Most of Columbus’ breweries feature tap rooms, but not full brewpubs. If you want to stop in to enjoy a beer, you’re typically faced either with not eating or hoping there’s a food truck, which might be someone different every day and may or may not be something you like. Smokehouse Brewing solves that problem, offering up a full menu of tasty, filling meals every day to complement their beers. Founder and owner Lenny Kolada started Smokehouse, then a second Barley’s location, in the Grandview area in 1998. For many years it was the only brewpub in the area. Although other breweries have popped up nearby, Smokehouse is still the one with the best food.
We stopped in on a Thursday evening for dinner. When you walk in, there is a large bar area to the left of the host’s stand. The room is anchored by a large L-shaped bar that accommodates several patrons. A large communal bar-height table dominates the center of the room, while more private booths and tables ring the space. There are enough TVs that you could easily sit in the bar for a game, but not so many that the space comes off as a sports bar.
On the right of the host’s stand is a path back to the restaurant seating area. The large dining room is filled with booths and tables, offering far more seating than any other brewery in town (except perhaps the original Barley’s, which has a similar dining capacity). The walls are lined with both local and national beer memorabilia – beer trays from old breweries long-since closed, old beer bottles from across the country, and framed posters of Smokehouse and Barley’s beer logos.
We started our meal with one of my favorite appetizers in town, Smokehouse’s sauerkraut balls. These balls are filled with spicy sausage, sauerkraut, and a little cheese. Although I’m not a big sauerkraut guy, you’re not getting a lot of cabbage here. The sausage is what really comes through with a nice, spicy kick. Everything is breaded with a slightly spicy seasoning and fried up. These giant sauerkraut balls come with a chipotle ranch dipping sauce that packs even more flavor into this delicious package.
My main course was a dozen wings. Smokehouse has arguably the best wings in the city. They aren’t fried up like most, but instead are smoked and grilled. The smoky flavor comes through in every bite, and they are almost fall-off-the-bone tender. Although you have a number of BBQ or spicy sauce options, they don’t really need any sauce because the flavor of the meat is worth savoring.
Of course, the main reason I come to any brewery is for the beer. There is always a good selection to choose from, including a couple cask options. Dating back to its common roots with Barley’s, a few of the beers I tried—the Scottish ale and the pale ale—are common to both breweries. The Scottish ale is pretty light for the style and it has a pleasant toffee and caramel sweetness. The pale ale is a traditional English variety, meaning it won’t overwhelm you with hops. It’s a pleasant, drinkable beer that doesn’t blast your palate, so it is a nice complement for the wings.
Not all of the beers overlap with Barley’s though, and over time Smokehouse has developed some signature beers of its own. Most interesting to me is a rotating line of gruits. A gruit is a centuries-old style that uses herbs instead of hops for bittering. The Heatherwood gruit currently on tap uses heather and Australian wormwood and is one of the only beers you’ll find at zero IBUs. It is mild with a hint of sweetness. There is just a hint of botanicals, as if you were drinking bitters in beer form. I also enjoyed the Death Trapp Tripel, a sweet, fuller-bodied beer, to round out my tasting paddle.
Maybe you like to do your drinking at home? Smokehouse says “no problem.” Although their beer has always been draft-only and primarily limited to the brewpub, that has recently changed, as Lenny has started a production offshoot called Commonhouse Ales. Look for bottles in your favorite stores around town. I’ll warn you, though, you’re not going to have sauerkraut balls and wings like this at home.