South Campus Gateway, LLC.

Photo by Megan Leigh Barnard

Breaking the Chain

Let’s face it: when it comes to beer, chains have a tendency to be… well… lame.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the comfort and security of chain department stores like Target—when I’m buying that fresh pack of tighty whities every third year, I’m not looking for an adventure. There are even times when I don’t want a whole lot of fuss and muss when it comes to food. I mean, the odds of me turning up in a Chotchkies are slim, but we all herd ourselves through the drive-thru at some point, right?

The problem is that it historically hasn’t worked with craft beer, a world where we exalt the home brewer who has graduated to his/her big-barrel operation.

Gordon Biersch probably pulled it off longer than anybody expected, but they were rocking German beers while most craft brewers were skewing toward aggressive takes on British ales. Even so, our recent visit with Dan at the local GB revealed that the company is pushing its brewers to be creative and embrace the innovation found in the American craft brewhouses.

When Eldorado Resorts opened their Brew Brothers pub at the Scioto Racino, local craft beer aficionados feared the worst, but the brass tapped a highly regarded local brewer in Ryan Torres (from Barley’s) and challenged him to create a lineup of beers that would appeal to the local market—one that would establish a meaningful connection with the local craft beer scene.

This is where we see the chains breaking the … ugh … chains of convetion.

These are good brewers—with Columbus roots—brewing excellent beer on great systems. It’s still local craft beer, even if the name on the door is the same as a few other locations.

And now, that innovation has come to the Short North’s door.

Enter the Colorado-based RAM, a new tenant at First and High; a crossroads recently upgraded from a single Donatos franchise to a multi-use space that still has the hometown pizza chain slinging pies, but now tucked beneath RAM’s wicked second floor patio. The striking industrial look still manages to pull off a cozy vibe—and there’s nothing cookie cutter about the space.

As far as leadership of RAM’s state-of-the art brewhouse, we’re once again harvesting creativity from local roots.

In addition to brewing at Luna Kombucha—where he led the way into some of the higher ABV concoctions we’ve seen over the years—Rick Durham also worked on the Native Funk project with The Spruce Campbells Brewing Co. A Columbus native who understands the market, Durham answered the call for a true local special at RAM, opting to brew a true double IPA that starts with a good hit of malty sweetness that’s followed by a clean, hoppy finish. Since opening, he’s also modified house recipes, and is looking forward to collaborating with local brewers—both approaches openly encouraged by RAM.

Which is an exciting development in a rapidly expanding beer town: the understanding that you can’t just force a conventional concept into this business space.

Sure, you can have a national brand, but you have to celebrate the local community. Chains are doing their homework and designing their spaces to fit seamlessly into the communities. Add to that, hiring local talent and insisting on the breweries being run as if they were home grown, and you’ve got a recipe for authenticity.

Such efforts are especially important considering RAM’s ambitious plan to expand, like the Dublin location that will be open later this year. That facility will have its own identity, and to handle the beers, they have already put Kris Fry on the payroll as a brewer—Fry cut his teeth at Actual Brewing, long known as a hub for innovation within the Columbus scene. He is currently helping out at the Short North location, gaining a keen understanding of the house beers and how they appeal to the Short North crowd, which bears an increasingly striking resemblance to the clientele he will see in Dublin.

“I made it clear that I wanted to brew my own beer,” Fry said, describing his decision to join the RAM team. “They assured me I could. It seemed like a great opportunity, but it crossed my mind that they could have been lying. I can see here (at the Short North Location) that it was true.”

That’s an encouraging chain of events.

RAM is located at 906 N High St. For more, visit theram.com.

More to Soak Up

Columbus’ rapid expansion as a craft beer and spirits town has certainly drawn in speculation from out-of-town brands. In addition to long-time mainstay Gordon Biersch, here are three other newcomers worthy of your attention:

Buckeye Bourbon House

36 E Gay St.

The Buckeye Building is set to get some Buckeye Bourbon. As part of an extensive renovation to their Residence Marriott, the North Carolina-based Concord Hospitality will be adding a lounge full of that sweet Kentucky nectar—and Gay Street gets another feather in its cap.

facebook.com/BuckeyeBourbonHouse

The Brew Brothers (Scioto Downs)

Long gone are the days of hoping to snag a stale G&T in a plastic cup from a passing casino cart. Now, at the new racino, you can have a classier pint—including five local drafts brewed in-house by Ryan Torres. And if you’re looking for any other evidence of the Brew Bros. doing it right, how about a $3 daily discount for military, EMT, fire, and police?

sciotodowns.com/venue/restaurants/brew-brothers

World of Beer

3934 Townsfair Way/1568 N High St.

They have since moved out of their Brewery District location, but WOB has carried its reputation for massive selection (500-plus) and good service along with them to Easton and a brand new South Campus Gateway space. IPAs and stouts in the land of solo cups and shooters? There may not be a better example of the craft beer boom taking full hold of the drinking populace. Add to that a commitment to tapping local beers among their global menu, and you’ve got the perfect example of an outsider becoming a local favorite real quick.

worldofbeer.com

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