This past weekend, we headed up to Fort Collins for New Belgium’s Lost in the Woods event, but took a slight detour on our way out of town to visit an old barn that has been skillfully transformed into a barrel-aging brewery.
Meet the Jessup Farm Barrel House. Founded by Funkwerks’ Brad Lincoln and Gordon Schuck, who teamed up with Gino Campana of Bellisimo, a “trend-setting development firm” in Fort Collins, the Jessup Farm Barrel House opened in December of 2015. The Barrel House is part of the Jessup Farm Artisan Village, which “brings to life the farmstead of one of Fort Collins’ early settlers.” The Artisan Village has a “Farm-to-fork” restaurant, a bakery, a barbershop, an apparel retailer, a brewery and more. The team converted a 133 year old barn into a state of the art barrel facility, while still keeping some of the charm and character from the old structure.
Schuck and Lincoln brought their Siebel’s Master Brewer program colleague Jeff Albarella, formerly of Carver Brewing in Durango, to head up the brewing operations. Walking in the ground floor of the Jessup Farm Barrel House, we’re greeted by racks of barrels, a scant number of seats and all of the fermentation vessels. When we caught up with Albarella at Lost in the Woods, he explained their wort production is done at Funkwerks, then transported via tote to the barrel house for yeast pitching, fermentation and aging. (This is very similar to how Paradox and Pikes Peak partnered for the first few years of Paradox’s brewing.) All of the brewing and fermentation happens on the ground floor, with the upstairs devoted to the tasting room and additional barrel storage.
As we walk up the steps and into the tasting room, we’re greeted by tall cathedral-esque ceilings, with the original beams and posts still exposed. The bar’s back splash sports clean subway tile that lends a rustic, yet clean appearance. The Jessup Farm Barrel House has sixteen taps presently, with a counter-pressure growler filling station set into the wall. The care and attention to detail that has gone into the building dismisses any notion the beer will be any different. While the Barrel House only been open for a few months, the polished nature of the beer and the location lends itself to something more established.
With barrel-aging, it’s easy to let the beer run wild and let the oak help develop crazy and interesting flavors, but to dial each beer in, taking stock of all flavors available and allowing each to shine equally and interestingly, that is much harder. While many barrel-aged beers can be known for being oak-y and highly alcoholic, Jeff has committed somewhat to the opposite, creating accessible beers that utilize the barrels for added complexity, artfully blending barrel-aged beer with original base beer to reach the perfect combination.
The Jessup Farm Barrel House menu emphasizes various flights, with choices ranging from clean base beers, to brettanomyces-added variants and everything in between. They also have chocolate pairings, which is something new to see on a normal menu.
We ordered their barrel-aged flight which brought us four snifters filled with a tequila barrel IPA, a red wine barrel red ale, a rum barrel brown ale and a whiskey barrel black ale respectively. All of Jessup Farm Barrel House’s beers show a markedly distinct level of restraint. Nowhere is there too much oak, too much malt or astringent bitterness. Each sip is awash with layer upon layer of complexities. This is damn good beer.
To open an experimental barrel-centric brewery in a town known for longstanding standards like Fat Tire and 90 Shilling is no small task, but the Jessup Farm Barrel House’s combination of skill and patience has really given us something to look forward to revisiting. If you find yourself up in the Northern neck of the woods and the tours are all booked up at the bigger breweries, take a trip over to the Jessup Farm Barrel House—it’s worth it.