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Off the Grid

My GPS is confused. I’m a couple of miles east of the one-stoplight village that is Marengo, Ohio and Siri is in obstinate mode, insisting that I turn left down an uninhabited gravel path of which she doesn’t know the name. I briefly imagine running out of gas and the Texas Chainsaw scenario that could [...]
Kevin J. Elliott

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My GPS is confused.

I’m a couple of miles east of the one-stoplight village that is Marengo, Ohio and Siri is in obstinate mode, insisting that I turn left down an uninhabited gravel path of which she doesn’t know the name. I briefly imagine running out of gas and the Texas Chainsaw scenario that could follow, but instead decide to hike up the hill in thirst/search of the current holy grail of Columbus breweries, Hoof Hearted.

Trevor Williams, along with brothers Jarrod and Ryan Bichon, all have reputable day jobs, but this lifelong trio of friends slave over their “dank and dark” beers on marathon weekends in an unassuming barn turned mad-lab. It’s a wholly bucolic setting, with pigs and cows on hand to dispose of spent grain, small tracts of land dedicated to growing hops, and an absolute freedom that allows them to blare Van Halen while developing their obscure libations in handmade tanks unfettered. When I arrive, they’ve just finished a batch of their newest creation, Belloq – a mild English ale with a “massive coffee rogering” promising the consummate beer nerd a “competitively intellectual flavor that makes you feel smarter than you look.”

“It’s craft beer as prolonged adolescence.”
If you haven’t gathered by now – just say the name “Hoof Hearted” quickly to yourself a few more times – irreverence is at the heart of the trio’s mission. The peculiar names they give their brews – Musk of the Minotaur, South of Eleven, Wangbar – could double as high-school metal bands borne of stoner basement jams. The art that accompanies them (the vibrant work of Columbus ex-pat Thom Lessner) only adds to the cartoonish and juvenile “break from normalcy” that has quickly earned them a reputation since debuting on discriminate taps in 2012. They’ve even collaborated with local psych-rock band EYE on a black IPA called Cultrider. Farther out, Williams informs me of a Mexican-styled beer inspired by David Lee Roth’s Spanish version of Eat ‘Em and Smile and another devoted to Ohio legends Guided By Voices. It’s craft beer as prolonged adolescence.

“Not just in the beginning, but even today we do have a problem with people not taking us seriously,” says Williams about the name and the Hoof Hearted aesthetic. “But this is a passion project and the beer is probably the only thing we do take seriously.”

Among the crowded local craft beer renaissance, there’s become a fervent following for their more diabolical selections that tend to go one step beyond. Though most breweries are content with a double IPA, the Dragonsaddle goes for a triple, with tropical notes and pungent “herbal” aromatics abound courtesy of Hoof Hearted’s “no expense spared” philosophy in acquiring exotic hops. It’s a pint that has even the most experienced drinkers questioning their tolerance and sanity. Equally brutal, the Permafrost, their flagship porter, rides the darker side of the spectrum, boasting a 6.66 percent ABV and a huge chocolate indulgence.

“Instead of trying to make everything under the sun, we focus only on what it is we do,” Jarrod says about the unrelenting proliferation of upstart Columbus breweries and Hoof Hearted’s penchant to keep it simple. “Some people like a raspberry wheat, but that’s not what we drink. Some might like lemonade in their beer, but it’s not really what we are about.”

That defiance towards trends hasn’t stunted growth for Hoof Hearted and like many smaller artisanal brewers, they’ll need to consider expansion in the near future since demand has now far outweighed production. Though the guys have their eye on a facility not far from the Lion’s Den off the deserted Marengo exit, they seem to prefer to go with the flow. For now, they are able to control brewing variables from afar via an iPhone app and though sessions this past winter were grueling trips, they appear to thrive in their over the road setting.

“We are one half complete hillbilly and one half high-tech,” concludes Bichon.
“Somehow it all averages out.” •

For more information on where to find Hoof Hearted, visit www.hoofheartedbrewing.com.

