Delaware, Ohio (pop ~35,000) is a charming little city located about 30 miles northwest of Columbus. History buffs know Delaware as the birthplace of Rutherford B. Hayes, 19th President of the United States, and people who follow harness racing (I’m told such people do exist) know Delaware as the home of the Little Brown Jug. On the other hand, when it comes to craft beer Delaware is so far under the radar that you might have to use sonar to find it, but I’m here to tell you that in an unassuming brick building not far from the city center you can find one of Ohio’s best kept secrets, Staas Brewing.
My first visit to Staas was back in September while collecting beers for a blind taste test of Central Ohio IPAs. Although I couldn’t stay long I was intrigued to learn that their flagship beer is a Belgian Quadrupel Ale. Quads are expensive, time intesive beers to make, which makes them a rare breed amongst the ranks of Ohio brewed beers. In fact a search of the more than 400 quads that are rated on the BeerAdvocate website only turns up hits for three Ohio breweries—Staas, JAFB in Wooster, and Toxic Brewing in Dayton. My interest piqued I vowed to return at a later date for a closer look. So on a sunny, crisp Thursday afternoon in mid-January I headed up Delaware with my friend Mark to learn more about Staas.
When we arrived a few minutes after the 4 pm opening time I was surprised to find none other than Rick Armon, Ohio’s preeminent beer writer, sitting at the bar. There is no better way to get a pulse on what is happening in the Ohio beer community than talking with Rick, so we pulled up a couple of barstools and got the skinny on topics ranging from CBC’s upcoming expansion to Rick’s next book, a profile of 50 must try Ohio craft beers. Running into Rick at Staas is a little like going down to the local blues club and finding out that Jack White is sitting in with the house band that night (although you’d have to say Rick’s fashion aesthetic is chanelling the Edge rather than Jack White).
A Family Affair
Staas was established in the summer of 2013 by the husband and wife duo of Liz and Donald Staas, who fell in love with Delaware and moved there from Columbus to open up the brewery. Staas is the epitome of a small family owned and operated business. Donald and Liz do everything from the brewing to the bartending to the media relations. Many of the recipes, particularly the Belgian-style ales, are handed down from Liz’s dad who has been an avid home brewer long enough to remember when Jimmy Carter legalized it in the late 1970s. Even the décor has a family flair to it. Liz’s mom crafted a stained glass window that adorns the west facing wall depicting a monk (no doubt a Trappist monk) with a chalice of beer.
As the afternoon gave way to evening Mark and I sampled different beers from the dozen on tap while Liz told us more about their brewery. Like quads, female brewers are few and far between in Central Ohio, but Liz’s knowledge of beer is impressive and her passion infectious. Donald, who was greeting customers and pouring beers, joined the conversation from time to time. I learned that they brew double batches on their half-barrel brew kit Monday through Wednesday and single batches on Thursday and Saturday. They serve beer to the good people of Delaware on Thursday (4-11 pm), Friday (4 – midnight), and Saturday (3 – midnight) nights, recuperate on Sunday, and then start all over again. Everyone who comes through the door seemed to be on a first name basis with Donald and Liz. It reminded me of the fictional bar in the TV show Cheers with a better selection of beer and no laugh track. It’s seems pretty clear that the love affair between Staas and the community of Delaware is a two way street (check out the reviews on Yelp if you don’t believe me).
- Website: http://www.staasbrewing.com/
- Address: 31 W. Winter Street, Delaware, OH 43015
- Hours: Thursday 4-11 pm, Friday 4-midnight, Saturday 3-midnight
- Prices: $5 – $8 per glass
The tasting room is built around a handsome wood bar that can accommodate about ten customers. The tap handles are framed by two narrow chalkboards that display the details of the beers on offer. A side room houses a dartboard and a shuffleboard table (there’s a shuffleboard league that plays on Thursday nights). After a while we headed into the back of the former insurance building for a look under the hood so to speak. Liz and Donald brew beer on a small half barrel Brew Magic brew kit, the same kit that Sam Caglione started off with at Dogfish Head. The brewing area is unusually clean and orderly, with bags of imported European malts stacked neatly against the wall.
