A forward-thinking beer snob
Chemistry-loving Josh Martinez opened Pretentious Barrel House in October 2017 at 745 Taylor Ave. on the Near East Side.
“Brewing is like science”: Martinez graduated from University of California San Diego with a degree in pharmacological chemistry and plans to become a pharmacist (that didn’t pan out). During college, he and his roommates got into the habit of brewing beer, and he eventually joined a San Diego homebrewing club. After he and his wife, Carolyn, moved to Lexington, Kentucky, Martinez started helping a friend in the lab at Ethereal Brewing Co., leading to a full-time switch to brewing. It was the science of sours (well, and the taste) that first drew him to the style. “They’re really difficult to make. That’s what sparked my interest,” he says. After moving to Columbus for Carolyn’s medical residency, Martinez says his decision to open a sour-only business wasn’t strategic. “I’m not a business person. This was more: I like sour beer, and there wasn’t a whole lot here,” he says.
Changing Hearts and Minds: According to the market research firm Nielson, U.S. sour beer sales rose 43 percent between July 2017 and the summer of 2018. One thing that might give sour beer staying power is that it attracts wine drinkers who might typically eschew hoppy IPAs. Martinez is also doing his part. “What we’re doing here is different,” Martinez says. “We try to cover the whole breadth of sour beer,” including red sours, dry-hopped sours and much more. He guesses most people are familiar with kettle sours—“beers that are really tart, can be turned around pretty rapidly, are fruited, very one-note.” Pretentious’ beers, which spend at least six months building flavor in wooden wine and spirits barrels, are different. “When you try that first beer, you get the huge acid shock on your palate,” he says. “[Then] … you start tasting all the little flavors and nuances that are present in our products.”
Why Pretentious? The barrel house’s wort is manufactured at North High Brewing using Martinez’s recipes and then brought to Pretentious for fermentation and maturation. The name for the brewery was his wife’s idea, a playful joke teasing her husband. “She’s like, ‘What is more pretentious than what you’re doing?’” he recalls her saying. And the beer names? They’re highfalutin, SAT vocabulary words like Grandiloquent, Derisive and Sybarite. Martinez loves that a word like Magnanimous has no built-in negative or positive beer connotations. “It’s like we have a nice, clean slate,” he says.
Pie and Chardonnay: The brewery’s most popular sellers are its “pie beers,” such as Cherry Pie Sybarite. “We take a fruited beer, and we will peel off some to turn it into a pie beer,” Martinez says. “We’ll add a little bit of cinnamon, which is like crust. Then we’ll add some lactose, which is the creaminess. And then vanilla, which makes things more dessertlike.” His favorite creation, however, is the sour blonde called Truculent, developed in “fancier” Chardonnay barrels with no added spices or fruit. “I love that beer. That was when I felt the first time that this is me being successful at the thing I’ve been trying to do,” he says.