Drinking Buddies

The earliest documented evidence of beer’s existence includes a Mesopotamian pictogram dating back to 4,000 BCE. It depicts two people drinking through long reed straws from a single pottery jar. The straws clue us in to what the figures are slurping, because beer at that time was essentially just wet grain left in a pot to ferment and therefore had all sorts of chaff and debris floating on the surface; thirsty humans just wanted the sweet nourishment beneath. The image illustrates more than just the ancient method of beer-drinking. It also hints at the setting in which brew was enjoyed: with other people.

We don’t know what the two people are talking about between sips. We can’t even be sure what language they spoke. But the relic tells us that 6,000 years ago, beer was a social substance. Now, the way we make, drink, serve, and even discuss beer has changed. But the way we share it has not.

Today, more than 170 Indiana craft breweries—dozens in the Indy metro area—have supplanted the pubs and bierhauses of old as neighborhood purveyors of locally brewed ales and lagers, and gathering places for friends, families, and pets. Sometimes proximity to home or work is all you need to have in common with your fellow drinker. But other times you want a deeper connection, a mutual interest or hobby, whether it’s horror movies, bicycling, or brewing beer itself.

Each Indy brewery, either by design or organically, has its own distinct community. Here are a few, as seen by the regulars,who have come to drink in not just beer, but the sense of belonging.

Kasey and Reed Austin with their dogs, Caspian and Miraz, at Metazoa Brewing.
Kasey and Reed Austin with their dogs, Caspian and Miraz, at Metazoa Brewing.
Metazoa Brewing  | Fletcher Place

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Pet-Lover’s Paradise

Regulars: Caspian and Miraz (and their owners, Kasey and Reed Austin)

Favorite Beer: Reed, DDH Hoppopotamus IPA; Kasey, Pander Bear Seltzer

Break the Ice: “May I pet your dog?”

[/sidenote]» Kasey Austin and her husband, Reed, have been regulars at Metazoa Brewing since they first moved to the near-eastside downtown neighborhood from Boston in 2018. Reed loved the DDH (double-dry-hopped) Hoppopotamus IPA and the proximity to their house. Kasey, who has never been much of a beer drinker, kept returning for a different reason.“Back then, she came to get her puppy fix,” says Reed.

Since homebrewer animal-lover Dave Worthington opened Metazoa in 2016, the microbrewery has redefined the term “pet-friendly.” Not only does the tap list feature a menagerie of wildlife-themed brews from Trash Panda Blonde to Wit-Bellied Hedgehog to Haze is for Horses, with 5 percent of all profits going to statewide and nationwide animal welfare organizations, but the taproom itself maintains an impressive beast-to-beer drinker ratio. On any given day, you might spot a parakeet, a snake, a pet potbelly pig, or even a goat. As long as owners get clearance for exotic pets beforehand, they’re welcome.

But the real regulars at Metazoa are dogs. And after less than a year of coming in three to five times a week to be around other people’s canines, Kasey convinced Reed it was time to get one of their own, Caspian, a woolly Bernese Mountain Dog welcomed in November 2018. They added Miraz, another Bernese, in 2020. (“He was our COVID baby,” says Kasey.)

“A lot of places allow dogs, but you don’t get the vibe that they’re made for animals,” Reed says. “Here, everything is animal-centric.”

He means more than a place with bottomless dog bowls. He means a taproom that forgoes food prep so that leashed and well-behaved dogs can roam freely inside. A brewery that hosts events like breed-specific meetups and a paint-your-dog workshop where you stencil a portrait of your best friend in between sips. “Being a dog parent has changed,” says Kasey. “They’re your family. You want to do things with them.”

Today, Caspian and Miraz are usually the first two dogs patrons see. They’re either sitting under the taproom bar at their owners’ feet, running with their pals out in the dog park, or relaxing in the aisle by the tables, waiting to be petted. Kasey and Reed say they’ve met most of their Metazoa crew through the dogs, either by passersby stopping to pet Caspian or Miraz or other people’s canines wandering over to play.

Caspian and Miraz have their own circle of friends. According to Kasey and Reed, the pups have a shifting “crew” of about 10 to 15 other four-legged (water) drinking buddies. Watching them and their fellow canines happily run around, carouse, and steal the attention of every human that passes by, you begin to wonder exactly who is at the end of the leash.

Scarlet Lane regular, James Slaven
Scarlet Lane | McCordsville and Kennedy-King

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Tune Into The Horror Network

Regular: James Slaven

Favorite Beer: Olga Russian
Imperial Stout

Break the Ice: “Have you watched Wednesday on Netflix?”

