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Photo by Megan Leigh Barnard

Kicking Ass (Quietly)

You could say Craig O’Herron isn’t afraid of an unsure bet.

Three years ago, he quietly opened up a little brewery in an industrial park on the west side.

And three years before that, he skipped off to Thailand with a plan to teach English and train as a Muay Thai fighter.

Like Craig, his Sideswipe operation is unassuming, but packs a big punch. In fact, that’s his response when asked about the name (“an unexpected hit”).

They are known for their consistency and commitment to tasty beers that are easy to drink. It’s rare to see such a small brewery maintain a selection of 12 beers on its tap list—and rarer still for every one of those beers to be enjoyable. If you’re brewing that many beers, you’re bound to roll out a stinker.

By now, you’re asking, “What the hell is Sideswipe?” Unless you’re a card-carrying beer nerd or a veteran passport holder on the Columbus Ale Trail, there’s a good chance you haven’t heard of them.

Well, that changes now.

So you’re a native Central Ohio boy, where did you go to high school? Worthington Kilbourne.

Were you involved in any sports or school-based activities? I wrestled a few years, but I was never much for sports that didn’t involve fighting.

College? University of Toledo. I wanted to get out of the city I grew up in for a while, but out of state tuition can be a bit ridiculous. Toledo was great, but it made me miss what we have here. I always say it takes leaving Columbus to really appreciate Columbus. I love Columbus—it’s such a dynamic, energizing place to live.

Were you involved in any school activities there? I participated in a number of small organizations there, but outside of that I mostly focused on fitness and kickboxing/jiu jitsu. I may have had a few beers while I was there as well.

When did you start kickboxing? I started kickboxing when I was about 20. I studied Tae Kwon Do for many years and earned my black belt, so I wanted to try something different.

What drew you to it? Brewers aren’t always known as the healthiest bunch, but I’ve always been into fitness and nutrition. Fighting sports are a lot more independent than other sports. You have teammates and coaches you train with, but if you want to get better it’s really just up to you. And if you want to prove that you’ve gotten better, you just step in the ring. It’s the same thing that drew me to brewing. I enjoyed the art of craft beer and I pushed myself to get better at it, brewing recipes over and over to get them just right.

When did you realize you were good? I would say in my mid to late 20s I realized I was becoming a pretty well-rounded fighter. Training in Thailand helped a lot and when I got back I found a good group of people that pushed me to get better.

When did you start brewing? I was 21 or 22 when my good friend, and now head brewer, Travis and I stumbled across a homebrew kit. It was one of those “where have you been all my life” moments and we have been brewing ever since.

When did you realize you were good at that? We made a lot of bad beers early on; the homebrew kits at the time were a bit rougher than they are now, and it wasn’t till much later we found out that there was such a big homebrew community in Columbus. We just kept plugging away at it and one day we realized we liked our beers better than many of the beers we were buying.

So, Thailand—wow. What compelled you to move there? I was training in Muay Thai kickboxing here and had heard about people going to Thailand to train there since it is their national sport. I thought it sounded cool, and I figured if you’re going to experience a new culture it might as well be one on the opposite side of the world. I got lucky and walked into my university’s study abroad office and asked if they offered anything in Thailand. They were a bit shocked since no one had asked to go there in years, but oddly enough they had a program where I could take business classes there that would transfer back. That was my first year living there. I later went back for another year to teach English. I learned enough Thai to get around pretty well.

How did your parents feel about the move? My mom wasn’t thrilled about it, but has always been supportive of the wild things I decide to do (like go to Thailand or open a microbrewery). My dad thought it sounded awesome and was totally on board, but unfortunately passed away in a motorcycle accident before I ever went.

Kickboxing in Thailand sounds pretty hard-core, what was that scene like? I enjoyed it. The majority of my training there was with a local guy who I became friends with and we would train at the school gym. Later on, I trained at a nice training camp on an island and then at a few “gyms,” which were little more than a beat-up punching bag and exercise equipment made from old tires. The guys out there are really great fighters, so I learned a lot and got my fair share of bruises along the way.

How did you stack up to the competition out there? I held my own against most of the fighters that came from other countries and a lot of the Thais, but I’m not about to claim I was on my way to winning a championship belt.

When did you decide you wanted to open a brewery? When I returned from Asia, I was working some odd jobs while I figured out what I wanted to do. I was still brewing regularly and watching the craft beer market—this happened to be when I started to like my homebrew more than the packaged beer I was buying. At that time, Columbus only had five or so breweries so it seemed like an untapped market—even though by the time I opened I believe I was the 11th or 12th brewery. Now, there is something like 25-30 breweries depending on how big you make the circle around Columbus. It’s been exciting to see the craft beer scene grow here. It’s great to have so many strong options to drink local.

So, crowd-sourcing didn’t work, but you still went forward. How did you raise the money? I saved as much as I could, a long-time friend invested some money, and I still took out a small business loan. It was a small amount for your average brewery, but it was a lot to me.

How long did it take for the brewery to start making money? It’s hard to say the exact point it started making money, since every dollar was going back into it, but I got to start working full-time and quit my other job about a year into the business. We’ve experienced strong growth every year, and we’ve steadily increased our production capacity to meet demand. It’s hard to believe we just celebrated our third anniversary. Time flies.

It seems like you guys do it the hard way. So many other breweries open amidst a bunch of hype, and they seem to have an immediate following. Sideswipe still seems to fly under the radar. Is that something that bothers you at all, or do you feel like the message is getting through? I’ve never been much of a hype person, I’m typically pretty reserved—at least until you know me—and I like to let my actions speak for me. I think we make great beer, we try to be active in the brewing community and we are gradually building a great following. I think those actions speak for themselves. I’ve always loved small, off-the-beaten-path breweries, so we hope people think of us as a hidden gem: a small brewery punching above its weight. We’re never afraid to experiment and try something new, so we strive to offer a rotating selection of brewery-exclusive beers for those who venture out to see us.

Sideswipe, which recently celebrated its third-year anniversary, has open taproom hours from Thursday through Sunday at 2415 Scioto Harper Drive. For more, visit sideswipebrewing.com.

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