Hitting the Ale Trail

Athens might be the perfect college town.

The rolling, emerald hills of Southeastern Ohio ensconce the venerable Ohio University and its host community with postcard-worthy scenery. Aside from the OU campus, there’s not a lot of hustle and bustle around to frustrate you. The campus does boast a population that can pack the downtown bars, but Athens doesn’t feature a true campus corridor. As such, the town has a unique personality where cultures merge and the community is shared.

Jackie O’s embodies that spirit. There’s definitely a collegiate sensibility, but this is a newer brewer with an old school soul. Jackie O’s rise has been impressive. Once a foundering ’90s brewpub was rescued by Art Oestrike, Brad Clark made a quick transition from avid home brewer to commercial brew master. They quickly outgrew the old O’Hooley’s (renamed to Jackie O’s in honor of Art’s mom) and a few years later they absorbed a pub next door, and grabbed up an old cheese processing plant in 2013 to handle the production demands. Of course, as good breweries do, they also outgrew that space almost instantly.

In addition to keeping up with their production beers that can be found throughout the state in cans, bottles, and kegs, Jackie O’s manages to produce a treasure trove of specialty beers you can only find at the pub, or the production brewery’s tap room. The small brew house at Jackie O’s pub is dedicated to high gravity beers and ambitious infusions. Barrels are deployed and ales are carefully soured. The best of these beers are bottled, and scheduled bottle release parties draw fans from far and wide. Many of Jackie O’s beers have tremendous value on the trade market, which is a network of demented craft beer enthusiasts who arrange to transport hard-to-find beers from one region to another. This culture has served Jackie O’s well, as the gang from Athens has collaborated with some of the biggest names in the business, earning this Ohio brewery some serious beer cred.

The tap room is awesome. It’s a classic production brewery tap room—simple, but comfortable—and the staff is stoked about the beer. There are worthwhile snacks on hand to keep things mellow, and the shop closes up early so as not to rob the pub of it’s nightlife. The pub, (or pubZZZZ, if you will) is in the heart of Athens and exactly what you’d expect. The beer is outstanding. The food is pub cuisine with some local love. The spent grain pizzas are fantastic, but the best option is to kick things off with breakfast. The menu is short and sweet, but one thing they know about in SE Ohio is breakfast. Farm eggs, wicked bacon, sausage that lubes up the heart—yeah, get some breakfast.

Of course, Athens is a happening little town. People like to party and stay up late, and Jackie O’s isn’t afraid to be at the center of that universe, featuring live music at the pub or hosting special events at the tap room.

The best thing about Jackie O’s is that they seem to get better as they get bigger. Sometimes it’s a real struggle for a brewery to keep the flagship pub in tip top shape while the brewery expands its production and ships beer far and wide—creativity and innovation usually take a back seat. When millions of people around the state are expecting Mystic Mama to be the same each and every time they have it, setting aside time to brew a coffee-infused amber ale that doesn’t seem forced is a challenge. A visit to Athens is all it takes to see that these folks have their priorities in order. Athens comes first. As good as the stuff you’re getting in Columbus might be, you don’t know Jackie O’s until you’ve taken a trip down Old 33. •

Jackie O’s Pub and Brewery is located at 24 W Union St., Athens. For more, visit jackieos.com.