Blue Heron Brewery’s brewmaster Mike Piazza is tapping into unique twists on barrel aged brews

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Blue Heron Brewery’s flights feature a choice of four five-ounce samples for $12. When you decide on your favorite, you can have the bartender can some up for you to take home. (Photography: Felicia Vargo)

By Ken McEntee

Among the giant stainless steel tanks at the Blue Heron Brewery await a group of Imperial ale-filled barrels that once were used to age bourbon—then maple syrup—during their previous gigs.

“I think our Bourbon Maple Imperial Brown Ale is going to sell like hotcakes,” predicts Mike Piazza, brewmaster and co-owner of the Medina pub.

Bourbon barrel aging has become a popular trend among craft breweries, but Mike likes to explore unique twists on the process to feed his 16 taps.

Blue Heron will celebrate the fall season—which generally starts when the weather turns crisper around late September—with a variety of barrel aged brews, Mike says. Among the flavors now aging, along with the Bourbon Maple Imperial Brown Ale are:

  • Bourbon barrel aged Harvest Ale
  • Bourbon barrel aged Coconut Porter
  • Tequila barrel aged Belgian Saison amber ale

Also fermenting in the brewing area is Blue Heron’s popular Octoberfest ale, which will be available this fall, Mike assured. And, of course, Mike’s always anticipated Christmas Ale will follow.

“Moving into the fall season, we focus on full-bodied, heartier styles of beer,” Mike explains.

The barrel aged Harvest Ale, he says, is a twist on a popular selection from last fall.

“If you liked our Harvest Ale last year, I think you’re really going to enjoy this year’s variation,” he says. “We put 90 gallons of it into Buffalo Trace bourbon barrels for aging. Barrel aging adds more depth of flavor to beer. We like to put the bigger beers (higher alcohol content) in barrels to dry out the residual sweetness and add some complexity.”

Bourbon barrels are most commonly used for aging, but as illustrated by the tequila barrel aged Belgian ale, Mike likes to experiment with compelling new tastes.

“People enjoy sampling different beers,” he says. “That’s why our beer flights are always among our biggest sellers.”

Blue Heron’s flights feature a choice of four five-ounce samples for $12.

Blue Heron Brewery will celebrate the fall season with a variety of barrel aged brews. Among the flavors now aging is Bourbon Maple Imperial Brown Ale. Pictured left to right: Can Seamer and Brew Assistant Ryan Borgschulte with Brewmaster Mike Piazza.

When you decide on your favorite, you can have the bartender can some up for you to take home. A recent morning visit to Blue Heron found Mike behind the bar canning a five-case special retail order from one of the 16 taps, with the help of a can seamer and his assistant, Ryan Borgschulte.

Many of Blue Heron’s beers are available in select retail locations.

“We bring in a mobile canning service for larger orders, but the seamer gives us the ability to can any beer on the spot,” says Mike, who adds that all beers also are available in 64-ounce growlers and in 5 ½-gallon kegs—the latter with a couple day’s notice.

Craft brewing, Mike believes, is an art that should be shared. That’s why Blue Heron created the Medina County Brewery Passport, which offers craft beer connoisseurs a chance to sample local brews from all over the county.

“When you make two visits and make purchases at all of the breweries on the passport, you’ll be invited to a special party at Blue Heron on Sunday, September 12,” Mike says. “It’s going to be like a festival, with bands, vendors and all of the breweries represented.”

Time, however, is running out. The passports expire at the end of August.

You can learn more about the passports, the party and Blue Heron Brewery at or by calling 330-870-BLUE. Blue Heron is located at 3227 Blue Heron Trace, in Medina. You can get the latest updates on parties and entertainment at Facebook: @blueheronmedina.