Photo by Megan Leigh Barnard

Throwing Smoke

Lenny Kolada is giddy. The man who introduced Columbus to the classic brewpub nearly a quarter of a century ago has a silly grin plastered across his face because things are heating up at the Smokehouse on Dublin Rd. “I am excited,” he said. “We’re going to slow-walk this process, because we don’t know how everybody is going to respond, but we want to challenge people with new things.”

That’s how all of this started, of course.

There was a time when there was no such thing as craft beer. It was all fizzy, yellow, adjunct lagers—which are fine—but Prohibition extirpated the craft brewer from the American landscape and it took decades to cut through the red tape and reacquaint the American drinker with beer that actually had flavor. The craft beer revolution came in waves, and Kolada was part of the third wave: the one where aspiring entrepreneurs decided that there was no reason people in the flyover states couldn’t appreciate good beer.

Kolada is proud of his place in Central Ohio’s Brewniverse, but he doesn’t like to pat himself on the back.

“It’s not my place to tell you our beer is good—that’s up to you,” he said. “Our job is to brew the best beers we can and let you decide.”

Well, Columbus, get ready to pass some judgment.

A few months ago, Kolada decided it was time to head in a new direction. Longtime brewmaster Angelo Signorino was splitting his time between two Barley’s locations, which worked when Kolada was a stakeholder in both spots, but since he gave up his share of the pub on High Street and dropped the “Barley’s” name from the Smokehouse, Angelo was stretched a little thin.

“It’s not my place to tell you our beer is good—that’s up to you. Our job is to brew the best beers we can and let you decide.”

“I’d have an idea on a Thursday, but Angelo was at the pub, so it would wait until he was back here on Monday,” Kolada said. “Now we are here all the time.”

“We” includes Sam Hickey, a brewer Kolada poached from Mystic Brewery in Boston. Hickey has Columbus ties, and his experience at Mystic includes yeast cultivation and a concentration in brewing beers with native yeast strains. Before studying brewing under a microbiologist at Mystic, he was on the culinary track, so he understands the relationship between food and drink.

Two new beers have hit the taps since Hickey came on board at the first of the year, both Belgians. Death Trap Dubbel is still flowing, and it’s a well balanced beer that represents the style very well. It’s not too sweet or sticky, which is often a flaw in most craft attempts at this old world standard.

That’s not to say the lineup will be all Belgian. Kolada mentioned that Smokehouse intends to release a landmark Imperial IPA later this year, with a special yeast strain that is being coddled along. There is also a sour in the works that will likely involve a double-barrel aging process, and they’ve laid plans to release a gruit, which is a beer brewed with bittering botanicals other than hops.

For Columbus Craft Beer week, Smokehouse will be collaborating with Zaftig and Pigskin to produce a special release. All Kolada can say about it is that he wants it to be completely different from anything Smokehouse currently offers, which is a rather comprehensive list—one Kolada plans to improve.

“[The special releases] are going to be a challenge, but they aren’t looking to move the world,” he said. “The name of the game is ‘evolution, not revolution.’”

“We were releasing one or two new beers every year,” Kolada said. “Now, we’re looking at six to eight. It might seem a little ambitious, but it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Watching him explain these changes makes it clear that he is already having fun. He’s all in on this. He made the decision to reposition his tiny brewery as a trendsetter. That’s how Kolada got into this business, after all.

Smokehouse Brewing Co. (1130 Dublin Rd.) will be updating its dining menu on April 1; the Mini Real Ale Festival is scheduled for May 16.