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Hop Notes on the road in Carmel, Ind

While in Carmel last week, I had a chance to stop in and check out Union Brewing Co. This brewery opened in 2012 and is unique in that it brews mostly cask ales, also called “real ale,” a term coined by the Campaign for Real Ale.  

Real ale is unfiltered and unpasteurized, and is conditioned and served from a cask without the additional use of nitrogen or carbon dioxide. Instead, the bar tender pumps it manually by hand, using a beer engine. The term “draught” literally translates to draw, which is how Union Brewing Company fills its pints.

Union Brewing Company
622 S Rangeline Road, Suite Q
Carmel, IN 46032

Hours: 4 to 11pm Monday through Thursday, 3 p.m. to 1 a.m. Friday, noon to 11 p.m. Saturday, noon to 9 p.m. Sunday

There is a misconception that cask ale is flat and warm. While it is true that the carbonation level is a bit lower than with beers carbonated with CO2 and nitrogen, cask ale is not flat.

And the casks at Union Brewing Company are kept at 50 degrees. This is warmer than most tap lines at other bars, but not serving the beer at such a cold temperature allows the flavors to come through nicely on your palate.

Why brew or drink cask ale, you may ask? In my personal opinion, it is the truest, most traditional form of brewing beer and it allows the full flavors to shine through.

The mouth feel is also creamier and smoother. Sometimes nitrogen is used to serve a beer in an attempt to imitate this mouth feel.

It is also probably the freshest beer available, since it has to be. Typically the shelf life of cask ale is short, so you know it’s fresh when you get it. I asked UBC head brewer Matt Pennington why they brew cask ale. He told me that when the owners opened UBC, there just weren’t a lot of other breweries brewing with this method.

Although there are more breweries now that are putting some of their beer in casks or firkins, I’m not aware of any other brewery in the area that is brewing mostly cask ale such as UBC.  

Locally, Iechyd Da has two hand pulls and often has at least one beer on cask. Fiddler’s Hearth also often has a hand pull, and Crooked Ewe plans to have firkins of cask ale available regularly.

Matt told me, “It’s the funnest way to brew beer, and it’s easy to experiment and get creative.”

He began home brewing a number of years ago and before coming to UBC, he brewed at Cutters Brewing Company. Unfortunately, Cutters closed just a couple of months ago.

He brews in a four-barrel brew house with two two-barrel systems. It is a German all-in-one system that is very efficient in using little space and allows him to mash and brew in the same vessel.

Usually he brews two different beers at the same time. On the day of my visit, he was brewing a black IPA and a rye juniper IPA. I love the aromas during brew day!

The tap list on my visit consisted of Hally’s Honey Brown (6.3 percent ABV, IBUs 21), Big Bean English Pale (6 percent ABV, IBUs 51), Presumptuous Porter (6.6 percent ABV, IBUs 32), Chocoholics Anonymous Stout (6.9 percent ABV, IBUs 23), And The Bandit (rauch bier, 5.8 percent ABV, IBUs 25), and The Diffie Milk Stout (5.4 percent ABV, IBUs 21).

Matt told me that one of UBC’s most popular brews is Ayatollah of Cinnamon Roll-a, a sweet stout brewed with cinnamon rolls, cinnamon sticks, vanilla beans and lactose. When asked if he got his cinnamon rolls at a favorite bakery, he told me that he usually had to visit several local bakeries in order to get the amount needed to brew this beer. Unfortunately it was not on tap, but I am looking forward to it when I return in a couple of weeks.

The bar at UBC also has four tap lines to serve guest beers on CO2.  During the slower months, however, Matt will often put his beer on all 10 taps.

If you are not looking for UBC, you might miss it, tucked at the back of a shopping plaza not far from the city center. However, once you find it, you won’t be disappointed.  

There is a nice, cozy atmosphere inside, with a huge beer garden outside complete with a fire pits. The Monon Trail passes within just a few yards, and Matt told me that often the brewery’s bike rack is completely full.

An eclectic collection of mugs for the mug club hangs from the ceiling. For $100, you get a lifetime membership and you can bring in any mug (up to 24 oz.) to be your mug.

There is no food menu, however, there is a rack full of local take-out menus. Often the brewery has a food truck pull up by the beer garden, and the Jamaican Reggae Grill is right next door.

If you have never experienced cask or real ale, I strongly encourage you to try it.  And if you are near Carmel, stop in at Union Brewing Company to experience several different styles of cask ale at the same opportunity.

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