A passion for brewing coupled with a recognition of teamwork and collaboration has made this Iron Hill Brewer a winner.
Philly area brewers always do a great job at the beer awards, but none seem to have a grasp on winning quite like Iron Hill Media’s head brewer Bob Barrar. Barrar has amassed various beer awards from both the Great American Beer Festival (fourteen) and World Beer Cup (nine), most recently taking home gold medals for his Russian Imperial Stout and Old Ale at the 2012 World Beer Cup in San Diego. Jack Curtin refers to Bob as “the medal machine,” and he has certainly demonstrated both consistency and craftsmanship that is well beyond luck. Despite all the victories, it’s a simple, yet, strong passion for brewing that stands out with Barrar. “I am more passionate and excited about brewing now than when I started brewing,” Bob says. He also notes that he enjoys the science of brewing, and most of all, the ability to be creative. Another key attribute about Barrar that quickly becomes apparent upon meeting him is his humbleness and belief that all of the accolades and accomplishments he has received go far beyond him as an individual. “I’m more of a ‘we’ or ‘Media’ guy instead of an ‘I’ or ‘I’ve guy,’ and I just don’t feel comfortable taking credit for everything that many of my assistants throughout the years and myself have accomplished together.”
Barrar got his start with the now defunct Red Bell Brewing Company, where he was working on the construction crew to build the brewery when he was offered a position to work for the brewery. “As a 24 year old kid, who wouldn’t jump at the chance to make beer? And while I started out cleaning kegs and doing the grunt work, I quickly moved into the brew house.” Not only did Bob move into the brew house, but his first experience brewing was as a production brewer using a 40 BBL system. “I’d never homebrewed and really got the chance to cut my teeth by jumping into production brewing, which I really enjoyed,” he explains. As Red Bell expanded, so did Bob’s responsibility as he was sent over to the Red Bell Brewpub within the CoreStates/Wachovia Center to be the brewer. While the brew house was substantially smaller, 10 BBL, Bob was able to enjoy the sports atmosphere of the Flyers and Sixers while getting paid to make beers. “It was a fantastic experience for me personally, because I am a huge sports fan. While I was working there, the Flyers went to the Stanley Cup Finals, so I got to live that experience with the fans, and the brewpub was always packed during the games, which was an added bonus.”
As all good things must come to an end, Barrar had seen the writing on the wall for Red Bell, and the downturn in the microbrewery craze of the late 90s, so he began his search for a new brewing job. Another co-worker from Red Bell was looking for work and encouraged Bob to apply at Iron Hill Media, which was under construction. Thinking it would be a great place to work, given he grew up in Glenolden, PA, and the job would be right in his backyard, he applied and got the job. He started as an assistant brewer at Iron Hill West Chester before the Media location opened and 13 years later, he is still with Iron Hill, thinking up new beer recipes and delivering high quality, consistent brews.
His humbleness leads to a sense of teamwork that really sets Barrar apart. “To be honest, I can’t take sole credit for the medals I’ve won, it’s a team effort of all the Iron Hill Brewers and I especially owe some credit to Justin Sproul (Brewmaster of Iron Hill Newark), as the Russian Imperial Stout is his recipe that I’ve put my spin on.”
While attending a brewer’s training class with Justin at the Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago, the staff at the hotel they were staying at asked what beers they had a preference for, and Bob and Justin both requested North Coast Brewing’s Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout. After two weeks of drinking it, the idea to concoct a Russian Imperial Stout was born. Barrar mentions that the collaboration among the Iron Hill brewmasters is unlike anything he’s ever been a part of and he strongly believes that’s what helps them all to be very successful. “It’s amazing how much openness there is with the Iron Hill brewmasters, and in the craft beer industry at large. Brewers are more than happy to talk about beer, recipes, and even help homebrewers perfect their craft. It’s definitely something that is unique to the craft beer industry.” As for all of the medals he’s won, they seem to take a backseat in his life. “I don’t display the medals I’ve won. I actually keep them in the basement at my house. To me, the recognition is great, but what is most enjoyable is to drink and enjoy something I’ve made, and then sit at the bar and watch other people drink my beers and get that same level of enjoyment.” His proudest moment is a prime example: “It was the 2010 World Beer Cup that was held in Chicago. For the Russian Imperial Stout category, I got the gold medal and Justin got the silver. It was great that we both were recognized for that beer.”
So, what’s left to accomplish for the area’s most award winning brewer? “There are so many great and innovative brewers that I admire and respect, but if I had an opportunity to brew a collaboration beer with someone, I’d have to say the following brewers would be on the list: Matt Brynildson (Firestone Walker), Sam Calagione (Dogfish Head), Vinnie Cilurzo (Russian River), Jeff Bagby (formerly of Pizza Port), and Tomme Arthur (The Lost Abbey). These guys have all set such a high bar in the industry that it would be a lot of fun to brew with them, and share ideas.” Even that though, may take a backseat to his dream of taking teamwork to the next level and working with his family. “I would love to someday have my own brewery, maybe down the road when my kids are grown and we could do it together, but right now I am challenged, happy, always learning, and I have the ability to be creative. Most of all, I enjoy having the time to spend time with my family.”