Barley’s Brewing Co. is celebrating its 20th anniversary this month – a major milestone for one of the oldest brewpubs in Ohio. Plenty of breweries around the state have opened and closed since Barley’s served its first craft beer along North Nigh Street in November 1992.
“We've survived because we take our beer (and food!) seriously,” owner Lenny Kolada says. “We listen to what our guests want and try to surprise and delight them. We pay attention to quality and we only offer what we're truly proud of. Apparently, our guests agree.”
Barley’s is holding a special 20th anniversary party at 6:30 tonight (Nov. 1) to celebrate. The event includes the tapping the brewery’s Christmas Ale. At a special VIP event, the brewery will tap a firkin of Christmas Ale that’s been oaked, dry-hopped and infused with vanilla. Frankie Hejduk, a former captain of the Columbus Crew, will be on hand to tap it the firkin.
Kolada admits that the beer scene is so much more different today than it was when Barley’s opened. (There’s a second Barley’s with a separate brewing system a few miles away that opened in 1998.) At first, education was key, Kolada says.
“We had to explain to guests what they’re drinking,” he says. “Now, a generation later, they tell us what they want. Craft beer consumers are highly educated about beer now. Yet, there are always new curious souls that we love to hook.”
Given Barley’s success and longevity, Kolada says he can’t think of anything that he would have done differently through the years. “Maybe put in a larger brewery?” he says.
Columbus Underground noted that Barley's has made 56 different beers and served about 4 million pints at the North High Street location. Barley's also was a pioneer in the neighborhood, setting up shop before Nationwide Arena and the Greater Columbus Convention Center opened, for example.
For the first time visitor, Barley’s might not appear right away to be a brewpub. The décor and bar area certainly fit the brewpub mold. But, oddly, there’s no sign of a brewhouse. That’s because the brewing system is in the basement. There are some windows off to the left side of the bar that allow beer drinkers to peer down into the dungeon-like brewhouse, where head brewer Angelo Signorino and his fellow brewers work.
Speaking of Signorino – perhaps one reason for Barley’s success through the years is stability. Signorino has been brewing at Barley’s, first as an assistant to Scott Francis and now as the head brewer, since the brewpub opened. As far as anyone knows, he’s the longest tenured brewer at any one location in Ohio.
Barley's also has helped spawn the careers of other professional brewers. Each year, the brewpub holds a homebrew competition. One of those homebrewers, Jay Wince, went on to open Weasel Boy Brewing Co. in Zanesville and win two medals, including a gold this year, at the Great American Beer Festival.
The Columbus area is seeing a great surge in craft breweries now. Four String, Neil House and Zauber have opened in recent years and there are a slew of others on the way. Kolada welcomes them.
“We love the competition,” he says. “In some respects, they are playing catch up. You can't hurry experience. But the passion is there. Personally, I want our competition to make great beer. It gives me more selection personally, and it keeps us on our toes. How this shakes out will play out in the next few years. My hope is that Columbus becomes another beer mecca, recognized nationally.”
Several Ohio brewpubs – including Fat Head’s in North Olmsted, Lagerheads in Medina, Cellar Rats in Madison and Jackie O’s in Athens -- are making or have made the transition into bottling and canning. Barley’s has held off.
“Bottling/canning is a whole other business,” Kolada says. “It seems intuitive to grow into something like that, but there's a steep learning curve. Also, capital requirements are enormous. Never say never, though.”
So where will Barley’s be in another 20 years?
“Ha! That's a really good question,” Kolada says. “I guess I should ask myself where I'll be in another twenty years. At the least, I hope Barley's will be there still doing what it does best 20 years from now. That would be cool -- a 40-year-old brewpub.”
To read the Columbus Underground story about the 20th anniversary, click here.