My wife and I were lucky enough to visit Belgium on our honeymoon. (Sorry to keep bringing this up.) On that trip we drove from Bruges to the St Sixtus Abbey, where the Trappist Westvleteren ales are made. Traversing the Belgian countryside in a rented car using only iPhone GPS and tiny, street sign-size wayfaring markers as directions is anything but reassuring. Only a few turns off the highway and we’re on dirt roads. At one point we were cautiously passing between a farmhouse and its barn, surely lost in rural Flanders. Only thru determination and blind confidence, we were able to enjoy lunch at In De Vrede and taste two of the three rarest beers in the world.
While it’s not really fair to compare the delicious ales produced by Brian and Joleen Durham at Piney River Brewing and the legendary beers from the Westvleteren monks, they do share the agrarian and remote locale that make beer pilgrimages worthwhile. Located in a barn (really, a barn) in Bucyrus, Missouri, near Houston, Piney River is in the middle of nowhere. My father-in-law, a conservation agent who knows all the backroads in the Ozarks, proclaimed himself “King of Laclede County” as he drove us along winding two-lane, shoulderless highways toward our destination. He then announced he hadn’t heard of Bucyrus. It is in the next county over.
We arrived at our destination via gravel road flanked by mash-fed cows wandering lush green fields. The BARn, originally built in the 1940s, is a pastoral cathedral to beer. Joleen, a Texas-County native, gave us a tour of their small, seven-barrel brewhouse on the ground level. They started in 2010 on a ten-gallon system producing the first craft beer in the Ozarks. They quickly jumped to the larger scale and installed a small canning line so campers, boaters, and floaters could enjoy the outdoors and a locally produced beer. Joleen and Brian both have day jobs. As do their two assistant brewers. Crafting beer is their passion. And one they should be proud of.
We sat on the BARn deck on a bright and sunny Saturday afternoon. I enjoyed their limited release Hobby Farm, a blonde ale brewed with honey and basil. It was quite refreshing, though the basil was a touch dominant. My sister-in-law, our other travelling companion, sipped the Missouri Mule IPA, a dry-hopped and balanced example I highly recommend. The wife tried a malty and bitter McKinney Eddie amber. The king enjoyed his Old Tom Porter. We didn’t taste their Black Walnut wheat (although we’d picked up some of that one on our last pass through the Ozarks), which has become their most popular product. They include Ozark-harvested black walnuts in the mash, and the nutty bitterness is a welcome addition to the unfiltered brew. It took home the People’s Choice award at the 2013 Missouri Beer Festival. After our pints (and they are to-the-line 16-oz pours), we grabbed a couple growlers to go and headed back to my in-laws about an hour away. The curvy roads felt a little more curvy, but the adventure was well worth it.
If your vacations take you to the Ozarks this summer, drink local. Piney River cans their beer by fours and is available as far north as Columbia and Jeff City, south to northern Arkansas and from Joplin to the Bootheel. They keg as well, so look for taps resembling oar handles at local pubs. Take the cans with you down the river or into the woods, and remember to pack-in and pack-out. And if you find yourself south of Ft Leonard Wood, why not take a Saturday voyage to Bucyrus and enjoy a pint in the shade of the BARn while the cows wander the fields.