The majority of the 130-person staff at Jackie O’s Brewery (Athens, Ohio) graduated from Ohio University, which is less than a mile from the original Jackie O’s Pub on West Union Street and Public House, the brewery’s newer production facility on Campbell Street. Its owners, Brad Clark and Art Oestrike (pictured at top), are proud Bobcats alumni and even more ardent natives of the Buckeye State.
In 2005, the Athens brewpub O’Hooley’s went out of business and provided an opportunity for Clark, who had become obsessed with homebrewing and make-your-own-six-packs during his undergraduate years, and Oestrike, who at the time was running a bagel shop in town, to purchase the bar and brewing equipment. They named their new brewpub Jackie O’s as a nod to its Irish roots as O’Hooley’s and as an homage to Oestrike’s mother Jackie who had passed away six months earlier. Just two days after Clark graduated the next summer with his creative writing degree, he brewed his first all-grain batch of beer in Jackie O’s brewhouse.
The core lineup of beers hasn’t changed much since Jackie O’s first opened, and Clark says it’s a testament to the company’s convictions that they’ve held strong to over their eleven years. Jackie O’s flagships include an amber ale, raspberry wheat, honey nut brown, IPA, and rye IPA. “With the exception of the rye, the first four styles are indicative of what you would find at a mid-90s brewpub,” says Clark. “That was not intended, but it does tie into our roots. That happened organically, and it’s still working for us.”
Those original recipes aren’t the only ones that have withstood the test of time at Jackie O’s. Since Clark started his barrel-aging program in 2008, several of his whiskey barrel−aged beers have become sought-after favorites. Dark Apparition, he says of his favorite beer to brew, has become one of the staples of the barrel-aging program. First brewed in 2007 and first barreled in 2008, Dark Apparition is a chocolate- and coffee-forward imperial stout balanced by a spicy, earthy hops character. “From there, there are the cult favorites,” he says, citing the barrel-aged coffee stout, Champion Ground, and the imperial maple porter, Black Maple. Jackie O’s creates between twelve and sixteen barrel-aged beers on their clean side and has recently delved into mixed-fermentation sours in their newly built sour room.
When Jackie O’s debuted its new production facility in 2016, Clark was able to fully develop his sour-beer production. The sour room includes a brite tank, fermentors, and a bottling line all dedicated to souring—more specifically, mixed-fermentation souring. The beers in Jackie O’s sour program are primary fermented with different combinations of Brettanomyces, Lactobacillus, and Pediococcus before they hit foeders, oak barrels, or stainless steel for secondary fermentation. When they go into bottles, they’re labeled with the tagline: No kettles were soured in the making of this beer.
“The whole point of us investing money into a specific souring room and equipment is that we don’t want to kettle sour,” Clark says. “We feel that kettle sours have a total lack of complexity. Instead, we’d rather create nuances over time with various bugs and fermentation vessels.”
The Jackie O’s sour room currently holds about thirty sour projects, using about twenty barrels per project. “We have several different sour-base beers, eleven different mixed-fermentation saison projects, collaborations…the list just goes on and on,” Clark says.
One of those projects is the return of the Dynamo Hum, a framboise that’s been on a multi-year hiatus. “We’ve had four different vintages of this beer out of the brewpub over the years,” says Clark. “I’m so excited to blend, add raspberries, and bring it back.”
Clark says he’s constantly trying to push his barrel-aging program to make it more exciting and innovative, and to stay relevant. “Now that it’s expanding, I have more capacity to blend, dial things in. I have more ability to improve our quality and release beers that a lot of people never even knew we were doing outside the tasting room.”
When these barrel-aged beers leave the Jackie O’s tasting rooms, they’ll be available to the state of Ohio and very select counties in Kentucky. “Ninety-eight percent of our beer is sold within the state,” Clark says proudly. Last year, Jackie O’s brewed 13,000 barrels and intends to brew 17,000 in 2017, all for Ohioans. That Ohio pride is obvious not just in the brewery’s distribution network, but also over and over again in its business model.
“We’re trying to take a long-term, sustainable approach to our business,” Clark says, “and that happens locally. A lot of people don’t know just how committed we are to the Athens community.”
That commitment starts at the breweries, where 300 solar panels provide just over 50 percent of the brewery’s energy production. At Jackie O’s Pub, there is an onsite bakeshop that supports a menu sourced from within 30 miles. At both brewpub locations, the pizzas, meat and cheese boards, and other specialty items such as Reuben Egg Rolls on both Jackie O’s locations’ menus are created with vegetables from the brewery’s 22-acre Barrel Ridge Farm on Angel Ridge Road, 5 miles southeast of downtown Athens. The expanded menu at Public House includes burgers, sandwiches, tacos, and O’Hooley’s Fish & Chips, with an entire vegetarian section, too.
“We’re trying to make good, healthy, and responsible food,” says Clark. “Okay, I guess it’s not healthy all the time.”
It might not be healthy all the time, but the menu at Jackie O’s is local all the time. “Our focus is supporting community farms, creameries, and orchards,” says Clark. “We are a family-centric business—we take care of our staff family and our extended family of vendors and customers.”
For a beer recipe that not only showcases Jackie O’s experimental nature but also their local nurture and inspiration, check out this imperial walnut stout recipe. It is brewed with black walnuts grown at Integration Acres, a pawpaw farm in Athens that also milks goats and makes cheese.
“We really love what we do, and we all really love Athens,” Clark continues. “We don’t take ourselves too seriously, but we take it with great seriousness that we get to make beer in a place we enjoy with our friends.”
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