MARIA STEIN — Nick Moeller started out brewing beer a few gallons at a time. He picked up his jones for making suds while working as a submarine mechanic in the the Pacific Northwest, that Mecca of microbreweries and home-crafted beer. His job later took him to southern California, yet another hotbed of home brews. By the time the Cassella-native brought his family back to Auglaize County, he was brewing up to 20 gallons at a time.
He’s stepped it up a bit since.
“We just finished canning and labeling 131 cases last night,” Moeller said while standing in the center of Moeller Brew Barn, an endeavor just over one year old which is making a name for itself throughout western Ohio for its quality, hand-crafted brews. At any given time, Moeller Brew Barn will have hundreds of gallons of beer fermenting in one of four vats, everything from palest of India ales to the darkest of stouts.
“We have more on the way,” Moeller said with a smile after relating that the canning session was a first for his company. “We’re not going to run out.”
The brewery itself (“Where the magic happens,” Moeller said) could fit inside a racquetball court, seven stainless steel vats from which about 20 different beers are produced. Visitors to the Moeller Brew Barn really don’t need a tour of the brewery as the whole shebang sits a mere 15 feet from where the beer is sold. Moeller and brewmaster Nathan Hart may be the only brewers on the planet who get constant advice and occasional heckling from their own customers.
Not that it bothers Moeller in the least. As long as the subject is beer, Moeller is a happy man and quite willing to expound on the subject.
“We’re not interested in making anything else,” Moeller said of his brews. “Or talking about anything else, really.”
Hieroglyphics in Egyptian tombs depict recipes and processes for brewing beer and, not surprisingly, cures for hangovers. With its craft beer concoctions, Moeller Brew Barn is simply following a human tradition that is at least 10,000 years old. To be sure, it’s unlikely that the ancients used immaculate stainless steel vats to brew their beer, but the ancients also didn’t have Blackberry Prairie Wheat or Wally Post Red, two of Moeller Brew Barn’s most popular beers, both made right there on the premises in full view of the patrons.
Brewing beer is a relatively simple process. Malted grains and water are pulped into a mash, called wort, to convert the starches in the grain into sugar. The wort is then pumped into a vat where hops are added for that distinctive beer taste. The liquid is heated to a prescribed temperature, then moved again into vats where specific yeasts are added. The yeast converts the sugars into carbon dioxide, which is siphoned off by a system of hoses, and alcohol, which is siphoned off in one pint glasses.
While brewing beer itself may be simple, brewing good beer is quite a different matter, something which Moeller and Hart are keenly aware. Different beers are made by tweaking the recipe, and Moeller and Hart are constantly experimenting, adding heavily roasted malting grains here, using a different strain of yeast there, or tossing pumpkin spices into the wort as the mood strikes. We asked Moeller if he’s ever brewed a batch that didn’t meet his high standards.
“Oh, no,” Moeller said emphatically. “They’re all good.”
Craft beers, especially, are designated with three ratings, those being alcohol by volume (ABV), international bitterness or bittering units (IBU), and color, darker beers having higher numbers. Moeller and Hart’s brews cover a wide range of IBU and coloring, but Moeller pointed out that they strive to keep the alcohol content of all their beer within a certain range.
“Five to seven percent,” Moeller said of his brews’ ABV. “I’d say that is just the right level of beer happiness.”
The word about Moeller Brew Barn and its beer happiness is getting around. On the day prior to our visit, deliveries of its various brews were made to Columbus, Bellefontaine, St. Marys, Greenville and Ansonia, not counting drop offs to local establishments. Most beer goes out in either standard kegs or in ‘torpedoes’, which are roughly one/sixth of a 30-gallon barrel.
Moeller Brew Barn has around 10 different brews on tap at any given time, subject to change as a new batch is finished, but except for some light snacks, beer is what is being served. And that is the way Moeller wants it.
“It’s about the beer around here,” Moeller said. “What’s better than sitting down with a beer and having a good, regular conversation? Nothing.”
This spring, Moeller introduced the Moeller Brew Barn trailer, which is making the rounds at local civic gatherings, most recently at Jackson Center, Chickasaw and Anna Homecoming. A full list of of the brews available, upcoming appearances of the trailer, and other cool stuff can be found on its neat-o website at moellerbrewbarn.com. Moeller said he has plans for adding another fermenting vat prior to the Minster Oktoberfest, joking that it will be certain to be needed by then.
He also had a ready answer when asked, of the score of beers he personally brews, which one happened to be his personal favorite. He didn’t bat an eye.
“The one that’s sitting in front of me.”