There are places you visit expecting to have an amazing time, and they deliver in spades: Hawaii, perhaps, or Rome and Hong Kong. Then there are other corners of the Earth you travel to without an inkling of what to expect and are wonderfully surprised by how charming they are. Johnson County, Indiana — or “Indy South” — is one of these places. Here’s why.
How Did I Wind Up in Indiana, Anyway?
In June 2017, I jetted over to Indianapolis to attend BlogHouse, a professional development workshop for travel bloggers. The Midwest is near and dear to my heart: I fell in love in Chicago, and my mother-in-law is from Indiana, so I knew I wanted to spend extra time exploring America’s heartland afterwards.
When I asked Visit Indiana, the state’s office of tourism development, where I should go to delve more into Indiana’s craft beer scene, they immediately connected me to Ken, the Director of Tourism for Johnson County. Ken offered to take me on a whirlwind two day tour of Indy South, and thanks to his generous hospitality, I’ve got the inside scoop on this fun-filled destination.
OK, Cool. But First… Where is Johnson County?
There’s a reason Johnson County is called “Indy South.” Greenwood, its largest city, is only 20 minutes south of downtown Indianapolis (which meant a short ride from the JW Marriott in Indianapolis to my first brewery of the day, which is highly important because #priorities).
That means that Johnson County is equally perfect for day trips from Indianapolis and longer stays — though I recommend the latter, as it’s impossible to squeeze in all of its attractions into a few hours.
Other quick fun facts about Johnson County, Indiana (perfect for aspiring Jeopardy contestants):
- Roughly 152,000 people called Johnson County home as of 2016.
- Johnson County was formed in 1823 and named for a judge of the Indiana Supreme Court. His name? John Johnson.
- CNNMoney called it one of eight places “where the middle class thrives,” meaning low unemployment rates and a good quality of life.
- It’s in the same time zone as New York City, which means no darn jet lag for East Coasters!
Why Should I Visit?
Johnson County, Indiana is what I’d call an “up-and-coming” tourist destination. It may be under the radar now to folks outside of Indiana, but you heard about it here first! Here are seven reasons why you need to visit Indy South.
1. It’s a heaven for craft beer lovers.
First things first: Johnson County’s got some awesome breweries… and I didn’t even get to all of them on this trip. Here are four spots that you need to check out during your stay.
Planetary Brewing Co.
Three words: Space-themed brewery. As someone who grew up in NASA’s backyard and devoured the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, I couldn’t get myself over to Planetary Brewing soon enough. Launched into orbit in March 2013, Planetary Brewing was the second brewery established in Johnson County and the 63rd in Indiana.
As luck would have it, Andy, the owner/brewer, arrived in the midst of my thirst-quenching expedition.
Curious about the origins of the beers’ names, I discovered that Andy’s inspiration ranged from the near — his wife’s initials and birthday for CEC-829, an American Pale Ale — to the far (Star Wars). He also shared the story of the historic, 120-year-old building that the brewery is housed in, as well as plans to hopefully expand into the building next door and turn it into a music venue/banquet hall.
Planetary’s mission, should you choose to accept it, is to help consumers cruise through the “Universe of Beer” and check out all the different
planets beers. So go have fun checking them all out — I’ll be hanging out on Planet IPA.
Beers You Can’t Miss: Parallax Vanilla Porter (5.6% ABV), a delectable porter that’s sanitized in bourbon (usually Maker’s Mark, which gives it a bite), making it out of this world. While the IPA on tap (Bosstin Hill, 6.75% ABV) was delicious, be sure to check out the JJS-550, an imperial IPA which is one of their most popular brews. The beer is a fitting tribute to Andy’s best friend, whom he lost to disease.
Taxman Brewing Company
Taxman’s stellar reputation preceded it. When I consulted various beer bloggers about what breweries to visit in Indiana, nearly all mentioned Taxman Brewing. It’s on high on craft beer aficionados’ radar, which meant that I had to check it out.
Turns out that three of the brewery’s founders are, in fact, tax professionals. Their tax consulting work took them to Belgium, where it is mandated by law that you must drink beer and eat frites at all times and by no means continue crunching numbers, and thus Taxman was born.
