17 July 2007

Ohio Brew Week -- Pt. 1

Beer has been credited with playing a vital role in civilization. It has also been blamed for creating mayhem in sports in addition to a host of other social maladies. With the college kids about to head out of town until the next school year, brewers will get a chance to show off the positive culture associated with their wares as part of Ohio Brew Week. I will get a chance to enjoy the benefits of civilization by walking from bar to bar to bar enjoying the character of Ohio's finest beers.

I started the night out at Skipper's. Skipper's is Athens' equivalent of Fridays, offering a wide selection of faux-bistro cuisine with tons of drink specials. They feature a wide selection of vegetarian dining options, as well as 42-ounce margaritas for two (or one heavy drinker).

They also offer a good selection of bottled and draft beer. Their brew week selections come from all over Ohio, and they can be sampled in $4 pints or $1 5-ounce pours. I met the brewer from Black Box Brewery in Lakewood. The operation makes both wine and beer, and the beer was very distinctive and interesting.

The Plumber's Crack Ale was medium-bodied, with a fresh, clean malt finish. The beer is described as an ale that finishes like a lager, and it is built for summer consumption.

Also from the north end of the state comes Berea's Cornerstone Brewing Company. I have never been there, but the menu does feature a few vegetarian options. One of their standout beers was the Angry Gorilla hefeweizen. The beer picks up banana notes from the esters formed in the fermentation process. The fruity character straddles the line between traditional wheat beer and bottle-conditioned Belgian flavors.

Skipper's also offers selections from Columbus' two-headed brewpub monster Barley's. Interestingly, the beers and menus are different at both locations. The Alehouse offers more vegetarian selections than the Smokehouse does. These brews are available in growlers at some of the area's higher end bodegas.

There is also beer from Great Lakes, Marietta Brewing and Brew Kettle on tap at Skipper's during brew week. The Commodore Perry IPA by Great Lakes is probably left over from before brew week, but it is a hop lovers delight (80 IBU) all the same. Marietta Brewing has their Raspberry Wheat featured in multiple locations around Southeastern Ohio during the school year, and most of their beers are solidly made. The Brew Kettle 4C's Pale Ale is an American style pale ale that is a pleasant contrast to their more ostentatious Imperial IPA.

Right next door to Skipper's is Athens' contribution to brewpub culture Jackie O's. Jackie O's used to be called O'Hooley's. The name of the establishment refers to the mother of the pub's owner, a woman who died of cancer shortly before the name change, as well as the wife of John Kennedy. The bar is often crowded with people listening to the live music that includes weekly performances of Irish tunes in addition to other folk and jam band formats.

The bar debuted a few new beers in addition to a few beers that are offered year round. The featured beer is the Sparbock, a beer brewed in tribute to the late owner of the Oak Room and Toscano's Jon Sparhawk. Sparhawk was also the founder of Ohio Brew Fest. The dark beer had a rich flavor and a medium- to full-bodied character.

The brewpub also offers fruit-infused beers most of the year. The newest beer is a Dark Cherry Wheat, which is relatively dark in color with bing cherry and citrus aromas. It is actually very different from the Razz Wheat, which seems to be offered all year. The ChomoLungMa Organic Honey Nut Brown is very sweet and smoky. The Magic Mama IPA is rich and bracingly bitter.

The bar also offers food during the day. There are many vegetarian selections including the pizza, which is made from leftover spent grain used in the brewing process. Jackie O's has other special food offerings during Ohio Brew Week. Jackie O's had a bluegrass band playing during the evening. They often feature live music during the week, although it is probably less frequent when school is out.

The Athens local biker bar the Smiling Skull is also participating in the event. They always have a few options in decent beer. This week they have beer from the Arena District brewpub Elevator. The Xtra Kolsch is a pale beer brewed in the style of the German classic. This is the kind of beer for people who typically order Bud Light at the bar but want to experience craft beers that are compatible with the macro-beers that they started drinking. Elevator also features outstanding food that pairs well with the wide array of beers.

I heard high recommendations for the Calamity Jane Pale Ale from the Brown Derby Roadhouse. There will always be another chance to try that and a couple others later this week. You can check out the other odds and ends of everything from the first night in the Picasa photo album below.

Ohio Brew Week 1

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