Oxygen is necessary for survival. As is water. And a sizable contingent of Akronites might add a third staple to that list: pizza and beer.
While oxygen and water are critical to sustaining human life, pizza and beer might be considered to be more compliant, easily dancing to the beat of their own respective drummers, choosing to merge at will or go home alone.
I reflect on this as I sit inside the comfortable, relatively nondescript confines of The Brick Oven Brew Pub, waiting to speak with owners Joshua and Nicole Bringman. My beer-snob tentacles are tingling, though. Yes, whatever is lodged inside that wood-fire oven does smell heavenly, but I’m really here for the beer. And I’m both nervous and curious.
I know this area of town. I’ve lived in both Ellet and Springfield Township, off and on, over the past 30 years. Relocated to Knoxville, Tennessee, moved back to Springfield. Headed west to St. Louis, crawled back to Ellet. But this section of Orangemen country just south of Market on Canton Road doesn’t immediately come to mind as an area that would offer itself as a beer-mecca. So I ask Nicole the pointed questions early on: Is Brick Oven Brew Pub a pizza place that happens to offer local beer, or a good-beer haunt that also happens to dish out a quality pie?
“Not to say it’s exactly 50-50, but a large amount of the clientele is families who come in,” Nicole says. “The kids eat the pizza and the parents have a couple of beers.”
Joshua, the brewer, chimes in that it’s primarily food-people who happen to like the beer, adding, “We do get some beer-only people in here, but most people come in for both.”
I size up the flight sitting in front of me with continued trepidation. After all, in an area of the state which is quickly ascending the U.S. craft-beer pyramid, consumers like myself are spoiled. We have plenty of choices. But more than that, we’ve become educated. Mere ‘pale ale’ is for the proletariat. We want to know whether or not the Cascade hops were sourced from New York state or from Oregon. What sort of yeast-strain was used for that dubbel? Will a new tulip glass actually enhance this saison, since it’s almost at 8.2 percent ABV?
This constant spelunking for the holy grail of suds seems to unnerve Joshua Bringman. I ask him about his influences.
“Well, you start out brewing to see if you can do it,” he says. “So, you do it. And then you try to see how much alcohol you can get into it. Then you reach this thing where you try to make these super-alcohol beers.”
We laugh. Naturally, I’m a fan of these super-alcohol beers.
He continues, “And then you reach where I’m at, you just want beer. I don’t want chocolate-covered-candy-cane-pumpkin-pecan pie. I just want beer.”
Nicole Bringman suddenly heads back to the kitchen as more customers stroll in, and I turn my attention back to samples in front of me. Even the names are unadorned. Nothing gratuitous, nothing clever. No double-entendre’ or some obscure reminder of some ancient Akron landmark. You have Cream Ale. You have IPA. There’s Witbier (none to be found, though, on this rainy afternoon). And there’s Oatmeal Stout.
“I drink the Cream Ale 90 percent of the time,” Joshua says, as I hoist the glass for an initial inspection. “Eventually you find a middle ground, and you just want a beer.” He announces this standing up to head back to the brew-kettle, leaving me at the table with both my caprese salad and the results of his handiwork.
The Cream Ale is crisp, with low head-retention. It’s a tad hazy, but I pick up a bit on the sweetness to which Joshua alluded. I detect some lemon essence and slight fruity esters. It’s an extremely drinkable beer. It begs for one of Nicole’s calzones.
Joshua also poured me two different IPAs. His regular IPA, which left with me later in growler-form, is inconspicuous and uncomplicated. Wonderful lacing, somewhat on the light side and not overtly hoppy. It sends out a piney after-bite, but it doesn’t linger. If you merely enjoy hops but don’t want to be bludgeoned, this is your beer.
The Black IPA, on the other hand, lacks the regular cousin’s lacing, and contains even less hoppresence. I notice some nuanced sweetness, almost molasses-esque. It resembles Valvoline in hue, but actually culminates in a somewhat thinner mouthfeel. If ‘dark beers’ normally frighten you but your curiosity is still piqued, this is the salve you seek.
If you have no fears about dark beers, venture further because The Brick Oven’s Oatmeal Stout might be their underrated star. Gorgeous color and very photogenic. I immediately sense a hint of sour, almost Farmhouse-like, but it’s not disarming at all. It has hints of dryness, of chalk, but the oatmeal rounds it out and provides a delicate creamy overlay.
I sat back, looking at my empty glasses. Traffic slithered by behind me on the wet pavement outside. In front of me, a hockey game played on the television as a few shoppers soothed their frazzled nerves at the bar. In a momentary flash of satori, I suddenly understood.
Joshua and Nicole Bringman have simply tapped into what this part of Akron has always expected, whether getting your car repaired or your hair done at the salon: a quality product at a fair price. It doesn’t have to be barrel-aged in sherry casks or drizzled with 100-year-old balsamic vinegar. Sometimes it just comes down to pizza and beer.
“As I’ve gotten older I’ve become very simplistic,” says Joshua. “People that want to analyze it, good for them. But I have people that come in say how much they like it, and I say, ‘Good. Drink it.’”