A few years ago, I worked in downtown Noblesville at a little mom and pop design shop. (I didn’t mean for that to rhyme.) On my lunch break, or after a long day of work, I would swing by Barley Island Brewing Company. The place is small, but they serve a full menu and most important… all their own beers! I liked the place so much, that even after I left the company I still came back every few weeks for a beer. A beer and some beer cheese soup. I am serious; this beer cheese soup is amazing.
Since I write all of these interviews with bands and DJs, I figured why not interview the owner of a place like this? He has a hand in the beer making, and to me… making beer is an art… so I scheduled a meeting with Jeff, the owner and operator of Barley Island. (I actually did a brewery tour before the interview. It was neat to see such a small place producing so much quality brew.) The interview was great. We talked about their beer, his favorite beers, and the beer making process. But I didn’t want to stop there… I wanted to drink the beers that I always hear about. Names like Flat Top and Dirty Helen are commonplace here in the Circle City. So I also scheduled a time to sit and sample all of the beers.
With the 1001 Bottles project, I also invited Sheryl to come along. We went in, grabbed a seat, and ordered a sampler platter. Out came our first eight beers.
Touring the Brews
Flat Top Wheat Ale – American Wheat – 4.8% ABV – 17 IBU
This beer used to be their number one selling beer. Now everyone wants the IPA. (What can I say? We love our IPA just as much as the next guy.) This beer as a pretty weak nose, but sits fairly clean and clear in the glass.
Let’s see what this brew tastes like. After my first gulp, the beer is smooth, has a clean mouthfeel, and a subtle aftertaste. It almost looks like a domestic in the glass, and would drink well in the summer. Good thing it’s like 90 degrees outside! I wouldn’t call this typical wheat, like Blue Moon, but quite honestly it tastes better than a Blue Moon. The beer is good, smooth, and one that I could drink plenty of. Well done out of the gate.
Sheet Metal Belgian Style Witbeir – Belgian-Style Wit – 5.3% ABV – 17 IBU
This beer is made with chamomile spices and has some coriander in it. Once it’s poured in a glass, it too looks like a domestic. They do use Belgian golden yeast in this beer, which is not typical for a beer of this style.
It smells weak, but has a VERY smooth mouthfeel; you can taste the Belgian yeast he was talking about. It’s clean, and again has that drinkable personality about it. Seeing as how I like to drink beer, that’s a good characteristic to have. When thinking about the overall taste… it almost has a fruity flavor. You can totally taste the coriander here. Based off my experience, the name Sheet Metal fits perfectly.
Blind Tiger Pale Ale – American Pale Ale – 4.5% ABV – 31 IBU
After learning the meaning behind the tiger, it made me want to drink this beer even more! (It’s a secret… I can’t actually tell you where the name comes from.)
On a side note, I can’t get over the art on these labels. Anyway… since I like IPAs so much, a pale is often a good attempt at an IPA… think of a pale as an IPA in training… and this one smells like a good pale. The beer actually looks like an IPA in the glass, but tastes like a pale… a pale that REALLY wants to be an IPA. It has a long aftertaste, one that leaves you wanting more. What is your favorite IPA?
Dirty Helen Brown Ale – American Brown Ale – 5.2% ABV – 25 IBU
I like browns… and this one has a BIG history with Barley Island. This one should be good. I mean, it smells good, so let’s see what this beer tastes like.
It has a subtle nose; what you expect from a brown. Speaking of a brown, there are SO many browns on the market. It seems that it’s a pretty typical beer for a brewery to produce. I wonder why? For Barley Island, this beer has a history… it’s the Dirty Helen. The Dirty Helen is one of the most famous beers from Barley, if not one of the most famous brews in the state of Indiana.
The brown and the IPA are both dry hopped, and you can tell. The porter and the barleywine are also both dry hopped. It makes a big difference in the aroma, that’s for sure… it also makes a big difference in the flavor. The aftertaste is good too. It’s not strong, but it’s constant. (This is an example of true American brown ale and should have a subtle bitterness in the end.)
BarFly IPA – American IPA – 6.5% ABV – 70 IBU
Oh man, I LOVE this beer. I come in here from time to time just for this beer. I love a good IPA, and based on what the pale tasted like, this beer has got to be good… and it is. It looks like an IPA in the glass, and tastes like a BIG IPA. Oh man, I can’t get over how good this beer is. Maybe one of the best IPAs I have ever had. Plus, the name… BarFly… it fits. (I am not just saying that. It truly is one of the best IPAs around.)
I wonder where the name BarFly came from.
80 Shilling Scotch Ale – Scottish Export 80 – 5.7% ABV – 16 IBU
I am not too familiar with this style… but it smells good! It smells almost sweet. There is a hint of carbonation on the surface, and it has a smooth finish. I am not keen on the mouthfeel, due to the high carbonation that I am experiencing, but I love the aftertaste. It’s smooth, warm, and makes me think of being in the woods on a cold winter’s night. I could see this being sipped by the fire with a good book and a cigar in my hand. (Think about that commercial… me, sitting there smoking a big cigar sipping on a snifter of beer. Almost makes me want winter.)
They added a bit of peated malt that gives you that smoky flavor in the finish.
Rust Belt Porter – Robust Porter – 5.9% ABV – 41 ABU
I am a stickler for a good porter… and this beer is a good porter. I actually ordered a pint of this during our interview, and I was immediately impressed. Jeff said that the beer was kegged almost immediately, whereas most porters sit and age for a few weeks. But according to Jeff, “It’s coming together nicely.” I have to agree.