As we go back out to the bar I ask them about their aspirations for the future. For now Liz and Donald seem content to be a small neighborhood brewery, Delaware’s first since prohibition. When I press them to see if they would like to distribute their beer more widely, I can only get Liz to admit that she wouldn’t mind upgrading to a 3 barrel brew kit and expanding the hours of operation to include Sundays.
The taplist is dominated by English (ESB, Oatmeal Stout, English Olde Ale, Vanilla Porter) and Belgian (Saison, Golden Strong, Tripel, and Quad) styles, rounded out with an IPA, a Double IPA, and a German Hefeweizen. Many of the beers have names that are drawn from Delaware’s history. The ESB is called The Runner Up, a nod to the fact that Delaware was almost chosen to be the state capitol. Pluggy’s Town Porter, refers to the original name of the town, and the Flood Water Oatmeal Stout is named to commemorate the flood of 1913. The IPA, which leans more toward an English version of the style, is named Presidential IPA in honor of Delaware’s most famous son, Rutherford B. Hayes. Curious about the names I learn that the town historian has befriended the young couple and stops by periodically to share stories of Delaware’s interesting past. The friendship has grown to the point that Donald has officially been drafted to serve on the Delaware County Historical Society.
While the IPAs and stouts are decent enough beers, if you visit Staas I would recommend sticking to the classic Belgian and English styles that they do best. The ESB (4.8% abv) is a good place to start your exploration. It delivers malty sweetness with notes of biscuit and toffee in a sessionable form. It’s one of the better Ohio-brewed ESBs that I’ve come across. If you want to step that up a notch or ten you can transition to the English Olde Ale (10% abv) a malt-forward sipper, oozing with rich caramel flavors and enough warming alcohol to get you through the cold days of winter. I didn’t find the Belgian Tripel to be that remarkable, but I was seriously impressed by their aptly named Golden Delicious (9% abv), a Belgian golden strong ale that combines fruity esters reminiscent of pears and apples, with more subtle hefeweizen-like flavors of bubble gum and clove. It reminded me of a beer that I hold in high regard, Brooklyn Local #1. The Olde Ale is seasonal and brewed special every year around New Year’s Day which means it may be gone by the time you read this, but the Golden Delicious is always on tap. You can bet I will be revisiting that one the next time I get up to Staas.
The piece de resistance is the Belgian Quad (10.7% abv). It’s named The Evanglist, after Liz’s dad Tony Evangelista, who perfected the recipe over decades of home brewing. Quads are one of my favorite styles and this one has everything you’d expect in a good one—figs, dates and molasses with enough booziness to balance the sweeter malts but not so much to be off-putting. This rich, complex beer isn’t going to make you swear off the great quads of the Trappist breweries, but it’s a good representation of the style and a fitting choice to be their flagship beer.
While writing this article I learned that Staas recently purchased two beer engines from the UK. Beer engines use a hand pump to dispense the beer, alleviating the need for forced carbonation. They are a staple of the classic English pub, serving what the British refer to as Real Ale. Donald and Liz are working on a recipe for a House English Ale and once installed one of the beer engines will be dedicated to serving that ale, while the other beer engine tap will rotate between the ESB, Vanilla Porter, English Olde Ale, and Oatmeal Stout. They hope to be serving cask conditioned ale by late February. It’s not easy to find authentic English ales in Ohio and this addition will undoubtedly bolster the English pub atmosphere that is already going on at Staas.
There is no shortage of breweries in Central Ohio these days, and Delaware is a little off the beaten path, but if you like Belgian and English-style beers a visit to Staas is a must. They are putting out some high quality beers and have identified an underserved niche among Central Ohio breweries. The atmosphere is friendly, and you can’t help but like Liz and Donald. If you decide to head up to Delaware you might want to make an evening of it by coupling your visit with dinner at the nearby Veritas Tavern, which specializes in molecular gastronomy (check out this review by Nick Dekker), or the 1808 American Bistro (Liz compared it to Bodega in Columbus). Just around the corner from Staas is another interesting stop for beer lovers, Barley Hopsters, which is part beer store, part bar, and part homebrew supply store. If you want to make a weekend of it, and with so many beers pushing 10% why not, you can stay at the nearby Winter Street Inn a cozy little bed and breakfast that is located less than a half mile up Winter Street from Staas.