When someone offers me a growler of gluten free beer, I am normally inclined to decline. If you’ve had an average gluten free beer, you understand why. Usually thin, lacking depth, and failing to carry any sort of nuanced hop character, most gluten free beers will leave a beer nerd wanting. But when The Ohio Taproom told us they were carrying a gluten free beer made in Ohio, I was willing to give it a try.
I recruited a couple of friends for a tasting, promising them normal beer if they participated in the seemingly pointless task. At best, 99.99% of gluten free beers are “tolerable.” Ironically, Intolerant Ale is more than tolerable – it’s delicious. It’s heady, bitter, citrusy and crisp. It goes down easy, refreshes the palate, and I found myself wanting more of it. I immediately regret sharing it with my friends, and considered returning to The Ohio Taproom to grab some more. Most importantly, my two gluten-loving friends loved the beer, comparing it to Sierra Nevada and expressing genuine good cheer towards the not-so Intolerant Ale.
Although I had never heard of the brewery, the beer had drawn me in – my curiosity was piqued. I reached out to Father John’s in Bryan, OH for some history and insight into how this beer was made. A relatively new operation, the brewery has received rave reviews online for their food and beer, and are also offering a brew-on-premise option. Brewmaster Chuck Martin answered a handful of questions for me, offering some insight into a new, expanding Ohio craft brewery.
DB: How did you become the head brewer at Father John’s?
CM: I became one of Father John’s brewers (there are two of us, myself and Doug Jacobs), after moving to Bryan a couple of years ago. I started brewing beer at home about 6 years ago, going from kits and extracts to brewing my own all-grain recipes. I was in a local store looking for homebrew supplies, and chatting with the store owner. She told me that she didn’t have any brewing supplies, but there was someone that I should talk to. She got on the phone with John (Dr. John Trippy, the owner of Father John’s), he came over to meet me, one thing led to another, and now here I am.
DB: What inspired you to make a gluten free beer?
CM: At Father John’s, we try to make good things for everyone. The kitchen is great about coming up with alternatives for people who might have special dietary requirements, and I thought that we should try to do that with the beer too. I also have a couple of friends that have gluten sensitivities. I’ve tried other gluten free beers with them, but I was never very impressed, and it became a case of, “Y’know, I could do better than this.” So I did a little research, came up with a recipe, did a little tweaking to get it where I liked it, and thought that I had indeed done it better. That’s the Intolerant.
DB: What are the base malts used in Intolerant Ale, and if the base malts are naturally glutenous, how did you make the beer gluten free?
CM: We use Briess sorghum malt extract as our base malt, and add some Belgian candi sugar for more color and flavor. Neither of those contain gluten. Our yeast starts with dry yeast, we make a gluten-free starter to pitch, and hops, of course, are gluten free.
DB: What kinds of beer do you like to make the most?
CM: When we brew, Doug and I both came in with some complementary specialties. He likes to make lagers, and I like ales. My personal taste runs towards stouts, porters, browns, the maltier side of the spectrum, so that’s what I like to brew. That said, I love the smell of hops, and the brewhouse when we’re doing an IPA is like heaven. We get people coming back from the dining room because they can smell what we’re brewing.
DB: Do you have a lot of creative freedom in brewing for Father John’s or does the demand/business-side dictate most of production?
CM: John give us lots of leeway for our brewing. We’ve got sixteen taps in the bar up front, so there’s a dozen or so beers that are mainstays that we need to keep on hand, including the Intolerant, but the rest we like to rotate around for seasonal brews, and whatever else pops into our heads. We’ve got a pretty small brewing system, so it’s easy for us to do experimental batches, and if they don’t work out, we haven’t lost much besides time.
DB: Where else can we find Father John’s and specifically the Intolerant Ale?
CM: Unfortunately, having a small brewing system means that we don’t really have the production capacity to do much distribution outside of Father John’s. We have a couple of our beers at The Ohio Taproom in Columbus, but so far, that’s it. We’re very excited, though, because we’re planning on expanding our production system, and very soon we’ll be able to start branching out and giving folks other ways to get ahold of our beer.
DB: Name two unique reasons why someone should make the trip from Columbus to visit the brewery onsite.
CM: Only two reasons? Okay, first, the place is unique. I can’t think of another restaurant or brewery anywhere that has the vibe or the ambience of Father John’s. You have to be here to experience it. Our chefs and kitchen staff are second to none, the food is outstanding, and I like to think that the beer speaks for itself. Second reason, our brew-on-premises setup. We call it Beer School. People can come in, reserve one of our kettles, and brew up a batch of beer to have for their very own. We provide the recipes, the ingredients, the technical know-how and moral support. The customer provides the willingness to spend a few hours with a couple of beer geeks having fun and brewing their beer, and they come away with a lot of beer to take home and the satisfaction of having brewed it themselves. There’s a chalkboard up on the brewery wall where we put our schedule, notes, beer ideas, things like that. What’s on the board changes all the time, except for one line at the bottom, ”Respect the beer!”. That stays on the board as long as the board is on the wall. That’s our motto for the brewery, and that’s what we have in our heads whenever we brew, and whenever we have a guest brewer. We’re not big, we’re not fancy, we don’t have a marketing team or a distribution network or focus groups. But we respect the beer enough to make it the best we can make it.
Consider this a preview – Father John’s is tucked away in northwest Ohio, a few hours drive for Columbus locals. The brewery seems like a perfect candidate for a one tank trip. Stay tuned for a recap of Drink Up’s impending visit to this emerging Ohio brewery. In the meantime, find Father John’s on tap at The Ohio Taproom in Grandview.