Why Barley Island Brewing’s Dirty Helen Brown Ale is More ‘Helenish’ than Dirty

Why Barley Island Brewing’s Dirty Helen Brown Ale is More ‘Helenish’ than Dirty


By Indiana On Tap Senior Editor Donovan Wheeler

Located on Connor Street across from the Hamilton County courthouse annex, Barley Island Brewery and Pub invites customers to step under the weathered awning suspended above the front entrance, notice the darkened woodwork framing the front windows and doors, and step into one of the more authentic brew pub settings in Indiana.  The aged, brass handles and the even darker rust-colored concrete floor across the threshold all work to give distinction to the term “tavern.”  The quaint, turn-of-the century atmosphere echoes from a very darkened foyer-way facing a glass display case showing off growlers, a row medals, bottles of the brewery’s house beers, and other eclectic paraphernalia.  Next to the case, rests an upright wooden keg, one of several peppered throughout the tavern further accentuating the worn feel of the past reverberating throughout the place.

Of all the craft beers I’ve sampled, none (and this is not an exaggeration), none are as unique and distinct as Dirty Helen.

Named after a Milwaukee tavern owner legendary for cussing out customers who ordered booze she didn’t have in stock, Barley Island’s website describes its flagship brew as “a medium-bodied Brown ale with moderate hop bitterness that has a unique slightly nutty flavor in the finish.”  All of that aptly details what you will experience when you try the brown, but I would take it a notch or two farther.  Dirty Helen is “sweet.” It carries a sort of almost caramel-like initial bite with a smidge of a coffee finish.  No single one of these flavors ever stands out individually; they all mingle constantly and create a taste that I can only describe as “Helenish.”  Suffice it to say, it’s the only beer I’ve enjoyed which bears no similarity to any other.

Be it the brewery’s signature beer or one of its many other offerings, Barley Island provides craft beer lovers both a unique atmosphere and excellent beer.


  • James
    Posted at 15:02h, 11 May Reply

    Interesting take on a beer I tried several years ago. I don’t recall it being that special before, but my tastes have changed since then, so I probably should give it another try. Thanks for the heads up.

  • Robert Feddersen
    Posted at 18:42h, 11 May Reply

    Hemingway himself couldn’t have described Barley Island’s Brewpub as eloquently as this. There’s a feel to it that I just love and the beer (Barfly IPA) makes me long to come back again and again. Thank you for such a great read!

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