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Get You A Brewer That Can Do Both

John Borror might have one of the coolest nerd jobs around. And that’s saying a lot. Nerds with training get to do the coolest stuff. But they don’t always get to do it with beer. Borror gets to check off both of these boxes as the lead scientist for Hoax Lab at Actual Brewing. I [...]
Jeni Ruisch

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John Borror might have one of the coolest nerd jobs around. And that’s saying a lot.

Nerds with training get to do the coolest stuff. But they don’t always get to do it with beer. Borror gets to check off both of these boxes as the lead scientist for Hoax Lab at Actual Brewing.

I arrive at the back door of their warehouse, filled with huge tanks and vats, tubes running along the ceiling. A true commercial production center. After meeting the grainery cat and getting a colorful and varied flight of beers, we meander into the tasting room, past arcade game cabinets and an office. The hallway opens up into a large room filled with small tanks and all the coolest bells and whistles you never got to use in your freshman biology class.

As he leads me on a tour through his mad scientist lair behind the brewery, we walk among beakers and microscopes and machines that look like they could inject life into Frankenstein’s monster. Glass coils and dials hang on machines like medals on a serviceman’s jacket. Large latex gloves hang into a clear, sealed bin, attached to one wall by their hems. A sealed environment one can reach inside, which is what this lab is all about. Getting your hands dirty, figuratively and literally, while maintaining a pristine culture.

Borror explains the role and mechanisms of each appliance as we tour the space. He has a BioChem degree from OSU. We discuss the simple and ancient little creature at the heart of the brewing industry: yeast. He waxes poetic about genetic analytics and selective breeding. Eventually, they hope to lend their lab services to home brewers to define the parameters of their beers, from Alcohol By Volume, to International Bitter Units. The Actual Brewers are a helpful bunch, and hope eventually to assist and troubleshoot over a frothy pint and a centrifuge and use all their powers for good instead of evil. I sip Fat Julian out of a graduated cylinder as he explains how a gas chromatograph detects characteristics of beer, and a giant vintage claw machine shakes test tubes. This is why we science.

The minutiae of Borror’s work is the result of a plethora of other fields converging and trading their technologies. But these windows into the lifecycles of microscopic organisms are the modern manual labor and disease they dealt with day to day didn’t seem so bad. So really, it’s just the details that have changed.

Actual Brewing started as a passion project in the garage of Fred Lee. He is the man behind the curtain, the owner-operator. He is a brewer straight out of central casting. A burly man with a burlier beard and untied work boots. The business he runs uses the ancient techniques of fermentation. He lets his nose guide him, along with his taste buds. In the grainery works a cat who earns her kibble as a mouser—a partnership that led to the domestication of felines. And in the laboratory works a scientist. A decidedly more modern co-worker for a brewer. Actual Brewing and Hoax Labs straddle these worlds of ancient and modern seamlessly. The cat, the beards, and the beer build the bridge from the past, and the gas chromatograph and electrophoresis machine usher the practice assuredly into the future.

Into the laboratory strolls Lee. He greets us and places his hands on a structure sitting placidly among the glass and metal of the laboratory. It is a giant crate-like structure that appears to be fashioned of cement. When I ask what we are standing over, Fred beams. It’s a Yorkshire Square. An open-topped stone tank. The original brewing method, used from 500-1100 AD.  This ancient technology is how the first beers were made. Wild yeast would billow in, and the process of fermentation would happen naturally. Just like making friends over beers.

Across the road in an adjacent industrial park sits another business, Lang Stone. At 160 years and running, Lang is the oldest stone business in America, possibly the oldest business in Ohio. Over some Actual brews, Lee had discussed stone tanks with Larry First, the owner of Lang. First happened to have a line on some huge sandstone slabs, mined from the Dayton area.

As one beer led to another, ideas followed. Soon, the stone slabs had made their way into Lee’s possession, among the burners and beakers, where he plans on putting them to work.

“We’re gonna make some beers in this and see why they stopped using these stone tanks. Apparently these are bad, and we’re gonna find out why.”

