King of Beers

Francis’s simple humility and to-the-point nature implies at all times,

“I’m just here for the beer.”

Have you ever enjoyed a locally brewed craft beer in Columbus? Then you should buy Scott Francis a beer.

Actually, you should probably buy him a couple rounds.

Just about anyone who is anyone in the local microbrew community leaned on, listened to, or picked the brain of Francis when they were getting started. He’s not the guy behind the guys – he’s the guy that paved way for all the guys.

But here’s the thing: it doesn’t matter how many beers you buy him, Scott Francis isn’t gonna tell you any of that.

His simple humility and to-the-point nature implies at all times, “I’m just here for the beer.”

Stock & Barrel got to share a pint or two with Francis early this summer, a pleasant exchange with one of Columbus’s earliest and most prolific microbrewery pioneers with four decades under his belt.

But again, Scott wouldn’t tell you that.

So, pull up a stool, and allow us:

Just about the time the last independent brewery in town closed its doors (August Wagner and Sons, 1974), Francis was one of the first-ever employees of the Winemaker’s Shop that had opened in Clintonville. After the original owner tapped out, Francis’s brother threw some money into the pot, making the former employee the new owner. In 1979, the federal government enacted a law that allowed home brewers to make beer for their own consumption without being taxed, bringing home brewing back to Ohio in a big way. The Winemaker’s Shop quickly became the hotbed for hops, malt, and home-brewing supplies. Pace High Carry Out was a beer lovers destination just a few blocks down High Street, and Francis would frequently walk back and forth from the neighboring business acquiring new beers for inspiration and sharing that knowledge with his customers and staff.

Francis was brought on to create beers for the first microbrewery in the city, Columbus Brewing Company, in 1988, and those early days were not easy. While we see Columbus Brewing Company beers in most stores and bars in town today, back then making a local beer was a gigantic leap of faith.

Some recall Francis saying, “It is easier to make good beer than sell good beer.” The technical aspects of brewing and producing a specific style of beer can be a challenge, but in the early 1990s, educating customers at the bar stools of Columbus to understand and appreciate types of beer they never heard of was much harder. Launching the city’s first new brewery would be enough to the earn Francis his place in Columbus beer history, but there was much more to come.

Lenny Kolada was a frequent visitor to the Winemaker’s Shop and tapped Francis to become the brewer at his new Barley’s Brewing Company in 1992, another leap of faith strengthened by Francis’s involvement. The Short North wasn’t the posh area it is today, so a new concept in a seedy part of town with unfamiliar beers was a labor of love.

Francis brought along one of his Winemaker’s Shop employees, Angelo Signorino Jr., to be an assistant brewer for the new brewpub. (Signorino is still in the “underground” brewing to this day). Bartenders and brewers focused on the task of educating customers on craft brewing one pour at a time. The brewpub developed a hardcore following of regulars including bike messengers, skate boarders, businessmen and alternative rockers and used the “Undergound” in the basement as the space for the brewery and a venue for up-and-coming bands.

Francis continued concocting beers at Barley’s while launching even more breweries. The next in the line of succession was Barley’s Smokehouse in 1997 (now known as Smokehouse Brewing, see page 96), and he eventually developed an interesting side business of opening breweries for country clubs. The private clubs wanted access to alcohol but had to have their own breweries to meet state guidelines of the era. Francis launched nano (mini-micro) breweries at New Albany Country Club, Medallion Country Club, Atwood Lodge, and Hide Away Hills. He brews at New Albany Country Club and Hideaway Hills to this day.

The craft brew scene cultivated by Francis and his peers was fueling other movements in Columbus, too. Throughout the course of Francis’s brewing career there has been a correlation between his passion for local beer with local music. Tunes inspired the names of beers; bands made their way down the stairs to play at Barley’s Underground and the first place to carry this new-fangled craft beer was a place called Stache’s, operated by the legendary Dan Dougan. The worlds of alternative music and craft beer were a marriage made in heaven that continues to this day. Dan Cochran, a former bass player for Bush League All-Stars, spent a lot of time visiting the Winemaker’s Shop honing his skills before he led the second wave of Columbus craft brewing in 2011 with his own Four String Brewing Company.

Even by rough math – combining the barrels of beer produced at his multiple breweries and the many bottles of home-brewed beer with some connection to Francis – it wouldn’t be difficult to attribute 1 million pints of craft beer to Francis’s name. In addition to Signorino, countless local and regional brewers can credit Francis with training, mentoring, or inspiring them in their own craft, or at the very least selling them their first home-brew kit.

This summer, Francis is opening Franklin County’s newest brewery, Temperance Row Brewing Company, in the heart of Westerville, the former stomping grounds of the Anti-Saloon League. The brewery was designed and constructed under Francis’s careful eye, and will showcase beers brewed by Francis and his son Alex, who also still helps run the Winemaker’s shop with his brother Ivan and their mom, Nina. It’s a fitting bookend to a long career of expanding the selections of craft beers throughout Central Ohio.

Francis has seen breweries come and go over the decades and is proud that his beers have stood the test of time and changing tastes. Among his greatest honors was having noted beer writer Michael Jackson pick one of Francis’s creations as the most authentic British-style pale ale in the United States.

Throughout 40 years of brewing, Francis has maintained one tradition: to this day, he always makes a wish when dumping the yeast into the wort (the mix of water, malt, barley, and hops that is the beginning of the brew cycle), saying to himself, “I hope I get to drink this beer.”

We hope we get to drink it, too. •