For both my spouse and I, the venerable Barley's Brewing Company, the oldest brewpub in the Columbus area, acted as a gateway into craft beer. For me, this brewpub, which opened its doors in October of 1992, was my first real introduction to Columbus-area craft beer, when a growler of their Scottish Ale (an unusual beer in that they take pale malt and actually scorch it in the mash tun before brewing the beer to achieve the caramel notes) went up with us to take to my wife's family for Thanksgiving Day libations.
As for my spouse, her brother, who made the brewpub a regular destination when it opened its doors, introduced her to its craft beer charms. That very same Scottish Ale was also her first Barley's brew back in 1994, followed by a brew she thought she would never enjoy in the future in the Alexander's Russian Imperial Stout (this notion was proven to be quite wrong, as we shall detail later.)
While Barley's emerged in the great brewpub boom of the late 1980s and 1990s, they were firmly focused in the local and never part of the "cheesy chain brewpub" phenomenon (for an interesting article on the latter, check out this link from oct.co). The space has evolved over the years into a triple threat, with a restaurant and bar area on the main floor, the "Underground" basement area (one of the coolest event venues around and where Barley's still brews its beer), and the recently opened Brewcadia upstairs, which offers video games and pizza as incentive for all visitors to hang out all night.
Barley's wouldn't be Barley's if it weren't for head brewer Angelo Signorino, currently the longest tenured head brewer in all of the state of Ohio. One of the nicest guys you'd ever want to meet or know, Angelo's brewing skills have helped keep the brewpub relevant throughout the years.
His brews range from the traditional (many of which are excellent gateways for craft beer newbies) to the more experienced aficionado, such as his delicious Bourbon Meyer Buckeye Stout, a bourbon-barrel-aged imperial stout with chocolate and peanut butter that's one of our favorites.
In addition, the brewpub sports a firkin program (which offers cask-fermented real ales every Friday) and has held a homebrewing competition for 22 years running. In fact, one of the winners, the refreshing Blood Thirst Wheat Ale featuring the zest of loads of Sicilian Oranges, has become a regular staple on the tap list since it won the competition in 2009.
We've found Barley's pub-styled food to be some of the most solid of its type we have encountered, with a particular leaning toward many of their appetizers (especially Mildred's Sauerkraut Balls, one of the best renditions we've found around) as well as their burgers (with a special nod from my spouse to their Turkey Nut Burger.) Knowing this, we were both intrigued and excited when the brewpub announced that Chef Joe would be putting together a rather sophisticated beer pairing dinner as part of the brewpub's upcoming 25th Anniversary celebration, and we jumped on tickets for the event almost immediately.
The beer dinner was held in their Underground, which was nattily attired with cloth-covered tables and eventually filled with a lively crowd of brewery and good food enthusiasts who had gathered to celebrate, enjoy the festivities, and chow down. We actually enjoyed a pint of that previously mentioned Russian Imperial Stout before the dinner, something of an early toast to a place that has meant quite a bit to me and particular my spouse and her family.
The menu sported a seven-course meal with a variety of atypical menu items for a brewpub paired up with a a range of classic brews to specialty brews released just for this special dinner.
Indeed, with seven courses, we thought we'd highlight the best of the best, as everything turned out to be way above expectations. The first course particularly smacked you big time across the palate both taste- and size-wise: three slabs of a wonderfully herb-laden porchetta, formed with pork bell, rolled, and roasted, topped with a caper aioli, lemonette and arugula. It proved to be a perfect complement to the Scottish (the beer that leads off ALL beer tastings, Angelo let us know), highlighting the sweetness within the beer. In a bit of foresight, the waitstaff brought out takeaway containers so no one would feel they were wasting any of this deliciousness.
The last keg of the Brut Saison (winner of one of the more recent Homebrew competitions) proved to be a fantastic pairing with the Smoked Clams, served with tarragon and roasted tomatoes on a Yukon Blini. In this case, the two creations were plain and simply matched up well, and my spouse and I agreed this was pairing was the highest of the many highlights.
Just slightly behind this pairing was the Baby Greens with Maitake mushrooms, radish slivers, chive with a light slather of lavender-buttermilk dressing with a lavender-infused version of Barley’s signature Blood Thirst Wheat. The brewery did a perfect job of avoiding the pitfall of overdoing the lavender, and the bitterness from the greens accentuated the citrus bite of the Blood Thirst without losing the lavender.
Richness was the theme for the fifth and sixth courses. Chef Joe's Roasted Quail was cooked well paired up with an even better house-made Black Pepper Pappardelle with an herbed Brown Butter and little slabs of orange to cleanse the palate. The accompanying Tour De Hops 5 Imperial IPA had the heft to keep its flavor profile, unlike the Hoptoberfest pairing with the Squash Soup earlier in the dinner (the squash overwhelmed the maltiness of that beer, at least on the first sip.)
The next course was the coup de grace in regards to the beer: the 4-year aged Infinity Grand Cru was a divine liquid, easily the best of a great assortment of brews (I can imagine that the fresh batch of Infinity will age quite well as well.) This vertical of Infinity came paired with a generously sized portion of Osso Bucco with a sliced of Parmesan-crusted Fennel and a Potato Risotto. Like the last course, the brews and their flavor profiles easily held their own against the rich food we were served.
As the seventh course came around (a Pistachio Mousse with Lemon Poppy Seed Cake and served in a Vanilla Tulip), we were wishing we had worn stretchy pants on this day. But there was no way we were skipping dessert, and the pistachios proved the star in this thankfully not-too-sweet treat. This was paired up with an excellent Breakfast of Conquerors, the brewery's Conquerors stout aged in Ohio-based Milligan’s Maple Syrup barrels and infused with Honduran Coffee Beans from Galena's Backroom Roasters.
Congratulations Barley's - you did incredibly well on this beer dinner, and you've done the community proud for a quarter-century. We toast you on this special anniversary occasion and hospitality over the years, and we wish you many more years of success down the road.
Barley's Brewing Company
467 N High St (Short North - Google Maps)
Columbus, OH 43215
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