Off the Grid

My GPS is confused.

I’m a couple of miles east of the one-stoplight village that is Marengo, Ohio and Siri is in obstinate mode, insisting that I turn left down an uninhabited gravel path of which she doesn’t know the name. I briefly imagine running out of gas and the Texas Chainsaw scenario that could follow, but instead decide to hike up the hill in thirst/search of the current holy grail of Columbus breweries, Hoof Hearted.

Trevor Williams, along with brothers Jarrod and Ryan Bichon, all have reputable day jobs, but this lifelong trio of friends slave over their “dank and dark” beers on marathon weekends in an unassuming barn turned mad-lab. It’s a wholly bucolic setting, with pigs and cows on hand to dispose of spent grain, small tracts of land dedicated to growing hops, and an absolute freedom that allows them to blare Van Halen while developing their obscure libations in handmade tanks unfettered. When I arrive, they’ve just finished a batch of their newest creation, Belloq – a mild English ale with a “massive coffee rogering” promising the consummate beer nerd a “competitively intellectual flavor that makes you feel smarter than you look.”

“It’s craft beer as prolonged adolescence.”
If you haven’t gathered by now – just say the name “Hoof Hearted” quickly to yourself a few more times – irreverence is at the heart of the trio’s mission. The peculiar names they give their brews – Musk of the Minotaur, South of Eleven, Wangbar – could double as high-school metal bands borne of stoner basement jams. The art that accompanies them (the vibrant work of Columbus ex-pat Thom Lessner) only adds to the cartoonish and juvenile “break from normalcy” that has quickly earned them a reputation since debuting on discriminate taps in 2012. They’ve even collaborated with local psych-rock band EYE on a black IPA called Cultrider. Farther out, Williams informs me of a Mexican-styled beer inspired by David Lee Roth’s Spanish version of Eat ‘Em and Smile and another devoted to Ohio legends Guided By Voices. It’s craft beer as prolonged adolescence.

“Not just in the beginning, but even today we do have a problem with people not taking us seriously,” says Williams about the name and the Hoof Hearted aesthetic. “But this is a passion project and the beer is probably the only thing we do take seriously.”

Among the crowded local craft beer renaissance, there’s become a fervent following for their more diabolical selections that tend to go one step beyond. Though most breweries are content with a double IPA, the Dragonsaddle goes for a triple, with tropical notes and pungent “herbal” aromatics abound courtesy of Hoof Hearted’s “no expense spared” philosophy in acquiring exotic hops. It’s a pint that has even the most experienced drinkers questioning their tolerance and sanity. Equally brutal, the Permafrost, their flagship porter, rides the darker side of the spectrum, boasting a 6.66 percent ABV and a huge chocolate indulgence.

“Instead of trying to make everything under the sun, we focus only on what it is we do,” Jarrod says about the unrelenting proliferation of upstart Columbus breweries and Hoof Hearted’s penchant to keep it simple. “Some people like a raspberry wheat, but that’s not what we drink. Some might like lemonade in their beer, but it’s not really what we are about.”

That defiance towards trends hasn’t stunted growth for Hoof Hearted and like many smaller artisanal brewers, they’ll need to consider expansion in the near future since demand has now far outweighed production. Though the guys have their eye on a facility not far from the Lion’s Den off the deserted Marengo exit, they seem to prefer to go with the flow. For now, they are able to control brewing variables from afar via an iPhone app and though sessions this past winter were grueling trips, they appear to thrive in their over the road setting.

“We are one half complete hillbilly and one half high-tech,” concludes Bichon.
“Somehow it all averages out.” •

For more information on where to find Hoof Hearted, visit www.hoofheartedbrewing.com.

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