He’s known as “Brewdood,” a guy who loves good beer, good food, and good times.
You’ve seen this big man lumbering around at beer festivals, laughing and talking shop with anybody who shares his passion for great beer.
Barley’s Brewing Co. Founder Lenny Kolada grew up in Cleveland, but moved to Columbus back in 1972 to study architecture at Ohio State.
“I tell people I was too lazy to leave,” he said.
In truth, Kolada finds Columbus to be a comfortable city.
“It’s certainly come a long way since then,” he said. “It’s been amazing to watch Columbus grow, and I’m honored to be a really small part of it.”
That’s an understatement. Lenny got turned on to craft beer during his travels as an architect.
“I’m not a ‘chain’ kind of guy,” he noted when talking about the two distinctly different brewpubs he conceptualized. So in seeking a unique place to grab a drink, he wandered into a brewpub in New York City. Later on he found himself in Boston, where he found another one. After that he realized that these brew pubs were pretty cool, and it occurred to him that Columbus could use one.
“If somebody had beaten me to it, I would have been content to be their biggest fan.”
In truth, Hoster did beat him to the punch, but plans were already in motion and Lenny noted that Hoster was specializing in lagers where he was focused on ales. The niche was still there and Barley’s opened its taps in 1992, with Scott Francis running the brewery.
It’s important to note that around that time industry experts were writing off the microbrew phenomenon as a fad that would quickly fade, but in a few years later Kolada opened up Barley’s Smokehouse, which was not just a different restaurant concept, but an entirely different brewing operation. Between the two locations there is 35 years of success on tap. How?
“One of the things we do is, we always look and see what we can do to be better,” Kolada explained. “I also like to add some events that I call ‘exclamation points.’”
Those exclamation points are things like Oysters and Stout nights, the Annual Robert Burns Dinner, and the Mini Real Ale Festival (which will celebrate its 10th anniversary in May). They aren’t extremely profitable ventures given the work, but Kolada describes them as a lot of fun, and they keep things fresh.
And that’s one of the reasons Barley’s features a beer rotation that changes frequently. He admits that some people get frustrated when one of their favorites disappears for a while, but his advice to them is to embrace the change and explore new beers. It’s also a challenge he issues his brew crew, led by Angelo Signorino.
“Angelo is one of the finest brewers in the country,” Kolada said matter-of-factly.
And despite the fact that craft brewing in Columbus is really Lenny’s baby, he welcomes the new brewers with open arms.
“I think it’s great,” Lenny said. “Craft brewing is an art and the brew pub is a gallery. It’s up to the brewer to apply his vision to the beer.”
He later added, laughing, “We’ll see if I still feel that way in five years.”
(Author’s note: Lenny gave up his stake in the downtown Barley’s to a long-time partner last year, but the collaborative spirit, and shared brewing team, remain intact. Cheers!)
Ale Fest Tickets can be purchased online or at the Smokehouse and a partial listing of beers is available. The festival runs from 1 – 4 p.m. and the capacity maxes out around 500, so get your tickets while you can. For more, visitwww.smokehousebrewing.com.
The Best Fest
Generally speaking, the staff at (614) is discouraged from making bold declarations. Our ColumBEST issue only reflects the opinions of our readers. As a writer, I’m cool with this. I never like being asked to rank things, and putting it in print is even more unnerving; I like to be flexible.
So when I say that Barley’s Mini Real Ale Fest is the best beer festival in town, you know I’m being sincere. I mean no disrespect to the other beer festivals in town. They’re all great, but I am a hop-infused beer geek and MRAF is always impressive. The reason is that this is real ale served in small casks known as firkins. The gang at Barleys works the phones getting in touch with the top brewers in the area. There’s definitely a local focus, but you’ll see regional stalwarts like Bell’s, Southern Tier, and Great Lakes represented, and it’s not at all unusual to see them brew a special beer just for this event.
This event is not for everybody. The beer is cask conditioned and served straight from the firkin via gravity. If you like your beer ice cold and fizzy, you’re out of luck.
“We like to get beer that appeals to the more adventuresome beer geek,” Kolada explained. “Our clientele is rather well-versed.”
May 4th will mark the 10th year for the Mini Real Ale Fest, which draws inspiration from a national affair held in Chicago for a number of years. When it inexplicably disappeared, the gang at Barley’s – drunk on the glory of claiming numerous accolades and medals in Chicago over the years – decided to hold their own (albeit smaller) version.
It’s not easy to pull off. Kolada spends a lot of time working to find out who wants to participate, and then must arrange for delivery of the beer. This often involves road trips.
“The hardest thing is finding out what the brewers are doing,” Lenny said.
Most brewers are hard at work trying to keep their customers happy, so devoting some time to a specialty beer to be served in a firkin requires some effort, but there isn’t a craft brewer worth mentioning that doesn’t have a special place in his heart for this ancient tradition.
“That’s the way that beer was meant to be served,” noted Lenny.
Barley’s taps into their culinary expertise and smokes a whole hog every year, serving up pulled pork sliders for chump change. Real ale, real BBQ…now you see why I think it’s the best.