Birth of a Beer: The Backstory

Happy New Year! I find it hard to believe I don’t blog as much as I should. Real life gets in the way. In any case, I’m overdue. You may want to crack open a beer before you read this. It goes on for a bit.

Today, I  fill you in on how it came to be that we’re coming out with our first new beer since Commonhouse Ales started production, a bit over a year ago.


If you’ve ever started up your own business, one of the first things you pay attention to is what tracks and what doesn’t. While patience is a virtue, reality has to enter at some point.  You are probably aware that our start got an abrupt wake-up call when our distributor’s warehouse completely burned to the ground soon after we started production. One of the witnesses to the fire said the exploding kegs sounded like something more appropriate in a war setting.

We started over, brewing again in the face of a major disruption in our supply chain. We got back on track, but in the end, our distributor couldn’t quite get back on it’s feet. They were much more of a casualty than we were at the time.

Against this backdrop, we brewed more Six One For Good, our flagship Amber Ale, and eventually brewed our winter and spring seasonals for distribution early in 2017. Those seasonals were IBU UBME, our imperial IPA and Hoptopus, our pale wheat ale.

Because our distributor was still regrouping from the fire, sales of the two seasonals flagged. Soon, it became apparent that we would make a switch to another distributor, not willing to wait for the ship to right itself. In late spring of 2017 we made the switch, partnering with Columbus Distributing Company.

As a part of that switch, CDC elected to not purchase IBU UBME, because it was due to expire. They took on Hoptopus as well as Six One For Good. Unfortunately, Hoptopus didn’t sell into the market well as we transitioned to an entirely new team.

We decided to concentrate on selling Six One For Good. It’s the only beer that we offer year round, and it’s our Beer For Good where a portion of proceeds is donated to local charities through the Columbus Foundation. To date, we’ve funded about $17,000.

A tougher decision was to not brew Summer Sesh, our session IPA that won the King of Ohio competition, judged best session IPA in Ohio. With a new distributor, we concentrated on Six One For Good and waited for our fall seasonal, Punkt, our imperial pumpkin porter. Fortunately, Punkt sold out quickly. We were finally back on track. Then we brewed our winter seasonal, Imagine, a spiced winter ale. Imagine sold out by the end of November. We were finding our stride. Finally, a year after we’d opened.

With IBU UBME, Hoptopus,  Summer Sesh and Winter Sesh being shelved, at least for now, we were down to three beers: Six One For Good, Punkt and Imagine. If you notice, that’s a half year that we’d only have one beer to sell. Not good.

Of course, we knew our predicament roughly around May 2017. That’s when we started planning for a new beer.


We got together to discuss what we should brew. It became obvious that it would be an IPA. Of course, that doesn’t make for an easy decision. You know that there are a bunch of sub-styles and variations than you can shake a hop at. We’d have to select one.

For those of you who have been following the Commonhouse Ales story, you know that we use our brewpub, Smokehouse Brewing Company, serves as our tap room and as our R&D facility. Every beer that makes it to Commonhouse has been brewed and vetted at Smokehouse first.

In the 20 years that Smokehouse has been in existence, we have brewed around 20 different IPAs. Easy peasy. Pick one that sold well and brew it up big time. Arguably, Centennial IPA is our most popular IPA. It’s got to be a contender.

Coincidentally, and before we concluded that we’d be brewing an IPA at Commonhouse, we brewed MOHBEE at Smokehouse. It’s our version of a New England style IPA. We brewed it just because. It turned out that people really liked it. We really liked it. Could this be it?

A part of the NEIPA style is that it is opaque. The intense haze is similar to orange juice. Ours was hazy. Our fear though, is that over time, this beer would start to clear. We can’t control what accounts do to our beer after it leaves our distributor’s warehouse. This was the only reason we decided not to go forward with MOHBEE.

What should have been a fairly easy decision now mired us in indecision. We had so many recipes available to us, we couldn’t decide. It’s now autumn. We want an IPA for early 2018. Time’s running out.  What to do?


We made a bold decision. We would brew three IPAs simultaneously and throw it up for a vote and we’d encourage written comments. We would let our community decide.

We came up with three recipes, using different combinations of hops and we brewed them. We code named them IPA C, IPA M and IPA H. (CMH is our airport code.) We wouldn’t offer up any descriptions. We’d let the beers speak for themselves.


It was now late autumn 2017. We were still hopeful that we’d be able to get a winner brewed in time for 2018. In two weeks time, we had about 300 people fill out comment cards after trying a flight of all three. Not public at the time, the favorite (though not overwhelmingly so) was IPA H.

As a part of this effort, some of those who filled out their comment card would be in the running for participation in a private beer panel session, where we’d take a deeper dive into these beers, with discussion. Additionally, we randomly selected other beer geeks through social media.

On December 4, 2017, we conducted the beer panel session. About 35 people attended. The slate was five different IPAs. Not known to the panel, the beers were, in addition to IPA C, M and H, Centennial IPA and a well known locally brewed IPA not brewed by us were also included. (Gulp!)


At the end of the session, the IPA that emerged as the favorite was… IPA H. (Second place was the well known locally brewed IPA.) Two times it emerged on top. We had our marching orders. With only minor recipe tweaking, we will be brewing IPA H at Commonhouse Ales on January 8.


Concurrently, we were working on packaging design. We needed updating anyhow to reflect that we’re no longer a B Corporation Pending, and we wanted to include the Independent Craft logo. Additionally, we wanted our packaging to pop better when placed in a sea of craft beer.

Regarding name, we decided we had enough on our plate, so we settled on Commonhouse IPA. Simple.

After a protracted process, we finally had our design. At the 11th hour, we were second guessing our decision to go with the simple name.


At the 11th hour, we discussed how awesome the process was involving community to help us decide what the profile of our IPA would be. This was truly an IPA By The People.


In return, we are calling our newest beer IPA For The People. Fitting, don’t you think? In about a month, IPA FTP will hit watering holes and shelves throughout central Ohio.



We are thankful to everyone who had a hand in creating Columbus’ newest IPA. We really appreciate the enthusiasm and support. Time will tell how it’s received. We’re pretty stoked about it right now, though.

One more thing. We’re always messing around with beer. Quietly, and with no one aware, we did a home brew batch of a pre-Prohibition style pilsner recipe. We never intended to even serve it at the brewpub. It’s just something we do as a part of deep R&D. We wanted to see if a pilsner could be remarkably different than what’s available these days. not knowing what we’d do with it. It turned out pretty good.

We decided that we’d serve this as a “cool-down” beer at the beer panel session, after we were done with the IPAs. Yeah, I know, serving a pilsner after a session of nothing but IPAs?

When we announced that we’d be serving a pilsner as a bonus, there was audible groaning from the panel. “Why do you want to ruin a perfectly good evening?”

We did it anyhow. I’m not kidding, it was a magical moment. Skepticism turned to bewilderment, which in turn turned to confusion, and finally to accolades. Actual comments from that night.

“I would never have thought a pilsner could taste good after a bunch of IPAs!”
“Brew this now, and take all my money!”

Before the evening was over, the tasting panel participants told us this should be a future beer at Commonhouse Ales. Surprised, yet delighted, we have scaled up this pilsner and brewed it at Smokehouse. It should be on tap at Smokehouse around the first week in February, about the same time IPA For The People hits the streets. Let us know what you think.

Beer. There’s an adventure around every corner. A fire that created circumstances that led to an IPA. And an IPA that led to a pilsner. Now you know the rest of the beer story. We love our jobs!


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Letting Go To The Deep End

“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”
— George Bernard Shaw

First, an apology. You will read a mix of “we” and “I” in this post. It’s because what you are about to read is both “we” and “I,” intertwined. There’s no separating the two. OK, here we go.

