Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Beyond Beer

Jackie O’s Pub & Brewery and Barrel Ridge Farm

Looking back, the years I spent at Ohio University seemed to have passed in the blink of an eye. It is hard to articulate what made my college experience so endearing and why most every OU alumni feels the same about this city located in southeastern Appalachian Ohio, but after graduation, I discovered that Athens has much more to offer than academics. It's a picturesque town blanketed with brick roads, rolling hills, delicious farm-to-fork restaurants, an exceptionally connected food community, and a local brewery known simply as Jackie O's.

I take any opportunity to visit my Alma Mater, so when owner Art Oestrike of Jackie O’s Pub & Brewery agreed to meet with me to discuss the history of his businesses, I was elated. I bellied up to the bar at The Taproom and production brewery, set minutes away from the uptown location, and listened as Art explained how he too began his love affair with Athens during his collegiate years at Ohio University. He obtained his undergrad degree, then his masters, followed by a period of travel overseas teaching English as a foreign language. However, Art felt a magnetic draw back to the city he once called home, returned to begin a career educating fellow Bobcats, and soon found himself co-owner of the uptown eatery Bagel Street Deli. Just the thought of chewy steamed bagels piled high with toppings and melty cheese distracted our conversation, so Art called over to his fiancĂ© and asked if she wouldn’t mind heading uptown to pick us up a few sandwiches. Next thing I know, I am eating Bagel Street and listening to the subsequent chapters of his story. He continued and described how in 2005 the uptown bar and brewery O’Hooley’s went up for sale. He admitted he didn’t know much about brewing beer, but decided to give it a go. Sadly, a few weeks after the purchase, Art’s mom was diagnosed with cancer. He fittingly chose to name the bar after her, and Jackie O’s Pub & Brewery took its place amongst campus watering holes.

A few years later, the space adjacent to Jackie O’s original location became available and Art jumped at the opportunity to expand. The uptown site off W. Union now consists of a Public House and a BrewPub which share a kitchen, an outdoor patio space, and a lineup of 38 draft options. The growth of his businesses didn’t end here. In 2013, they began packaging kegs, cans, and bottles of their cult-followed brews at their new site off Campbell Street in order to distribute beyond the city they call home. Feeling a little thirsty after my impromptu breakfast, Art poured a few samples of some seasonal brews as we began a tour. At their off-campus location, the Jackie O’s brewmasters are brewing 3-4 days a week and mowing through at least five 2,000 pound pallets of their base malt grain in the process. Surrounded by towering stainless steel tanks, he gave me the overview of how the thousands of pounds of hearty grain are combined with water and yeast and are transformed into one of the numerous varieties of Jackie O’s beers. He also walked me through the expansion plans and how they will soon have capacity to produce 25-30,000 barrels of beer per year. Despite the growth, he explained how it is important to keep every step of the process in house including, but not limited to, the tap handles made from local wood.

For Art and his team, keeping things local and supporting the surrounding community goes well beyond beer. If you order a burger at Jackie O’s uptown restaurant, it’s not the typical pub fare full of ingredients that have traveled thousands of miles to get to your plate. All the bread products, including the bun, are made at the in house BakeShop, the dry aged beef is sourced from within 50 miles, the cheese is from local cheese producer Laurel Valley Creamery, and the veggies that top it, when in season, are from their very own farm. Jackie O’s takes the locavore movement seriously and in early 2010, purchased 20+ acres know as Barrel Ridge Farm. This marks their third year participating in the Athens Farmer’s Market and the fourth growing season for the farm. Matt Starline of Starline Organics recently joined forces with Barrel Ridge and together their 17 acres of cultivated land are producing heirloom tomatoes, carrots, lettuce, radishes, garlic, onions, a variety of herbs, beets, zucchini, squash, sweet potatoes, raspberries, and more! In order to let the brewery reap some of the rewards of the farm, they have incorporated pine needles harvested from blue spruce trees into their New Growth beer and have plans for upcoming brews to utilize more herbs being produced. Their CSA or CLA (Community Locavore Club) as it is referred to, is also unique. It not only contains fresh produce from their farm, but also includes a loaf of bread and/or goodies from their BakeShop, a Jackie O’s reusable bag, as well as the opportunity to add on products that support other local food producers. The pick up spot just happens to be The Taproom, so ordering a beer while grabbing your local share is a no-brainer.

The next time you're in the mood for a little road trip, I urge you to take a short journey down to Athens. Soak in the scenery at Strouds Run State Park, view one of the current exhibits at the Kennedy Museum of Art, get lost in the maze of brick pathways on College Green, stroll down Court Street, buy local at the largest open air farmer's market in Ohio, and definitely visit Jackie O's Pub & Brewery.

Brown Ale

The Jackie O’s Chomolungma (pictured left) traveled 73 miles to Columbus, while the brown ale (pictured right) traveled over 3,700 miles to Columbus.

Roasted Sweet Corn w/Cheddar Beer Sauce

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