If the people who wrote the menu at Alcatraz Brewing Company are listening, both Sheryl Hugill and I think there needs to be a lot less whipped cream and some vanilla bean ice cream. Two scoops would do it justice. We ate the whole thing, though, so don’t think we boycotted what was right in front of us!
Next, instead of a piece of cake or some other fattening calorie packed dessert, sat two shot glasses. Inside these shot glasses are what is called a Strawberry Tart. The glasses are garnished with a freshly sliced strawberry. So Sheryl and I said cheers to the experience that we had at Alcatraz Brewing Company and went bottoms up with our final dessert. It was as good as expected, and ended the evening on a perfect note.
After the meal was over, Jon walked use around and showed us the facility. He took us upstairs and showed us where the beer is made, showed us their private dining rooms that are available to rent for $500, and even showed us some hand-drawn art courtesy of Shane Brown Art and the Indiana Drinking Team. You might have heard of Shane, actually. He is the artist that did all of the beer logos for Sun King Brewing Company. He has some art work also spread out through the restaurant, and is actually a former employee of Alcatraz Brewing Company.
At some point while you are in the Circle City, you must pay tribute to the famous prison on the west coast that made this restaurant possible. The menu is new, the chef is new, and the experience you will have here will not easily be replaced. Adding to the fact they have an incredible selection of beers, their wait staff is highly trained and motivated, and their menu is placed with signature dishes, you will become a regular if you just give it a chance.
I want to personally thank all of the folks that made this evening possible. Alcatraz Brewing Company is located in downtown Indianapolis and is a place that you will be seeing me on Tuesday and Thursday night for $4.00 growler refills. Stop in, say hello, and make sure you order one of their homemade beers. You won’t regret it. I can’t wait for my next trip to Alcatraz Brewing Company.