New book tracks history of local brew scene, and Barley's Brewing Company celebrates 25 years

Angelo Signorino was a newlywed when he brewed the first beer — a pilsner — for a then-newborn Barley's Brewing Company in 1992. He distinctly remembers the day because later that evening he stopped at the grocery store, where he ran into an old friend.

“I told her [about the wedding] and she was like, ‘Well, where's your ring?'” Signorino said. “It had disappeared while I was brewing the beer and it never showed up.”

Fortunately, the loss turned out to be a non-issue. Signorino replaced the ring on his first anniversary, and now this year the Barley's head brewer celebrates 25 years of marriage at the same time the brewery celebrates its 25th year in existence.

Signorino is part of the vaunted Class of 1989 — a group of Columbus brewers that also includes Scott Francis (the Godfather of the local craft beer scene), Vince Falcone and Lenny Kolada, among others — which forms the backbone of author and Columbus Dispatch freelance contributor Curtis Schieber's “Columbus Beer: Recent Brewing & Deep Roots,” a book tracing the development of the local craft beer scene, with a specific focus on recent history.

“I thought about doing [the book] in chronological order, and as I got through the research and found so little interesting or personal about the first brewers in 1814 — basically you have land deeds, birth and marriage records and death records, and that's about all — it was dry and boring,” said Schieber, who joined Signorino for a Downtown interview in late October (Barley's and Schieber team again for a joint book release/25th anniversary party that takes place at the brewery on Friday, Nov. 3). “I was like, ‘Screw this.' One of the reasons I wanted to write this book to begin with was to talk about these guys (gestures to Signorino).”

While the earliest history isn't overlooked — pioneers such as Louis Hoster and August Wagner figure prominently — much of the action centers on the Scott Francis-founded Winemaker's Shop in Clintonville and the nascent brewing scene it fermented. (Signorino even worked at the shop for a time before taking the job at Barley's).

“Knowing about Scott Francis represents the whole process as it has evolved in Columbus,” Schieber said. “Out of the Winemaker's Shop and Angelo and Scott come six or seven breweries. … It all organically grows out of this shared love for and knowledge of brewing. … I think there's an element of gratitude that's due [these early brewers]. But, also, to understand where [the brewing scene] comes from, I think helps you understand where it can go.”

And with more breweries coming online each year (an appendix in the book details 35 currently in operation) it appears as though there's still ample room in the market for growth.

“Every quarter I have to do taxes and report how much beer we made, and every quarter beats the same quarter last year,” Signorino said. “And it's been like that a couple years now. The demand is growing.”

Correction: August Wagner was initially identified as "Austin." Alive regrets the error.