Hoof Hearted may seem like a group of harmless pranksters on the surface, but the fart jokes and cartoonish artwork are the perfect cover for an organization that aims to secretly change the world of beer as we know it. This past weekend they officially opened their taproom to the public (12-5 pm on Saturdays and Sundays). My mission was to locate this den of iniquity and report back to the good people of Central Ohio. Here is a blow by blow account of our risky but successful reconnaissance mission.
Given the way things have ended for me after prior encounters with easy drinking, but hard punching beers like South of Eleven and Dragonsaddle Triple IPA, I recruited some assistance for this mission. I meet up with my friends Ralph and Ted to go over our plan of attack. After a light lunch to coat my stomach we slide into Ralph’s car and hit the road. The brewery is rumored to be located somewhere in a soybean field north of Columbus. The address given on their Facebook page, if that information can be trusted, is 300 County Road 26, Marengo, OH 43334. Our intention is to rendezvous at the brewery with another group of Pats Pints undercover operatives at 1300 hours. By arriving in two waves we hope to avoid raising suspicions, plus no one has a car that comfortably seats six.
It’s a beautiful summer day—blue skies dotted with fluffy white clouds, moderate humidity, and temperatures in the 80s. There’s a palpable sense of excitement at the prospects of finding a large cache of some the fruitiest, dankest, most irreverent beer east of the Mississippi, tinged with an air of apprehension as these beers will undoubtedly test the limits of our self-restraint. Roughly 30 minutes after leaving Columbus we get off I-71 at exit 140 and turn onto state route 61. Before Hoof Hearted appeared on my radar I had never heard of Marengo, Ohio. Now that we’re here I’m still not convinced it’s a real town. There are verdant green fields of soybeans and corn, tractors in the driveway, dogs in the yard, the occasional farm animal, and a car or two undergoing long term restoration whilst propped up on cinder blocks. Make no mistake about it we are in the deep America now.
After a few miles driving through “Marengo” the navigation system on my state of the art two year old Android phone leads us to a signboard bearing the words “Hoof Hearted Brewing.” As we pull into the wide gravel driveway my eyes are immediately drawn to a small building that can only be described as a shack. Amongst the stuff stacked on the front porch of the small outbuilding I spot the skull and antlers of a deer that may or may not have been used in a pagan ritual. A sense of dread starts to creep over me, but then I realize its just a decoy, the real Hoof Hearted facility is located in a much larger building situated behind the shack. There are three garage doors that open into the building, the farthest of which is thrown full open and obviously meant to be the entrance to the tap room. As we enter the chorus of a Talking Heads song runs through my brain:
This ain’t no party, This ain’t no disco, This ain’t no foolin’ around, This ain’t no Mudd Club, or CBGB, we’re at Hoof Hearted now
On any other property in Morrow County a building like this would be filled with farm equipment, but not this one. The first things that catch my eye are the shiny stainless steel mash tun, fermenters and brite tanks located smack dab in the center of the building. A newly constructed bar with seats for 9-10 people is located on the end closest to the entrance. Today they are pouring four beers—Crossing Swords, Musk of the Minotaur, South of Eleven, and Thudstaff. A handful of tables made out of empty wooden barrels and ringed by shop stools occupy the area between the bar and the brewing equipment. Large wooden cutouts of the disturbing subversive characters that spring from the mind of evil genius/art director Thom Lessner adorn the walls. The eyes of the phaser wielding, demon baby cradling, femme fatale from Mom Jeans Milk Stout seem to follow us at every turn.
Trying to act nonchalant I order a pint of the most sessionable beer on tap, Crossing Swords. This saison is tart and fruity, with one toe in the sour beer world it’s a refreshing choice for a summer afternoon. The beers are selling for $5 per pint or $14 per growler, except South of Eleven DIPA which is going for $6 and $16, respectively. We retreat to one of the tables and wait for reinforcements to arrive. Even though the taproom has not yet been open for an hour they’ve already attracted a crowd of nearly 20 people. Co-owners Ryan and Jared Bichon are manning the taps. While ordering I ask if brewmaster Trevor Williams will be in today. I’m told that he is on vacation in Asheville. While that seems like a plausible story on the surface, I’d be willing to bet an inflatable hot tub full of hippos he’s actually in Afghanistan procuring ingredients for his next “project”, Psychedelic Poppy Porter.
Just on schedule our backup arrives, getaway driver Josh, Saison specialist Hans, and reconnaissance expert Mark. After a brief strategy session we send Ralph on his way with a growler of South of Eleven, to get the word out in case we don’t make it back. In the meantime Mark commences getting the photos I’m sharing with you today. So as not to raise suspicion I order a pint of Musk of the Minotaur. So fruity and hoppy yet at the same time so damn drinkable, it’s hard not to be mesmerized by this beer (see notes from King of Ohio IPA contest for full details). Approach it with extreme caution if you have any plans to operate heavy machinery or a hovercraft in the near future.
As the afternoon wears on the crowd keeps growing. I spend some time talking with Cindy Grote of the Daily Growler. The title on her business card reads “Hand of the Czar” which makes me wonder if she has any connections to Vladimir Putin or his cronies at the FSB. I engage in a rather long conversation about wild yeast and lactobacillus with Jason Kusowski who is in the process of starting a brewery in Seoul, South Korea. Could some of the investment capital be coming from Kim Jong-Un? Is it possible that the communist leader of North Korea paid for the brewing equipment at Hoof Hearted? If Dennis Rodman makes an appearance I’ll know my hunch is more than just a wild theory.
The mass of people surrounding the bar is now three deep. It would be an excellent time to slide out unnoticed, but Mark’s photo session is taking longer than expected. I order a pint of Thudstaff, a Belgian imperial stout. Sensations of chocolate covered bananas wash over my tongue, as the ethanol level in my blood stream creeps upward. I’m starting to think the Talking Heads were wrong, maybe this is a party. The minutes pass by, the crowd thins a bit, a dog howls in the distance, and my glass empties once again, yet still no sign of Dennis Rodman.
Against my better judgement I can’t resist finishing the grand slam of Hoof Hearted taproom beers with a pint of South of Eleven DIPA. Last month I posted tasting notes on this dangerous but potent hop bomb, so faithful readers will understand the peril I’ve put myself in. The mission stands on a knife’s edge, my chances of making it out in one piece are questionable at best. I start to wonder if the beasts on the wall come alive at night to feed on unconscious visitors who couldn’t say no to one double IPA after another. Luckily my companions are still thinking clearly, seeing what I’ve done they pitch in to help me finish the pint. We pay our tab, sneak out unnoticed, and navigate the streets of Marengo back to the interstate. Disaster is averted, and we escape to tell the world the truth about Hoof Hearted Brewing.
If you should make the trip up to Marengo as I know many who read this article will, consider yourself warned.