"And if it turns out well?""Then we're gonna drink the shit out of it."Spoken like a true timeless craftsman.
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Pucker Up

A few centuries ago, sour beer was just called beer. In those days, all beers were inherently sour due to the lack of proper sanitation practices that were eventually developed to keep extra yeast and bacteria out. That yeasty bacteria was and still is the very essence of what gives sour beer their characteristic tart [...]
Danny Hamen

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A few centuries ago, sour beer was just called beer. In those days, all beers were inherently sour due to the lack of proper sanitation practices that were eventually developed to keep extra yeast and bacteria out. That yeasty bacteria was and still is the very essence of what gives sour beer their characteristic tart flavor. Remember that Miller Light you found that had been left chilling in your fridge well beyond its expiration date? Remember how it tasted sour? This is why.

In recent years, there has been an unlikely paradigm shift as to where sour beer fits into our cultural hierarchy, once considered a soiled product, now hailed as an artisan achievement. Many contemporary brewers would still serve beer that had mistakenly gone sour as a happy accident, as long as it still tasted good, typically adding fruit during fermentation to compliment the acidic flavor. These unintended successes have created a movement of sour beer lovers, inspiring many brewers to start making sour beers on purpose.

“There has been this weird cultural shift because fruity beer used to have a negative connotation. When you had a beer that was bad, you added fruit to it to cover that up. For me, I take the best beers that I have and add fruit to them.”

Meet Joshua Martinez, a thirsty young brewer from San Diego. With a bag full of brewing knowledge gained from Ethereal Brewing operating out of Lexington, he decided to start a business in Columbus dedicated to sour beers, Pretentious Barrel House.

“It was more of an exploration than anything else. There are not a lot of ‘experts’ on sour beer. There are a lot of people that are really good at it, but no one has been doing it for very long in America,” he said. “I always tell everyone that I just kind of make it up as I go. Fortunately, everything is going well, but I know as much about what I am doing as much as any other brewer will tell you—that you are learning as you go, everyday.”

The good news for sourheads is that any beer can be sour, leaving room for myriad variety of varieties and flavor profiles. In homage to his grand opening just November, the city, highlighting an array of Columbus brewers who are playing around with the sour beer concept.

Sybarite W/ Spice

Pretentious Barrel House • 745 Taylor Ave.

Literally meaning a person who is self-indulgent in their fondness for sensuous luxury, the Sybarite w/ Spice is the perfect example of how rich and sumptuous sours can be, as well as showing off the broad range of flavors you can achieve when brewing sour beer.  Starting with their base sour red ale, Martinez adds an array of holiday spices like nutmeg and cinnamon to create a complex yet balanced holiday spiced beer. It’s not overwhelmingly sweet, rather the notes of nutmeg resonate gently on the palate, pairing well with the citrusy bite of flavor. The beer is light and airy, making for a crisp, refreshing, and accessible foray into the world of sours.

Gose

Wolf’s Ridge • 215 N Fourth St.

Originating from Goslar, Germany, a Gose style beer is brewed with at least half of the grain bill being malted wheat, providing a cloudy yellow color, a refreshing twang, and a salty finish. Wolf Ridge’s take on the classic sour has a citrusy nose with a touch of rose petals, a foggy straw color, and a lemony bite. The beer is crisp and live-bodied, the tartness evened out by the saltiness of the malted wheat, making for a refreshingly balanced sour beer. Unfortunately, Wolf’s Ridge only has done.

The Vintner

Lineage Brewing • 2971 N High St.

The Vintner, concocted by Lineage Brewing, the relatively new and first brewery in historically semi-dry Clintonville, serves as example for the clever chemistry at play in the world of sour beers. The Vintner, a word from old French meaning “wine merchant,” takes a traditional French style saison, brewed along with German Hallertau Blanc hops, and blends in the juice of Sauvignon Blanc grapes, achieving a winey, fruity beverage, that although is pleasantly mild, is also uniquely strange, but without offending an “unsoured” palette. It creates a different mouth feel to a beer, that dry while still being wet sensation, but possessing enough familiar fermented flavor as to never let you forget that you're still sipping a sour beer.