[/sidenote]» You know a brewery has done a good job creating a culture when regulars can slip seamlessly in and out of multiple locations.

James Slaven frequents the flagship Scarlet Lane, the self-proclaimed “Official Beer of Horror,” in McCordsville two or three times a week because it’s near his home, but he also stops into the Kennedy-King gastropub on Bellefontaine that’s close to his work as a math professor at IUPUI. And he’s been known to drop in from time to time at the SoBro and Scarlet Grove taprooms. “I always sit at the bar with a book,” he says. “Each location has its own neighborhood feel, but I never feel out of place.”

Slaven grew up watching Sammy Terry, the legendary local phantom who would rise from his coffin to introduce horror films on WTTV Channel 4. (“He scared the bejeezus out of me.”) He also developed a taste for reading science fiction and fantasy, particularly the dystopian stories of Ray Bradbury, whose dog-eared novels he still totes to the taproom. But this bookworm doesn’t pack a book to shut himself off from others. In fact, Slaven knows his taste in literature will spark a conversation with the crowd at Scarlet Lane.

The ghoulish atmosphere at Scarlet Lane grew in the silhouette of its founder and head brewer Elise Lane, who loves all things horror so much that she used to deliver beer in a hearse. It’s Halloween year-round at each location, decked out in skeletons, cobwebs, classic monster-movie posters, and TVs tuned to slasher films and black-and-white reruns of The Addams Family and The Munsters. The beers bear names like Dorian (Gray) Stout, Lenore Northwest-Style Pale Ale, and Sammy Terry Citra Kolsch. There are also special screenings of movies and other pop-up events, like the Scarelastic Book Fair, the Dragula drag show, and special appearances by local artists and authors, including an occasional cameo by the late Sammy Terry’s son, Mark Carter, who has taken on his father’s macabre mantle.

Slaven says even the bartenders are steeped in all things spooky. Equally appealing to him is that horror enthusiasts also tend to overlap into his other nerdish tendencies, like The Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, and, of course, science fiction. “You might come here for the horror, but people are multifaceted,” says Slaven. “I wouldn’t keep coming if it was just that.”

Mike Miller at Deviate Brewing
Deviate Brewing | Pyramids

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Beer-Nerd Nirvana

Regular: Mike Miller

Favorite Beer: Imperial stouts

Break the Ice: “Do you prefer West Coast or East Coast IPAs?”

[/sidenote]» For some people, the beer takes a back seat; they patronize a certain brewery because of the culture, the proximity, or a particular trivia night. They might have a favorite brew and even gradually work their way down the tap list—but it’s incidental.

Then there are the tipplers for whom the beer is the only thing. They don’t want to chat about sports or the weather; they want to know the entire grain bill (the list of grain malts and adjuncts used in a beer recipe) and whether the brewer uses standard hops or extracts. For these beer nerds, there is Deviate Brewing. “They have people that work here that know brewing and know craft beer,” says regular Mike Miller, an analytical chemist by trade and homebrewer by passion. “If you have a question about the beer, the people pouring it know the answer, and if they don’t, Greg and Mike are always there and accessible.”

Cincinnati transplants and former homebrewers Greg Ortwein and Mike Orkey opened Deviate in 2015 for that exact purpose—to brew beer for beer geeks. And even those who don’t know a fermenting bucket from a bottling bucket can tell. Inside the nondescript strip-mall storefront, floors are bare concrete and chain-link fencing separates the vats from the taproom. The tap list on wrinkled laminated paper slides loose across the bar. The only selling point is the beer.

Miller drives more than an hour from Martinsville at least once a week. He’s afraid he might miss something. “They never really brew the same beer twice,” he says. “Even with their staple IPA, Hope Supremacy, they try to modify it. It started as a clear IPA, and now it’s full-bodied. They are constantly evolving it to be the best it can be.”

Of course, Miller’s pilgrimage is about more than just keeping up with the menu. He’s made dozens of friends of the aficionados who consider the place their secret. They gather at tables inside to discuss Deviate’s latest offerings and swap stories of visiting other craft breweries throughout the country. They’ll even slip outside to the parking lot to trade and share cans and bottles acquired on their journeys. And Deviate’s underground cred has even attracted professional craft brewers from around the city and the region, as well as tourists from out of town who are in the know. “I’ve gotten to know a few people in the beer world that cycle through here,” says Miller. “We’re all people who just love to talk about beer.” 

