Read what the press has to say about Barleycorn’s Craft Brew!

You can go downtown to get a haircut, visit the florist or do some banking. Pretty soon you’ll be able to brew some beer, wine, or soda, too. Dan Eng hopes to open the doors of Barleycorn’s Craft Brew on Summer Street around Labor Day weekend. When that happens, it’ll be the end of an arduous setting-up process for his new brew-it-yourself enterprise. “This is not like setting up most new businesses, the equipment is very specialized,” Eng said last week as a plumber welded a final pipe into place behind the six shiny copper kettles by the front window.
Customers will be able to bring in recipes or use the ones provided to mix ingredients into the steam-fired kettles, boiling the brew before it is flash-cooled and fermented in temperature-controlled rooms. That’s what happens during the first of two, two-hour visits customers will make to brew their beer, wine, or soft drinks. After two weeks, they can come collect and custom-label their concoctions.
“It plays off the resurgence of microbrewed beer,” Eng said of his business concept, which he caught onto while visiting some of the brewing establishments that have taken off in the San Francisco area. “It first started in Canada, and eventually spread to the U.S., where people tend to brew more for quality than cost savings,” Eng said.
Eng has worked, managed and been interested in food service for much of his career. Before earning a bachelor’s degree in food technology at Rutgers University, he owned and ran John Barleycorn’s Pub and Restaurant in Plaistow, N.H., for nearly five years and managed a French restaurant in New Jersey. “It was all good experience, but very trying at times,” Eng said. “People don’t realize the less glamorous side of that business, the long hours and hard work behind it.” And while he values the experience, Eng said running a sit-down pub is not a likely part of any future expansion. “I’ve done that and I’m not anxious to get back into it again,” he said.
What Eng does hope to do is promote Barleycorn’s through word of mouth. “One thing we know is that it’s tough to get everything that’s part of this concept across in a print ad,” Eng said. “So we’ll be relying on growth through word of mouth and people seeing the labels and liking the idea enough to try it themselves.” Eng says the labels, which customers design and print themselves during the first visit, tend to be one of their favorite parts of the process. And they’re also a great promotional tool. “One important way people can use what they make here is at special occasions like birthdays or anniversaries, or companies having a special event of some kind,” Eng said. “That’s where a lot of people see their host’s own labels and think they’d like to try it too.”
David Csordas, a representative of Custom Beer Brew Systems, which manufactures brewery equipment on a per-order basis, is himself down from Canada to oversee the installation and to help with its start-up. “It quite often takes longer than expected,” Csordas said. “This is about an average time.”
It feels long to Eng, however, who says he’ll be glad to be up and running. “It feels like forever we’ve been getting ready,” says Eng’s wife, Priscilla.
“When I first looked at this building I wasn’t that impressed with it,” Eng said. “It was a shell that needed new plumbing, electrical work, everything.” Eng says he was sold on the location when he did some research on the area and found Natick Center to have an active development plan. “Their plans seemed very well thought-out, and I thought this would be a great opportunity to get in on the ground floor here,” he said.
And while he’s anxious to get up and running, Eng says he wants to give everything a good test run before people start brewing. “I want to be operational before our grand opening, to make sure everything with our equipment flows smoothly,” he said. “No pun intended.”
Natick – Daryle Grof began brewing beer in his bathtub six years ago. He dabbled at first, but he soon discovered his hobby was far more interesting than his job. Finally he decided to make beer a profession and started looking for brewing jobs. After a few years of searching, he joined 70 other respondents to a single ad for a brewing assistant at Barleycorn’s Craft Brew in downtown Natick. Store owner Dan Eng was opening a spot where people could come in and brew and bottle their own beer. Grof turned out to be the right man for the job. “I’ve always liked good beer and I like to cook, so I decided to cook good beer,” Grof said. “This is my dream job.”
