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Photo by Chris Casella
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Photo by Chris Casella
Photo by Chris Casella

Distinct Hoofbeats

It’s a balmy January morning. 11:30 to be exact. My companion and I thought we’d arrive early—only to park a literal half-mile away on a rural stretch of Marengo and enter a queue that snaked well into the berm of County Road 26. Minivans with Michigan plates had hatches open to expose that a great many had already nabbed a case or two of Hoof Hearted’s coveted double IPA, Roller Blabe.

It was a can release. And these things are, obviously on this day, becoming “happenings.”

We’re halfway to the spartan barn where the deal goes down. The hirsute masses are trading bottles from parts unknown. It was dumb luck I wore my Native-American-inspired Grateful Dead shirt on this day, as a lucky parishioner offers me a tallboy of Roller Blabe for my uniform. I share it with the guy standing in front of us, the bewildered couple behind us, and on that day, in that moment, it’s the greatest beer any of us have ever tasted. We reach the threshold and at that point, everything is sold out. A good hundred leave empty-handed.

Such is the fanaticism that has come with Hoof Hearted’s brand and beers that are “as subtle as David Lee Roth in bunless chaps.”

“It’s the perfect storm,” says Trevor Williams, who, along with brothers Jarod and Ryan Bichon, started Hoof Hearted as a weekend hobby. “Now, with the cans, we have Thom’s (Lessner’s) art on full display, so each beer has a distinct personality. And I think we make a great beer. We’re doing it a little bit different than our neighbors. Of course the style of our beers is currently the most popular style, but I think we tend to be less bitter, more juicy, and soft.”

When the trio first graced the pages of (614) we touted them for being “off the grid,” but as I sit with Williams in their newly minted Italian Village brew pub and kitchen, with 10 of their elixirs freshly on tap—from their flagship Musk of the Minotaur to the tasty Tub Lyfe—Hoof Hearted seems poised to become the adult Disney World of the Columbus beer scene.

The space is not splayed with the rec room decor one might expect from Lessner’s Saturday morning cartoons-meets-Night Flight aesthetic. Housed as the anchor for the Foundry at Jeffery Park, complete with swim-up bar (coming this summer), it’s instead a sleek and quirky gallery where tasteful caricatures of Tupac and Jazzercised nostalgia become high art. Likewise, the menu, featuring intriguing items like oxtail toast and pork cheek poutine, complements a brewery-turned-to-11 since day one.

Always growing organically and “never forced,” the need for a more central location became a matter of necessity. Their reputation tipped the balance of supply and demand—the trio couldn’t keep up and the availability of their draft became scarce. Nationally, among the craft beer obsessed, Hoof Hearted’s cans can trade one-for-one with many exclusive, selections from breweries like Cantillon and Trillium. The new digs should provide what Williams called some “pressure relief” and allow for more visibility on Columbus shelves, not to mention raising the profile of our city as a destination for quality libations on par with San Diego and Denver.

Like any good artisan, the science behind their recipes is sacrosanct, but Williams admits that dabbling with weird yeast strains and loud, dank, fruity hops from all over the world gives Hoof Hearted a distinct profile among a crowded field of single, double, and triple IPAs. But the beers’ hop overload isn’t without its detractors. Alex Kidd, the celebrated comedy blogger of dontdrinkbeer.com, has likened the taste to “compost and landscape trimmings, chlorophyll and wheatgrass,” claiming “palates will bleed.” For Williams, just being mentioned was gold star, knowing the review was all in good fun.

“I thought it was funny,” says Williams. “I follow him and I got a kick out of it. The fact that we made his radar shows that we’ve gained some sort of notoriety.”

With all of the hyperbole, be it good, bad, or downright cultish, the question remains—has Columbus reached maximum brewery? It’s a quandary Williams answers fittingly under the irreverent banner of Hoof Hearted.

“I don’t think so. You can’t do brew-by-numbers. For us it’s always been about doing it the way we want to do it, with personalities that are ridiculous, and people don’t want you to be phony. If you’re into Van Halen, Slayer, ’80s movies, and jokes about ding dongs, that’s what we provide,” he says. “I don’t know if it’s a good one, but at least it’s an original take.

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