Big day, today.

Some think that love is about holding on, but it isn’t. It is about your fingers holding on to the edge, then letting go, one finger at a time.

We take a deep breath today—as we prepare to drop. It’s not my first time here, yet the motion is still a bit unsettling, the thrill of the flight. That headlong dive into the deep unknown. Just go with it, right? Today is the day we take on another lover.

If you’ve followed my years in Columbus craft beer, you know my passion is biased toward an inviting brewpub setting. Since the dawn of civilization, beer has been a social beverage. A little drink, a few friends and lots of laughs. The ultimate “let your hair down” setting.


Today, over 23 years since I started this journey, my horizons have expanded. I’m BFFs with yet another craft brewery, this time on the production side.

At this point, the desire to start another endeavor is much different than it was when I was in my 30s. Then, I had something to prove–to myself, as well as to you. Today, there may still be an ember of that motivation. But it’s not the driving force.

In today’s world, it is all too easy to be pessimistic. We’re not victims, though. It’s still possible to remain positive, right? Even though it may feel like swimming upstream?

We’re going to find out. Ladies and gentlemen, I introduce to you Commonhouse Ales, Columbus’ newest a craft brewery. We plan on brewing kick-ass beer. Under the hood, though, we aspire to do much more.

commonhouse ales log bw

Commonhouse Ales is an exploration to see if a business can ensure its own viability while expanding the definition of what success is, and what a corporate citizen can be. We will not just focus on the bottom line, important as that is. We will also apply equal focus on the well-being of our employees and our community.

Excuse us as we discover along the way how we’ll make this happen. We haven’t even been on our first date yet. Exhilarating, this is a journey without an end destination in mind; we’ll form our actions based on what we learn along the way.

Make no mistake, though. We have formed our DNA in a way such that we’ll be held accountable for straying. A little background, first.

Smokehouse Brewing Company has been in existence for over 17 years now, as a brewpub. That will continue. In fact, it may even be a cooler place to visit than ever. In addition to what you know as the ‘House, it will also become the incubator for beers that will progress as production beers at Commonhouse Ales. 2015 saw 16 new beers, an effort that exceeds even that of a startup brewpub. While maybe not at that pace, look for those efforts to continue. The Smokehouse is now the experimental incubator for an ever-evolving craft beer scene in CBus.

Why the different name? First, Commonhouse is different ownership than at the Smokehouse. Also, we’re not smoking anything at Commonhouse.

Commonhouse is stocked with Smokehouse veterans. Dan Pollock will continue as General Manager at the ‘House, while serving a Business Manager at Commonhouse. Sam Hickey has been promoted to Brewmaster of both Smokehouse and Commonhouse. Alex Kolada has been promoted to Head Brewer at Smokehouse, and will serve as Assistant Brewer at Commonhouse. I’ll keep doing what I do, whatever that is.

We both have “House” in our names. Commonhouse Ales is the new name, because despite us all being unique, we also all have something in Common.

Written into our operating agreement, we will adhere to a “triple bottom line,” one that places equal focus on our crew, our community and our own selves. How will we do that?

  • Employees: We’ll give our crew say in the course of our business. We’ll try like heck to provide compensation above industry standards, and we’ll work to create a positive, exciting work environment.
  • Community: We will strive to be environmentally conscious. We’ll consider hiring those who need a leg up and who show a willingness to join a team. And we will also contribute to those less fortunate in our community.Our flagship ale, Columbus Common, will be available year round. $1 of every six pack sold will fund Commonhouse Shares, our charitable account managed by the Columbus Foundation. Once funds are deposited, we have committed that we can’t take that money back. These funds will eventually be granted to Central Ohio charities that show great need. We have kick-started this fund with $10,000 of our own funds.

We are also a certified B Corporation Pending. Led by B Lab, an independent third party organization that will hold our feet to the fire through annual audits, they will ensure that we benefit not only ourselves, but our employees and our greater community. We are the first craft brewer in Ohio to do so. You may have heard of a few other B Corporations. Here in town, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream is one. New Belgium Brewing Company is another.

We have been planning this launch since May, 2014, when we first held a discussion with Eric Bean about acquiring his assets at the former Columbus Brewing Company location. Yep, we purchased his equipment there, and will continue to brew there, in the Brewery District.

Our planning is almost done. It’s time to start executing. We will start transforming at this location as soon as we get the keys later this week. We expect to hit the streets of Columbus no later than May of this year. Woot!

So… Hello, Columbus!

We all know beer is good. But Beer for Good is better. We hope you are as excited about this as we are. Visit us as, and follow our shenanigans on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art. Write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And we hope, somewhere this year, you surprise yourself. Let go of that ledge. Fly.


“If you feel safe in the area you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth. And when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.” – David Bowie

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Long Time, No Post

LK sketch3
My apologies. It’s been a year since my last post. We’ve been busy at the Smokehouse, and otherwise. No excuse, though. Consider this a pre-post. I will make my first official post of 2016 on Tuesday, January 19. Stay tuned…



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Please Allow Us to Introduce Himself

Changes are brewing at Smokehouse Brewing Company. The start of 2015 finds us with a new Head Brewer.

Sam Hickey is a Columbus native who left ten years ago to pursue culinary training in Cincinnati. He eventually relocated to Boston, where, after working for a few years in casual and fine dining, he met the owner of Mystic Brewing Company, a microbiologist and brewer, and used his home brewing experience and Cicerone certification to score a volunteer position at the brewery. In the three years since, Sam rose to second in command in the brewery, playing an instrumental role in the evolution of Mystic Brewing.

A decade after leaving CBus, he’s back — this time as Head Brewer at Smokehouse Brewing Company, succeeding long-time brewer Angelo Signorino, Jr. Here are some highlights from a wide-ranging and fun conversation I had with Sam last month.

brewdood and samBrewdood with Sam Hickey, Head Brewer at Smokehouse Brewing Company


Being a brewer was something I never considered when I was young. I was pretty ADD. Every other week I wanted to be something else when I grew up. Two considerations were priest and auto mechanic.

I’d wish I could have dinner with (beer writer) Michael Jackson, Louis Pasteur and my brother Ben. Ben’s included so I’d be sure I had a good time.

My musical tastes are eclectic. Bluegrass, blues, I’m not picky. If I had to pick a favorite, I’d say Simon and Garfunkel.

If I had three wishes, I’d wish for “Do what I love,” “Get paid well,” and “Have time for family.”

I was 7 or 8 when I had my first drink. My Mom let me have a small taste. It was Labatt’s Blue.

If I wasn’t brewing, I’d be cooking and looking. Looking for something else.

If I could have one superpower it would be super-vision. I work a lot with a microscope, and it would be cool to just look at the slide without squinting. No, not supervision.  I’m not interested in middle management.

My favorite thing to whip up in the kitchen is anything French cuisine. Escoffier is a hero to me. I can only afford to do that about once a year, so my other favorite thing to do is walk into my kitchen, look at what’s on hand and create an amazing dinner that leaves my fiancée  asking, “How did you do that?”

I’ve done a lot of things before settling on brewing. I like the challenge of wearing many hats. A brewer’s job is 95% janitorial. He’s also a plumber, mechanic, scientist, chef and critic. I like that.

My favorite beer? It changes season to season. I have had two beers in my life, though, where the entire world shut down around me while experiencing them.

The first is Field Mouse’s Farewell, a farmhouse ale brewed by Pretty Things  Beer and Ale Project. Dann Paquette, owner and brewmaster there is a genius.

The other is Rose de Gambrinus from Cantillon Brewery, a kind of bastard style. They didn’t want it to be confused with modern-day framboise lambics, so they called it a rose. It’s a beautiful lactic-balanced sour ale.

