Indianapolis Craft Beer Goes To College (Avenue)

Indianapolis Craft Beer Goes To College (Avenue)

by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap

College Avenue isn’t one of the biggest streets in Indianapolis, but it has a lot of history. Laid down as part of the original 1820 plat of Indianapolis, College was originally called Noble Street. The name was changed to College Avenue in 1855 when Ovid Butler opened his first iteration of Butler University (originally called North Western Christian University) at the corner of 13th Street (originally Home Avenue) and the College Ave. extension of Noble Street. College was also a major streetcar line in the early 1900s; people have been living along its length for a century and a half. As do most people on other streets, folks living on College Avenue get thirsty. Thankfully, the recent history of College includes an amazing number of craft beer establishments.

The metropolitan area of Indianapolis has no fewer than 47 craft breweries, along with countless bars and restaurants that serve the good stuff. Given this number, it is not surprising that one can find a great beer in just about any part of the city or the outlying areas. However, it’s interesting to note how many of the breweries and beer bars are located on or within five blocks east or west of College Avenue – 29 in just 14 linear miles! First let’s look at the watering holes and then we can speculate on how the history of the city has influenced the location of these establishments.

Our journey starts just south of the College Avenue terminus in Fletcher Place – Chilly Water Brewing and Tappers Arcade are less than a block away on Virginia Avenue. Chilly Water has been there a couple of years, while Tappers opened in 2016 as a craft beer bar that offers free vintage video games and inexpensive pinball machines. You can follow along with maps below, but here is the text version of the College Avenue line up. Moving north from Fletcher Place, one first encounters the the Cole-Noble neighborhood and three nice breweries with tap rooms– Metazoa Brewing, Indiana City Brewing (3 blocks east), and Sun King Brewing.

Click on the map of craft beer destinations near College Avenue to get a bigger version. The area between 23rd Street and 46th Street has been spliced out since it is a craft beer desert – no good beer within a mile?! Oh my! Image credit: Beaker

Pushing about a half mile north, you come to the Chatham Arch neighborhood, which includes part of Massachusetts Avenue. This trendy location has three breweries, Outliers, Flat 12 Bierwerks, and St. Joseph’s Brewery, with Flat 12 located about four blocks east of College. There are also numerous bars and restaurants on Mass Ave, with craft beer predominating at The Tap, Ralston’s Drafthouse, and Chatham Tap – each of these are just 1-5 blocks east of College Ave.

Traveling another half mile to a mile north, you meet three of the first of three of newest establishments in Indianapolis – Centerpoint Brewing five blocks east of College on Brookside Ave, Cannon Ball Brewing two blocks east, and the new Mashcraft Taproom and restaurant on Delaware (five blocks west). All three of these beer meccas opened or will open in 2016. Even though it is just outside my five block limit, you should still definitely get to Shoefly Public House, just one block west of the new Mashcraft Tap Room. Craig and Kait lay out a fantastic menu and the craft beer is matched to the menu perfectly. And if you are a stickler for the five block rule you’re in luck, Craig and Kait just opened LongBranch a block and a half closer at 22nd and Delaware. LongBranch an Asian inspired restaurant, but the craft beer is both Indiana and Asia centric.

There is a break in the action from about 23rd to 48th Streets – except for one place you can’t miss. In deference to the size of the map, I had to sneak The Koelschip in, but don’t let that make you think it is a lesser venue. The Koelschip is the beer bar for Central State Brewing, located five blocks west of College on 25th Street, and has been named on of the best beer bars in America by DRAFT Magazine.

On the north side of town, you can’t swing a stick without hitting a good brewery or bar right on College Ave from 48th Street all the way up through Broad Ripple. The southern portion includes the Broad Ripple tap room for Upland Brewing, Twenty Tap (with Twenty Below Brewing in the basement), accompanied by restaurants with craft beer offerings like the Open Society Public House, Sinking Ship, Aristocrat Pub, and Bent Rail just four blocks east.

In Broad Ripple proper we have some of the anchor breweries in the city and some new additions as well. Hopcat Restaurant is located right on College Ave., but the real action is just to the east. Within a square that ends three blocks to the east and maybe two blocks to the north, one can find the Triton Brewing Tap Room, Three Wise Men Brewing, the Brugge Brasserie, and the granddaddy of them all, the Broad Ripple Brewpub.

The final two craft beer stops on this venerable street are spread out over the final five miles of North College. Big Lug Canteen is located about five blocks east of College on 86th St. and the Upland Tap Room – Carmel is just one block east of College Ave at 116th Street. These are both fairly recent additions, but are worth the short drive or an enjoyable bike ride.

The bunching up of this many craft beer destinations on one street makes one wonder just how this came about. Like I wrote above, College Avenue was major residential boulevard up north, and was inside the original plat of the city – the mile square as it was called. Fletcher place on the south side was one of the first ethnic neighborhoods of the city, with German, Dutch and Italian immigrants making up most of the inhabitants. Broad Ripple to the north was a small town on it’s own that became popular with the rich as summer housing and with the townsfolk as a weekend destination when the streetcar lines were installed in the early 1900s.

Broad Ripple Brewpub was the first post-prohibition craft beer establishment in Indiana. John Hill opened in Broad Ripple because 1) he lived nearby, 2) there was an urban revitalization of the area going on, and 3) he had a successful track record in the area (Corner Wine Bar and The Wellington). Photo credit: The Beer Student

All along the streetcar line, small commercial centers popped up every 2-6 blocks. This includes the areas where one now finds Upland Tap Room – Broad Ripple, Twenty Tap, Sinking Ship, and Aristocrat. Likewise, Massachusetts Avenue was an important street railway line, bringing in people and goods from the Pendleton Pike that traveled all the way up to the northeast corner of the state. These groups of pedestrian and rail traffic account for the commercial buildings that were built over time, abandoned later and therefore available for conversion into restaurants and breweries.