With the industrial feel of its interior and its extensive selection of brews, Taxman — which opened in 2014 — would be right at home next to any Seattle or Portland craft brewery. Families sipped on brews next to neon orange- and yellow-clad bicyclists from the Central Indiana Bicycle Association inside, while young couples laughed with beers and their pups on the outdoor patio. The symbolic skull tax dude also made surprise appearances (below).
As the saying goes, nothing in life is certain except death and taxes… and, of course, great beer at Taxman.
Beer You Can’t Miss: Evasion, a 14.5% ABV barrel-aged Belgian-style stout. With its flavors of cocoa, coffee, and vanilla, this killer stout was my favorite beer I’ve had in months — and I just got home from Belgium!
Shale Creek Brewing
Shale Creek Brewing is said to be “the place to be” in Franklin, Indiana on the weekends, and it’s not hard to see why. The brewery, established in 2013, serves an array of delicious beer and is connected to an open-air dining area and event venue (which opened in 2016).
If you’re hungry, try the food next door at Triple Play. To be honest, I’d go here for the beer over the food, but hey, you’ve gotta sop up that beer somehow, and BBQ is a good way to do it.
Beers You Can’t Miss: Peach Pit IPA and Downtown Cocoa Brown, which has excellent coffee and chocolate flavors without being overwhelming.
Oaken Barrel Brewing Company
This spot should be on your list for historic reasons at the very least: Oaken Barrel, which opened in 1994, is the oldest craft brew place in Johnson County — and the second oldest in the whole state.
However, I was happy to find that their beers were tasty as well. We wound up sampling a few extras on top of our beer flight, because
we like to research the staff were proud of their quality beer and didn’t mind taking the time to educate us about it.
If I were to visit again, I’d probably sit in the bar area instead of the family section, but it’s great to know that this spot (like most others in town) is very family friendly.
Beers You Can’t Miss: Razz Wheat (5.0% ABV), a cloudy, dark pink fruit beer perfect for warm weather; Super Fly IPA (7.5% ABV), voted best IPA in Indiana
2. There’s wine, too!
Oenophiles, we didn’t forget about you. Johnson County has been home to Mallow Run Winery since 2005, marking its 12-year anniversary this Labor Day.
Mallow Run is known for their sweet wines: their top seller is actually the Rhubarb ($13), though they make non-dessert wines as well (I particularly liked their 2016 Estate Red, which was similar in body to pinot noir). You can sidle up to the counter at their tasting room, which is housed in an 1870s barn made by owner Bill’s great-great-great-grandfather, and taste up to six wines completely for free.
As a California native, it won’t surprise you that I’m a bit of a wine snob. OK, kind of a wine snob. Oh, whatever, a big wine snob. So I was skeptical — to say the least — when the staff told me that they serve some of their wines in cans, like this 500 Canned Traminette below ($5 for an 8 oz can).
But even boxed wine has become elevated in recent years, so I thought, when in
Rome Johnson County…
And I didn’t hate it. In fact, the 500 Traminette was actually one of my favorites of the day. So while I won’t become a canned wine fan overnight, I’m slowly getting used to the idea. Props to Mallow Run for expanding my wine horizons!
Wines You Can’t Miss: Finale, a port-style dessert wine; 2016 Estate Red (Chambourcin, Leon Millot and Chancellor grapes, similar in body to Pinot Noir); 500 Canned Traminette
3. You can pick your own flowers!
As someone who grew up picking strawberries in the Golden State and who can’t wait to go apple picking during New York autumns, I was unapologetically excited to visit P&D Flower Farm. Though it’s minutes away from Greenwood, the location’s rural beauty reminded me of escaping NYC for the tranquility of Long Island’s North Fork.
This spot, which has been around for three years (open for two seasons) and is run by husband-and-wife team Phil and Dawn, is the perfect place to take your date (or family) and create your own customized bouquet of flowers.
