Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Barley Oak and The Old Rail

I first heard about the Barley Oak's plans for a brewpub almost a year ago, during the Swedish Beer event at the Avenue Pub. Vanessa Gomes, the high energy, friendly, and beer-loving Director of Marketing at the Barley Oak told me they had broken ground the previous summer (of 2011) and were building a brewpub, called The Old Rail, from the ground up.

Fast forward to today - the brewpub is built, the brand new steam powered 10bbl brewing system is installed, the head brewer is hired, and a new chef brought on especially to create and serve a menu of beer enhancing food. However, since they are still waiting on final approval from the federal government (ATF) they have yet to start brewing. They'd hoped for the summer of 2012. Then the fall. Then the winter... now they are hoping the process will allow them to start brewing and serving thirsty and beer-loving patrons on the North Shore in the Spring of 2013.

Behold, photographic evidence of the early days of brewpub construction!

From the Barley Oak's Facebook page, taken August 29, 2011

From the Barley Oak's Facebook page, taken October 26, 2011

The downstairs/main bar area
From the Barley Oak's Facebook page, taken October 13, 2011

The downstairs/main bar area
From the Barley Oak's Facebook page, taken January 17, 2012

The downstairs bar, taken December 15, 2012
I was finally able to haul myself over the causeway to hit the North Shore this past weekend. Since the Barley Oak is right on the lake, you can really enjoy the splendor of a beautiful day there. The plan was to meet Vanessa and the Old Rail head brewer, Matthew Horney at the Barley Oak, and then make our way over the the Old Rail. Mostly because there's beer at the Barley Oak and none at the Old Rail, and I'm pretty used to being the first one to show up places, so I try to ensure there's beer nearby. So I settled in and ordered a Moylan's Special Bitter on nitro (Dear Moylan's: YES PLEASE BREW MORE BITTERS ASAP KTHXBAI.) and tell the bartender that I'm meeting Vanessa. Vanessa comes out and we chat a bit and then she orders me the specials of the day that the head chef from the Old Rail has been doing, while waiting for the brewpub to open.

Chef Brett Monteleone came to the Old Rail after another Executive Chef position at another good food-good beer restaurant called Brady's in Hammond. Previous to that, he was sous chef at a more formal restaurant called the Jacmel Inn. Looking at the Jacmel Inn's website, it looks like they focus more in fine food and wine pairings, something that Chef Brett confirmed. When we met, he said that he was still learning all the intricacies of various beers and beer styles, but that he thoroughly enjoys menu planning around beer. He's been doing special pairing dishes for special releases at the Barley Oak, which are as much a draw as the beers are, and there are plans in the works for another beer dinner in April with a local brewery. Based on the simple but delicious with complex layers of flavor dishes I was served that afternoon, I am very excited to try more of Chef Brett's food. I started with a collard green-pulled pork soup with butternut squash (which sounds a little weird, but was wonderful) and then had a great jerk chicken sandwich on Texas toast with mango salsa. The flavors were excellent, my only quibble was that pieces of chicken and mango kept falling out of the sandwich.

Vanessa and I left on foot for the Old Rail, which I'd estimate was a good half mile or so up the road from the Barley Oak. I enjoyed the opportunity to see the local businesses of Old Mandeville on our way up to the brewpub. We discussed the Old Mandeville business association, the work that Vanessa and the Barley Oak have done with it, and the role of both businesses as an economic driver for the area. This was a continuation of a conversation we'd started at the bar with owner (of both the Barley Oak and the Old Rail) Nick Powers. Nick was kind enough to come out while I was enjoying my sandwich and talk to me about the process of building the market for craft beer in Mandeville. He is pleased enough with his success to open another craft beer operation, but understands that it's a somewhat frightening prospect for a first time craft beer operation owner. It's a gamble, but one that has so far paid off well for Nick.

He talked about how at first, customers would come in and expect mass market BMC beers, but now, as Vanessa says, "if they came in now and saw a beer like that, there'd be hell to pay!" Nick described it as a process- you introduce better but still easily accessible beers to the market, and as more people come to appreciate them, start rotating in more and more specialized beers. Over the months and years, you've got a community of craft beer drinkers, enjoying great beer at a great bar/public house..Nick believes in Louisiana craft beer- he thinks that an explosive expansion is just "bubbling under the surface." And obviously, he's positioned himself for that expansion by bringing a true brewpub to the North Shore.

Back to the Old Rail! When we arrived, I was struck by how similar it was to the Barley Oak in architectural   style, although it's laid out differently, with the main bar on the first instead of the second floor. But it has a beautiful balcony and tons of beer-garden style outdoor seating. Vanessa explained that it's the site of the old train depot that used to run through town (that path is now a bike bath) which is why it's named the Old Rail, and they worked to reuse some of the materials they dug up during construction by re-purposing old rail tracks as foot rests at the bars. A very cool nod to the history of the place.

Upstairs bar with railroad tracks incorporated into the design!

Another shot of the railroad tracks along with the floor- gorgeous!
The above pictures are from the smaller upstairs bar, which is part of the second floor event space, which Vanessa will be working on booking up with business meetings, parties, weddings, private beer dinners, and the like. It has a great view from the wraparound balcony:

Then it was time for the good stuff. The heart of the brewpub. Which, of course is the brewhouse. Matt (the head brewer) met us in the brewhouse and showed me around. They haven't actually brewed any beer in the equipment, so everything is still SO VERY SHINY. It's a brand new, stainless steel, steam powered, 10 barrel system made and customized for the Old Rail by Newlands in Vancouver

The grain storage/milling room
(Note Matt's homebrew setup of the right, all the better to make test batches of beer!)

Fermenting tanks, with Vanessa and Matt in the background

Awesome view from the second floor, of the fermenters, the mash tun, the kettle-
pretty much the whole system

The series of beer tubes to get beer into one's beer hole.
Matt was clearly excited about his toys, but also frustrated that he couldn't really play with them yet. He says they've been able to work out the kinks of some of the equipment and connections just through how things settled after installation or when he's run water through. Brewing is Matt's second career. He grew up in Michigan, studied landscape architecture at Michigan State University, and worked as a landscape architect for ten years before quitting and working at Abita just up the road in 2010. I would love to get more info on how and why that transition happened- I think I will explore it for my next Brewing Bigshot Interview (TM, copyright Nora 2012). I was more focused on the brewpub itself at the time to ask more about that. So shiny! Anyway, in 2011, Matt moved out to Atlanta to work at Terrapin, and then moved back here in May 2012 to be head brewer at the Old Rail.

The above picture is of Matt and a water treatment/filtration system that Nick told me about at the Barley Oak. Both Matt and Nick are really excited about it - from what I could understand, it strips the minerals, ions, and other molecules out of the water, and then you can add the mineral makeup you want for a particular style. Nick invested in this system (it's pricey!) because he envisions being able to brew authentic German and British style beers; as he pointed out, beer is mostly water, so it's a very important ingredient to be able to manipulate to the best of one's abilities.

Matt, Vanessa, Chef Brett, and I chatted for a while about beer and food; cooking, brewing, eating, and drinking. Chef was extremely excited about the fact that the gas was turned on in the building; I could see that his kitchen pilot lights were lit and as I left, he was saying, "I feel like I need to cook something RIGHT NOW!"

I feel like I want to eat and drink at The Old Rail RIGHT NOW!! C'mon, Feds - get it together and let these folks brew some beer and cook some food!

1 comment:

  1. as Vanessa's mother, what can I say? her Dad and I are SO proud of her! we wish them the best of luck, and great tasting beer to all those thirsty throats!
    love you, Vanessa!