Angelo Signorino Jr. is the brewmaster at Barley's Brewing Co. and Barley's Smokehouse, both located in Columbus. Both have separate, distinctive brewhouses and produce many exclusive beers from each other -- meaning Signorino is pulling double duty as a brewer. He also is longest serving brewer at any Ohio brewery, having worked at Barley's for nearly 20 years. He took over as head brewer earlier this year from Scott Francis.
Question: Why did you become a brewer?
Answer: In the spring of 1991, I bought the equipment and ingredients for my first batch of what I then glamorized as "IPA" at The Winemaker’s Shop with birthday money pooled from my two grandmothers. After tasting the components of beer, finding out that the owners of the shop (J. Scott Francis and his wife, Nina Hawranick) started the first microbrewery in Columbus (Columbus Brewing Co.) and that Scott was involved in another start-up brewery (Barley's, where he remained brewmaster for 18 years), I started to think ... I'd always been eager to share my passions for food and drink. Then I picked up a pamphlet from Samuel Adams/Boston Beer Co. with a picture of two guys in white lab coats and white paddles stirring the contents of a small vat. I told everyone I knew: "I want to do that." Eventually I found out that pamphlets aren't always realistic.
Q: What sets Barley's/Barley's Smokehouse apart in the crowded beer industry?
A:First and foremost our yeast. I started it in my home kitchen 18 years ago, and we still use it week to week and keep it going. Diversity is achieved through the introduction of a variety of yeasts throughout the year, but our house yeast is what produces our bread and butter (our pale, Scottish, stouts and most IPAs for example). Our yeast behaves beautifully in casks, and since we serve cask conditioned ale all the time, that is important.
Our willingness to find the best ingredients in the world certainly can not be undervalued. British malt, local honey for our Christmas Ale, zesting fresh blood oranges for our Blood Thirst Wheat, Black Treacle from Great Britain for our Auld Curiosity Ale and the freshest hops we can get our hands on are all significant examples.
Our 500,000 BTU direct flame brew kettle adds caramel character to all our beers, but none more than our MacLenny’s Scottish Ale, in which the first wort is intentionally scorched. Scottish is my first recipe at Barley’s and our year round best-seller. For what it's worth, I'm really proud that I've been working on the same equipment and have been brewing here for 19 years.
Q: Everyone assumes being a brewer is a great job - you get to work with beer. What would surprise people who did your job for a day?
A: I taste everything, but I don't think drinking is a sustainable practice at work. I might not be unique in this respect, but if I drink much beer while I'm working (especially beer that has a significant amount of alcohol), it's not good for my body or the brewery. Brewing requires an incredible amount of patience, and more carrying heavy stuff than any physician would recommend. Beer might make boredom/tedium less boring/tedious, but safety, quality and consistency are paramount.
Q: What’s your favorite beer that you brew and why?
A: Our Auld Curiosity is a remarkable beer. When I first saw Tate & Lyle's Black Treacle in the Winemaker’s S
hop, I knew I had to brew with it. In the mid-'90s Lenny Kolada, the owner of Barley's, said that he wanted to recreate a historical type of beer and the idea was born.
When we were brewing the first batch, after we got the pale malt in the brewhouse, there was one lonesome bag left in storage. The apprentice that day (thank you, Tom) suggested we go ahead and put it in, so this beer measures in at a respectful 7.6 percent abv (barely legal in the dark ages of Ohio's 6 percent abw days).
It's brewed with British Crystal malt AND Belgian Special B malt (an intensely caramel, dark crystal malt, suggestive of hints of dried fruit).
To pay respect to the beer's American roots, it's brewed entirely with seriously citrusy Columbus hops.
We now put it on tap at the beginning of every year, so look forward to it's appearance soon. Auld Curiosity has been awarded multiple
medals at the national cask ale competition in Chicago (as has our Russian Imperial Stout) and in the 2001 competition it was awarded "Best American Ale."
Q: Which beer – any beer in the world – do you wish that you created/invented/brewed and why?
A: Wouldn't it have been something to have created the first beer? Imagine how popular and happy that person was. A beverage that made you feel good and generally was safer to drink than about anything else. I like to say that brewing is the third oldest profession (second being advertising).
The beer that had the biggest effect on me as a brewer would have to be Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale. Back in the early '90s,
it was the first real American IPA that I had access to. Because it was a seasonal beer, it was always fresh (unless somebody hoarded some because he knew he wouldn't be able to get it again for a while). When Sierra Nevada was unable to keep up with demand for a second miserable winter in a row, I realized that I had to take the matter into my own hands, and thus was born Barley’s Centennial IPA. I've brewed about a dozen different IPA's since, and each one has its beginnings from my fondness for Celebration Ale.
Luckily, I have some in my fridge; I see one in my immediate future.