545 E. Thompson Blvd.
$5 – $19
The day that Brooks Restaurant closed was a sad day for many in Ventura. But when word came that the duo behind the famed Ojai Beverage Company was working on a new endeavor at that location on Thompson Boulevard, things started to look up. There was whispering of 101 beers on tap and an upscale pub food menu; and when it all came to fruition early this summer, boy, did they deliver.
Under the guidance of owner Joby Yobe (cousin Jorge Alem is still holding down the fort in Ojai), they’ve worked hard to smooth out the wrinkles, re-organizing their beer list to make it more user-friendly and insulating the tap lines to ensure the beer arrives in your glass icy cold.
If you are looking to do some serious tasting, a seat at the bar is your best bet. On our most recent visit, our server introduced himself and greeted us with a handshake. The service was stellar throughout the night, and his calling us by name, the icing on the cake. His enthusiasm for beer was contagious; and for each beer we asked about he poured us a small taste … ensuring that we didn’t get stuck with any beer we didn’t love.
The beer list is bulging with wheat beers, fruit-based beers, lagers, pale ales, Belgians, porters and stouts. Over the course of all our visits to Barrelhouse, we’ve done samplers and ordered pints, tried a series of IPAs, tasted stouts from a nitrogen tap (very creamy), a hot pink strawberry lambic, and even experienced our first sour beer.
Of all the beers we’ve tasted, a few stand out as the most memorable. The Tripel Karmeliet Tripel Ale (#49), a crisp Belgian-style ale, is like butter in a glass. This just might be my new favorite beer, and I can’t think of a better choice for a hot summer day.
The Shipyard Smashed Blueberry Porter (#11) is dark as night, bold with the perfect amount of fruit in the background. The most expensive beer (at $10 for a 13-ounce goblet), Allagash Curieux Tripel (#29), is aged in old Jim Beam barrels, infusing it with a hint of bourbon and the delicious warming sensation that is unique to that liquor. Of the IPAs, the Figueroa Mountain Hurricane Deck Double IPA (#51) was a personal favorite; and of the sour beers we tasted, the Monk’s Cafe Sour Ale (#72) was really eye-opening. It smells a bit like vinegar and has a tart taste. For those looking to expand their beer horizons, the selection of sours is a fun place to play around.
When it comes to the food at Barrelhouse, they aren’t messing around either. Of the appetizers, the chicken wings, onion rings and beer-steamed clams are the real standouts. The wings, which are served in a cute little cast iron skillet and with a jalapeño barbecue ranch sauce, offer the perfect balance of crunch and spice. The onion rings — beer battered, of course — are golden brown, crispy and served with the same unique dipping sauce.
The clams are simmered in a mixture of beer, butter and herbs and topped with pancetta and micro greens. Ours were tender, and the broth the perfect vehicle for dipping slices of toasted bread.
Clams served in a cast iron skillet.
When it comes to the heartier dishes, Barrelhouse offers a number of sandwiches, salads and entrees like Pale Ale chicken, a tri-tip pasta dish and tequila-honey-lime shrimp. Of the salads, the heirloom tomato and watermelon salad is most unique, filled with loads of crumbled feta and sliced almonds and served over mixed greens. It is thirst quenching, like summer on a plate.
The tri-tip melt sandwich is served on thick sourdough and filled with stringy melted cheddar and gouda. The crunch burger is a towering skyscraper of a sandwich, topped with a few of those glistening onion rings and pepper jack cheese. The catfish po’boy is served on a soft roll, filled with expertly battered and fried fish, topped with coleslaw and finished with habanero aioli sauce.
The towering crunch burger.
Sandwiches come with a choice of a side salad, a cup of soup, thick-cut french fries or homemade potato chips. The two potato options are divine, offering the perfect salty companion to a cold beer and juicy burger.
All in all, Barrelhouse 101 is a great new addition to both the beer and food scene in Ventura — so great, in fact, that if you are a beer lover or someone who loves trying new things, it might even make you giddy.
Check out my food tasting tours at www.venturafoodtours.com where you’ll find information on our Eating Ojai Tour, gift certificates and information on upcoming special events.