Does it seem like many brewers these days are busy with their own reality TV shows instead of brewing beer? Meet Dave Wood, the head brewer of Barren Hill Tavern & Brewery, the very-welcoming pub and brewery in Lafayette Hill, just outside of Philadelphia. When Dave found his calling for brewing, he quickly realized that he didn’t want to be one of many brewers at a large brewery, as glamorous as those large breweries may be. He aspired to make what he wanted to brew on a local scale. When he linked up with Barren Hill’s owner Erin Wallace, Dave realized that his dreams had come true. After just one year as head brewer at Barren Hill, Dave and his assistant Rick have helped grow production by about 25% and hope to continue that steady and impressive growth. Dave makes a wide range of beers — from traditional English bitter-style ales (Barren Hill ‘ello) to the ever-popular Barren Hill IPA (weighing in at 7.3% ABV) to the deliciously refreshing Ayla’s Berlinerweisse (which Dave named after his young daughter, who is going to have to weight more than 19 years to legally taste this one with her parents). We personally enjoyed many Barren Hill Garden Variety Wheat and “Where Do I Go From Here?” Pale Ales outside in the sunshine at the Philadelphia Horticultural Society’s beer garden on South Street this past summer. I recently caught up with Erin and Dave at Barren Hill. While I indulged in a delicious flight of Barren Hill beers (and an outstanding salmon BLT on homemade bread), head brewer Dave Wood graciously shared his (Chocolate Covered) Memories with us …
How did you find yourself in this niche of the beer industry?
After brewing my first batch of homebrew, I knew that I was going to become a professional brewer. About a year after I started homebrewing, I was laid off from my job. During that lay off, my fiancé (now wife) recommended that I pursue my passion and try to find a job as a brewer. During that time, I got a job at Free Will Brewing Company as a brewery assistant. I was paid with beer. I did everything from sweeping up the brewery to assisting John (the brewmaster) with brewing operations. Within a couple months, a majority of my workload was brewing beer for Free Will. I was always interested in working as a brewer at a brewpub, and when the opportunity presented itself for me, I took it. The brewmaster position at Barren Hill opened up, and it was a perfect fit.
Where does your love of food/beer stem from?
I love the process of taking ingredients and transforming them into something that is greater than just the ingredients themselves. I also love to create recipes. I didn’t have a true outlet for creativity until I started brewing beer. I can’t sing. I can’t paint. I’m not a very good writer. What I can do is find inspiration from all aspects of my life and translate them into a brew that I know that I will enjoy and maybe other beer-drinkers will enjoy as well.
Favorite beers when you started drinking?
Growing up in Philly, I drank a lot of Yuengling. In the late 1990s, my tastes turned more to the hoppier side of beer, and I started to drink a lot of Victory Hop Devil. I still love both beers!
Favorite beers now?
Not in any particular order: Free Will Kragle IPA, Forest & Main Solaire Saison, Konig Pilsener, Victory Braumeister Pils, Great Lakes Edmond Fitzgerald Porter, Sierra Nevada Narwhal Imperial Stout.
Were you a picky eater as a kid? Any foods you couldn’t stand growing up? Have you overcome those childhood fears or do they still remain to this day? Any stuff you loved eating as a child that you would never eat now?
I was an extremely picky eater as a kid. When I was little, I would only eat hotdogs, green vegetables, Potatoes, and Chicken. Now, I eat everything! Nose to tail! I stopped being such a picky eater after I ate my first chicken foot. I never looked back.
Growing up, what was your favorite meal/food/snack to eat outside? Did you enjoy eating outside anywhere in particular? How about now as an adult? Any benches you love to eat on?
Grilled Hotdogs in our backyard followed by chasing down the Mr. Softie truck with my sister for dessert.
Now, I like hanging with my family and friends on our back deck and throwing everything and anything on the grill.
What do you think of big industry beers (Bud, Miller, Coors, etc)? Do you ever drink such brews? Why/why not?
I think that Macrobeer is a necessary evil. Without Macrobeer, you couldn’t have Micro or craft beer. A majority of the Hops and Malt that are used by small breweries would not be available if it weren’t for Macro breweries.
Of course I drink Macrobrew! I don’t necessarily buy much of it, with the exception of PBR and Miller High Life. It’s nice to drink a beer that doesn’t require instructions to enjoy. Sometimes, Ice-cold and simple is exactly what I want to drink.
What recipe do you want to share with us?
Here is a scaled down version of a session IPA I just brewed for Barren Hill. I love this beer because I am both a hophead and a fan of session beers. I would much rather enjoy several pints with friends than just one or two big beers. Most of the time that I am drinking, I want to keep my wits about me. Enjoy my Itty Bitty Hop Bomb Session IPA!
Barren Hill Tavern & Brewery head brewer Dave Wood, formerly from Free Will Brewing Company, plans to expand production and offer more styles of beers in the year ahead. Wood’s plan includes 16 varieties of house craft beers on draft, along with 15 guest taps. By offering a large, well-crafted and diversified draft list, Wood’s goal is to make Barren Hill the region’s best brewpub with a reputation for outstanding craft beer and a must-visit for any beer fan. For more info on Dave Wood and Barren Hill Tavern & Brewery, visit BarrenHillTavern.com, follow them on Facebook, Twitter & Instagram and follow head brewer Dave Wood on Twitter.