For many, beer is a love affair. Saaz hops and carastan malts may not mean much to the average person on the street, but to beer enthusiasts they scream Czech Pilsner. Many men define themselves by the beer they drink – there is a world of difference between lovers of Guinness Stout and Pabst Blue Ribbon. Eng is counting on that affection for beer to buoy his new store. While visiting the West Coast, he saw similar operations and decided to bring the idea East.
At Barleycorn’s anyone can pick out a recipe, put it together and two weeks later have six cases of beer ready to drink. Brookline opera singer Greg Ciccolo joined a group of friends for a trip to the store and admired the handiwork of his first capped and custom labeled bottle. “You think this is the way Auggie Busch started?” he asked. “No, I think he started with a few million dollars,” his friend Mike Lew replied. Ciccolo dubbed his pilsner “Buffalo Beer,” not so much because he likes the animal, but because it was the only thing he could generate on the store’s graphics station. “I couldn’t manipulate the Mac,” he said. “The first thing I got up there is a buffalo. That’s how you get Buffalo Beer.”
Everyone in Ciccolo’s group was a novice and decided a trip to brew up a batch of beer made a perfect guys’ night out. They started by sifting through the computer recipes to determine what they wanted to make. “You can make virtually any type of beer,” Eng said. “You can really tailor it to your individual taste.” Eng will even special order ingredients for more experienced brewers.
After the ingredients are selected and measured out, the men put them in a giant tea bag which sits in a copper cauldron with 13 gallons of steam heated water. After the bag steeps, pitchers of extract are added. Malt extract looks like little more than brown goo, but it helps give body to the beer. Finally, hops are added at intervals while the mixture boils to add flavor and aroma. The beer is then transferred to a large fermentation barrel. That’s when the brewer goes home and Eng’s establishment plays baby sitter. The beer ferments for a week and when the time is right, Eng runs it through a filtration and carbonation unit and stores it in a refrigerated room. When the brewer returns, the beer is ready for bottling.
Grof helps explain to brewers how adding hops too early can make a beer bitter and how boiling the mixed solution breaks down the proteins that can make a beer cloudy. Unlike the home brewing process, the beer is ready for consumption immediately and sediment doesn’t lurk at the bottom of the bottle. Customers also don’t have to clear out closet space, give up their bathtubs or spend hours sanitizing bottles with bleach solution. With a fully automated set-up, Barleycorn’s has removed much of the grunt work.
Barry Peskin looked upon his time at Barleycorn’s as unveiling one of the great mysteries of life. “I’ve always been a beer drinker,” he said. “I’ve never liked wine. But until now I always took making it for granted. It’s pretty amazing to watch it all come together.”
Six cases run from $95 to $120 depending on the ingredients used. Bottles cost extra. Brewers can also keep their concoctions in five-gallon kegs. Barleycorn’s also has the ability to make wine and soft drinks.
“I got to come in and design my own special type of beer,” Mark Mandell said. “It’s sort of a lighter dark beer and it’s really no more than you’d pay to buy the same amount of good beer.”
About the only thing you can’t do is drink what you make on the premises. Natick is a dry town and alcohol consumption is only allowed in establishments that also serve food. “We had to be very clear when we went before the town that we’re not opening a barroom here,” Eng said. “This is for people who want to make beer and drink it at home or at a party.”
Given the variety of seasonal specialty brews that have become popular, Eng may just have discovered a year-round winner. “I thought it would play well with the resurgence of interest in microbrewed beers,” Eng said. “People are looking for more variety. They can come in here and make exactly what they want.”
Venerable Summer Street has become a place where old and new businesses begin, re-start, and collide. Three businesses, Barleycorn’s Craft Brew. The New Rudy’s Coin-Op, and Sterns Smoke Shop epitomize this eclectic fusion of novelty and tradition on the street.
Barleycorn’s, which is owned and operated by Dan Eng, is the newest addition to the block. It is one of the few u-brews in New England. It opened its door on September 19 of this year. U-brews, also known as brew-on-premise, are facilities in which people can come to make their own beer, wine, and soft drinks.