My fridge right now includes some homebrew, one pancake, condiments, a bottle each of Ephemere Cranberry white ale from Unibroue and Mastermind Double IPA brewed by Fiddlehead Brewing Company out of Vermont. Oh, and egg nog. You have to have egg nog, right?

The best part of creating a new beer is tasting it for the first time.

A beer I haven’t brewed yet? OK, this is hypothetical. I have been intrigued with brewing a beer that includes consommé.  This seemingly simple broth includes, among other things, ground meat and egg whites, which are essential to making it clear. I’m intrigued to see if using albumen would clear out a beer.  I haven’t done any test batches, though, because I haven’t been able to find a source for pig’s blood.

My proudest accomplishments so far are receiving the ACF Presidential Medallion while in culinary school and that gold medal at GABF for Vinland II, an experimental beer brewed using yeast cells isolated from a wild Maine blueberry.

(When asked where he sees the craft beer industry heading in the next decade, we expected an answer that had to do with emerging styles. Instead, this was his response.)

We are in an absolute beer bubble right now. Sometime in the next ten years, this bubble will burst. The shakeout is already starting to happen.  At the same time, craft beer lovers will become open to lesser known styles. These aren’t weird styles, but rather, traditional styles that haven’t been seen in the States.

Brewing great beer is 100% democracy, rather than a dictatorship. Advice and feedback are invaluable.

My local hero (in Boston) is Will Meyers, brewmaster at Cambridge Brewing Company. He’s been there for 20 years. Some of his beers have been years ahead of everyone else. (Ed. note. If there’s a single reason Brewdood got into the craft brewing industry, it’s his visit to Cambridge Brewing Company 24 years ago when they were only one year old. Mind-blowing.)

We asked him, “Do you have a beer in mind that will rock CBus?”

I’ve got some big shoes to fill here. Angelo has been the preeminent brewer in Columbus for forever. I’ll wear my own shoes and we’ll see where that takes us.

Evolution not revolution. That’s how I plan to influence Smokehouse Brewing Company and craft beer in central Ohio.

It’s your last day on Earth. What’s your last meal? My fiancée  Brittany’s Peanut Butter and Chocolate Brownies. With milk. Don’t complicate things.


Brewdood here. This interview was a blast. Sam’s enthusiasm and thoroughness makes me wish his was starting today. (This interview took place on December 9.) Trivia: Sam could have had a brewery job at Russian River Brewing Company, working directly with Vinnie Cilurzo, owner and creator of Pliny the Elder. Sam chose us. That’s killer cool.

I think Columbus will find Sam to be friendly, personable and a brewer of the highest order. I think we’ll find Sam to be exactly the brewer required to succeed Angelo.

Evolution, not revolution. But I know stuff you don’t know. CBus, fasten your seatbelts.


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Anatomy of a New Menu

We went live with a new menu yesterday.  It’s one we’re really proud of, and it was three months in the planning.  We hope you agree that we came up with exciting new items that you end up loving.

We think that you might enjoy reading about what goes into a menu change.  We won’t recite all the new menu items, because they’re on the menu tab of our website, and you can see for yourself when you come in.  Let’s talk why we do what we do instead.

Since we first opened, we have always strived to do better. Before we start deciding on what we’ll take off the menu and what we’ll add, we discuss in what direction we want to go.

We arrived at two goals this go-round:  we committed to changing our menu seasonally, and we committed to pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone.

For the longest time, we’d update our menu once a year or so.  The reason for that, in a nutshell, is because planning and executing a new menu is a lot of work.  Over time, though, this has proved to be unsatisfying.  Though not a huge restaurant sin, it kind of bugged us, for instane, that the meatloaf that served us well when there’s snow on the ground was also on the menu when it’s sweltering hot.

We wanted to solve that, and discussed what’s the optimal amount of menu updates in a year.  We almost committed to three menus a year, something we still might do in the future, but we decided that going forward, we’ll do two a year.

So, around April 1 and October 1 of each year, our menu will change.  (Now you know we were a month late in coming out with this menu!)

This will allow us the opportunity to use seasonal ingredients that aren’t always optimal year-round.  On this menu, we’re using ingredients such as fresh strawberries, rhubarb and asparagus.  We’ve got corn on the cob on the menu, as well as dill potato salad, utilizing fresh dill.


This fall and winter, we’ll be imagining root vegetables, hearty sauces and comfort food. Two menu changes a year allows us this flexibility, and it should lead to exciting future offerings.

Since we’re now committed to an updated menu twice a year, it also allows us the opportunity to stretch and take risks.  We know that many of you love what we do and would rather we leave things alone.  We get that.  It’s traumatic to see that your favorite item is missing from a new menu.

But, as Steve Jobs once said, “You don’t know you need something you’ve never had before.”  We get that too.

Since we’re changing our menu every six months, we can take some risks.  If it turns out that we misjudged the popularity of a current item that we pulled, we can get it back on soon enough.

Case in point:  our barbecue nachos.  We knew that there would be howling if we took it off the menu.  We were right.  However, as great tasting as it is, we weren’t satisfied that you were getting the best nachos we could provide.  We weren’t happy that when you got to the bottom of the mound, it’s mostly chips.  Because reworking this item to our satisfaction required time that was being used for new items, we decided to give them a rest.

Be assured that nachos will be back on the fall/winter menu, improved and exciting.

For us, the elephant in the room is always pricing.  Since we opened our doors, we have wanted to be a value proposition, in addition to providing kick-ass microbrew and barbecue.

As you know from frequenting grocery stores, food prices have gone through the roof. That hits us too.  Sometimes harder than the local shopper.  It’s a part of the business, and we don’t whine about it.  Not that we like it.

So here’s what we do.  Rather than just increasing all our prices and calling it a day, we double down on our efforts to bring you exciting new items that are cost effective and we drop those items that we can’t bring in a reasonable price.  Also, we sometimes just take the hit on some of our popular items, leaving the price where it was.

Case in point:  Smokehouse wings.  We left our Wing Nite pricing at 60 cents.  It’s harder and harder to do, but we want to keep our value position.  Next time you’re at Kroger, do a little research.  Look at the price of a pack of raw wings, then count how many wings you get.  We did that a couple of months ago, and it came out close to 50 cents a wing!

When you consider we brine, smoke and grill our wings, while everyone else in town just drops their’s in a deep-fat fryer, our wings truly are a value proposition.

Against this backdrop, we still want to give you bang for your buck.  We did two things starting with this menu that we’re really proud of.

We changed most of our bread to locally sourced.  While it costs us more, we are pleased that we now offer sandwich and burger rolls, and petite baguettes that are artisianally baked by Dan the Baker, right in our neighborhood, using no preservatives.

Most of our chicken is now locally sourced Ohio Proud, cage-free, hormone-free with no use of antibiotics.  We’ll continue to study how we can incorporate more items into this mix.

We’ll continue to look for other opportunities to do similar things going forward.

We’re committed to providing you the best we can offer on a daily basis. We’ll be doing two menus a year, and we’ll continue to research and plan for future items that will surprise, amuse and delight you.  And we’ll do it while always keeping your wallet in mind.

At the end of the day, you visit us because we make you happy.  There are plenty of options out there, and we’re working hard to make sure we compare most favorably. We’ll keep sweating out the details until we’re the doing it the best in town.


Part Art. Part Science. Part Magic. (TM)
It’s not just a slogan.  The art and science are up to us; the magic is for you to judge.  We want you to leave with a smile on your face.  As always, let us know what you’re thinking.



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We’ve been working really hard the last three months.  Really hard.

Today, we debut a new menu.  That’s the source for most of our planning effort this year, but we also did one more thing.  We changed our name.