Perhaps more importantly, there is a strong relationship between economic upturns in these areas and establishment of craft beer bars and producers. Broad Ripple was one of the first areas to undergo a renaissance in the city after the urban blight of the 1960s and 70s. In 1989, BRBP opened, and was followed later by Brugge Brasserie in 2005. Many other establishments in that neighborhood in the 2000s, following by about ten years the opening of the Monon Rail Trail and another increase in real estate desirability.

Development south of Broad Ripple (also called So-Bro) lagged behind Broad Ripple Proper, but as the real estate in Broad Ripple became unaffordable for many people, the houses to the south began to be bought and redone. Walter and I were part of this renaissance of the So-Bro area. We bought our first house just two blocks from where Twenty Tap now lives. We sold it for twice what we paid, and moved out just a couple of years before Twenty Tap moved in. Dang! If we had known, we never would have left. Private school for the kids would have significantly reduced our beer money, but at least we would know good beer was there if we found some change in the cushions of the couch. This area also seems to follow a general ten year gap between relative gentrification and the arrival of craft beer.

The Cole-Noble neighborhood on the near Eastside is home to Metazoa, Indiana City and Sun King. The renaissance in this area occurred when several condominium/apartment/retail composite buildings were built in the early 2000s. This was then followed closely by Sun King, while Indiana City and Metazoa observed the ten year lag period more closely. About that same time, Massachusetts Avenue saw an increase in business. The area had been granted National Register of Historic Places designation in the 1980’s, and the tourist and local business trade started follow a decade or so later. This brought in restaurants like Chatham Tap and later the breweries, like Flat 12 (2010), Outliers (2014), and St. Joseph Brewery (2015).

Fletcher Place was caught between the trendy Fountain Square to the South and the downtown revitalization of the 1980s-90s. It wasn’t just before or during the building and opening of the Cultural trail in 2007 that Fletcher Place became a hot place to live. Again, the breweries and craft beer establishments followed by about 8-10 years, with Chilly Water and Tappers opening in the past couple of years.

Denver, Grand Rapids, even Louisville each have ale trail maps. Indiana and Indianapolis need maps of their own. Image credit: Visit Denver

Finally, the latest areas to undergo a residential boom are those areas south of 70 on the near Eastside (like Cottage Home and Windsor Park) and the area east of Herron Morton Place from 16th Street to 22nd Street. These two areas include the locations of Centerpoint, Cannon Ball, and the Mashcraft Tap Room. However, in these cases, the upturn in the residential market preceded the craft beer invasion by only about six or so years. This probably relates to the general increase in craft beer that occurred over the 2000s to 2010s. So why is there a gap in craft beer from 23rd to 48th St? Perhaps it is because these neighborhoods haven’t yet undergone a significant revitalization. Hey – negative data is still data.

This 6-12 year gap in economic revitalization to craft beer arrival may be a bit generalized, but I think the theory has enough evidence to be taken seriously. However, there is a related hypothesis that has at least some supporting data – I call it the “beer is where the home is” hypothesis. I contacted all the establishments along College Avenue and asked whether the owners that started the bars and breweries lived or had previously worked in those areas. More than a dozen had either lived near the location of their current craft beer destination, and several more had worked in the area or had other businesses in that area. Therefore, the conglomeration of craft beer along College may reflect the high number of people that live along this corridor, or that they came to live there when they each got hip, and brought their businesses with them later.

Finally, the geographic localization of beer along College Avenue in Indy suggests that there might be other bunching of breweries in Indiana too. Look at Griffith, IN – it has about 15,000 people, but there are three breweries in the city limits and the six more within ten miles. The same can be said for the Jasper/Ferdinand area, and the Goshen/Elkhart/LaPorte/Mishawaka/South Bend metroplex. If this is so, we need to be guiding Indiana visitors from one brewery to another in these locales.

Michigan has a series of brewery/winery/distillery maps that help the tourist make it to all the local establishments. The southwest Michigan Makers Trail Map shows a northern trail and southern trail, each with a half dozen breweries (in addition to several wineries and distilleries). In all, the area covered is only slight larger than that of Indianapolis. If we had an entrepreneur that put together maps of north, south, east, and west Indianapolis, all the breweries could benefit. There could be walking tours, biking tours, driving tours. The different parts of the state could each have their own ale trail map – a slight overlap could lead the visitor from one trail to another. This was originally Walter’s idea, but she gives it freely to the internet and looks for someone to make this a reality. We thought maybe the Brewer’s Guild might be the best group to do this, but hey – ya snooze, ya lose!

In the end, a map system would be a great way to link the tourist trade in Indiana to the burgeoning craft beer community here. Since there are naturally occurring trails that seem to exist – College Avenue being just one of them – most of the work is already done. Beer tourists are making up a larger part of the population now, but since Indiana breweries tend not to distribute outside the state, we need a way to lead them from the breweries they have heard of to those they haven’t. If they follow the map, everyone wins – Indiana breweries as well as people looking for great beer.


Walter’s words of wisdom – Don’t worry, there will always be someone to drink with when you show up at the brewery at 10:00 on a Sunday morning.

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