Barley’s – Columbus, Ohio

Posted on 10.08.11 8:45PM under Uncategorized

I was honored with the opportunity to visit Columbus, Ohio a few weeks ago for work. Naturally, my first instinct was to check BeerAdvocate for local breweries. Turns out there were a few in the area. But it was hard to tell which would be best. So as we left the vendor’s office on the first day of the visit, we asked where was the best local beer. DuVal directed us to Barley’s. A few minutes later, Mapquest was telling us to proceed to the highlighted route on my Android phone in our rented orange Dodge Caravan.

About 20 minutes south on 23 through The Ohio State we came upon it. We parked in a nearby grocery store lot for $2 an hour and went in to Barley’s for dinner.

Keep in mind, we’d already eaten a huge lunch on our long layover in O’Hare. Neither of us were hungry. But it was time to eat, and definitely time to drink. So we prioritized the beer menu. Food was an afterthought to us at the time.

The first thing I noticed was guest taps. Old Rasputin. Good sign. Also some Blue Moon crap and a craft Pumpkin beer. OK. Then I see they list the cask option on the printed menu. Very good sign. (BTW it was the Scottish – more on that later). Finally I get to the main beer list. It is full of detail, as a good brewpub’s beer menu should be.

My personal preference when visiting a new brewery is to try the IPA. So I did. It had a stupid name, but it was made with all Columbus hops. I liked the idea, because I make an all-Columbus IPA. I didn’t get it until a few days later… Columbus Ohio/Columbus Hops. Sometimes I’m a little slow.

The beer was great. It was better than mine. I like to think that I am not overly preferential to my own beer, but this was better than mine. Same basic profile, but just that smidgeon crisper and drier. My current working theory is that this is because it was only 5.8% ABV while mine is usually in the 7.5% area. I know what my next IPA recipe will be.

Up next I tried the cask. My travelling partner had started with it, and said it was pretty good. I was not in a good position to really know what Dan likes, but I could be pretty sure that the beer would at least be palatable if he recommended it. Sure enough, it was pretty good. It was a bit sweet feeling for me. Perhaps due to the yeast in suspension. But it was tasty – good cask. My recollection is that it hid it’s 6.6% ABV well.

Finally it was time for the one I’d been eyeing since first perusing the beer menu. The Grand Cru. A 9% ABV Belgian monster, I was dreaming of Rochefort 10 all the way. Unfortunately, this one was a huge let down. I wished I’d got the 7.4% RIS. The Grand Cru was lackluster in every way. It was just completely lacking in richness and yeast character. It was like it was fermented too cool or with too much yeast. It just was not Grand Cru in any sense of the word. They really should have just called it a Dubbel. Not that it would have tasted better if labelled as such, but at least it wouldn’t have been backed with the claims of grandeur with which I was presented. At any rate, 9% is 9% and I was not about to send it back.

As we got to sucking down the suds, I got to wondering where the brewery was. I looked all around and could not see it. I was thinking maybe they had a production facility more downtown where the rent was cheaper. So I asked the waitress. She directed us to the small glass paneled room on the other side of the bar. Turns out the brewery was in the basement.

This was not a spectacular sight. The glass room looked down onto a dusty and dirty brew house, you could not see the cellar, and it was generally more industrial than your average brewpub. It was just a chance to discuss the brewing process with Dan.

Then there was the food. To many, this is what makes or breaks a brew pub. For me, it’s more on the beer, or so I thought before this night. As I said before, neither of us were hungry going into this. As we read the food menu, we both commented quite a bit on the menu as we attempted to disguise our disinterest. In the end, we both picked something. I got a steak sandwich and he got a Reuben or something.

The food was amazing. To go from not hungry to cleaning a plate of food is something else. The creamy sauce on the steak sandwich, along with the tender meat and crispy roll, were enough to have me licking every last drip off my fingers at the end of the meal. The veggies weren’t that great, but the main course was awesome. I bet the fries would have been off the hook, but I was trying to be good, given that I’d already eaten a giant pile of fries in Chicago.

Dan had the same basic story on his meal. Wiped the plate clean, including the side. We both really were amazed that we could come in there completely indifferent about food and leave there loving life and the food we’d just had.

In a way the food overshadowed the beer. And I think that might be just what it takes for a brew pub to be truly successful. In the end, how many people in this world really care about what hop varieties are in their IPA? But on the other hand, everyone can appreciate a meal that just begs to be completed, no matter what the beverage.

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