So what are we up to here?  Everybody knows us as Barley’s Smokehouse & Brewpub. Why mess with that?  The change wasn’t done off-handedly.  A great deal of thought and discussion went into the decision.

logo oldofade

To clarify, I created and co-founded Barley’s Brewing Company downtown, in 1992.  The only craft beer in this town at that time was Columbus Brewing Company, solely distributing, and Hoster Brewing Company, a brewpub.  I have a bunch of great memories from my more than 20 years with them.  Them.  Still doesn’t sound right.

In 1997, I also created and co-founded Barley’s Smokehouse & Brewpub.  Exactly a year after we opened, my partner and I shut the doors.  For a variety of reasons (that I’ll save for my book,) it didn’t work.  My partner in the Smokehouse left, though maintaining her stake in downtown.

My dear wife, Saint Joan and I completely re-worked the Smokehouse and reopened three months later.  As we sometimes say around here, we opened in 1997, but we established in 1998.

With a lot of work, and a lot of help from a great staff over the years, the Smokehouse not only rose from the ashes, but has risen to institution status in CBus.

Just over a year ago, I sold my stake in Barley’s downtown to my partner.  The sale was entirely at my prompting.  (I wouldn’t want conspiracy theorists to get the idea that I was pushed out.)

Before the sale, I was involved in both locations.  After more than 20 years, just a little over a year ago, I was involved exclusively at the Smokehouse.

No common ownership between the two locations was a minor reason for the name change. The much larger reason for the change is that there is a lot of confusion between the two places.  The main reason is that both use Barley’s in their names.

While we have the legal right to keep “Barley’s” in our name at the Smokehouse, it’s become more apparent as time goes by that there’s confusion within the community using “Barley’s” interchangeably for both locations. We’ve had people show up to the Smokehouse to meet someone who’s waiting for them downtown.  If you look on Untapped, you’ll see beers that are only brewed at the Smokehouse represented as being brewed downtown.  And on and on.

So we’ve started the process of changing our name:  Smokehouse Brewing Company.


Now when someone tells you they’re  going to Barley’s, you know they’re going downtown. Of course, we’d be shocked if you didn’t respond, “Well, I’m going to the ‘House.”  (insert smiley face here.)

We’re less excited about our name change, which really isn’t a tectonic shift, than we are about our new menu.  Next time I come up for air, I’ll post about what we’re doing on that front.  No, I won’t bore you with describing new menu items.   Instead, I’ll fill you in on what we did, and what you can expect in the future.

same old

If you have any questions, just let us know. We’re here for you.


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My Woody Hayes Story

Tomorrow, we serve a firkin of Woody Haze 101 for our weekly Firkin Friday.  I’m sitting here doing computer work, and I got to thinking about Ohio State’s greatest coach (in my mind.)

I attended OSU during the Hayes era, and was in the stands the first time an untested freshman, Archie Griffin, set in formation behind Greg Hare (I think.)  The game was against North Carolina, and this unknown ran for 239 yards.  O-H, indeed!

The second half was a bit of a blur.  You see, back then we were young punks who would live forever.  We would smuggle a fifth of 151 to our seats.   We’d order a Coke, and brashly pour half of it out, right in front of the vendor.  Our cups half empty, we’d fill to the top with that fiery demon rum.  We’d do that until our bottles were empty.  When the game ended, we’d head to High Street and finish our evening with endless buckets of beer.  We’d dip our glasses into a communal bucket until it was empty.  Like our earlier rum, we’d repeat until we couldn’t do it anymore.  In other words, until closing time.

I digress with this story so you know that I was just one of thousands of students who would do their rendition of Saturday Night in Columbus.  I studied, mostly, during the week, then I’d partake in “campus life” on weekends.  In other words, I didn’t stick out during those years; I fit in.  One of many.

Back to Woody.  Though I was, and still am a Buckeye fan, I wasn’t fanatic about it.  I wasn’t the one who could spout stats and rattle off the starting lineups of all the teams in the Big Ten.  But I thoroughly enjoyed following the trials and tribulations of those Buckeyes on the field.  My team. (Funny that to this day I remember:  239 yards. North Carolina. First home game.)

Even though I was only casually informed, it was impossible to not follow stories, rumors and the like.  Woody had a show (on WTVN 10, I think) every Saturday night after a game. He would pontificate on that week, followed by parading in some of his players.  You think they were coached on the field?  I can only imagine how they were coached in preparation for this show.  Each one was scrubbed clean, in a suit and tie, and would politely answer questions posed to them by Coach.

It was a bit corny, even then, but we loved it.  We loved to laugh at how they’d better answer correctly and with the right intonation, or we’d imagine the hell that would be unleashed after.

Anyhow, we’d get news that the rest of the country wouldn’t.  Player troubles.  Things that went on in the dorms.  That sort of thing.  But we’d also hear about Woody going to Children’s Hospital to visit sick kids.  Woody helping someone who was down on his luck. Woody teaching a military history course that he’d make his players take.

Like all of us, there was plenty of good to go with Woody’s bad.  His tantrums.  Impatience. He was human.  He was loved, though. One year, his players got together and bought him a truck.  Take that, NCAA.

I remember thinking this guy’s actually pretty cool.  For an old man.

Back then, we were cocooned on campus, most of us didn’t have a car.  We’d hear about places in Columbus, but for us, Columbus was campus.  Period.  Once though, we were curious about the Jai Lai Prime Rib Restaurant that was located on Olentangy River Road. Someone had a vehicle, so we took the trip.  We didn’t get any further than the lobby when we saw Coach.  He was with some recruits, taking them to dinner.


Interior of the Jai Lai, in the days when it was expected you’d wear a suit and tie to dinner.

We froze in our tracks.  We couldn’t have been more dazed than if Mick Jagger was standing there.  Woody decked out in a suit and tie, as were the recruits.  The restaurant was rocking on a Friday night.  We were so intimidated that we turned around and left. Who were we kidding anyway?  We didn’t have enough money to buy dinner, and we were sure we could get our drank on cheaper on campus.

That night, I actually saw Woody Hayes in the flesh.  That’s not my Woody Hayes Story, though.

Fast forward to some time later.  I don’t remember the year, but it could have been about 1974.  Woody Hayes had his first heart attack.  The entire campus was shocked.  Would he be OK?  Would he retire?  This was big, kids.

It turned out to be a mild one.  He was out of the hospital in under a week.  Bullet dodged.

Shocker:  In 1974, I ran.  Not like a runner, mind you.  But I ran. Back then it was called jogging. I lived on 15th Avenue near Summit Street.  I would start there, run through the oval, then past the towers, headed toward the west side of Ohio Stadium, before turning to head home. That was my usual loop.

That day, I was heading north toward the west side of the stadium.  No one was around.  I think it was a Sunday morning.  In the distance, I could see someone walking from the stadium heading south.

Soon, the figure would get closer.  It was apparent I would be running past this person. The figure grew larger as we approached each other.  Holy Crap!  It’s Woody Hayes, fresh from his heart attack!  I was imagining he was watching film or just trying to get caught up. I was trying to think where he might be headed.

I had enough time to get my act together.  I decided I would say something to him.

“Good morning, Coach.  How are you?  You feeling good?”

Without missing a beat, he responded, “Son, it doesn’t matter at all how I’m doing.  The important question is ‘How are you doing?’ Are you studying?  Are you using your time wisely?”

OMG, I’m being coached!  “Yes, Coach.”

“Good.  You take care.”

I will never forget that 10 second intersection in my life. I remember it like it was yesterday.  Good guy, that Woody Hayes.  He actually made an impact on me.  All these years later, I still ask myself how I’m doing.  Am I living up to Coach’s expectations?

