Barbarian Brewing Puts WHAT in its Beer? 

A bearded man walks into the dollar store and buys 100 packs of Pop Rocks. Then, he goes to another dollar store and does the same thing. That same man also walks out of Fred Meyer with 30 pints of ice cream and stops by a Girl Scout stand to buy 40 boxes of Thin Mints.

The guy, James Long, doesn't just have an insatiable sweet tooth. He's the head brewer at Barbarian Brewing and he's on a mission to see if he can pull off some crazy brewing ideas.

Among others, Long has dreamed up ice cream ales, a 'nostalgia beer' series based on his favorite childhood candies, and, of course, Unicorn Farts glitter beer.

So far, those ideas have not only gone off without a hitch, they've been among the most popular brews in Barbarian's Boise and Garden City taprooms.

  • Courtesy Barbarian Brewing

"These days with beer, everyone thinks it should just be 'this'," said Long, referring to the semi-rigid categories beer usually falls into. "I think it should be fun."

When Long and Barbarian Manager Bre Hovley first brainstormed their brewery, the idea was a moderately sized operation with a big push towards distribution. By the time Barbarian opened in October 2016, however, the concept had pivoted completely.

"We decided to go small—five-barrel, boutique—and focus on barrel-aged sours and other barrel-aged experimental stuff," said Long. "We got started with the barrels right away, knowing it would be about two years until our barrel system really got underway."

As sour beers have gained popularity in the last few years, starting with a 400% spike in industry sales in 2016, Barbarian has laid claim to the niche in Boise.

Barbarian makes both barrel-aged sours, which typically age for a year or two in wine or liquor barrels, and kettle or quick sours, which can be ready in days. Long then samples the brews, blends them and adds fruit flavor until he comes up with a taste he thinks will be enjoyable.

With such a niche specialty already in hand, how then does a brewer go further into the fringe? Well, he simply pushes past what others are doing.

  • Courtesy Barbarian Brewing

"There's a new trend of like, milkshake IPAs, where people are pouring lactose into it and since it's an unfermentable sugar, it keeps it sweet," said Long. "So I thought, why not take it a step up and make it an ice cream ale?"

The first such brew, an Apricot Ale, basically fell into his lap.

"We were given 200 pounds of fresh apricots," said Hovley, "There weren't any sours ready for fruit at that time, and no freezer space... what do we do with 200 pounds of apricots that we can't eat?"

The answer spawned a series. The next edition, Oreo Cookie, was made for the City of Boise's Pure Water Brew event last summer, and it was followed by Oats, Opals and Bononos (a banana split-flavored beer), Reese's Pieces (Long said, "We took 30 pounds of Reese's Pieces candy and melted it down, it smelled amazing"), and most recently a Chocolate Mint Cookie ice cream ale ("I made that Girl Scout troop's day").

Classic cocktails also inspire Long on the brew deck. The Earl Grey sour is unique, the Good 'Ol Fashioned is aptly named and the Juniper Gose is particularly refreshing—all three live up to their namesakes.

Not every boundary Long pushes goes down easily. After a recent trip to London, his idea for a Boba Tea IPA ran headlong into a wall.

  • Courtesy Barbarian Brewing

"The whole crew vetoed it," said Hovley. "We told him that, 'Maybe in a year or two you can try it, but in 2018, this will not work.'"

Other out-there experiments of Long's do work, though, and have earned short stints on Barbarian's taps.

"The whole Pop Rocks thing was a thing of its own. We poured 20 pounds of Pop Rocks into the fermenter and it sounded like it was going to explode," he said. "I still hear stories about the dollar store people hating me... they can only scan one package at a time."

The Pop Rocks Gose is a perfect example of Long's innovation. In addition to a new flavor profile, the gose was served with Pop Rocks on top, and the popping sound offered a sensory input—sound—not usually associated with liquids.

"You don't normally consider sound as a sense for drinking beer. I think it's different— no one else is really doing it and it takes the seriousness out of the beer," said Long "How many places can you go to get things like that?"

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