Photo by Chris Casella

Much Abrew

They say stats don’t lie, and so there is often a preoccupation with numbers when it comes to craft brewing. How many barrels are you putting out? What’s your maximum capacity? Square footage? Ceiling height? Penis size? The thing about those numbers … they’re often fuzzy. Since most people have no idea what a barrel is, or what 50,000-square-feet looks like, it’s not unusual for a brewer to throw out a number much higher than the one accurately reported on the company’s books.  Even then, the stats fail to tell the whole story.

So it’s no surprise that Columbus Brewing Company’s Eric Bean can’t really provide a figure on what sort of production they’ll be striving for once the new brew house is turning and burning in the cavernous compound CBC acquired on the heavily industrial Harrison Road.

“We’re thinking of doubling production once we get the kinks worked out,” Bean said. I estimated that to be in the ball park of 26,000 barrels per year. “Something like that,” he confirmed in a way only a man sick of being dragged into that pissing contest can muster.

He’s right, of course. Bean is right a lot. (We’ll pause here to allow his wife, and coworkers a moment to laugh hysterically). “We don’t like to get hung up on all of that,” he said. “This brewhouse will have some automation, so we’ll be able to get four turns a day if we really want to push, but we’re going to make sure everything’s right first.”

The old Hill Distributing building has an executive suite, but “that’s not who we are,” Eric said as we breezed through to what looks to be a common work area, and the new front offices of Columbus Brewing Company.  His office is effectively a closet connected to his wife Beth’s office. He doesn’t care, because the office isn’t his scene. Eric is a brewer—he’s often told he’s got the look nailed, with the long beard and the vintage t-shirt.

“I’m not trying to look like a brewer,” Bean explains. “I’m just a dirty hippy. I let my hair grow out because, now, I can.”

The building, which is still a work in progress, was not the first choice for CBC, but given the objective of putting the company in a position to grow, it’s the best choice. Other breweries have managed to attract throngs of visitors to their tap rooms in gritty, industrial areas, and CBC brews better beer than they do. If you build it, they will come, but if you’re going to build it—build it to last. Owning the space rather than leasing means that some loaded developer with political clout and a bunch of tax abatements won’t buy up your space and replace it with luxury apartments.

“We were the victim of our own success,” Bean said of the Brewery District location that had been maxed out completely. He explained that the new facility will allow for continuing growth for the foreseeable future. And if the time comes when Harrison Road becomes cramped? Well, Bean jokes that he’d be on his own private island. Now, however, he sees it as a welcome problem that would likely be solved by operating two breweries, although that’s not going to be an issue for a while. He doesn’t like to speculate about the future. He sees a great deal of potential in the new facility, but he’s not talking about taking over the world. Right now, his goal is to double down on production, get Bodhi in bottles (yes, it’s really going to happen), open a tap room, and then take care of the future as it comes into view. A canning line is a possibility, and he hinted at the potential for a distillery, but there’s nothing concrete just yet. They have the space for these things, and when the time comes that they make sense, the trigger can be pulled.

When asked if he ever saw this kind of expansion coming when he first grabbed up his stake in CBC, Bean shrugged. “I never really thought about it,” he said. “I just wanted to make sure we were making the best beer we could.”

Despite demands, CBC has been able to burn the candle at both ends and sneak a few one-offs into the marketplace. Some are seasonal releases like Creeper, Cousin Eddie, and Sohio Stout, others are beers that a creative group of brewers can’t resist making. A recent triumph was Thunderlips, a hoppy IPA that bridged the gap between CBC’s standard IPA, and the much-ballyhooed Bodhi.

“We keep saying that we want to show everybody that we can brew something other than pale, hoppy ales, and then we make Thunderlips,” he chuckled.

They do manage to dabble, however, and to that end a couple of Belgian-inspired beers have found their way to tap handles around town. They’re good. Really good.

Expanding production will most certainly increase CBC’s profile, which already has national recognition. Bodhi as a keg-only offering has become the stuff of legend in the craft beer trade market. In bottles, it could achieve the status of national treasures like Pliny the Elder and Heady Topper. With the larger facility, CBC will have the ability to increase production and expand its reach to meet demand, and if the market grows weary of an ample supply of Bodhi, Bean’s crew has some ideas to take it to the next level. No need to restrict supply to create artificial hype. Next beer up.  The sky’s the limit.

Being a studious beer geek helped Bean become an outstanding brewer, but heading up a successful brewery is more than making beer. Columbus Brewing Company is not simply expanding, it’s evolving and that’s a challenge. Evolution, however, is something Bean understands.

By the time you read this, CBC’s new brew house is touching down on Columbus shores—arriving via boat. Within months, the new operation will be up and running—as long as the beer is up to snuff. To keep up, follow @ColumbusBrewing.