Corny?  Maybe.  In my book he’s the greatest coach that Ohio State’s ever had.  And yes, I’ve met Earl Bruce and Jim Tressel.  I’ve had conversations with them.  Both solid, upstanding guys.  You can just tell why they’d made it up the mountain instead of someone else.  Woody’s my main man, though.

All these years later, I find that Woody Hayes was born on Valentines Day.  In fact, I found out last year that he would have been 100.  Being a brewpub, we’re not exactly a go-to locale for lovers.  Especially on Valentines Day.

So Woody Haze 100 was born.  It’s my Valentine to Coach.  As are wont to say, we called it Woody because it was matured on sturdy oak; we call it Haze because it’s unfiltered.  Like the Man.

woody haze 100 cask

Woody because it matured on sturdy oak. Haze because it’s unfiltered. Like the Man.

Now you know the rest of the story.  When you order your snoot of Woody Haze 101 out of the firkin tomorrow, think about someone who was born in these parts on a cold February day and who would go on to be a legend.  We could do worse.



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Ed note:  Allegedly, Savor Growl, a local carryout, purchased all of the supply of Bell’s Hopslam from competitor Giant Eagle, with the intent of creating a shortage and reselling it.  This post is not to re-hash alleged events that happened on the last weekend of January.  You’ll have to read it all for yourself.  There’s just too much.  Links are provided.  This post is intended to clarify the motivation behind my role in said events.  


On Saturday morning, I was at my computer putting the finishing touches on my Address for our fifteenth annual Robert Burns Dinner to be held later that night.

Just then, a post came across my newsfeed on Facebook. It’s a link to a Reddit post.

The internet being the distraction it is for all of us trying to get work done, of course I paused to click on the link.

Hmm.  A local carryout is trying to corner the market on a very limited release of a seasonal beer that carries a hefty price tag ($17.99 a sixer.)  Shit.

Then another post popped up.  “Savor Growl employee attempting illegal purchase of beer from GE…” (Giant Eagle.)

I went back to tidying up my notes.  “Next, let’s turn to Burns the patriot and an outspoken critic of the wrongs of the State…”  My mind was multi-tasking now.  Wrongs of the State.  What about wrongs of the individual?  That’s where it starts, right?

I couldn’t get these posts out of my head.  Great, I thought.  What I need right now is a distraction as I’m getting ready for a big night at the ‘House.


I have been in the craft beer industry for going on a quarter century.  I have seen much as we’ve grown from zero to almost 3,000 micros and brewpubs today.  Well, 200.  That’s about how many there were when I got involved.

In that time, I have met the most on-the-fringe, bordering on lunatic, characters I have ever met.  If you put these characters in one room and didn’t know better, you might be scared for your life.

Individually, they are sharp-minded hard workers who have created a remarkable industry for you.  Perhaps the most remarkable industry in America.  They are, for the most part though, not Fortune 500 types.  They are rogues and rapscallions; artists and inventors; ziggers versus society’s  zaggers.

As a group, these characters are also the most upstanding, honorable people I have ever met.  This group collaborates.  They share.  They laugh.  They’re razor sharp. They don’t ask for handouts.  They know it’s their ideas, coupled with work harder than you can imagine, that will bring them satisfaction and possibly, success.

I am proud to be a small part of this movement, important in ways far beyond the contents in your pint glass.  I don’t think it’s hyperbole when I write that the liquid pleasure in your glass represents the American Dream.  It’s inspiration that leads to perspiration that results in innovation.  Our industry is very communal and sharing.  I can pick up the phone and can expect to get a call back from just about anyone in our business, including the heavy hitters.

Now I think: desecration.  My motivation in posting was to protect a really cool industry of like-minded individuals who, collectively is a gale-strength force.

Storm’s A Comin’

It’s not really a big deal, is it?  A retailer allegedly trying to corner the market.  I mean, capitalism and all.  Supply and demand.  The American Way.

Nope.  Alchohol is a highly regulated business.  The State of Ohio lets you know that obtaining a license is not a right.  It’s a privilege.  If what I read in the posts is true, Savor Growl broke the law.  Big Time.

We live in a three tier State, with laws written after prohibition to keep the alcohol that you enjoy–at your favorite watering hole or at your kitchen table–an orderly process.  The tiers: manufacturing > distributing > retailing.  Pick which tier you want to be a part of and stay out of the other two.  (There’s an exception for breweries, who can also self-distribute their products.)

Savor Growl allegedly bought product from another retailer for the purpose of creating even more scarcity and reselling it themselves.  That’s against the law.  More importantly, it’s just not cool.

You may not know, but we all scrap to get our share of sometimes very limited supply of a beer.  If that beer has a “must-have” reputation, it’s nearly impossible to get our hands on it.

So is the case with Bell’s Hopslam.  This IPA is one of the more sought-after beers in the country.  It’s ranked 19 in a list of the top 250 beers on At the Smokehouse, we were unable to get even one keg of it.  We understand. The beer is portioned out to the very best accounts.  Because we sell so much of our own beer, we don’t sell as much of others’ beer as we would otherwise.  We get it. We accept that we’re not going to get every gem that comes into our market.

Savor Growl is in the same boat.  Allegedly, they wanted to appear as one of those star accounts.  In the process, they broke the law.

Frankly, if true, it pisses me off.

We’re in a competitive enough business as it is.  But it’s a beautiful, even elegant business. We’d just rather play on a clean level playing field.


The Smokehouse really doesn’t have a dog in this fight.  We don’t compete with Savor Growl.  But I don’t like someone taking a public shit in my world.

So I decided to post on our wall.  On Saturday morning I posted, “We don’t normally get ‘political,’ but this is just despicable. Not to mention illegal. We are getting reports that they are reselling at $3-4 per bottle.”  I linked to the Reddit thread.

What happened next can only be described as surreal.  I went back to my work.  After awhile, I checked my post.  Almost 1,000 views.  Soon, thereafter, 2,000.  As this is being written, this post has had 7,904 views and a ton of comments.

My post is now referenced in the original Reddit post. Columbus Underground has started a thread. There’s a thread on DrinkUp Columbus tweeted the story out to 6,000 people.  Miles Liebtag blogged about it. The story’s been picked up by BeerPulse, who tweeted it to 50,000 followers.  Savor Growl, for their part, has scrubbed their Facebook page of all posts and comments regarding this subject.

This thing went viral.

People don’t like cheaters.  Alleged, in this case.  But I am so proud of the craft beer community who showed this weekend just how passionate and protective they are.  The craft beer industry has had very little drama as far as shady shennanigans, so it would be a shame to not shed light on an alleged shady and illegal practice.

If this dust up helps elevate discussion and protect the reputation of craft beer, then my post on Saturday was worth it.

We all keenly feel frustrated over today’s “leadership” in Washington, DC.  It’s been said that the way to affect change is to start where you can make the biggest difference–at the local level.  Hello, local level.

Just remember:  innocent until proven guilty.

“But Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!”
–Robert Burns (1759-1796)


Bells’s Brewery, Inc:  (269) 382-2338
Premium Beverage Supply:  (614) 777-1007
Ohio Liquor Laws Violations Toll Free Hotline: 1 (877) 464-6677

A pic of the pallet of Hopslam purchased at Giant Eagle Friday night. About $1,800 worth.


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Rethinking Your Beer

This is perhaps the wrong time of year to write about rethinking your beer, what with all the holiday beers, with their myriad flavors, but I got to thinking about beer yesterday when I read that there’s a proposal before the Ohio House to increase the alcohol level in Ohio beers from 12% to 21%.  You can read about it here. And here.

