It’s all tart on tap at Pretentious Barrel House
It wasn’t all too long ago that you couldn’t be pretentious if you were a beer drinker.
In America, the can-crushing culture of cheap beer—cracking open a couple of tall boys in a kiddie pool; chugging a can of Budweiser while sitting in the back of a pickup truck in a bowling alley parking lot—has been synonymous with low culture.
It’s long been the everyman’s beverage, an accessible and dependable product that didn’t possess too much complexity or nuance.
While there’s still a place on the shelf for your dad’s Blatz and Schlitz and what-have-you, beer has, over time, transcended into an exalted beverage, encouraging the popularity of entire subgenres of craft beers, from double IPAs to dark milk stouts.
In the deepest recesses of the subgenres of beer you have the sour beer—a speciality product that is more often than not created unintentionally. You see, beer gets sour when it is exposed to bacteria. For many years, brewers would serve a soured beer as long as it still tasted good, calling it a “happy accident.”
Today, at Pretentious Barrel House, a brand new tap room and barrel house recently opened in the Milo-Grogan Arts District, all of their beers are puckered purposefully.
With a tidal wave of craft brewers saturating the Columbus marketplace, it has become harder to have an edge. With over 100 breweries and barrel houses in Columbus alone, Joshua Martinez, a thirsty young brewer from San Diego, wanted to stand out. With a bag full of brewing knowledge gained from Ethereal Brewing operating out of Lexington, he decided to start a business dedicated to sour beers, cornering the market on the hyper-niche product.
Martinez came from a pharmaceutical background, so he has a hyper-technical eye when it comes to his beers. Even his logo includes the specific molecule that he adds to his beer—lactic acid. But despite his intense knowledge of brewing beer, he is the first to admit that creating sours is not an exact science, affording an avenue for brewmasters with a wide range of experimentation.
“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. ”
Another appeal of sours, Martinez says, is the broad flavor spectrum. You can make any kind of beer more acidic by adding bacteria, so even though it seems like his “sour beer only” concept limits his selection, he argues that there is enough variance to keep each of his selections unique.
“If you taste the seven different beers we have and I told you that they came out of only two different batches, you would be surprised at how differentiated they are. The thing that we try to do here is make a balanced beer, whether that is a crisp beer with light acidity, or a darker beer that has chocolaty nuances. It is all about blending and nuance.”
Martinez has always loved fruit in his beer, another reason why he wanted to go the all sour route, as fruit in sour beer is par for the course. Ironically, he explains that brewers would historically enact this technique to cover up the flavor of beer that has gone bad.
“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.”
Something this niche is what the beer giants tried hamfistedly to troll during the Super Bowl a few years ago. Which is where the name comes in—a chance for Martinez’s wife, Carolyn, to poke fun at the massive beer nerd she married.
“We really kinda have to laugh at ourselves,” he said. “At the end of the day, people are drinking it to get drunk. If there were no alchohol in it, no one would be in here paying top dollar to drink my acid beer. We just try not to take ourselves too seriously.”
But, it is something to cheers to: beer once considered to be a mistake is now celebrated for its imperfection. The black swan of beers, a subgenre still in the Wild West stages, an idea so new in America that no one has preconceived notions of what Martinez is going to produce. As such, he’s granted the freedom from conformity.
“It has been super fun so far. I just hope that we can keep this thing running so we can do more things and make more beer.”
Joshua Martinez tips his hat to these four local brews:
Heritage Four String Hilltop: I drink a lot of Hilltop. Definitely my go-to to bring to a party. We actually buy our wort from Four String, so I am able to get this beer for even cheaper than it already is!
Seventh Son Piliferous: We go to our neighbors at Seventh Son a lot. The Piliferous is super good.
Wolf’s Ridge Dire Wolf: I love Dire Wolf—they do a lot of cool stuff at Wolf’s Ridge. They make so many beers, it just blows my mind. They have like 16 taps and they are all good.
Land-Grant Greenskeeper: I love this beer. I keep thinking that they should stop making everything else, just make Greenskeeper. It is all I need.
For the hours at Pretentious Barrel House (745 Taylor Ave.) and a full draft list, visit pretentiousbarrelhouse.com. Martinez’s beers are also available at The Knotty Pine, The Bottle Shop, World of Beer, Growl!, and the Ohio Tap Room.