At Barleycorn’s, customers can create their own unique blend. Eng has recipes for American and Canadian beers as well as Brown and Pale Ales and European lagers.
The concept of the u-brew is relatively new. According to Eng, the idea began in Canada in response to the high rate of taxes on liquor. The idea then moved to the United States in 1994. Colorado, Oregon, and Washington States were the first places to popularize u-brews, Eng said. On a business trip to San Francisco , Eng discovered the u-brew and began researching the concept.
“I thought it was a unique idea, especially with the resurgence of interest in microbreweries,” he said. Eng is careful to note that his place can not be considered a microbrewery or a craft brewery. “We don’t serve or sell beer, we provide the services and facilities to make beer,” he said. Craft breweries do not allow patrons to make their own beer. They simply sell and package unique beers. Eng estimates that there are between 12 and 15 craft breweries in the Greater Boston area.
Many people are initially confused by what Eng does. He remembered that when he first opened up the local town government was baffled by how to classify the business. After some debate, the town government finally decided on the designation “retail business.” Barleycorn’s can not be considered a liquor store because it does not sell alcohol. Another unique feature of the store is that it does not have a liquor license but it does check IDs. Any one who wants to make beer or wine must be 21 or over.
Although Eng had some reservations about starting a business in Natick, he says all of those worries have evaporated. “I had my doubts,” he admitted. “It was an empty building in disarray. I was not totally enamored by the building in the beginning.” He decided to stay and is happy about his decision. He said that he is quite excited about his prospects in Natick and the town’s growth. “The town seemed to have a direction,” he said.
Eng said that he decided to stay because he felt that the town was committed to progress. He cited the town’s hiring an outside consultant and building a new police and fire station as reasons for his deciding to start a business in town. “Just in general, I liked the feel,” he said. “The old world craft goes well with the downtown.”
New Natick business owner Dan Eng and beer lovers throughout MetroWest may soon become fast friends. Eng, owner of Barleycorn’s Craft Brew on Summer Street, provides a service that allows those who enjoy a brew or two to make their own beer and tailor the taste of the beer to their liking.
Barleycorn’s lets individual customers choose their own recipe and assists them in making their own beer and labeling each bottle with whatever name or slogan they choose. “We provide the instructions, ingredients, and facilities for a person or a group of people to come in and brew their own beer,” said Eng, who opened Barleycorn’s in September 1998. “Some people will know what they want from a beer while others will need a little bit of guidance. We are here to assist them in finding the right beer.”
A typical visit to the home brewing business starts out with the customer choosing the style and taste of beer they wish to make. Customers can choose from more than 70 beer recipes and ingredients such as malts and grains are weighed. The elements that will make up the beer are then put in a special bag and placed in a kettle of hot water. After a period of less than two hours, the mixture is cooled, yeast is added to it and the mixture is placed in a fermentation room for about two weeks. After the two week period, the customer comes back to the business and bottles and labels the beer using bottling machines. For a price of $95-$120. depending on the amount of ingredients needed to make the beer, the customer goes home with about six cases of their own unique brand of beer.
“The beer people will make will be as fresh as it possibly can be because you know it’s just been made,” said Eng. “It hasn’t been in storage, and you don’t always know what the storage conditions are when you buy brand name beer. There are no preservatives or anything else added in this beer. Most people come in with a friend or a group of friends to make beer for birthday or anniversary celebrations, or for special occasions like the Super Bowl.” Eng added that the shelf life of the beer is six months to a year in spite of the lack of preservatives.
Barleycorn’s features six large copper brewing kettles, a fully automated sanitizing system, a temperature-controlled fermentation room and a refrigerated aging room, bottle washing machines designed to sanitize each bottle before beer is placed in it, and six bottling machines. “The beer is very fresh and you can taste the difference,” said Eng. “People can make the beer to their own particular tastes.”