While I’m certainly not against restrictions, and I’m definitely not against creativity, I’m a little nervous that we’re getting ahead of ourselves.  First, craft beer is still only about 6.5% of the entire beer market.  There’s a lot of work to be done to bring the other 93.5% of the market up to speed that craft beer is simply awesome.

We are fortunate to experience a time when the rules of what is beer are being rewritten.  Beer styles not seen in this country for decades are being brewed.  Porters, stouts, Belgian this and French that.  New beer categories are being created.  Even if you aren’t a fan of some of them, you are still a witness to this nascent revolution.  Imperial IPA, anyone?

However, most beer drinkers still haven’t digested what we’ve already done in the name of craft beer.  And some of us who love craft get stuck in our ways.  Some reasons we may not be ready for super-high gravity beers:


Beer should be ice cold.  Beer is for partying.  Beer should have no aftertaste.  You should be loyal to one brand–theirs.  All these statements fail at elevating beer to what it is:  an extremely versatile beverage that spans the spectrum of everything from a reward for mowing your lawn to celebrating a milestone in your life to celebrating the season before you.

If a beer drinker gets all his education from commercials aired during a football game, us beer geeks will always be the minority.  More important, if we start offering beer that is turbocharged with double digit ABV, we will distance ourselves further from our macro-beer consuming breathern.

So what mistakes do craft beer drinkers make?


There is nothing more annoying than someone who mocks you for what you do.  Whether it’s making fun of someone because she won’t try your five alarm chili, or chiding your buddy for drinking yellow, fizzy beer, you’re going to turn that person off. 

OK, you all get that.  But what about a beer geek poking fun at another beer geek because you’re drinking Turbocharged Bitter Badass and he’s drinking a pale ale?  That might even be a worse offense.

There’s a time and place for every beer and there’s no reason to trash-talk entire styles.  In fact, the best way to learn to appreciate everything that craft beer has to offer is to try it all.  Maybe you forgot how good a wheat beer can be.  Challenge yourself up and also challenge yourself down.  Enjoy them all as objectively as you can and appreciate them for what they are.


I’ve heard it all.  People won’t drink an IPA “because I don’t like bitter beers.”  People who are disappointed with an IPA because it’s not bitter enough.  Liberally hopped beers are booming in popularity, and we’ve got some world-class examples here locally.  Most people still don’t understand hops, though.

Hops are a “seasoning.”   There are many variety of hops, and they all have their unique characteristics.  Bitter, yes.  Fruity, yes.  Pine-like, yes.  Hops are essential to a great beer experience.  However, bitterness is controlled by your brewer.

The longer hops boil in the kettle, the more the bitter characteristics come out; the shorter the boil, the more the floral, fruit, pine and other aromatic characteristics show up.  The art of the beer recipe is using all these components much like a composer uses instruments.  It’s all music, but you’d never confuse Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 with the Ramones’ I Wanna Be Sedated.

Don’t equate bitterness and hops.  Equate a bitter finish to early hop additions!


“I don’t like dark beers.”  Wha?

I can’t tell you how many people I’ve gotten to try a beer with their eyes closed.  “Wow, I don’t normally drink dark beers, but this is good!”  On other occaisions, I’ve poured a sample of Guinness and our Alexander’s Russian Imperial Stout for a comparative taste.

After drinking the RIS, the Guinness always tastes like water.  This is not a knock on Guinness.  It’s a dry stout and world-class.  But comparatively, a dry stout can’t hang with an RIS (and shouldn’t have to.)  Same color, two completely different experiences.  Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.


While both ABV and IBU can inform a beer drinker of what he may be getting into, this information is less important than enjoying the experience.  Try to think about potential flavor, aroma and mouthfeel instead.  It’s more interesting to think of beer this way and gets you over the notion that you could be “wrong” about your assessment of the beer.

Get over these lab numbers (although we’ll continue to let you know what they are for our beers.)  When you’re tasting, think about descriptors like they do in the wine world.


Or maybe two dimensional.

Even though craft beer has made great progress in the last two decades, mainstream beer lovers still have a msiconception about beer.  For them, beer is either bland, yellow fizz water (I”m pretty sure they wouldn’t describe it like that!) or it’s bitter.

This makes sense when you think about it.  They either drink their favorite macro, or they’re handed a hop bomb from their buddy who says, “Here, try this.  See what you’re missing.”  I’m pretty sure if I started out with a 120 IBU triple IPA brewed with ghost peppers, I’d stick to my beer too.

Instead, why not offer them something more accessible? Here at the ‘House, we usually point someone inexperienced to MacLenny’s Scottish Ale.  It’s a little malty, with subdued hops, some toffee-like caramel notes to discover.  While many have graduated to many of our more challenging offerings, this one remains our best seller.

Why?  Because sometimes you just want a clean beer that refreshes.  Do your Bud Light mate a favor and suggest this one to him, if you ever hope for him to step into the world of craft.


It’s an unfortunate misconception that beer goes with pizza.  Or pretzels.  Or wings.  And that’s about it.

Beer is arguably one of the most versatile beverages to pair with just about any food.  A hoppy IPA is perfect with spicy Indian dishes; a Belgian Trappist beer is a fine accompaniment to a standing prime rib roast.  Wheat beers are great with seafood, and the list goes on.

One of my personal pet peeves is that wine pairs best with cheese.  While I won’t argue that there’s a lot of enjoyment in those pairings, I’ll argue that beer goes better than wine with cheese.  I was with a group who went to Rockmill Brewing a year ago summer, and we took a bunch of expensive cheeses with us.  The pairings with Rockmill’s various offerings were sublime.

One simple reason beer goes so well with cheese:  the carbonation naturally cleanses the palate between each bite, setting you up for your next cheese.  Try that, wine!


There’s a difference between complex and obnoxious.  While some higher gravity beers are a wonderful trip, let’s face it.  90% of beer drinkers still find pale ale intimidating. 

To bring it all around, while I’m not against increasing ABV in the State of Ohio, I’m a little concerned.  Until we learn to appreciate the vast varieties of beer we already do have, and we show our macro-loving beer friends the way into our world, we just might be getting ahead of ourselves.  Can you imagine your mate trying a 16% barleywine as an introduction to craft beer?  It’ll make our job even harder.

Maybe this is all just a cautionary tale to my brewery brothers in Ohio, though.  We may some day be allowed to brew up to 21% ABV,   but that doesn’t mean we have to jump in with both feet.  Our time is better spent getting everyone to appreciate the world that is craft beer today, and save the ultra-high gravity tricks for another day.

Share your thoughts with me.  You’ll help shape the future of craft beer in Ohio.



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Crafty Beers are not Craft Beers

This post is being written over several days.  To read new content, scroll down to where you haven’t read yet.  Cheers!

It’s sort of bugged me for years now that a local restaurant has gotten a free ride on the tails of craft beer.  There’s nothing wrong with the restaurant.  In fact, I’ve had some great times there.  It’s just that the public is under a misconception of who they are.  It got me to thinking about some of the sleight-of-hand in the beer industry in this country today.

If you’ve followed the craft beer industry, you know two things.

  1. The craft beer industry is exploding.  You can look just in Columbus to see it happening.  About two years ago, there were no craft breweries in Dayton; next year there will be 18.  And on and on and on.  The Brewers Association says that, as of June of this year, there were 1,165 brewpub, 1,221 microbreweries and larger players that bring the total up to 2,538.  Yowza!  When I started doing this for a living, there were about 200 brewpubs in the country.
  2. Macro breweries continue to see their sales decline.  If it wasn’t for craft beer, beer volume in the USA would actually be down in 2012.


