Spoke & Steele Gets a Handle on Indy

Draft cocktails and barrel service are taking their local bow.

Shaken, stirred, aged, or on draft?

Spoke & Steele’s (123 S. Illinois St., 317-737-1616) brass-edged bar is one of the few Indy locations where all of the above are options, now that Le Meridien’s corner hotel bar has unveiled its burgeoning drink program focused on a few trends that swelled on the coasts a few years back.

While barrel-aged cocktails are hardly a new concept (Manhattans being the most common interpretation), Spoke & Steele is striving to make it a voguish draw in downtown Indianapolis. The restaurant’s $250 tableside barrel service sends over a one-liter barrel containing your choice of three cocktails. All are aged six to eight weeks inside vessels made of American white oak, a wood that sweetens the spirit inside. The 36th Vote Manhattan is low-hanging fruit among the three. After all, does a well-balanced whiskey beverage really need to see wood again? But bar manager Tyler Burns has an interesting concept, sending tequila/mescal-based drinks off to marinate for a few weeks.

Draft cocktails can be a time-saver for customers and bartenders: Pull the drink over ice, add garnishes, and there it is. The kegged cocktail has long been a point of contention, though. Purists might say that a flip of a draft handle is no match for a precisely measured and cared-for libation that took the bartender time and devotion to prepare. On the other hand, a combination of both methods could strike a perfect chord. For example, drafts with a carbonation charge can completely change the profile.

Burns plans to offer four cocktail handles: two light and refreshing, and two with a boozy pull. One of the latter is the Nutty Manhattan, a rye nightcap that tastes almost exactly like those drunken black cherries that run about a dollar a pop. The Hooch is a weekend-only draft offering. Right now the recipe bodes bourbon, white port, blueberry, and clove, topped with ginger ale and lemon.

Building a strong aging program is no small task, and Spoke & Steele’s has room to grow if it is going to be the focus. Ensuring that the barrel is adding to overall build of the drink that couldn’t otherwise be achieved is key to a well-executed aging. When designing a barrel drink, knowing how the ingredients will change independently and together is important, and it’s something the Indy drinking scene could get behind. What I wouldn’t give for a well-executed cocktail that spent a few weeks in a New Day Magpie barrel.

Eventually, the barrels at Spoke & Steele will take on a twist of exclusivity and possibly be connected to a monthly membership program. The table service won’t require a membership and will continue to function like most bottle service. But a “secret-society program” may eventually be instated, according to general manager Nick Clark. One possible perk: access to the barrel room that’s sequestered behind a vault-like door.

Make sure you request the draft menu. It isn’t always handed out right away.