Since opening its doors in 2016, Wicked Barley Brewing has proven itself as one of the more unique brewery experiences in Jacksonville. The giant taproom and back deck serve as a jumping-off point to a larger backyard area. It’s definitely a place that can comfortably seat a “boat load” of people — and that’s literal, as there’s a private dock out back as well.

Boasting an impressive tap list of traditional and new age beers, Wicked Barley also has the rare dual license to produce mead and cider onsite. Whether you want a palate cleanse or even if you’re just not that into craft beer (sad!), odds are you’ll find something to like.

What’s better than enjoying a well-crafted, alcoholic beverage? Skipping the late night Grubhub binge, of course. Plenty of breweries find creative ways to offer food to guests, but there’s something special about the full neighborhood brewpub experience. Wicked Barley has embraced its location in Brierwood, which partly sparked the decision to shake up the food menu. Cue the “Cheers” theme.

“Honestly it’s common for most young brewpubs to get a feel for the neighborhood and understand what kind of foods and cultures they’re interested in, and Brierwood is its own environment,” Brewery Production Manager Fred Thibodeaux said. “We’re a neighborhood brewery, we try to focus on providing what the neighborhood wants and we get feedback every day.”

Thibodeaux explained that customer requests, responses to weekly specials and old favorites served as inspiration for the new menu.

Last week, Wicked Barley offered a beer-paired tasting of its new menu. A lot of the highlights consisted of sharp contrasts between the plate and the pint glass.

Take the spicy, dry rub Jerk Wings garnished with pineapple-cilantro paired with a Bad Santa Brown Porter. The citrus notes on the wings contrasted with the bitterness of the porter. At the same time the rich chocolate/caramel profile helped cut through the dry rub. Similarly the bitterness of the Left Leg German Lager made the fried plantain that much sweeter. 

A smoked cherry ham sandwich (with bacon, smoked cheddar, Fuji apple slices on a soft ciabatta hoagie) paired with a Beach Buzz Berliner Weisse provided one of the more interesting combinations of the evening. Personally, sours aren’t the first things I think to order over a meal, but as Thibodeaux pointed out, the tart flavor of the beer cut through the sweetness in the ham, and the salt from the bacon paired nicely with the sour. Plus, the low ABV of most Berliners make them surprisingly drinkable.

“Of course, with a new restaurant or brewery, you try new things — sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. So kind of going through that whole gamut you see, through social media especially, what people like and what they like with the beer,” Executive Chef Bradley Sueflohn said. “You definitely want those flavors, whether it’s a citrus or peppery, spicy jalapeno, anything like that. They give you the pop, the zing, while you’re still drinking, and new flavors with each bite.”

Verance Photography

As mentioned earlier, most of the new additions were at the behest of locals. However, Sueflohn also added a little taste of his native Milwaukee. Cheese curds are a staple at Wicked Barley, but Sueflohn also added a veal and pork bratwurst with tangy sauce on a toasted pretzel bun.

“I worked really hard on it, the tangy sauce we grew up with in Milwaukee, I haven’t had it in 20 years,” he said. “A lot of things we eat and that we love give us that memory of when we’re five years old. So going through the process of taste it, taste it, and finally … yes!”

That’s the beauty of a neighborhood pub. Taking a little bit of flavor from everyone’s favorite dishes, while still challenging the status quo just enough. Stop by and check out the full menu and maybe reach for a beer you wouldn’t normally give a chance. You might just find a new favorite.