As the seventh annual Ohio Brew Week wraps up Saturday in Athens, here’s a rundown of my personal “Ohio Brew Day.” I spent Thursday in Athens on a whirlwind tour of the community chatting with brewers, beer drinkers, bar owners and the new Miss Plumber’s Crack.
Here are some highlights (and photos at the bottom):
Jackie O’s Pub & Brewery in Athens is moving along with its new production brewery and tasting room being built just outside of downtown. The brewery will be in a red barn originally constructed to house a cheesemaker. It later was used by a glass company.
The 20-barrel Newlands Systems brewhouse has arrived and is in storage. Fermenters are supposed to arrive in July. The Jackie O’s crew was busy installing the bathrooms during my visit.
For those unfamiliar with Jackie O’s, it’s been ranked as the 56th best brewery in the world by RateBeer.com. Jackie O’s now operates a brewpub downtown and is opening the separate production brewery to start distributing its beer.
At the brewpub downtown, brewer Brad Clark – wearing his trademark coveralls and short-billed baseball cap – predicted the brewery should be turning out beer by October.
At the production brewery, owner Art Oestrike – who’s not afraid to drop a little f-bomb in the conversation -- was a little bit more optimistic as he gave me a tour. He wants to be operational before October.
The initial plan is to serve southeast Ohio and then move into the Columbus market. It might be two or three years before Jackie O’s moves into the Cincinnati and Cleveland markets, he said.
He said it’s important to pursue organic growth.
But there’s good news for Clevelanders. Oestrike grew up on the city’s east side and admitted: “I see Cleveland coming sooner than later.”
The tasting room will be open four days a week and people will be able to buy a pint, growlers and cans. Yes, as has been reported earlier, Jackie O’s has purchased a canning line and will can its beer. There also will be brewery tours available.
Meanwhile, the brewpub is planning another special bottle release in mid-August. A specific date hasn’t been set yet.
Great Lakes Brewing Co. in Cleveland will release two new beers next year – which also happens to be the 25th anniversary of Ohio’s oldest craft brewery.
The brewery usually only adds one new beer to its bottle lineup. This year, it was Wright Pils, which wasn’t exactly new because it had been available on draft exclusively at the brewpub.
One of the beers will be a rye India pale ale called Rye of the Tiger. The name is based on a boxing match in Cleveland that inspired the film Rocky, brewer Luke Purcell said during a tasting break at Casa Nueva.
The brewery is still figuring out what the other beer will be, he said.
Great Lakes also is still experimenting with brewing an authentic ancient beer recipe with the help of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. The brewery is taking the effort seriously, Purcell said, even obtaining raw barley and malting it drying it on the brewery roof in the heat.
He doesn’t think it will be available for commercial consumption – adding that he’s not sure it’s going to be the most pleasant tasting beverage.
Thirsty Dog Brewing Co. in Akron has launched “Freaky Fruity Firkin Thursdays” at the brewery. Each Thursday from 4 to 8 p.m., the brewery infuses its wheat beer with a different fruit: mango, apricot, raspberry, cherry, strawberry, coconut, etc.
“Wheat beers work well with fruit and a lot of people like cask-conditioned beers but some of the traditional cask conditioned beers don’t lend themselves to record heat,” co-owner John Najeway said at an event at the Oak Room.
White Rajah from The Brew Kettle in Strongsville is must-have for any IPA lover. But now the brewery is planning a Black Rajah for release in August or September.
Black IPAs are all the rage now. Many just taste like super hoppy stouts.
“I want to make it as black as I can with as little roasty character as possible,” brewer Jack Kephart said after a special tasting at the Oak Room.
The beer will be available only on draft at The Brew Kettle and Winking Lizard Taverns in Brunswick, Independence and Bedford Heights, he said.
Elevator Brewing Co. in Columbus will release Bully Goat next week. It’s part of the brewery’s Goat series – which features its beers aged in Woodford Reserve rye bourbon barrels.
Bully Goat is Bleeding Buckeye Red Ale aged for six months. The beer has big whiskey and wood flavors. Jay Taylor, sales and marketing manager for Elevator, showed off the beer during a special Goat tasting at Abrio’s Brick Oven.
The funny thing is that two guys sat on the outdoor patio listening and interacting with Taylor as he talked about the beers, but they were drinking Budweiser out of a bottle.
