Thursday, 21 November 2013

(Micro)Brewing Community in Columbus

Last Thursday, I had the fortunate opportunity to join Jim Ellison (a.k.a. CMH Gourmand, and Co-Owner and Tour Coordinator of Columbus Brew Adventures) and 13 others on a brewery tour in the microbrewing district of Grandview. Begun just this past September, van fulls of folks have participated in one or more of CBA's six public tours, including voyages to Granville and Athens. The Grandview tour took us to four different sites, where we tasted over a dozen local brews and especially learned through drink.

Barley's Smokehouse & Brewpub on Urbanspoon

Our tour began where microbrewing began in Columbus some 15 years ago: Barley's Smokehouse and Brewpub (1130 Dublin Road). After gathering in the lobby, we made our way to a large L-shaped bar stool seating area located in the centre of the brewpub, with a great 360-view of the entire space. There was a liveliness I didn't quite expect on a Thursday evening. Then again, I would soon discover that each of our stops were full of regulars, microcosms of local brewery supporters. Mere moments later, plates of food were brought out as Barley’s Brewing Co. Founder Lenny Kolada, a.k.a. "Brewdood," and Angelo Signorino, the longest serving brewmaster in the state of Ohio, greeted us. (In addition to his start in home brewing, Angelo has also been brewing since the opening of the first Barley's, some 21 years and a couple days ago.) [Click here for a photo of Jim, Lenny and Angelo.] Following Lenny's brief crash course on beer basics (capped off by the need for great risk taking and creativity), we were set to begin.

Before I get to the beer, I need to talk about the appetizer plate set before us.  More or less from left to right, the sampler included tender St. Louis-style riblets which had a deep, smoky rub to them; wings that had been brined, smoked, and then grilled; sauerkraut balls--oh.my.yum; beer battered fried onions; and an amazing chipotle hummus that had a slight zing to it and was served with grilled pita bread. I could have just ended the night there. But then there were beers.

Our first beer was the Christmas Ale, which had only been on tap for a week. Brewed with local honey, fresh ginger, cinnamon sticks from North Market, and the zest of 88 hand-peeled oranges, the flavour profile was crisp and very well-balanced. I got a slight kick from the cinnamon and ginger, picked up on the sweet tones of the honey and orange zest, and ended with a smooth follow-through.

The second and third beers were both Centennial IPAs (Angelo's favourite), with one important difference: one was cask-conditioned. Originally brewed in celebration of Barley's 100th batch (a batch = 300 gallons), the Centennial IPA takes on vanilla tones, alongside a more nuanced citrusy vibe. The beer on the left, in the above left image, was poured from a brewing tower, its crisper, harsher mouthfeel coming from the fact the carbon dioxide is better preserved. By contrast, the beer on the right has a smoother, flatter start and end point, given that air (i.e., the carbon dioxide) is released in order to add extra hops to the mix. My preference leaned toward the latter.

Our final beer was a true treat: the last remaining tastes of Banshee. Bourbon barrel-aged, this pumpkin porter is poured from a nitro-style Guinness tap, and smells like fall time in a glass. Notes of all spice and mace make their way through the drink, an overall feel reminiscent of pumpkin pie. I'm still not a huge beer aficionado by any stretch of the imagination, but this one was utterly delicious. To check out all of the beers currently on tap, click here.

Bidding adieu to Barley's Smokehouse and Brewpub, we soon found ourselves saying Prost! at Zauber Brewing Company, site of "zee beers" of brewmaster Geoff Towne. Zauber has been in business for about three years now, with Geoff's experience dating back at least ten when he studied beer and fermentation academically at UC Davis. A member of Columbus's microbrewing scene, Geoff recognizes the area and environment as a very collaborative one. For Zauber's, he finds this to be especially true when considering the field and food trucks as harkening the Eastern European influence of beer halls.

Of important note, Zauber beers are reflective of Geoff's international experiences, and take on a Germanic or Belgian preparation. The first of our beers (my favourite of the trio) was the Vertigo Heferweizen, a German-style ale with distinctive notes of banana, vanilla, and clove. The second was the Stodgy Brown German Alt, which reminds Geoff of his time in western Germany (Düsseldorf). I found the Stodgy to have a relative neutral taste with a slight hoppy afterbite. Rounding off the sampling was the Magnum [Opus], a Belgian Copper Ale, which has a fruity/fizzy mouthfeel that finishes calmly at the end.

From Zauber's, Jim brought us to the taproom and brew house of Four String Brewing, headed up by OSU grad (Lenny also graduated from OSU) Dan Cochran. Moving on to Beer 102, Dan provided a crash course on beer production as he walked us through the different pieces of equipment used at Four String. Most recently, the site has been refitted with repurposed 1000-gallon dairy tanks which have the capability of producing 30 barrels of beer per batch.

Here, the sampling included a flight of three beautifully autumn-coloured beers. From left to right, we had the Brass Knuckle Pale Ale (I think), the Backstage Blonde, and the Skeleton Red IPA. The first one had a smooth start and bubbly finish, complete with an a crisp and aggressive hoppy, "beer" taste I usually expect of beer (and as such, am not the greatest fan). The Belgian Blonde Ale which followed was my favourite of these three and had a crisper, more palatable taste for my sensibilities. The third beer is the fall seasonal beer that Four String produces, and has a unique after bite coming from the addition of rye to the brew.

Our fourth and final stop before heading back to Barley's was The Ohio Tap Room, which opened just this past Memorial Weekend. As far as growler stations go, I'd have to agree that this place takes the cake. Featuring twenty Ohio beers at any given time, the glowing lights behind the bar immediately catch your attention. It's a Pegas CraftTap system, which removes oxygen from the bottle (via the addition of carbon dioxide) before filling up the growler. This inherently helps to prolong the life of the bottled beer (beers that have undergone this pressure system can last about 90 days unopened), to a similar effect of bottling factories.

Here, we began with a duo subbing for a chocolate-covered raspberry. On the left of the above left photo, we had the Jackie O's Razz Wheat (from Athens), a fruit beer that had a great raspberry taste (and by great, I mean it didn't taste artificial) which seemed to create a smooth mouthfeel through the finality of the taste. Paired with this was a porter by the name of One-Eyed Jack, which comes from the Brew Kettle located in Cleveland. The rich, heaviness to it rounds out the lingering flavour promised by the aforementioned duo, with the chocolate tones clearly articulated.

The last official taste of the night was (appropriately/coincidentally) called Time (The Revelator), an IPA produced by the folks at Heath's Homestead Beer Co. A light, rather refreshing way to end the tastings, this one just floats off the tongue. I should note, too, that I also tried the Fighting Tartan Scotch Ale (Portsmouth Brewing Company) with its smooth finish, as well as the assertive barley wine known as Liquid Courage, which comes from the Fat Heads Brewery of North Holmstead.

And with that, my foodie friends, I'll sign off this post, knowing full well that the microbrewery scene is alive and flourishing here in central Ohio, with each location expanding its grasp on the great communities of Columbus and Ohio at-large. As an aside: If you happen to be interested in CBA's Downtown Brewery Tour, you can check out a recap here via Experience Columbus. And visit this site to check out CBA's tour options. For my complete album of photos from this tour, click here.

Also, sincere thanks to Jim for extending the invitation to join this tour!

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