Talking Ales with Angelo Part 2 – The Evolution of Barley’s Brewing

In my last post we took a look back at the early days of Barley’s Brewing and the origins of some of their classic beers, like the Centennial and Scottish Ales.  While those are still great beers I don’t want to give anyone the erroneous impression that Barley’s is only for people who spend most of their free time listening to grunge music and watching reruns of the X-files.

Although not immediately apparent to the casual visitor, Barley’s has undergone considerable changes over the last five years. Angelo’s long time brewing partner, Scott Francis, left Barley’s in 2010 (these days he’s brewmaster at Westerville’s Temperance Row Brewing), and in 2014 Barley’s Alehouse and Barley’s Smokehouse formally split, with the latter shortening its name to Smokehouse Brewing.

The year 2010 also marked Barley’s first foray into Belgian-style beers, so I asked Angelo if Scott’s departure was linked in any way to Belgian beers showing up on the menu.  His response shows that even seasoned brewers can learn new tricks:

We first brewed Abby Normal while Scott was still here. Neither he nor I were Belgian ale tolerant for the first 15 or so years we were brewing here. I think we both used to think they tasted like contaminated beer that home brewers subjected us to at the Winemaker’s Shop. Jason Fabian, the brewpub’s longtime General Manager was very persistent about he & I doing the beer tour thingie at Winking Lizard when they came to town. In my quest to get as many different beers as possible under my belt there, I downed a number of Belgian Ales and grew to enjoy and appreciate their complexity. Scott still has a dislike for Belgians though.

Needless to say the portfolio of Belgian-style beers has grown steadily over the past five years. In addition Barley’s has established a good relationship with Woodford Reserve Distillery leading to some excellent barrel aged beers, some of which fly under the radar.

In this post we take a closer look at some of the newer beers in the Barley’s lineup, remind readers of Barley’s penchant for cask conditioned ales and firkins, and finish with an update on the expansion that when it comes to fruition should quadruple the brewing capacity of the venerable downtown brewery.

Barleys Neon Sign

Six Barley’s Beers for the 21st Century

Because Barley’s isn’t the new kid on the block, and their distribution footprint is tiny (only about 20 accounts, the most prominent of which is probably Studio 35 in Clintonville), it’s easy to overlook their beers.  If you are guilty of that sin, here are six special beers that warrant a closer look.

Four Seas Imperial IPA

  • Debuted in 2005, 8% abv, 120 IBU

This one isn’t particularly new, but of the many great IPAs made in Columbus this one is the most under appreciated in my opinion.  Made with the classic 4C American hops (Cascade, Centennial, Columbus, Chinook) Angelo shows that you can make a marvelous IPA without resorting to the latest greatest new “it” hop.  This is a stunningly good beer that packs massive hop aroma and flavor (after all it is 120 IBUs), while somehow maintaining a modicum of balance.  If you’re the kind of beer lover who gets crazy for Creeper or delirious for Dragonsaddle you owe it to yourself to try the Four Seas IIPA at the next available opportunity.  It’s brewed periodically throughout the year.

Point of Origin 

  • Debuted in 2012, 7.6% abv, 31 IBU

I have to admit that some of Barley’s Belgian ales are a little on the sweet side for my palate, but this one is a personal favorite.  Brewed once per year in honor of the Origins Game Fair held every June at the Columbus Convention Center, it’s a Belgian Golden Strong that is jam packed with fruity esters, sweet but not cloying. It reminds me of the classic Belgian ale La Chouffe.  I’m not the only one partial to this beer, North High brewmaster Jason McKibben recently singled it out as one of his favorite local beers in a Columbus Alive article.

Sour Aged Infinity Grand Cru
Angelo shared some Infinity Grand Cru that had gone a bit sour while aging. Tasty stuff, but unfortunately the unintentional souring will be nearly impossible to repeat.

Hoptoberfest 

  • Debuted in 2013, 6.0% abv, 66 IBU

This unconventional twist on the classic Octoberfest/Marzen style was created in a most unusual way.  General Manager Jason Fabien came up with the name Hoptoberfest, and asked Angelo if he could brew a beer to match the name.  This presented something of a challenge because the capacity of the smallish basement brewhouse doesn’t afford the luxury of tying up a fermenter for two months to age a lager.  So Angelo combined the malt bill of an Octoberfest, the house ale yeast, and copious amounts of Australian Galaxy hops. Available starting in late August you won’t find many “Octoberfest” beers made with Southern Hemisphere hops and clocking in at 66 IBUs.

Citrajectory Saison 

  • Debuted in 2015, 5.0% abv, 24 IBU

An interesting hybrid that combines the alluring citrus aroma and flavor of Citra hops, the soft bready malts of a Belgian farmhouse ale, and the peppery spice that come from the Saison yeast strain.  This collision of new world hops and old world yeast is zymurgical creativity at its best.  Look for this beer throughout the summer.

