Zauber Brewing Co.
By Travis HoewischerPublished July 1, 2012
“Welcome to the biggest little brewery that could!”
The white-walled expanse of Geoff Towne’s Zauber Brewing space on Norton Road may be minimalist, but he’s giving the tour like it’s the Wonka Factory.
Also, a former home brew hobbyist, Towne wears the sly smile of a man who realized after years of work as a packaging rep for beer companies, that the other people in the industry had jobs that were a helluva lot more fun than his.
So, he got serious by dropping out of the workforce and back into school. He enrolled at UC-Davis, one of the only places in the country you can obtain an obscure degree in fermentation science, making him the Mark Zuckerberg of the new crop of Columbus brewers.
“It wasn’t easy to tell my parents, ‘No, I don’t want to go to law school; I want to go to beer school,” he laughed. “They weren’t so sure at first, but they trusted my passion and thought, ‘Well, maybe one day he could get a job at Budweiser.’”
He did get that chance upon graduation, but he spurned the King of Beers to get his hands dirtier at famed Cleveland micro-brew house Great Lakes.
“It was a more intimate scene,” he said. “It was less starch collar, and more dudes sweating in a tank farm.”
For the last eight years, Towne has poured the inspiration he gained there, and in his graduate work in Europe, into bringing continental-style beers to Columbus. Even though he was born in Putnam County, Towne’s wife and his parents lived in Columbus, so Zauber was always thinking about coming home.
“It’s always been a place we circled on the map,” he said. “I thought, ‘Why doesn’t Columbus have a micro-brewery of size? It’s got such perfect demographics for craft beer … why isn’t it better spoken for?’ I always just felt Columbus was prime, and that there was no particular reason why there wasn’t more action. It was just an exposure issue. There is no reason why Ohioans’ taste buds are any different than anyone else’s taste buds in the country.”
Part of that exposure will come with the latest boom, Towne said, adding that, in addition to pushing each other to brew better beer, Columbus’ five new brewing operations are now tied to each other, for better or worse. The movement needs to stay healthy as much as any individual’s sales numbers.
“I am more afraid of everyone’s failure than I am of everyone’s success, because I don’t want to be lumped in with guys who messed up,” he said. “Plus, there’s only so far one dude can hand-sell his own beer; whereas, if you create a culture of expectation and a culinary idea that when you go out to a bar and you have several local choices, it’s a way for bars, in a tough economy, to define themselves.”
“It is an urban thing,” he said. “Most places you go in the country, breweries are in paved warehouse districts, or transitional neighborhoods. Great Lakes started in a not-so-good neighborhood, but now their brewery has served as a turning point there. They help move things forward. Now there are condos right next to breweries because they know that they are selling points. It’s a lifestyle thing.”
Again borrowing from his European travels, Towne’s plans for the brewery are to outfit it as a German-style dining hall, a place where drinkers can absorb the experience rather than get turned-and-burned at a brewpub/restaurant.
“Our approach is just to create a lingering space – a drinking space,” he said. “I really fell in love with that when I was in Austria doing my graduate work. I could sit there for hours and just have one liter of beer after another and not feel like I was pounding it. I was nursing it along, enjoying the conversation with those around me. It’s a neat way to bring local culture together.”
While bigger plans for the brewery are in the works, Towne has initiated his own local cultural exchange program with his Food Truck Pod concept. Every Thursday and Friday, customers can visit Zauber between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. for a chance to buy growlers and sample local street food.
Across town, one local beer guru is planning a similar extensive operation that hopes to serve as urban oasis for both craft beer enthusiast and local property owner.
Zauber Brewing Co. page 52
1300 Norton Ave.
Beers: Vertigo, (German Hefeweizen), Magnum Opus (Belgian Copper Ale), Stodgy Brown (German Ale), Buxom Blonde (Belgian Blonde) and Myopic Red (German Red ALT)