Beer and Loafing on the Bloomington Ale Trail

Beer and Loafing on the Bloomington Ale Trail


By Writing Community Member Rod Myers

It is an undisputed fact that I am one of the laziest people in Bloomington, and perhaps in all of Monroe County. Of course, a lazier person couldn’t be bothered to dispute my claim, so I’ve got that going for me…which is nice. I do play racquetball twice a week (often followed by a pint or two at Bloomington Brewing Company), so clearly I’m not completely opposed to exercise; I just require a proper reward to motivate me. My wife knows this about me, so I was naturally wary when she suggested that we take a midweek day off and make the rounds on the Bloomington Ale Trail.

“Oooooookaaaaay,” I agreed. When I have more than two pints, my wife takes the wheel. So why was she volunteering to drive my sorry ass to four local breweries in an afternoon?

“Are you kidding? We’re not driving; we’re walking!” I balked at first, my natural reaction whenever she proposes a hike of any kind. Then I remembered that Salt Creek Brewery’s tasting room, way over on the west side of town, was no longer part of the Ale Trail. I immediately pulled up Google Maps and started plotting the trip.

It’s just over two miles from our house to BBC, the easternmost point on the Ale Trail. But a bus would get us within half a mile. From there, Big Woods is 1.3 miles—a long way to go without a beer in my estimation—but if you stay on E 10th Street you can extend the Ale Trail with a stop at Yogi’s Grill and Bar, just under a mile from BBC. From Big Woods to Function Brewing is only three blocks. Logistically, the Ale Trail explorer must bear in mind that Function is closed on Monday and Tuesday and opens at 3:00 Wednesday through Friday. I decided that The Tap is so close (just two blocks from Function) that it would be ridiculous not to extend our Ale Trail tour to include it as well. From The Tap, we could stroll one block to the B-Line Trail and then another half mile to Upland’s 11th Street brewpub for dinner and a taxi home. Total walking distance from BBC to Upland: 2.3 miles. Total craft beer establishments: 6.


A short bus ride (the ride was short, not the bus) and a half-mile walk through the IU campus and we were at BBC just after 1:00pm. As usual, a few regulars were having lunch at the bar. I surveyed the beer board and found that the seasonal Backcountry Session IPA was now on tap. Decision made. No sense in starting out with Rooftop IPA, a 7.5% hop bomb, even if it is one of the best IPAs ever (with an Indiana Brewers’ Cup gold medal to prove it). Plus part of the proceeds from every Backcountry goes toward the preservation of the Indiana State Forest, so I’m drinking well and doing good. We requested our Ale Trail passports from the bartender and proudly announced that we were going to visit all four breweries in a single day! The awe in the room was palpable. After all, the passport states (in a formidable run-on sentence):

“We highly recommended [sic] that you don’t try to complete the trail in one day, in fact, we encourage you to take several weeks or months to complete the passport, this way you can fully immerse yourself at each location, tasting several brews and other offerings at each of our local breweries.”

If several weeks passed between my visits to any one of our local breweries, I’m pretty sure they would contact me to see if I’d left the country or become terminally ill. American Express has a special alert just for me: “We see you haven’t purchased any beer with your card in the last week, so we wanted to make sure it hasn’t been stolen.” Anyway, having lunch at BBC was part of our plan, so I got the salad-and-slice combo, today’s slice being the Woodsman, with pesto, portabella and button mushrooms, goat cheese, and mozzarella. Thus fortified, we ventured out on the Ale Trail toward Yogi’s. “Westward, ho!” I commanded my wife. Sometimes I don’t know how she keeps a straight face.

As I mentioned, Yogi’s Grill and Bar isn’t officially part of the Ale Trail, but it is conveniently located between BBC and Big Woods, and it does offer numerous Indiana craft beers. Yogi’s has more of a college bar vibe than the other places on our tour, but it was nice and quiet on this Wednesday afternoon. Perhaps Yogi’s greatest contribution to the Btown craft beer scene is Beer School on Tuesday nights featuring tastings and presentations by beer cognoscenti. My wife and I both ordered the Tin Man Damascene, an apricot sour that we both loved when it first came out. I don’t know if it was due to a problem at the brewery or here at the restaurant, but it was a bit flat and lacked the lactic tartness and apricot sweetness we’ve come to expect. So we packed up our gear and hit the trail toward Big Woods.

For those of you playing along at home, it was 3:00pm when we took our stools at the Big Woods bar. Unlike the other three way stations on the Ale Trail, Big Woods serves their own beers plus a selection from other craft brewers. But the Ale Trail passport declares “No guest taps,” so I asked for a taste of Big Woods’ Hoosier Red. This batch smelled a little sulfurous to me, so I asked for a taste of the Scottish Export instead. Ah, that hit the spot. Jesse, our favorite beer geek at Big Woods, stopped by to chat about sours, Bloomington Craft Beer Week (BCBW), and other topics of mutual interest, and before we knew it, it was after 4:00pm. We had our passports stamped and moved on.

I knew before we even walked through the door at Function Brewing that I would be having a flight. The selection of small-batch beers here is ever-changing, and I always want to taste everything I haven’t had before. I chose the Integrand IPA, Concentric Maple Blonde, Domain Chipotle Stout, and Scalar Smoked Amber. Hopheads will love Integrand, weighing in at 70 IBUs and 6.7% ABV with Columbus, Simcoe, Mosaic, Chinook, and Saaz hops. We chatted with co-owners Arlyn and Steve Llewellyn about their plans for BCBW and were happy to learn that our pal Ding Prud’homme’s Codex Mayan Chocolate Stout would be returning. This rich, chocolatey, spicy beer is an annual favorite that doesn’t stay on tap long.

“I’m getting full of beer,” my wife complained as we hiked the two blocks to The Tap. I ruefully noted that the one time we walk here, there’s plenty of parking right out front. The Tap can get crowded and loud in the evening, but this afternoon at 5:30 it was still quiet and there were plenty of seats at the bar. They have a good selection of their own beers, but I always scan the menu for sours first. Sure enough, Rivertown’s Pear Lambic was on tap. This is how a fruit sour should be: lots of tartness and fruit flavor.

Parking has been sketchy at Upland during construction of their new sour brewery, so it was nice not to worry about finding a place to park. I decided that walking isn’t so bad as long as it is periodically interrupted by beer. I guess that’s why golf is so popular. We arrived at Upland at 6:30pm, just in time for dinner. In the immortal words of The A-Team’s Hannibal Smith, “I love it when a plan comes together.” I opted for a thematic dinner of fish and chips with Carpet Burn Oyster Stout. It would be easy for Upland to stick to its regular lineup and seasonals, so I love that they have the Side Trail series of experimental beers. Carpet Burn is made with real oysters and a variety of roasted peppers. It’s mildly sweet, slightly roasty, with a pleasant burn on the end.

​As we waited for our ride home, I contemplated our accomplishment.  This is how Hillary must have felt at the summit of Everest, or Lewis and Clark at the Pacific Ocean. I don’t know whether Switchyard Brewing, slated to open late this year, will join the Bloomington Ale Trail. But if they do, that’s going to make for a much longer hike. From BBC to Big Woods to Function to Upland to Switchyard is 3.5 miles. Plus that route takes you precariously close to Cardinal Spirits. So I guess I’m saying that if you want to walk it in a day, you might as well attempt the shorter Ale Trail while you can. That is, if you dare!

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