Photo by Chis Casella

A Long Time Brewing

Tired, Adam Benner and Walt Keys, sit happily, visibly drained from yet another late night at Land-Grant Brewing Company. Really though, it isn’t just one late night wearing on the pair, but two-and-a-half years of hurdling obstacles that new businesses are prone to encounter. Success isn’t built overnight, and Land-Grant is no exception to that rule. 

The brewers are jovial though. They are looking at just a scant few days until their first batch of beer is set to pump out of their shiny, new brewhouse in Franklinton, and their infant brewery will take its first steps under the guidance of brewmaster Jamie Feihel, formerly of Columbus Brewing Company. 

“I can’t even put it into words how excited I am,” Feihel said. “Having all this sitting here and not really being able to do anything with it kind of has been tortuous. The scruffy brewmaster has been helping the co-owners craft their recipes en masse, because believe it or not, making 600 gallons of beer doesn’t mean just scaling up their original five-gallon recipe. 

Land-Grant has infused flavors of the community into the way the bar is structured, and those hints are obvious when one steps into the building. The space features a Columbus Idea Foundry bar top, and long, communal tables made by a friend span the floor. As the taproom inside their brewhouse takes shape, a new phase beckons.

“You feel like you are approaching a finish line, but the finish line is also the starting line for a completely different race, a completely different marathon,” Keys said. “We’ve worked so hard to get this place open and it has all been building toward that, and then we will be open and now we’ve got to run this place.”

“Now we have to get the beer out there.”

The creation of the beer is where it all started. Keys and Benner never thought about the intricacies of where a drain pipe should go, or how to correctly file paperwork for a massive brewery. The beer was the focus, the malleable product made of just three basic ingredients. Like many people, the owners began their journey with booze while in college, the unofficial Mecca of beer that is still somehow devoid of any real quality. 

“It’s sort of like you’re in college and you’re drinking these big, macro, light beers…you’d have the occasional Sierra Nevada as an exotic, crazy treat, and then you realize there is this whole world of different styles and producers,” Keys said. “It’s so different, but it’s still all beer.”

Lately though, the beer hasn’t been the focus, and they have remained bogged down in failed leases, trademark issues, and construction holdups.

Worth it? You bet.

Land-Grant Brewing ran a successful Kickstarter campaign back in 2012 that was really just the tip of the iceberg. At the time, the company was Oval Brewing, an ode to the round green space anchoring Ohio State’s campus, but the name was later axed when the team hit trademark issues. It was swapped out, but replaced with a nod to the historic university as a land-grant institute.

“Breweries tend to take the character of where they are from,” said Benner, a third-generation Buckeye who studied business finance. Keys was an English major at the school. 

The two secured a prime spot in Grandview. The contract had been signed when suddenly Land-Grant found themselves homeless when their new landlord decided to terminate their lease. That fallout was what led the company to Franklinton, nestled across the river from downtown near 400 West Rich and the Idea Foundry. But even through the shifting geography, Keys and Benner weren’t void of guidance, soliciting advice from breweries within city limits and across the country. 

The craft beer community has taken in the new kids on the block with open arms. “You all band together to be the competitor of the big brands. We are all trying to get into that slice of the Anheuser-Busch, Coors pie,” Keys said.

In the end, the real competition isn’t other craft brewers they’ve discovered. “We all have our individual brands, but the larger brand is craft beer and as we get more people drinking craft beer, then they might try a Four String, they might try one of our beers, they might try a Zauber,” Benner said.

“You all band together to be the competitor of the big brands. We are all trying to get into that slice of the ‘Anheuser-Busch, Coors’ pie,”

Land-Grant poured beers at Independents’ Day last month, in anticipation of the grand opening set for Oct. 5.

As the two prepare to head back into the brewhouse, they both run their hands through their beards. “You have to have at least one person with a beard and one person with a tattoo. It’s on our federal brewers application,” Keys joked.

They’ve certainly had time to acquire these brewing trademarks.