There were so many things that surprised us about Bloomington, the least of which is that there’s a bona fide beer and spirits scene on the brink of a full-on explosion. Then again, as Indiana’s quintessential university college town, where better to start a brewery movement than a place surrounded by coeds and grad students? It makes perfect sense to me.
In the past few years as our travels have centered more around mid-sized cities in America, we’ve seen a renaissance happen, an entrepreneurial movement bloom. I wasn’t even a beer drinker until I started stumbling across these craft brewers who were making real impacts on their towns, coming in and completely rehabbing forgotten neighborhoods, boosting tourism and giving the residents something to do after a long work day. Bloomington is a great example of a city that has fully embraced its brewers and distillers.
We were in Bloomington for three full days, but I feel like we could have used three more to thoroughly cover its boozy side (good thing we’ll be back in the fall!). In case you’re planning a trip to Bloomington, Indiana—and you definitely should—here’s where all we made it on our inaugural visit.
Upland Brewing Co.
The mack daddy of all Bloomington breweries, Upland Brewing Co. has a massive plot of land with a roomy tasting and dining room inside and the best patio in town out front. Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, Upland Brewing Co. hustles up the eats like seitan Ruebens, fish tacos and falafel for lunch. They also have full dinner options of steak, fish and grill items (in addition to a huge vegetarian menu). SVV, however, was there for the beer.
The Wood Shop
A part of Upland Brewing, the Wood Shop is its own facility for brewing up sour beers. The process of making this type of beer involves the use of a Lactobacillus bacteria that can contaminate a normal brewing system so it has to be in a completely separate building (even the HVAC cannot be shared). The end result, typically aged from six to 24 months, is SVV’s idea of heaven. Tart, complex, refreshing and often with a low ABV, meaning you can drink more of them as the alcohol content is light.
Located right off the historic square, home to the Monroe County Courthouse, Function Brewing keeps a small but rotating selection of a dozen beers on tap. Named for the owners’ ability to throw caution to the wind and constantly try something new, Function pushes the boundaries when it comes to brewing up unique products (“we believe the best things in life are found in exploring and in taking risks with the way we always do things,” they say on their about page).
I like me some out-of-the-box flavors, and there was the* Standard Deviation, a Jalapeno Cream Ale, on tap when we were there; naturally, I had three. Of course, looking back at their past brews—of which they’ve created more than 200 in the four years since they first opened—now I’m dying to also try Function’s Szechaun Peppercorn Pale, Peppermint Stout, Banana Stout and Spiced Apple Ale if they ever make a return (did I mention I like an out-of-the-box brew?!).
Offering one of the most robust selections of beer in all of Indiana—more than 450 on tap, in bottles and cans!—the Tap is positioned on the square in a prime spot for both people-watching and sun-bathing as you sip your way through a bevy of regional brews. I’m all about drinking local when I can, and given that the Tap brews its own selection of beers in-house, so I ordered up a flight of those as we soaked up the first sunny day we’d enjoyed all spring on the corner patio.
One of the big reasons I’ve wanted to go to Bloomington for so long was due to the opening of Cardinal Spirits three years ago. I’ve followed their progression online, and I love their philosophy of locally-sourced, in-house production for all of their spirits.
The cocktail program is next level, with all drinks made from products Cardinal produces next level; while there’s no bourbon out yet, they’re barreling some now, and I happily sipped my way through their gin offerings, which paired perfectly with the creative cuisine that was on their new spring menu.
Bloomington Brewing Company
While we didn’t visit the Bloomington Brewing Company, billed as southern Indiana’s first brewpub, we did try a couple different BBC brews at King Dough and also the Tap. The BBC’s brewing facility is not open to the public for tours; however, there’s a tasting room inside the Brewpub at Lennie’s, owned by the same company.
On our next visit, we plan to also hit up Friendly Beasts Cider Company, Danny Boy Draft Works and newcomer Switchyard Brewing Company, but I’d love to know your favorite beer or cocktail spots so we can weave them into the itinerary.
Here’s a look at our boozy time in Bloomington via video:
How to Tackle Bloomington’s Boozy Scene
- Walk. One of the best attributes about Bloomington is that you can walk almost anywhere. From our hotel, the Grant Street Inn, we were able to hit up Function and the Tap by foot, and there are plenty of other walkable watering holes that we didn’t hit up this visit.
- Lyft. We found that there were Lyfts aplenty in Bloomington, and even though we were rarely going more than a couple miles when not walking, we always took a Lyft to avoid the hassle of parking (and because we planned to have more than one drink).
- Cycle. Bloomington is a bike town unlike any I’ve ever seen, so you can rent a bike (and a helmet!) from any of the local gear shops like Pedego, which has both electric bikes as well as regular ones. Bonus: Many of the breweries and taprooms are located along or just off of the B-Line.