David Matheny, who lives west of Belpre, Ohio, has attended all seven Ohio Brew Weeks.
“There’s more beer and more brewers every year,” he said when asked how the event has changed.
Matheny, 64, a retired computer programmer, said he tries to hit as many events as possible.
“I like the tastings and talks more so than the games and music,” he said before sampling some beer-infused desserts at Sol Restaurant. “I’m here to learn about beer.”
Asked about a favorite beer this year, he pointed out Elevator’s Heiferweizen. Of course, he added he may have enjoyed it because of the heat outside.
It was 104 degrees in Athens on Thursday.
Even though it’s Ohio Brew Week, there are plenty of people drinking Budweiser, Miller, Stroh’s and Pabst around town. (Budweiser and Miller are made in Ohio at least.)
Athens is the home to Ohio University and, let’s face it, college towns are more about quantity than quality.
Tony’s bartender Pat Brown said the regulars don’t get caught up in the Ohio Brew Week excitement.
“They don’t jump on the wagon,” he said. “They stick to their guns.”
Tony’s is a typical college/townie bar. It’s dark. It’s got wooden booths with names carved into them and bumper stickers on the beer cooler that read: “For a small town this one sure has a lot of a--holes” and “Go f--- yourself.”
Tony Sylvester – the guy who has owned Tony’s for 30 years – said Ohio Brew Week has been great for the community.
“It’s become more of a calendar event for people,” he said. “It’s really put the spotlight on our town. We’re not just a college town. There’s more to it.”
The Miss Plumber’s Crack competition is a special treat.
Held atop the Smiling Skull Saloon, a biker bar, it features young women interested in having their picture on this year’s label of Plumbers Crack Ale from Black Box Brewing Co. in Westlake.
The competition is bawdy. Last year, the winner slopped some peanut butter in her … umm … butt crack and somebody started licking.
This year, one contestant wore a pair of plungers on her breasts. The contestants are required to answer a question about beer, perform some talent and strike their best pose.
The winner was Corynn Kessack, 21, of St. Augustine, Fla., whose talent was swinging a flaming hula hoop.
Asked why she competed, she said: “It seemed like something I really wanted to do. I love beer. I love Ohio beer.”
After winning, Kessack, an Ohio University student, wore a Miss Plumber’s Crack sash and posed on motorcycles parked outside the saloon.
In addition to appearing on the beer label, Kessack receives an overnight stay at the Marriott penthouse suite a weekend stay in Cleveland for her and six of her friends, professional makeover by a beauty salon and a photo shoot.
Great Black Swamp Brewing Co. is putting its own spin on the black IPA trend. The Toledo production brewery is making a black pale ale. Called Midnight Sun, it will be available this summer.
“The black IPA is the hot gimmicking thing so why not take a little bit of a different twist on it and make it a little more sessionable and still pull a lot of those flavors in,” brewer Paul Traver said during a stop at Grinder’s. “We’re still pulling a little bit of the roast flavor from the dark malt and a little bit of chocolate flavor – really subtle chocolate flavor. It still has a little bitterness to it.”
It will be available in draft around Toledo late next week. Traver said he’s unaware of anyone doing a black pale ale.
“The intent was to do a nice summer seasonal that wasn’t a wheat beer and wasn’t a light beer,” he said.
Great Black Swamp also is releasing its Sand Piper Golden Ale, Bay Front Pale Ale and Mosquito Red in bottles.
Jackie O's Pub & Brewery owner Art Oestrike talks with Melody Sands, who handles marketing for Ohio Brew Week, inside the new Jackie O's production brewery in Athens. Workers had just dug drainage for the brewery.
Jay Taylor, who handles marketing and sales for Elevator Brewing Co. in Columbus, chats with beer drinkers before serving the Goat series at Abrio's Brick Oven.
Luke Purcell, brewer for Great Lakes Brewing Co. in Cleveland, talks with beer drinkers during a special tasting at Casa Nueva.
The Brew Kettle brewer Jack Kephart chats with beer drinkers during a special beer tasting at the Oak Room.
The crowd watches the 2012 Miss Plumber's Crack competition at the Smiling Skull Saloon. The winner, Corynn Kessack, is the blonde in the center at the front.
One of the Miss Plumber's Crack contestants "wore" two plungers on her breasts during the competition at the Smiling Skull Saloon.