Meet the man behind Barley John’s who is New Brighton’s craft beer purist


photo Solomon Gustavo • John Moore, Barley John’s owner and brewer, has called New Brighton home for nearly two decades.

photo Solomon Gustavo • Alethea Warling, manager of Barley John’s brew pub in New Brighton, pours Dark Knight Returns imperial porter from the tap. “Its only available every three years,” Warling says, pointing with pride to the Great Snowshoe award for best beer awarded to Dark Knight Returns in 2015 and 2016.

Up a little hill off Old Highway 8 and County Road D in New Brighton stands Barley John’s Brew Pub, the eatery and pub where John Moore has brewed and served craft beer all under the same roof since 2000. 

Back in the 90s and early aughts, when Moore began experimenting with concocting his own brews after noticing a friend’s personal batch tasted better than the stuff he was paying $8 a pint for, craft beer wasn’t nearly the craze it is now. 

Moore was doing his own thing then, and, even now as craft beer breweries spring up all over the place, is doing his own thing now — he says he’s hasn’t crafted much new beer in the last five years because he’s pursuing other interests. 

Moore’s interests in brewing beer were stirred after his wife, Laura Subak, in their first year of marriage — theyíve been together 27 years — got Moore a home brew kit. 

“I ran down the path hard,” says Moore, who, from that first kit, worked for James Paige Brewing Company in Minneapolis and then attended the brew science vocational college at the Siebel Institute in Chicago. 

Then Subak and Moore drew up the plans for the brew pub. They wanted to name it after a poem by Scottish poet Robert Burns, “John Barleycorn: A Ballad.” 

In “John Barleycorn,” the task of chopping down and boiling barley for brewing beer is poetically rendered as a noble decree from “three kings into the east.”

 

Eye towards history

Moore cares about the history of beers and the time invested in creating them — a beer can take years to be ready. 

He talks in the seating area of the brew pub, with his long gray-brown hair falling below a winter hat and hovering at his shoulders, about how IPAs, or India pale ales, were created to be shipped from England to India, which required adding extra hops to survive the journey. 

The pub’s patio furniture is plunged under snow, next to the garden that grows ingredients for specials and soups in the summer months; solar panels pump in sun power providing about a third of the energy for the place.

When it comes to Barley John’s staples, there are four beers Moore says he likes to make sure are always available.

Each is named in accord with his recognition and care for history and made with his pursuit for each beer’s purest state; he then adds unique, pleasurable accents that don’t overwhelm. 

The Stockyard IPA is named after the bygone stockyard days of New Brighton and, Moore says, made in the more traditionally British mode with more muted hopps — he says brewers nowadays have gone overboard with bitter, hoppy flavors. An American pale ale, the Little Barley, is named after his son. The Wild Brunette, a brown ale that was the first of Moore’s home brews, was made and named in honor of his wife, Subak. 

 

‘The Craft Knight’ 

Named after Old Highway 8 is Moore’s Old 8 Porter, which is also the beer that lead to the creation of the Dark Knight, a brew Moore calls one of his “most famous alchemy attempts.”

One day in 2003 a guy from Madison came knocking on the brew pub door selling empty bourbon barrels. The salesman also had some advice — take porter and double ferment it in the barrels. 

Moore was up for it, buying the barrells, sticking the porter in them and letting it sit for a year. He released it on Halloween and called it the Dark Knight — this was way before the comic book movie craze, too.

“No one was doing anything remotely close to that at the time,” says Moore. “It kinda put us on the map.”

The traveling Wisconsin beer barrell whisperer cautioned Moore to only use the barrells once, but Moore couldn’t resist giving his poter another go. It resulted in a completely different, stronger beer, the now perfectly RateBeer-rated Dark Knight Returns. 

Even with his past innovations though, Moore says, just like with hopps, brewers have gone overboard.

“To some degree, its really sad to see where craft beer has gone,” says Moore, pointing out the abundance of flavors and experiments are gimmicks that push the beverage past the definition of a beer. 

“We weren’t getting into coconut, coffee, vanilla, raspberry, creme brulee stouts, you know, that stuff ... I’m just not that guy.”

But, like in any field or business, Moore says, “you gotta stay up with the Joneses, right?”

 

Whats the dill?

When Giggles Campfire Grill, one of the restaurants that operates out of the Minnesota State Fair, called Moore and the team at the New Richmond Brewing Company in Wisconsin, about making a dill pickle beer, they couldn’t help but make a couple jokes, but ultimately rallied around the opportunity. 

Moore says he laughed thinking about the reaction — sarcastic exasperation — from a Scot working at the New Richmond Brewing Company: “You gotta be kidding me, first the fruit, now the vegetables, really?”

“Dill pickle beer is a gimmick,” says Moore, “but we designed it so that you could drink a pint of it.”

The dill pickle ale was brewed as the Little Barley with dill, horseradish and spices, and was available at the State Fair last summer. 

Even a gimmick beer, when brewed by Barley John’s and Moore, the New Brighton barley purist whose brew recipes are kept secret, is done with reverence for the tradition of the specific beer, with just enough space for tasteful embellishment.

 


– Solomon Gustavo can be reached at sgustavo@lillienews.com and 651-748-7815

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