Photo by Chris Casella

The Big Rollout

I’m going to let you in on a bit of a secret:

For all the excitement over the influx of new brewers we’ve seen hanging their shingles in town, some of the product has been a little, ahem uninspired.  In Columbus we love shiny and new, and sometimes we get so caught up in the excitement of the next big thing, we don’t really stop and take the time to savor the moment.

Fortunately the brewers are honest with themselves, and with that, the paucity of constructive criticism has not lulled anyone into a false sense of security.

It’s not easy to brew beer. Conceptually it’s a pretty straightforward process, but the devil is in the details. The line between a brilliantly hoppy IPA, and a sticky mouthful of pennies can be a fine one. To their credit, most of our brewers know where they’re coming up short and they make improvements along the way.

No need to name names because everybody stumbles once in a while. Even the most experienced brewers have bad days. Barley and hops are agricultural products that grow outside, every harvest has the potential to be dramatically different from the last, and yeast is a glorious microscopic being that we’re just now starting to understand. So a brewer can’t follow a specific recipe every time.  Adjustments must be made. Science must go hand in hand with art.

The reason I’m telling you this is because the game is about to change.  You see, one of the reasons our market had so much room for growth is because our best brewers were hamstrung by limitations.  Everybody knows that Columbus Brewing Company kills it. Whenever they manage to find the time to push out a few kegs of Creeper, the city, including the other brewers, rushes to the nearest tap to savor a snifter. Bodhi is practically worshiped in this community, and with good reason. Sohio Stout? I mean, come on.

The brain-trust at CBC has been frustrated for years because production commitments have limited their ability to keep a steady supply of specialty brews on the market. They want to make stouts, and porters, and cranberry marmalade marzens. That last one might be a stretch, but you get my drift. CBC wants to have fun, but work kept getting in the way. Well now they’ll have space for a playroom, and that means a bigger portfolio of CBC beers will be on the market. If they stay true to their history of knocking every f*cking one off out of the damned box, the pressure will be on other brewers to top them.

This guy is effectively a microbrewing savant who has been toiling away in a tiny brewhouse for longer than most of these other brewers have been
tying their own shoes.

Of course, nobody has dabbled in variety as much as Barley’s grizzled brewmaster, Angelo Signorino. Columbus’ long-tenured brewer split time between two locations, tasked with an objective of giving each place its own identity. Six house beers in each location, firkins every freaking Friday, cask conditioned beers on the engine. Let’s not forget the festival participation. Now Angelo is committed to Barley’s, and Barley’s is committed to expanding their brewery to production capacity. If he can handle the transition to a bigger system, you’ve got an instant juggernaut.

Stop and take that in for a minute.

This guy is effectively a microbrewing savant who has been toiling away in a tiny brewhouse for longer than most of these other brewers have been tying their own shoes. Now he’s going to get his hands on a 30-barrel brew house where he can get his very best beers into kegs that will be shipped all over Columbus. For years, Barley’s resisted distribution for fear that they’d eliminate motivation for visiting the pub.

Now they realize the pub can stand on its own. So can the beer, by the way.

Nobody knows this more than the competing brewers. CBC has long been a sleeping giant, their expansion will definitely take up some tap space, but they also have the resources to push aside some national competition and plant Columbus’ flag in the middle of the craft brewniverse. Barley’s has commanded nothing but the utmost respect in this community, but they’ve never been in position to compete on a neutral field. There’s an entire market of craft beer drinkers that hasn’t had Barley’s simply because the pub isn’t their vibe. That’s about to change. They’ve already got a beer that will take the city by storm.

This is great for Columbus. We have some good brewers in town these days, but there are only so many tap handles. Getting love from the public in your taproom is fine, but money does the talking around town. Bar owners love to change out empty kegs, and distributors love picking them up.

That’s what it comes down to.  Can your beer sell itself on taste alone? If somebody samples three IPAs, will they pick yours to wash down that burger? Which six pack do they grab on the way home from work?  Those questions keep brewers up at night. How long it keeps them up depends on who they’re being measured against. In Columbus, a couple of Giants just entered the fracas.

Good luck to all of you. Don’t mind me if I just sit here and drink it all in.