A pilgrimage to the quaint but eclectic town of Athens is a must for any Ohio beer lover. Jackie O’s Pub & Brewery, a Mecca of offbeat and extreme beers, seems a little out of place in a town full of frat parties and Bud Light. Their beers are always interesting, always novel without being gimmicky, and usually well-executed, too. Brad Clark, brewmaster, was kind enough to chat with me and pour a baker’s dozen of brews so that I could spread the good word to Columbus.
Here’s my take on their current offerings, in order of ascending awesomeness:
13. Firefly Amber Ale, 4.5% ABV
Firefly Amber is a hazy (all of Jackie O’s beer is unfiltered), golden beer with a sweet, grainy aroma. The taste is similar to the aroma, but a bit weak overall. It has a good level of carbonation and feels more full-bodied than the low ABV would suggest. Overall, this is a well-done, easy-drinking beer, but honestly, I’d skip it. It would be a great beer to buy for your buddies who are new to craft beer, but with the rest of the tap list… why bother?
12. Shade Abbey Ale, 5% ABV
Shade Abbey is Jackie O’s take on an abbey single, the sort of beer monks drink with their lunch. It’s a light brown ale with a light, sweet aroma. The taste is surprisingly grainy for a Belgian, but it’s mostly dominated by light caramel sweetness. It finishes smooth with a good level of carbonation, but on the whole it’s not as interesting as some of the others. It’s not spicy or funky like I hoped it would be.
11. Java the Stout, 6.5% ABV
This beer is a little thin for a stout, maybe they should call it “Java the Porter.” The aroma, pure coffee, is a bit weaker than I expected. It even looks like coffee. And it tastes like roasty coffee. It’s a very drinkable beer overall; this is a solid choice if coffee is your thing.
10. Great Googly Moogly (on nitro), 9% ABV
Jackie O’s calls this a “butternut spiced porter,” so the goofy name is appropriate. Silky black in appearance, it smells like spices, roasty chocolate, and even butter. It really does taste like squash, backed up with spices and chocolate. At 9% ABV, the alcohol is well-hidden by the spiciness.
9. Chomolunga, 6.5% ABV
Chomolunga is Jackie O’s honey nut brown ale, something akin to Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale. It smells just as you would imagine – sweet and nutty – and tastes much the same. The mouthfeel is creamy and slightly warming, and it’s very easy to drink. This beer is much more interesting and tasty than Firefly Amber, and for that reason it’s my go-to when I want something I can down a pitcher of.
8. ½ Shark-Alligator ½ Man, 10% ABV
Of course, beers that you can chug a pitcher of aren’t really Jackie O’s specialty. This crazy-sounding brew is an imperial red with a powerful caramel scent. The predominant taste is brown sugar, and it’s unfortunately a little too sweet. With this much alcohol, there is a fair bit of warmth to the taste, so it would be a good choice to sip on this winter.
7. Raccoon Dubbel, 7% ABV
This is a great take on a classic style with a twist: maple syrup. The maple is most detectable in the smell, mixing with a light spicy Belgian scent. It’s hazy brown and tastes like sweet brown sugar accented with the same spicy Belgian yeast, finishing with a creamy effervescence.
6. Belgo Razz Wheat, 5% ABV
Razz Wheat is one of Jackie O’s year-round offerings, and probably best to order for the cute girl at the end of the bar instead of yourself. For the Belgo version, Brad amped up the raspberries and pitched the same yeast he uses in all his Belgians (for all you beer nerds out there, it’s Wyeast 3522). The result is a hazy, red-orange brew that smells intensely like fresh raspberries. Thankfully, it’s not sweet at all – the raspberries make it a little tart, which goes great with the earthy, spicy yeast character. The mouthfeel is light and well-carbonated. Jackie O’s has managed quite a feat here, transforming a boring, girly beer into something complex and magical.
5. Matriarch, 10% ABV
Twenty-three pounds of hops. That’s what Brad uses in one seven barrel batch of Matriarch, Jackie O’s double IPA. Amarillo, Simcoe, Columbus, and Chinook go in the boil, with Citra for dry hopping. The aroma is a little lacking, but the tastes makes up for it. Surprisingly, balance is not lost here, and the taste begins with a sweet maltiness. This is quickly dominated by citrusy American hops, and finally ends with a bitter smack-down on your tongue. Like almost all of Jackie O’s beers, it has a nice, creamy mouthfeel.
4. Oil of Aphrodite Chocolate Cherry, 10% ABV
Walnuts, chocolate, and cherries. It sounds more like a dessert than a beer. This ink-black imperial stout has a curious barrel-aged smell to it (it’s not – but try the barrel-aged variety if they have it), and a big coffee-chocolate taste upfront. It’s a little roasty, and the cherries come through just as a hint. It’s thick and creamy with only a little carbonation.
3. Captain Barley Heart, 9% ABV
An old ale aged with Brettanomyces (or Brett), this is easily the most interesting beer I had at Jackie O’s. It’s cloudy and brown, with a sweet and sour smell that verges on smokiness, which it owes to the barrel aging. It tastes sweet, but only for a half second, giving way to a pleasant tartness that’s almost sour. Like many of the others, it also features a warm, creamy mouthfeel. After touring the basement and practically tripping over barrels, I’m hoping to try more beers like this in the future.
2. Dark Apparition (on nitro), 11% ABV
Dark Apparition is the bigger brother to Oil of Aphrodite. Both are thick, rich, creamy, jet-black stouts that are always offered in one variation or another. This beer smells like roasty chocolate, and has a strong chocolate-coffee taste. While it may be simpler than the Oil of Aphrodite Chocolate Cherry, I think that it’s a little better imperial stout overall. I’ve had the pleasure of trying a two year old bottle of Dark Apparition, and that was the smoothest Russian imperial stout that I’ve ever had.
1. Oil of Aphrodite Kopi, 10% ABV
This is the same Oil of Aphrodite as before, except with kopi coffee instead of chocolate and cherries. Being relatively unfamiliar with coffee, I was perplexed by the note on the tap board next to this beer that read, “civet-shit coffee.” Civets, a family of small mammals, eat coffee berries. Then they poop. This is how we get kopi coffee. This beer seemed to be a little more carbonated than the other imperial stouts, and a little creamier, too. The aroma is dominated by coffee with a little bit of chocolate in the background. It’s the perfect marriage of a silky-smooth imperial stout and smooth French pressed coffee. Thanks to the coffee’s quick trip through the civet’s digestive tract, this beer tastes much less roasty or harsh than the others. My tipsy, chicken scratch tasting notes read, “shit ton of coffee.” Which is kind of ironic.
There’s more, too – these are the current offerings on the Brewery Side (the tap list on the Public House side is usually about 75% the same), but after trying all thirteen I was a little too tipsy to do a passable job at judging the rest. Brad also maintains a well-curated offering of guest taps, with beers from Stone, Three Floyds, and Dogfish Head, among others (he was proud to tell me that they are one of the largest draft accounts in the area). Jackie O’s tap list is constantly changing, so if you can’t stand to miss any of these beers, head down soon. I make it a point to visit every month or two and it’s always worth the trip. Jackie O’s occasionally releases bottles (usually around $16 for a 22 oz bottle), but I recommend spending an evening at the pub instead – it’s cheaper and the selection is far better.