Courtesy German Village Society

The Suds of Time

A lot of guys want to belly up to the bar and tell you a story; but you better make sure you have a babysitter and an Uber ready if you find yourself on a stool next to Curtis Schieber.

He’s not the city’s official beer historian—we’re not certain that title exists, but if it did it would belong to Schieber, long-time music writer and homebrewer who watched his friends and fellow beer geeks turn the city on to a new taste in beer—one that now permeates an increasingly hip Columbus.

The so-called “Class of 1989”—Scott Francis (CBC, Barley’s), Vince Falcone (Elevator), Allen Young and Victor Ecimovich III (Hoster), as well as Angelo Signorino and Lenny Kolada (Barley’s), are the valedictorians of Columbus brewing—and Schieber, their yearbook editor, watched the modern history write itself.

Columbus Beer: Recent Brewing and Deep Roots, his new book available from Arcadia/History Press, was constructed to be a tribute to that time, to the pioneers that led us to today’s craft beer explosion—from 5 to 35 breweries in the last five years—but instead became much more a story of rebirth than revival.

Not only does he go deep in the tank to shed more light on 200 years of beer history, but the book also brews up a slightly new discovery on today’s craft brewers and how they connect to their forebearers—from last century and the one before.

“Where the old brewers plied a craft refined by long tradition and carried forward by professional skills, the new guys—skilled as they might be—tend to look at their calling as something more creative, challenging not just their skills, but their imaginations,” Schieber said. “They were businessmen first, and skilled brewers, second. Today it tends to be the other way around. Still, the earliest Columbus craft brewers, the ‘the class of 1989,’ had a foot in both eras, as they were initially inspired by the tradition.”

The same way Schieber takes us through the advent of the Brewery District—while offering more history on that weird King statue outside their grocery store—he’s been able to offer a deeper, more direct dive into the city’s history, connecting newer Columbusonians with a better understanding of who and what inspires their current favorite brands. Today, we belly up to the bar with him, giving him a break from the archives and catching us up on  his current take on Columbus and craft beer.

How does craft beer connect with Columbus culture?

Craft beer has both predicted and benefited from the lifestyle and culture shift that we enjoy in Columbus today. The interest in an original American cuisine, local business fueled by local sourcing, and a freewheeling approach to evolving lifestyles was suggested by the new brewers of the Class of 1989 and is carried today by the influx of a forward-thinking population. 2011 was a watershed year, in terms of new breweries and a potent new mindset.   

What makes our current craft brew community unique?

On the one hand, Columbus brewers have largely echoed national trends—toward IPAs, Belgians, and sours. On the other, we have embraced the core value of craft brewing, individuality, and community. The local scene has its innovators, rising stars, and respected professionals, who create a range of beers from the solidly traditional to wildly creative. It is my belief that the city’s size, history, and local character all have created a unique opportunity for businesses and demand for product.

What does a brewery have to do to stay relevant in the Columbus scene, especially as the city is bursting with microbreweries?

Because of the city’s mix of longtime beer fans and an influx of new hipsters, Columbus brewers have wide options, from making quality, time-tested styles, to creating new beers. A lot of the success and longevity has to do with reflecting a personality through marketing and positioning. Still, a few local classics—for instance, CBC’s Bodhi—can carry a lot of clout.

Is our beer scene enough of an homage to the greats who started it all? Are there any breweries that you feel tip a hat to the original beer giants in the city?

Again, we need to distinguish between the old brewers who plied a tradition reaching back hundreds of years and reaching into the 1970s, and the craft brewers who began in 1989. Regarding the old Germans, only Hoster’s, which operated a brewpub for about 15 years beginning in 1991 and was named after Columbus’s first big German brewery established in `836, has revived that style. Under the leadership of Allen Young and then Victor Ecimovich III, it did so admirably. Scott Francis was inspired by traditional English brewing, offered his take with the original CBC in 1989, and continues that today with Temperance Row in Westerville. Locally, English brewers came first, likely beginning in 1814 with John McCoy. Of folks carrying on the new history—established by CBC and Hoster’s—nobody is really that traditional, other than Scott at Temperance. A few locals have experimented with updating the German tradition and a couple more, especially Lineage, paying homage to the great English brews. 

Build your own six-pack of Columbus beers…

This is way too political an assignment, even though Columbus brewers are a pretty chummy sort. I will say that among my faves are Four String’s Payback Pilsner, Temperance’s Macedonian Imperial Stout, Lineage’s Passionate Bernice Berliner weisse, Barley’s Auld Curiosity old ale, one or more of Rockmill’s brilliant Belgians, and CBC’s Bodhi. When I can [find] contract-brewed Hoster’s Gold Top, often found at the Ohio Taproom, I’m a happy guy.

What beers go best with your favorite meals in C-Bus?

I haven’t really experimented with that concept, though I would love to find partners for Ray Ray’s pork, Aab India’s spectacular rice, Mazah’s shawarma, and Brazenhead’s fine Fifth Avenue salad.

Can you tell us when the idea for the book started to take shape? The inspiration?

First, a desire to tell the story of the pioneering craft brewers of 1989. Personal friends all, they fought a noble battle—against bland corporate beer, stubborn bar owners, and a city just beginning to outgrow its “Cowtown” stereotype. After I dug into the deeper history, though, I was fascinated by the process of placing myself in past times, imagining the city as it grew from four land tracts of near-wilderness, to a bustling capital, and more recently into a commerce and growing arts center. A longtime fan of German beer, I loved imagining what, say, Hoster’s dunkel would have tasted like, drawn from a wooden keg in 1836.

If you had your own brewery in this town, what would it be like?

Uncompromising tradition: German lagers, kolschs, doppelbocks, and alts; English barleywines and bitters, Scottish wee-heavies and refined Czech pilsners. Anything that stood the ground of tradition and offered a balance to all the wild-assed—if welcomed—creativity.

What is Columbus missing as a craft beer city?

Nothing that I can think of. We have a good solid source of new brewers in our lively home brewing scene, a forward-thinking business climate to encourage growth and experimentation, and—most importantly—an expanding population that is thirsty for new challenges to its palate. It would have been nice if we had landed the “rising market” confirmation with the Stone expansion production facility instead of the BrewDog consolation prize, but we take it one step at a time.