For as little as $5, you can pick your own fresh flowers and create a one-of-a-kind bouquet. There’s all kinds of flowers here, from baby’s breath to bachelor buttons. In fact, there’s an estimated 8,000 plants throughout their ten acres of farmland and woods.
4. You’ll gain a greater appreciation of America’s heartland.
President Van Buren granted 80 acres of land to the family in 1837, 60 of which are still in the family today. This seventh-generation family farm opened to the public in 2007 and has been open for 11 seasons so far.
Kelsay Farms has 500 cows that are each milked 3 times per day. Each cow is milked for ten minutes, and they can accommodate 32 cows at a time. When I started doing the math, I suddenly had an epiphany.
Between their daily operations and attending to the public during the day, these folks are working harder than most people I’ve ever met.
I’d even go so far as to say that people living on America’s coasts should visit a farm at least once in their lifetimes to better understand just how hard others are working to get that food on your plate.
On a lighter note, Kelsay Farms opens for five weekends each fall (in 2017 it will be Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from Sept. 29 to Oct. 29). Enjoy chocolate milkshakes and grilled cheese, get lost in a corn maze, or take in a hay ride — it’ll be fun for the whole family!
5. You can see classic films, sometimes with a drink in hand.
Film buff? You’ll want to check out the Artcraft Theatre, which was built in 1922 as a silent movie theatre and a vaudeville house. Franklin Heritage, Inc., a non-profit historic preservation group, purchased it in 2004.
Nowadays, this Art Deco movie house screens films that are generally from the 1980s or older. Case in point: they’re screening one of my favorite Hitchcock films, North by Northwest, in early September.
If you haven’t had enough booze by this point in your Johnson County journey, you’ll be pleased to know that the Artcraft hosts boozy events. In their “Brew and View” and “Reel Women/Vintage Wine” series, patrons can score a movie ticket and a glass of beer or wine, respectively, for just $10. That’s a steal!
In closing, allow me to present a much more shallow reason why you might like coming here: they currently have a life-sized cutout of Mr. Ryan Gosling himself inside the theatre. #Win.
6. Because the Flying Frog Bed & Breakfast produces the best B&B breakfast you’ll ever have.
I’ve stayed in my fair share of B&Bs, and they were always woefully inadequate when it came to the “breakfast” part of that equation. The Flying Frog Bed & Breakfast in Franklin more than delivered in the breakfast department — it’s safe to say that owners Butch and Sharon fed me the best B&B breakfast I’ve ever had.
You’ll receive a three-course dining experience, comprised of a fruit course, entree, and a sweet course. I was floored by my poached pear course (below): the pear was firm yet warm and not overly sweet, with the kumquats providing a nice tangy flavor and the yogurt adding a different layer of texture.
I knew I was going to like their place when I learned that each of the guest rooms is themed after one of their favorite European travel destinations. I stayed in the classy 1940s Paris Room, with its dynamic color scheme and thoughtful decorations.
The B&B’s memorable name comes from a piece of Balinese folk art that Butch and Sharon picked up in New Orleans. Try to see how long it takes to find their flying frog statue once you step inside!
7. Because the people of Johnson County are hard-working and care about their community.
This was impossible to photograph, because I saw it everywhere. I saw it in Andy as he described the construction of Planetary Brewing with great passion. I saw it in Butch and Sharon as they made me feel at home at the Flying Frog. And I saw it in Don, who I’d like to call “Beer Yoda” — or, better yet, the Ultimate Guru of Craft Beer, Physics, and Everything Else — who graciously took time out of his day to educate me about Johnson County’s past, present, and future.
When we travel, many of us tend to think of visiting big cities with bright lights or other countries that are a 14-hour flight away. But when you’re planning your next trip, I encourage you to think about cities like Greenwood or Franklin in Indiana. Because how often can you say you visited a place before it got big?
So get yourself over to Johnson County. Now. You’ll thank me later.
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A million thank yous to Ken and Journey Johnson County for hosting me during my time in Johnson County, Indiana, and providing unparalleled hospitality. A huge thank you as well to Visit Indiana for connecting me with Ken and creating this opportunity. As always, all opinions are my own. Not even a delicious, cold beer can change that.
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