The beer has a smooth mouthfeel, which I don’t want in a porter… I want, and expect, a thick, almost molasses feel. But it’s okay… the aftertaste hangs on. It’s not bold though. This is a good porter.
Bum Rush Barleywine – American Barleywine – 9.2& ABV – 100 IBU
Since we started the 1001 Bottles project, I have been hooked on the barleywine. Not sure why I like it so much, but it’s not a typical beer. Maybe it’s a mental thing, calling it a “wine”… plus, the aging on these beers is not only an advantage, its encouraged. For example, we just had a barleywine that was from 2006… and it wasn’t ready to be opened yet!
The nose is weak, but that’s ok… the nose is not why I drink a beer. It helps, but it doesn’t make a brew. Then you sip it… and your mouth explodes with flavor. Oh man, and it keeps going well into the aftertaste. There is a ton of carbonation at first, but who cares… I am drinking this for the higher ABV and the aftertaste. The aftertaste is almost… almost sweet. Sheryl just said, “Wow”. Yeah, it’s that good.
Plus, it’s on draft, which most barleywines are not. They are normally found in a bottle, and are usually quite expensive due to their limited quantity and their high ABV.
Count Hopula Imperial IPA – American Imperial IPA – 9.3% ABV – 90 IBU
An imperial IPA… what’s that? I want that!
Jeff wasn’t thrilled with how it turned out, as they lost a lot of the hops. But he still bottled it. He said they launch this for Halloween, trying to do a big imperial pumpkin beer; all the rage. But the Count Hopula is what came out of the project, and now is looked for each fall come Halloween.
It smells… it doesn’t smell like an IPA. It has five different hops, including Tettnang, Citra, Summit, Cluster, and Cascade. The beer is also high on alcohol coming in with a 9.3% ABV. It has a big following, though. I am looking forward to this fall so I can sample this with my fellow beer drinkers.
Damien – Belgian Golden Strong – NA ABV – NA IBU
This beer can be compared to a Duvel. They use a Belgian yeast, with a lot of sugar in it… it has aged out nicely. The beer smells almost stale, almost flat… but when you drink it… oh man! He compared this to a Duvel, but holy cow. It’s almost TOO sweet. You can totally taste those sugars… and the sugars stick around well into the aftertaste. They want to brew more of this, as well as the Whose Ear Imperial Red. They want to do more of these and do four-packs. I totally approve of that decision! Man, these are SO good.
Black Mystique Java Stout – Oatmeal Stout – 4.9% ABV – 27 IBU
(This beer used to be called Black Majic Java Stout, but there was a trademark infringement that forced Barley Island to change the name. The coffee in this beer is from Noble Coffee & Tea.)
There was a BIG issue with the copyright. But I don’t want to bore you with those details. Let’s drink, people. It smells like coffee, but the name Black Majic was trademarked by Magic Hat Brewing Company… he saw the beer with the name of Black Magic on a calendar. Their trademark is on Magic… not Majic. Silly, I know, but they reached out and Jeff’s attorney actually had two lawyers look into it. It was two years old, and they still had to get rid of it. Barley Island changed the name to comply.
Back to the beer…. Whoa… dude, this smells LIKE coffee… it’s almost too much coffee. But hey, Barley Island is always looking for something to set them apart… here it is. Oh my goodness, the beer tastes like coffee… what the heck! How good is this? Jeff said that people always ask him, “Is there any caffeine in this beer?” Yes… yes there is. It doesn’t even taste like beer… it smells and tastes like… coffee! Did I just find a new favorite beer? Yep!
Whose Ear Imperial Red – Imperial Red Ale – 9.5% ABV – 86 IBU
Did you know that Dirty Helen was born in Noblesville? Not sure what that has to do with the Whose Ear… but that is when it came up in the conversation. Anyway, let’s move on to the beer… and the brand of Barley Island.
So when it comes to naming their beers, Barley Island likes to get clever. For instance, the name Blind Tiger, as it says on the label, was the name of a Speakeasy where they used to serve bootleg liquor. The label even has a stuffed tiger on it.
Jeff said that part of the name of Whose Ear is where the name for Hoosiers came from. There would be sawdust on the floor and someone would get their ear cutoff, and people would raise the ear up and say, “Whose ear?” They didn’t even know whom the ear belonged to!
I am not sure what makes it an imperial red ale… there isn’t such a thing as a double red style yet. When this is entered into competition by Barley Island, they enter it as a specialty beer. The beer is dry hopped, and has five different hops in it. It has over 9% ABV, even though it doesn’t taste or smell like it. A good beer is a beer that can hide that. This one does. Imperial means big… The beer starts strong, and hits the front of the palate… then explodes on the back of the tongue. This beer also smells big… hence the imperial… since imperial means big! This is a good beer; a beer I would order time and time again.
Barley Island also has a beer called Brass Knuckles. The brass knuckles were used to break up a bar fight. Just in case you were wondering!
Sheryl and I had a blast trying all these beers. I am a HUGE fan of Barley Island, and some MAJOR props go out to Jeff. He was beyond accommodating, and didn’t just provide us an experience to write on his beer… but he built a lifelong relationship with two folks who are always looking for their next pint.
Barley Island might be one of my favorite breweries in Indiana… or the Midwest for that matter. Have you been to Barley Island before? What is your favorite beer from this esteemed brewery?
ABV stands for alcohol by volume.
IBU stands for international bittering units.