One of the fastest growing concepts in the United States is craft beer and Jacksonville is about to be introduced to another new player in the local craft brewery game. Wicked Barley opens its doors July 30 and becomes the ninth craft brewer in the Jacksonville area. With so many more well established brands to chose from, the task for Wicked Barley is standing out from the crowd.
The first thing Wicked Barley has going for it is location. Downtown/Riverside has two breweries, the Beaches has three and the others are spread out from San Marco to Orange Park. The closest option to Wicked Barley is Veterans United, whose tap room is located less than five miles away, but is tucked back amongst a warehouse district off a winding side road near Baymeadows Road. On the other hand, Wicked Barley is right off Baymeadows proper down near the busy San Jose Boulevard intersection next to Goodby’s Creek. As someone who grew up less than five minutes from the location, I know how dense the population is in the area and how thirsty (pun intended) it is for more quality watering hole options.
Secondly, Wicked Barley will be only the fourth of the nine local breweries to serve food, a must in an area that features many families that are more inclined to drink with dinner than opt for a late night liquid diet. The menu features bar munchies, wings, sausages, sandwiches and pizza, all prepared from scratch in house and ranging from $7-$15. I sampled the cheese curds and wings and was blown away by the taste. From the reactions of others in attendance the other night, nothing on the menu was a letdown. But the head chef is ready with a couple of backup menus just in case certain items are not living up to sales expectations. Sticking to the family theme, there are sodas available for the younger ones as well.
The venue is bright, spacious for its size and offers table and bar seating inside with picnic tables on the patio outside. There is also a makeshift beach with adirondack chairs down near the creek and you can even stroll out to the dock on Goodby’s Creek to enjoy your pint as you watch the sunset (the table service does not extend beyond the outside patio though). Several televisions are mounted inside and out, so while it probably will not be your first choice to watch the big game on the weekends, it makes for a solid choice if you just want to keep an eye on the action in a lower key environment.
When Wicked Barley officially opens its doors Saturday, it will have around 20 local and regional beers and ciders on tap to choose from. The owners did finally acquire the necessary approval to start brewing their own product just last week (a year and a half after filing the paperwork) and, due to a unique scientific approach to brewing, will have at least 20 of their own beers, ciders and meads available by Halloween with plans to eventually expand to 40 of their own taps, a variety much greater than any other local brewery offers. By using a process in which they get the hops to “activate” sooner in which they cultivate yeast in a literal “lab” located in the brewing area, the turnaround time on an average batch is nearly half what it is for most boutique breweries. They also conserve hops to reuse for other batches, which makes them both waste and cost conscious.
Once there are home brews on tap, tours will also be offered, in which you can learn more about the process and the special methods that Wicked Barley is employing (I will not give it away here, but ask about the water profiles) and sample a variety of beers, ciders and meads with your tour guide doubling as your personal bartender, a unique and personalized take on tours offered at larger scale breweries. While there is nothing in house to sample yet, you can get your hands on some of the sharp merchandise that is already available in the corner of seating area. If you look closely, you might even see some hints at the names and styles of the first batches of beverages Wicked Barley has on deck.
To some, it may seem like Wicked Barley is just another place that makes beer with fancy names and high alcohol content, but I am convinced that Jacksonville’s latest entry into the world of local brewed beer has done enough to invest itself into an area that is underserved and set itself apart enough to draw even those that are not in the immediate area. As a lover of craft beer and supporter of local business, I say the more the merrier.
To see more pictures from our pre-opening experience at Wicked Barley, check out our Facebook album.
Wicked Barley opens Saturday, July 30. Posted hours of operation are Wednesday through Sunday, 11 am to 11 pm. It is located at 4100 Baymeadows Road.