Mike Wright
Triton Brewing  | Lawrence

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A Salute to Servicemembers

Regular: Mark Wright

Favorite Beer: Rail Splitter IPA

Break the Ice: “Army or Navy?”

[/sidenote]» When drinking at Triton Brewing, you can never be quite sure when you’re sitting next to a military veteran—even if you are one. “It’s not something you just come in and say. ‘Hey! I was in the military,’” says Mark Wright, a 47-year-old Navy vet who has frequented Triton since 2017. “It’s unspoken, but it eventually comes up in conversation and gives you a bond, something you can immediately connect with. Especially when you served in the same branch.”

“Except the Marine Corps,” says Rick, a 61-year-old Navy vet sitting beside Wright at the far end of the Triton bar. “We don’t like them.”

A short pause, perhaps to see if any Marines are within earshot.

When no one responds, both men laugh at the joke.

The odds of a jarhead or any other serviceperson, inactive or active, overhearing them are better at Triton than most places. David Waldman and Jon Lang opened this place in 2011 in the heart of what was once Fort Benjamin Harrison. While the base is no longer operational, there is still a strong military presence with the Defense Accounting and Financial Services, the Indiana Army Reserve, Indiana National Guard, and American Legion all stationed nearby. The building itself is the former military mule barn, built in 1924 and completely retrofitted by Waldman and Lang into a sleek brewery and taproom, replete with the flags of all five service branches hanging from the rafters above.

But Wright doesn’t come to be thanked for his service. This New York native turned Hoosier by the wife he met in the Navy hits up Triton several times a week to connect with people. If they want to talk about their time in the military, Wright enjoys comparing experiences in different branches or in the Navy during a different era or stationed in a different place. And, he’s quick to point out, veterans go onto all sorts of interesting careers after discharge. From his seat at the bar, this Amtrak employee has met and built friendships with teachers, IT professionals, office workers, and small-business owners with hobbies as varied as motorcycling to Civil War reenactments. At 47, he can give out advice to younger servicemen and servicewomen, and take a little ribbing from the older vets, like Rick.

“They’ve adopted me, like a stepchild,” Wright says. “This place is authentic. It has heart, military or not. And the beer is nice, too.”

Lacey Clifford at Upland Brewing
Upland Brewing  | SoBro and Fountain Square

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The Pedaler’s Pub

Regular: Lacey Clifford

Favorite Beer: Upland Wheat

Break the Ice: “Nice panniers!”

[/sidenote]» The relationship between a pub or brewery and its core constituents is a two-way street—or, in the case of Upland’s College Avenue tasting room in SoBro, a two-way bike lane.

During the pandemic, when taprooms had to limit capacity or close altogether, breweries around the country suffered. No longer able to sell food or beer by the pint, many small brewers had to subsist on patrons masking up and stopping by for growlers, crowlers, and bottles to carry out.

Meanwhile, once or twice a week, Lacey Clifford would get the text: “Upland tonight?” She’d hop on her Salsa Journeyer and pedal the couple miles from her house to the tasting room, where she’d meet her cycling gang, buy a six-pack of Upland Wheat at the to-go window, and join a bike circle of regulars socially distancing and drinking in the adjacent parking lot. “That’s where we would congregate during the pandemic,” the real estate appraiser says. “That’s how we kept our sanity.”

For Clifford and her circle, the Upland visits also provided an element of normalcy. She had been hanging out at the tasting room, the first Indy branch of the Bloomington craft-beer pioneer and institution, since 2013 with a group of old friends, some dating back to their college years at IU. The cycling culture grew organically through proximity to the Monon. Clifford joined in when she moved to the neighborhood. When she refers to bicycling, she is quick to clarify she and her gang are casual riders as opposed to the hardcore breed in tight spandex and clacking bike shoes (those are more concentrated in Upland’s Fountain Square small-batch brewery, which is attached to Gray Goat Bicycle Co.).

The College Avenue tasting room might not have a full-service bike shop, but rest assured, there are enough of Clifford’s fellow cruisers that if you need a tire pump or someone to reattach a slipped chain or loosen a stuck seat, there is plenty of gear and friendly expertise on hand. It’s also the starting point for many a casual bike ride or group trail clean-up. And that generosity extends beyond the bike lane to anyone looking for a game of euchre, a Magic the Gathering tournament, or a quiet conversation over a quiet pint. “The staff here are so accommodating,” Clifford says. “A lot of friendships have developed here. And some friends have become family.”