Bourbon Meyer Buckeye Stout 

  • Debuted in 2014, 8.4% abv, 51 IBU

Probably no beer in Barley’s barrel aging program is more sought after than this decadent concoction.  Bourbon Meyer is inspired by the Buckeye candy treats that are ubiquitous on game days in the fall. This over the top creation is aged with both peanut butter and chocolate in Woodford Reserve Bourbon Barrels. It’s like dessert in a glass, but what an awesome dessert. It was the hit of the 2014 North Market Beer Festival, and made my list of the top 10 Central Ohio beers of 2014. With football season upon us it has been making appearances in recent weeks. Look for it at the North Market Craft Beer festival this weekend and on firkin at the brewery today (Friday, September 11).  If you miss out on it don’t say I didn’t give you a heads up.

Ulysses Imperial Red Ale 

  • Debuted in 2015, 9% abv, 56 IBU

A reboot of the Irish Red Ale that was developed in the first year of operation, this beer is decadent in all the right ways. Made with six different malts, Ohio honey, and dark candi sugar this is a beer oozing with malty goodness, accented with fruity notes and hints of butterscotch.  Released in March to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day this beer is a front runner to make my list of the best new beers to hit Central Ohio in 2015.  Angelo and assistant brewer Gabe Sturgess also created a special version of Ulysses that is aged in Woodford Reserve Barrels then cask conditioned with Columbus, Amarillo, Simcoe and Citra hops.  As of the time of this writing there was still some of this special beer on tap at Studio 35.

Barrels of Bourbon Meyer age patiently in the basement. It's Bourbon Meyer season so don't let this year pass you by without trying this special treat.
Barrels of Bourbon Meyer age patiently in the basement. It’s Bourbon Meyer season so don’t let this year pass you by without trying this special treat.

Cask Conditioned Ales

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Barley’s has been serving cask conditioned ales since 1996.  Cask conditioned ales are unfiltered, unpasteurized ales that are not force carbonated, the only carbonation comes from CO2 produced by the yeast.  They are served at cellar temperature using a beer engine (hand pump), the traditional way of serving ale in Britain, where “real ales” are much loved.

Upping the stakes even further Barley’s taps a firkin of a different beer every Friday. Here is a description of Firkin Friday from the Barley’s website:

“Technically a firkin is an old English unit of volume equal to about ¼ of a barrel.  At Barley’s our firkins are just about 5 gallons.  We dispense our firkins the old-fashioned way, by gravity.  We tap the firkin with a spike on top to let air in and then open the faucet to fill your pint.  Once tapped, this form of ale is extremely perishable so we only allow the firkin to be consumed for about 40 hours.  Luckily, many times the firkin empties in about eight.”

Angelo told us that it was Lenny Kolada (owner of Smokehouse Brewing and former co-owner of Barley’s) who had the idea to start the firkin tapping tradition at Barley’s in the late 1990’s.  They were very likely the first brewpub/bar in Ohio to do so in the modern era.  These days assistant brewer Gabe Sturgess lovingly tends to the firkin program. Interested readers will want to check out Bill Babbett’s excellent article entitled “The Man Behind the Firkin“, that appeared on the Drink Up Columbus website earlier this summer.

Angelo pours a pint of Centennial IPA from one of the beer engines at Barley's.
Angelo pours a pint of Centennial IPA from one of the beer engines at Barley’s.

Expansion

The basement brewhouse at Barley’s is showing its age.  The 10 BBL brewing system is packed into a surprisingly small space, with little to no room for expansion.  Back in March it was reported in a variety of media sources that Barley’s is planning to expand its brewing operations by leasing the former Keyes Plumbing building, a nearly 10,000 square foot warehouse a block away on Vine Street.  When I asked Angelo how the expansion was progressing, he told me that they were still not totally committed to the Vine Street location for the expansion.  While its proximity to the Alehouse is a plus, the size of the old Keyes warehouse comes with some limitations so they are still weighing options.

While the location is still not set they do have a brand new 30 BBL brewing system, constructed by Heritage Equipment in Plain City, ready and waiting for a new home. The new system, which would be triple the capacity of the current facilities would allow Barley’s to distribute their more popular beers across a much wider swath of Central Ohio. The increased production would mostly be seen in bars and growler shops, as there are no near term plans to add packaging equipment at the new facility. When I asked for some estimate of the timeline, Angelo would only say “The tanks are ready and here in central Ohio, but it’ll take longer than anyone would prefer before we’re brewing.” Sentimental readers need not fret about the fate of the tried and true system in the basement of the Alehouse, there are no plans to retire that system.

Angelo shows us around the brewing equipment in the basement of the Alehouse.
Angelo shows us around the brewing equipment in the basement of the Alehouse.

Well that wraps up the second of three posts on Barley’s Brewing.  Come back next week when I finish by letting a few other voices in Central Ohio brewing share their thoughts on Angelo.

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