One thing you may not be aware of is that there is a beer war going on right now.  It’s a huge fight.  The macros are doing everything they can to crowd the micros out of the market.  Next time you’re in the supermarket, take a hard look at the beer aisle.  You’ll see 90 percent of the aisle is macro beer.  The macros buy shelf space to keep the little guys out.  Maybe that’s just good business (we’ll leave that for you to decide) but there’s two things going on that are perhaps a little sinister.

  1. They make beers that appear as craft, but don’t mention the parent company behind the label; and
  2. They just buy up craft breweries and don’t tell you about it.

Again, that may just be good business.  But what’s not cool is that they are doing everything they can to cover their tracks and to market their acquisitions as “mom and pop” breweries.  They put a mask on these brands so you can’t tell that they are behind them.

While this is painfully obvious to those of us in the craft beer industry, it occurred to me that it may not be obvious to you.  So,  I present to you twelve beers that are more crafty than craft.  I’ll post one today and then periodically add others.

I’ll end this multi-day post with the restaurant here in town that I wish would not imply they are part of our industry.  But that’s for another day.

Today, I start with…


This one you may actually know about.  If you look at the label, it’s brewed by Shock Top Brewing Company of Saint Louis, Missouri.  Cool, cool.  Except Shock Top was created by the marketing department of Anheuser Busch, now a subsidiary of InBev.

shock top

Telltale signs from the beginning include as massive marketing campaign to launch.  Craft brewers don’t have that kind of bank, nor is it the right vibe for a true artisan brewery. And nowhere does the label say AB is behind this beer.  Crafty.

OK, I’ll do two today.  Next we lift the veil on…


The Blue Moon Brewing Company was founded in Golden, Colorado.  I think you see where this one’s headed.

Blue Moon Brewing Company was a marketing concept for Coors.  Yes, it’s a real beer, but it was invented out of whole cloth to pretend it is a craft beer.  Coors created it.  Then they marketed it. Then they merged into MolsonCoors.

blue moon

MolsonCoors then merged into SABMiller/MolsonCoors (I think.)  Never along the way did the label say Coors.  Or Molson.  Or Miller.

Don’t get me wrong.  Blue Moon is drinkable. It has been a gateway beer into the world of craft for many people.  But it’s not craft.  A South African conglomerate owns it.  Oh, yeah, it’s sold in Canada as Ricard’s White.  N-i-i-i-ce.


I visited Leinenkugel’s some time ago in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin.  It was a quaint brewery, founded in 1867, with a copper brewhouse.  It appeared to have seen better days, but it was quaint, in a good way, a respite from day-to-day city life.

leinenkugel's honey weiss - craft beers that aren't craft beers (fake craft beers)

In 1988, it was purchased by Miller, now SABMiller.  There’s no real problem here, since they let the beer stay pretty much what it was.  (Well, until Shandy this and the rest.)  The problem here is that now that the rest of the country can get it, people who never heard of Leinie’s see it on the shelf and say, “Cool!  A new craft beer.”  Except it isn’t.  And it most certainly is not all brewed in Chippewa Falls.  And it is owned by one of the major beer conglomerates.


It’s located in Saratoga Springs, New York and unavailable in Ohio.  Consider this a head’s up in case it ever arrives here.  You can pretty much guess that a brewery that considers itself “olde” isn’t.
olde saratoga ipa - craft beers that aren't craft beers (fake craft beers)

They were founded in 1997 and almost immediately got bought up by Mendocino Brewing Company.  Some of you may have heard of Mendocino Brewing and are asking yourselves, “Hey, that’s a craft brewery, so maybe this beer shouldn’t be on the list.”



This craft brewery was founded way back in 1983.  They were one of the first micros in California.  These guys bought Saratoga to spread to the eastern part of the US, a reasonable move if you want to grow.


But in 2001 they in turn sold themselves to United Brewery Holdings, the Indian conglomerate that makes Kingfisher Beer.  UBH now owns at least 70% of both Mendocino and Saratoga.  You won’t find that information on either sub-breweries packaging.  I’ve spotted Mendocino Brewing’s products at Trader Joes, rarely anywhere else.  Crafty.


Goose Island began as a Chicago brewpub in 1988.  Then they expanded with a production facility in 1995.  In 1999, they added a second brewpub in Wrigleyville.  Goose Island was the craft brewery in Chicago, making some memorable beers.  I remember enjoying their barrel-conditioned Bourbon County Stout at the brewpub as if it were yesterday.  312 Urban Wheat is wildly popular in the summer.  Their taphandles are distinctive.

goose island - craft beers that aren't craft beers (fake craft beers)

Goose Island had it all.  But maybe all wasn’t enough.  They went and done it.  They wanted to grow faster and get into more distribution channels.  Who could do that for them?  Why, Anheuser Busch, of course!  Now AB-InBev, they bought 100% of the company, giving them a legitimate “craft beer label.”  Only thing is, now it’s just another brand in their arsenal that puts a choke-hold on truly artisan craft breweries competing for shelf space.  That, and the fact that GI’s packaging doesn’t mention AB-InBev anywhere.  The beer’s still good, just apparently not good enough to say you own them, bitches.

What is AB-InBev afraid of?  That the craft beer community won’t support a huge international macro brewer, led by a Brazilian known more for cost cutting than raising quality, and headquartered in Belgium?  Hmmm.


Founded in 1984 with the name Hart Brewing, this Washington brewer’s signature beer is Pyramid Pale Ale.  In 2004, they acquired Portland Brewing Company.  Still a craft brewer up to this point, just getting bigger.  Nothing wrong with that.

In 2008, Pyramid was acquired by Independent Brewers United, the parent company of Magic Hat Brewing Company, Burlington, Vermont.  In 2010, the joint company was acquired by North American Breweries (NAB,) headquartered in Rochester, New York, at the Genesee Brewing Company’s headquarters.  A lot to follow, I know, but rather than tearing into the details of who’s who at this point, let’s cut to the chase.

pyramid brewery - craft beers that aren't craft beers (fake craft beers)

In 2012, the entire organization was acquired by Cerveceria Costa Rica, a subsidiary of Florida Ice & Farm Company (FIFCO).  Who are they?  For starters, they’re not in Florida.  FIFCO is a Costa Rican food and beverage company headquartered in Heredia, Costa Rica, with a catalog of over 2,000 products sold in 15 countries.

Did you follow all that?  The point is that Pyramid is a small cog in the wheels of an international conglomerate.  You can’t call that craft, no matter how tasty the beer.


Magic Hat Brewing Company was founded in 1994, in Burlington, Vermont.  It makes interesting beers with hipster labels that are works of art.  They have all the trappings of a craft brewery, and until 2010, they were.

Until they too were purchased by NAB (see above.)  Which means they too are another small cog in the FIFCO machine.  With not indication on their packaging that this is so.

Now on to a trio of craft brewers (with a bonus brewery!) who are craftier than craft…


Located in the Seattle area, I first visited this brewery and brewpub in 1991.  It had a cool vibe and some really good ales.  It was founded in 1981, making it one of the pioneer craft brewers in the industry.

red hook brewing - craft beers that aren't craft beers (fake craft beers)

On July 1, 2008, Redhook merged with Widmer Brothers Brewery, operating in Portland Oregon.  The merged company called itself Craft Brewers Alliance.  No doubt, the company was formed to gain production efficiencies in a capital intensive industry.

At this point, the merged company can still be considered a craft brewer.  Then Anheuser Busch acquired a stake in this company.  That’s not the whole story, though.  Read on.


Widmer was founded in 1984 in Portland by two actual brothers.  At some point, they collaborated with Red Hook for several years through a licensing agreement whereby Redhook brewed and distributed their beers on the east coast.  Still craft at this point.

widmer brothers brewing - craft beers that aren't craft beers (fake craft beers)

Already with a stake in Redhook, AB took a stake in Widmer Brothers as well.  AB at this time was quietly picking up stakes in craft brewers as a hedge against what turned out to happen: declining macro beer sales.  During this time, AB simultaneously launched a marketing campaign poo pooing craft beer.  Here’s a link to a summary of one such campaign.


