Since Jackie O’s was taken over by owner Art Oestrike in 2005, the brewery has expanded both in size and scope, bringing on a brewmaster worthy of being called an artist and expanding its space to include a pub that serves up delicious burgers and spent grain pizzas. It’s only appropriate that Athens is home to Ohio Brew Week, considering Jackie O’s is often noted as one of the state’s best breweries.
Jackie O’s brewmaster Brad Clark has graced the front cover of the likes of Beer Advocate magazine – a quick Google search for his name returns a library of interesting article worth a read. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to go from college student homebrewer to brewmaster at a legendary brew pub, Clark’s the person to ask. It starts with a bartending job and ends with a lot of responsibility, but in between lies experimentation, an associate’s degree in brewing theory, and a whole lot of faith from your boss and friends. After taking the time to talk with me about his rise from creative writing major to world-class brewmaster, it’s clear to me that Jackie O’s creative beer list is the product of an equally creative mind.
According to Clark, his friend and boss Art Oestrike gives him “artistic freedom, and has never said no” to his beer recipe ideas. “For the most part, I try to brew things I’d like to drink,” Clark said, a sentiment with which amateur and pro-brewers alike can identify. When I met with Clark he was in the middle of brewing a cinnamon IPA, inspired by a fruit salad he had eaten at his mom’s over the holidays. “A lot of times I’ll make something that I really like, that nobody else wants to drink. Other times I make something that doesn’t appeal to me, but sells well in the bar,” Clark noted, before chuckling about one of their draft offerings, Razz Wheat. Fruity and popular with the ladies, Clark wrinkled his nose at the popular beer. It’s just not his style, but it does well with Jackie O’s patrons which is why it can be found on tap year-round.
Because Jackie O’s sells its beer exclusively onsite, it has been easy for Clark to get away with focusing on the more creative aspects of brewing, and avoid poring over the anal details of chemistry that can cause variation in the way a beer tastes. Patrons of Jackie O’s often look forward to the difference in batches, but now that the bar has announced its plans to bottle and distribute their beer in 2012, consistency will become more important, along with efficiency and benchmarking.
Clark discussed their new 7,500 square foot production facility which will be overseen by the brewmaster himself, and will alter Jackie O’s current processes. They’re looking at many different packaging options, and will work their way from Southeastern Ohio, up to Central Ohio and beyond. Clark hopes Jackie O’s will become a beer destination, featuring even more experimental brews with a larger selection of beer at any given time.
To many beer enthusiasts, Jackie O’s is already a beer destination. There’s nothing else like it close to home, even in neighboring states, and the brewing community has accepted the brew pub as a one-of-a-kind place. They receive calls from people around the world seeking their beer, and their bottle releases attract visitors from states near and far in seeking to grab a bottle or two of something special.
Describing what Jackie O’s “looks like” is a bit difficult. The bathrooms are in divey disrepair on the “brewery” side, but the detailed woodwork designed and produced by a local woodworker makes you feel like you’ve stepped into a handcrafted and semi-classy watering hole of crazy craft beers. The “pub” side, which opened in 2009, is large, has a pool table, and includes the kitchen which serves up delicious pub food to both sides of the bar. Moving the kitchen from the “brewery” side allowed Clark to take over the space, giving him more room to store brewing supplies and equipment. With 20 taps on the pub side, and 18 on the brewery side, there’s potential for almost 40 different beers on draft at any given time.
As Jackie O’s team prepares for distribution, brewmaster Brad Clark emphasized that he hopes people will still make a trip down to the bar. “It’s not the same as visiting here, you know, drinking a bottle at Surly Girl or something. People won’t know what Jackie O’s really is without coming here, you just have to visit,” Clark urged before preparing to give us a tour of their cellar.
I wholeheartedly agree. Beer enthusiasts and non-beer drinkers alike will find something to enjoy at Jackie O’s. From their spent grain pizza, to reading the names of different beers (Great Googly Moogly, Chomolungma or 1/2 Shark-Alligator, 1/2 Man, anyone?), Jackie O’s is a place deserving of your time. Well worth the drive, just beware of cops on 33-E as you head down to Athens. Otherwise you may find yourself drowning your sorrows in pints of beer that should be sipped and savored, not chilled and chugged.