Plowshare

Seventh Son Brewing Co. • 1101 N Fourth St.

Served up at the ever growing Seventh Son Brewery in ever changing Weinland Park, and occasionally available in bottle around Columbus, is the funky and spicy Plowshare. This Saison, a style of French beer whose name translates directly to season, tastes as it is labeled, a well seasoned beer. Brewed from an amalgam of multiple grains, and crawling with two different types of yeast, this beer packs a considerable kick of peppery and orangey spice. This beer is also further seasoned, like all sours, and has that saccharine stench, off-putting at first, but delightfully enveloping after a few sips. If you’re lucky enough to drink a few glasses, don’t be surprised to find yourself fondly licking the final remnants of flavor from your lips.

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Something’s Brewing in Westgate

The most exclusive watering hole on the west side isn’t a trendy bar or cocktail lounge filled with fake swag and fake laughs. There’s no Yelp review or neon sign. It doesn’t even have a name. That’s because it’s an invitation-only, semi-regular soirée of Westgate’s homebrewers — folks whose passion for potent potables created an [...]
J.R. McMillan

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The most exclusive watering hole on the west side isn’t a trendy bar or cocktail lounge filled with fake swag and fake laughs. There’s no Yelp review or neon sign. It doesn’t even have a name. That’s because it’s an invitation-only, semi-regular soirée of Westgate’s homebrewers — folks whose passion for potent potables created an ad hoc excuse to raise a pint with friends in a neighborhood rich in community, but short on gathering places. “A few Christmases ago, my wife gave me a homebrewing kit. I enjoy new beers and knew people who brewed their own, so figured I’d try it and see what happened,” noted Nick Bates, one of the group’s initial organizers. “Then I met other people in the neighborhood who were also homebrewing and experimenting in their kitchens.” What began as a one-time event has become a rotating ritual featuring a handful of bona fide microbrews. Brewers bring enough of their latest competitive concoctions to share, and everyone judges the entries in a blind taste test. These are just “flights” of beer, not enough for a sloppy lush– but definitely enough to provide social lubricant.

There’s even a trophy, the “Westgate Wort Award”. No one gets to keep it though. It too rotates around from winner to winner, kind of like the Stanley Cup. “Wort is basically unfermented beer. All beer starts as water, then you add your hops and malts,” Bates explained. “That sweet, initial product you have, in the brewing world, is called wort.” But beer wasn’t what drew Bates and his wife to the neighborhood from Harrison West. “We were debating about continuing to rent versus buying a home, and saw Westgate as an affordable place to live,” he said. “Though we didn’t have any kids at the time, we were planning to start growing a family. There’s a culture here that just fit.”

Robyn Mathews-Danforth echoed the sentiment. She and husband Andy Danforth were the hosts for the evening’s competition– and that new trophy was also his handiwork.

“Anything that promotes Westgate, that brings people into the community, is part of why we’re here,” she explained. Originally from Arizona, the unseasonable chill in autumn air didn’t seem to dull her spirits. “I’m still in Ohio because of this neighborhood.”

“I’m a pastry chef, so I came to brewing from a culinary background, where I’m used to looking scientifically at ingredients,” she noted. Her first foray into fermentation also started with a homebrewing kit from her spouse. “Not having been a serious beer drinker before, I really wanted to see what happens when you add cranberries, what happens when you add blueberries.” Westgate’s homebrewing community is more than just one night of bottles and ballots, with a spread that could hold its own against the best tailgate or cocktail party. “We actually started a Facebook group so we could share our experiences– when something goes well, and when something goes wrong,” she said. “I wanted a resource group for ingredients and where to find them, to ask, ‘Does anyone have a lagering system?’” Homebrewing is chemistry you can drink.

