Photos by Megan Leigh Barnard

Drinking Beer Made Here

Jay Taylor was plum tuckered out. “It’s been a hell of a week,” Elevator’s sales manager said as he presided over the setup of his company’s booth at the event that capped off the nine-day celebration of Columbus Craft Beer Week. “We haven’t had a break since last Thursday.”

North High’s Jason McKibben joked, sort of, that Craft Beer Week would be followed by Save My Marriage Week. “Things are delicate at home,” he laughed. “It wasn’t just this week, but the weeks leading up to it.”

And it was hot. Brutally so. August heat and humidity settled into the area that week, and Brewmasters Gate, sight of the week’s Six One Pour finale was a sauna. That added to the weariness, of course, but Craig O’Herron from Sideswipe put it into perspective: “A couple of weeks ago we were freezing at Scioto Downs.”

All of the brewers setting up for Six One Pour were exhausted, but the week had been well worth the effort.

“We got to showcase our beers outside of our normal area,” McKibben said. “That’s important when you’re trying to grow.”

The Ohio Craft Brewers’ Association set up Columbus Craft Beer Week, and if you participated in it at all you know how comprehensive it was. It started with a golf outing at 8 a.m. on Friday, May 1, and kept going until the after-parties petered out sometime as the 9 rolled into the 10. Each day had a full slate of events, from chef-prepared beer dinners, to cask release parties, to one of the most remarkable beer lineups Columbus has ever seen at Studio 35. Local brewers got together and cranked out nine collaboration beers as well. One brewer noted that the brewing honeymoon might be over as the competition between brewers has evolved into something a bit spirited. There’s still a lot of camaraderie, but some relationships are a bit more contentious than others, and the consumers are exhibiting signs of becoming more discerning.

Everybody was really happy with the way the week went. No major complaints were voiced. The events were well-organized, which was no small task considering that it required getting different brewers, distributors, volunteers, and business owners to work together. That task was left to Mary McDonald, the sole employee of the Ohio Craft Brewers’ Association. By the time Six One Pour rolled around, Mary was spent as well, but she was on the clock until well after the event had ended.

“Mary can get things done,” Columbus Brewing Company’s Eric Bean said as the week was put to rest. “She did a great job.”

Once the beer started flowing, you could see why people put in the work. Taylor quickly eased into PR mode and talked about Elevator’s beers over and over again. Despite the oppresssive temperatures, everybody stayed in good-time mode. Even McDonald, who was stuck with the arduous task of wrangling her beer-fueled volunteers. One thing to know about he is she’s not the kind of person you offer to help unless you really mean it. She will not demur. She will happily put you to work. That’s how she gets things done. That’s why Craft Beer Week was a success.

Six One Pour proved to be worthy of the week it punctuated. The beer selection was great. Local brewers offered special releases, and McDonald managed to introduce Columbus to Willoughby Brewing Company from the Cleveland area and Phoenix Brewing Company from Mansfield. Six One Pour was heralded by many as one of the best beer festivals we’ve had in Columbus. Patrons asked, hopefully, if this was going to be a regular thing.

That certainly appears to be the case. Several brewers were already planning for the next one.

Ultimately, Craft Beer Week served as a moment for everybody to stop and take stock of the state of craft beer in Columbus. Local beers went toe to toe with regional favorites. The suburbs were invaded, and brewers were afforded an opportunity to see how their beers appeal to a different demographic. New friendships were forged, and old friendships were tested. For one week, craft brewers and their beers were put under a spotlight. Craft Beer Week was a great deal of fun, but it also seems that it was a catalyst for some honest reflection. One of the best conversations of the night took place as Tony Corder of CBC discussed Bodhi with some impaired fans.

“It’s just a beer,” he said to their dismay. “We’re proud of it, but we can do better, and we will do better. Just watch.”

Oh, we will.

For more about the Ohio Craft Brewers Association and other event throughout the year, visit ohiocraftbeer.org.

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