Side note here.  Widmer has a separate company called Omission.  Omission brews all their beer gluten free.  If you go to Omission’s website, this information is clearly stated.


What isn’t stated is that Omission is also part of Craft Beer Alliance, partially owned by InBev.  Omission indeed.


Kona was founded in 1994 and is supposedly the top-selling craft beer in Hawaii.  Only thing is… they joined the Craft Brew Alliance, formerly Craft Brewers Alliance.  Like Redhook and Widmer, they are now partially owned by AB.  Does it make sense now how a Hawaiian beer can make it to Columbus store shelves?

kona brewing - craft beers that aren't craft beers (fake craft beers)

AB owns 35% of Craft Brew Alliance.  These breweries still operate independently, are capable of making good beer and can still control their destinies.  So what’s the big deal?

For one, these beers, through AB’s distribution network, now help crowd out smaller craft beers on your store shelf.  Think about that the next time you’re in the supermarket and you see Redhook, Widmer and Kona alongside Bud, Bud Light, Bud-a-Rita (or whatever it’s called,) Michelob, Natty Light and all the other InBev beers.  Look how little space is left for craft beer.  This is by design.

AB really doesn’t care if their crafty beers don’t sell well.  They just want to make sure a competitor doesn’t get the sale.  Got that?

For two, there’s no mention that ABInBev has a significant stake in these companies.  It’s no coincidence that InBev does not support mandatory labeling to show alcohol percentage in beer.  (Today, it’s optional.)  If the casual beer drinker knew that his Bud Light was around 4%ABV and he could get a flavorful craft beer around 6-8%, well… InBev doesn’t want you to go there.

For three, with the world’s largest brewing conglomerate backing you, you can’t call yourself craft anymore.


If you find yourself thinking, “Hey, how can I get in on this action?” you’re in luck.  CBA is a publicly traded company on the NASDAQ.     Their ticker symbol is BREW.  Thank goodness “craft” is five letters, or they may have gone for that ticker instead.  In addition to InBev being a 35% partner, they also have two seats on the Board.  I wonder what they drink at those meeting?

Craft Brew Alliance

I don’t have anything against any of the beers I’ve mentioned (though I’d prefer to never drink many of them.)  I’m just showing a little transparency.  Openness and honesty is something you should associate with that pint of craft beer sitting in front of you.  Right?

The last beer I’ll mention just about breaks my heart, because this brewery makes some fine, non-mainstream beers.  I consider this brewery to have been a part of the American craft beer movement, even though it is our Canadian cousin.  It can no longer be called be called craft, though.


Unibroue was founded by Andre Dion and Serge Racine in 1990.  A hallmark of their beers is that they are bottled “on the lees.”  South of the border here, we call it bottle-conditioning.  Some yeast is left in the bottle to naturally carbonate the contents.  Cool. Sierra Nevada used to do this.  So did others.  It’s just really hard to control on a large scale with distribution partners who may not treat the beer with kid gloves.  So kudos to Unibroue for continuing to do this.  Their beer ages nicely as a result.

One of their beers is called “La Fin du Monde.”  It’s available locally, and I recommend you get a bottle or two for your cellar.  The name translates to “End of the World.”  I’d be OK leaving this planet with one of these.


Alas, They were bought by Canadian brewer, Sleeman Breweries, Ltd, in 2004.  Sleeman is a macro brewer that’s slightly hipper than the US macros, but nothing a craft beer drinker would go out of her way for.  In any case, in 2006 Sleeman was purchased by Sapporo.  There you have it.  As The Vapors wrote…

“I’ve got your picture of me and you
You wrote “I love you” I wrote “me too”
I sit there staring and there’s nothing else to do
Oh it’s in color
Your hair is brown
Your eyes are hazel
And soft as clouds
I often kiss you when there’s no one else around…
(and then)
…I’m turning Japanese
I think I’m turning Japanese
I really think so
Turning Japanese”

Don’t get me wrong.  There is nothing wrong with the Japanese.  But I have trouble wrapping my head around the fact that when I enjoy a Fin du Monde, I’m drinking Japanese.  Especially when they don’t say so.

So that’s my rundown of beers that are more crafty than craft.  One of them is great; some of them are good.  I wish they’d stop making some of the others.  That’s not the point of this post, though.

I wish that every brewery was transparent enough that we knew who’s behind them.  I wish that the Big Boys didn’t make beer just to jam the beer aisle with beers just to keep really competition out and instead, let the marketplace decide.  I wish brewers would list what’s in the bottle on the label.  I wish for world peace too, but it is what it is.

Armed with a little information now, I mostly wish that you get the beer you deserve. There’s a whole craft industry waiting to serve you liquid art in a bottle.  Don’t settle for crafty when you can have craft.

I promised I’d conclude with a local reference to crafty trumping craft.  I don’t intend any malice here;  I merely want to provide clarity.  Because it’s bugged me. Since the start.

I’m calling you out…


First, go to their blog page and read what they say.  OK, they present an abbreviated history of themselves.  But. They state that, “we are the remaining brewery in Columbus’ Brewery District.”  That is a bald-faced lie.  They don’t brew anything.

If I may, allow me to elaborate on their history.

Some time in the late ’90s (I wish I knew the exact year) Cameron Mitchell (yes, THAT Cameron Mitchell) thought he’d get in on the craft beer craze.  His organization put together an upscale pub menu, and had a contemporary joint designed for him.  He also called it a brewpub.  Only thing is…


Here’s what happened.  Cameron Mitchell made an agreement with the former owner of Columbus Brewing Company, Jeff Edwards, that he’d attach himself to the CBC brewery and also call himself CBC.  CBC (the brewery) would supply their beer, and look! We can make everyone think it’s a brewpub! Only it’s not.  It’s a pub.  It’s a bar.  It’s a beer bar. It’s a gastropub.  There are countless terms that can be used to describe the restaurant.

Cameron Mitchell subsequently sold the restaurant to the current owners, and Jeff Edwards sold his stake in the brewery to Eric and Beth Bean.  The original culprits are no longer involved.  Yet the current owners seem happy to let our community think they brew beer in their setting.  They don’t.

CBC Restaurant, please don’t call yourself a brewpub.  Running a brewpub is really hard work.  It’s like running two businesses.  It’s having two staffs.  It’s a mash up of two art forms.

And please don’t call yourself a brewery.  Columbus Brewing Company is a brewery. You’re not.  You don’t brew beer.

Just recently, CBC Restaurant has started putting some guest beers on tap.  Absolutely nothing wrong with that.  We do the same thing.  There’s a lot of good craft beer out there, so why not?

But I’ve had people come up to me and ask “if I’d had the new beer from CBC.”  Like Fat Julian.  CBC doesn’t brew Fat Julian, Actual Brewing Company does.  The confusion is getting worse.  (Full disclosure:  we had a firkin of Fat Julian at last year’s Mini Real Ale Fest and it was delicious!)

It’s time to blow the whistle on all this confusion.  CBC is neither a brewery nor a brewpub, and it’s very crafty that they don’t do anything to clear the air.  Great food.  Great beer. Crafty marketing.

Do the right thing, CBC Restaurant.  Stop the madness.  It would be really cool if you took Brewing out of your name completely.  It’s a chance to reinvent yourselves, while being more honest.  There, I said it.  I feel better.

Local Crafty Runner Up:  BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse (two locations)… nice shiny tanks, guys.  Too bad you ship your beer from out-0f-state, instead of merely using the tanks to make root beer.  Brewhouse indeed.


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