Eng’s business is a new concept to the East Coast. According to Eng, the brew-your-own-beer concept began in Canada because of the high taxes on beer and wine in that country. Eng said the first business of this kind opened in Colorado in 1994 and the concept spread to California. Eng said only businesses in Shrewsbury and Nashua, N.H., are similar to his. “This is the only operation of this type in the greater Boston area,” he said. “I thought it was a very unique and trendy idea and something that would play well in this area. Business has been going pretty well, but we still need to get the word out and explain the concept to the people.”
After looking at setting up shop in communities from Somerville to Southboro, Eng said he settled on Natick because he was impressed with the town’s newly built municipal buildings and the town’s development of a master plan for the downtown area. “I saw this as an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of hopefully a growth trend,” he said.
Although most customers make beer on the premise, equipment to make wine and soft drinks are also available as well as a full selection of homebrewing supplies.
Why settle for a Sam Adams when you can have a brew named after you?
At Barleycorn’s Craft Brew in Natick, Dan Eng maintains a computer database with more than 130 varieties of beer. If it’s summer, he may offer a recipe for Bambino Summer Ale (refreshing with a slight hint of lemon zest); in winter, Nor’easter Winter Ale (dark, heavy, malty, and smooth). But why be restricted? Tell Eng your tastes, and he’ll help you tailor the ingredients.
You can brew your beer — or soda or wine — at Eng’s place or buy the ingredients and equipment and take them home. The 54-year-old Wayland resident used to own a restaurant in Plaistow, N.H., but tired of the long hours. On a vacation to the West Coast, a beer-brewing operation caught his eye. ”The business concept captured my imagination,” Eng said. ”I thought it was something that would play fairly well in the Boston area because there’s such a great deal of beer knowledge.”
After researching the business and consulting people across the country, he launched Barleycorn’s Craft Brew in 1998. ”We’ve had growth every year since we’ve been open.” Barleycorn’s is the only place in the state where you can brew on the premises, according to a listing from the American Homebrewers Association.
”Over the course of doing this, I’ve tried a very wide variety of beer, so my palate has definitely expanded,” Eng said. When traveling, he always looks for beer festivals, brew pubs, and microbreweries to sample.
”I gravitate toward English-style bitters,” he said. ”Anything that’s on cask I like; they’re usually served warmer and are less carbonated than what you’d expect.” One beer a day is usually it for him. ”I’m not a really big drinker. When I go into a brew pub, I’ll order a ‘sampler’ rather than a large beer.”
The brewing process involves two sessions, each around two hours — the first for brewing; the second, two weeks later, to bottle and create a personal label (Eng has a computer and scanner to help the creativity). The yield — six cases of beer, or 72 bottles on average. The cost — between $95 and $130 depending on the recipe.
Customers measure out the required ingredients (the chosen type of malt, yeast, and grains) and stir them into the steam-heated copper kettles. Cooking takes about two hours. The brew is then flash-cooled and transferred to a fermenting vessel and stored in temperature-controlled rooms. Eng filters and carbonates the beer so there is no residual yeast. ”We do all of the cleanup,” Eng said, ”a big factor when you consider how much work is involved in the process.”
About two-thirds of Eng’s customers are male, and the median age is 35 to 40. ”I don’t have a lot of young customers,” Eng said. ”I think a person’s particular taste in beer tends to mature later. The college [crowd] usually looks for quantity, not quality.” Eng said many of his customers are teachers, computer programmers, biochemists, and scientists. Eng recalled one man who made beer for his wedding, calling it ”Ball and Chain Brew.” Another customer paid homage to the poem, ”Casey at The Bat,” naming his creation ”Mudville Brew.”
Brian Kenney, 40, of Ashland, just made a Bass Ale clone. Kenny, a refugee from high technology who is now a stay-at-home father, slipped into the shop while his children were at camp.
”I usually come with my neighbor every three to four months,” he said. ”This way I get to spend money on a hobby instead of [only] spending it on beer.”