A lagering system isn’t quite as common a request as asking a neighbor to borrow a cup of sugar or a snow blower. But there’s more than beer brewing in Westgate. It’s a different kind of community, one that only evolves when folks are forced to look inward because their surroundings fall short. A common complaint of suburban sprawl is that it has everything except community. Sure, you get your pick of grocery stores, fast food, and drycleaners. But homogenized housing tends to discourage neighbors from ever becoming more than strangers on the same street, quietly complaining about each other’s lawns.

That’s why a growing number of boomers and busters are following the millennial lead by abandoning the suburbs in favor of emerging, inner city neighborhoods written off until just recently. Victorian Village and German Village were once desolate and dilapidated too. But now Italian Village and Merion Village hope to follow in their footsteps.  Olde Towne East has been a work-in-progress for decades, with immaculate restorations surrounded by sketchy side streets. It’s a bit like Detroit– investing or living there is still a block-by-block proposition. But being minutes from downtown, bumpered by historic homes and an enormous park, is a tempting offer for anyone whose aversion to the suburbs has led them to look for something more authentic than big boxes and busybodies.

But these better-known neighborhoods aren’t the only destination for those handy with a hammer looking for something real. Westgate is what was once called a “streetcar suburb” back when mass transit held mass appeal. Just four miles down Broad Street on the other side of Franklinton is an unexpected enclave of homes that could easily pass for parts of Grandview or Clintonville. That’s no accident either.

On the grounds of what used to be a Confederate prisoner of war camp, then sold off in the interim to an ambitious colony of Quakers after the Civil War, are streets and houses built by some of the same urban planners and architects behind two of the city’s more famous, family-friendly communities. Unlike Grandview and Clintonville, years of struggle in the surrounding area and an absence of economic development left Westgate residents lacking a lot of the robust retail and name recognition their sister settlements offered. But instead of selling out, Westgate residents dug in. No curated grocery stores or food co-ops? They started their own farmers market. Stagnant restaurant scene? They created a rotating food truck schedule. Slipping real estate sales? They started an annual Home & Garden tour. Left out of the Columbus festival craze? They organized Summer Jam, a free day-long arts event featuring local music, food, and crafts. Seriously, just ask anyone who lives here. Where else in Columbus can young couples with kids buy a Craftsman-era home for a bargain, in a community that is proudly working class, diverse, and creative– all built around 50 acres of parks and playgrounds, only minutes from downtown? Westgate is essentially Sesame Street with backyards instead of brownstones. That’s what brought Seth VanHorn back to the capital city after a decade of moves through some of the country’s more notable neighborhoods. “I was drawn back to Columbus by some of the cool things going on here, the low cost of living, and neighborhoods like this,” VanHorn noted. “I liked Austin’s vibrant downtown scene, it’s a college town — you know ‘Keep Austin Weird’. But in the ten years that I was gone, Columbus has really grown up from a small Midwestern town to a city with so much more to offer.”

“I looked at several neighborhoods near the core of downtown– Weinland Park, Olde Towne East, Merion Village– but Westgate won out,” he explained. “I’ve done some homebrewing myself and am really impressed with the quality of the beer, and the welcoming vibe of the event and the people who live here.”

That close-knit community won over Eric VanOrder, who returned to the West side after a stint in the Navy.

“There’s a renewed camaraderie bringing together people who have lived in Westgate for years,” he noted. VanOrder was the winner of the first Westgate Wort Award, but wasn’t competing this evening. Any endeavor dependent on just the right time and temperature doesn’t always turn out as planned. “I ended up brewing a beer only a father could love, so I decided I’d stick to judging this time.” A little daring didn’t deter John Salvage, a homebrewer with 15 years of experience entering the competition for the first time. “I’ve mostly just brewed for my own enjoyment, and giving beer to friends for Christmas has been a tradition,” Salvage said. “I brewed a ‘butter beer’, which is obviously inspired by Harry Potter. I’m more of a malt fan, but I put in some butterscotch candies and added some lactose for more mouth feel, so it’s smooth going down.”

The evening happened to coincide with Land Grant’s second anniversary party. So while most had their fill, after the trophy was awarded and the last of the entries were imbibed, some headed toward downtown for one more round — and surely some inspiration for their next batch of backyard brew.

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