Curious Cbus: Why Is There A Craft Beer Boom In Columbus?

Jul 15, 2016

Craft beer seems to be booming in Central Ohio, with breweries opening all over the place. As part of WOSU’s Curious Cbus Project, one listener wanted to know what was going on with craft brewing. So it was time to hit the streets to find out.

Just 10 years ago, if you wanted a Columbus-made craft beer, you had limited options. There was Elevator Brewing, Columbus Brewing Company, Barley’s Smokehouse and Brewery, and maybe a couple others.

But that was about it.

Now, that's changed. Maybe a shift in culture? A shift in attitude? A shift in preference?

Whatever it may be, in the last five years, the Columbus craft-beer market has seen seismic growth.

Bob Grove, a high school science teacher and lifelong resident of Columbus, asked this question:

“I wanted to know why was was Columbus such a hotbed of craft brewing lately, and was government of some level, doing anything to try and facilitate that?”

Bob and I sat down to discuss the craft beer culture in Columbus, and, of course, sample a few adult beverages.

Just for research, of course.

“We are sitting in Grain + Grapes, which is a craft brew store, taproom, right on the edge of Eastmoor and Bexley,” Grove said.

We talked about craft beer, and specifically, Columbus’ history with craft beer.

“Being a townie, being from Columbus," Bob said, "I can remember when Hoster's first started making craft beer in a restaurant down on High Street, and when Columbus Brewing first started, and they were it. And within the last couple years it seems like 3 or 4 new places open up, every three months."

The start of the boom

To learn exactly why and how fast breweries were opening in Columbus, I talked to Cheryl Harrison from the blog Drink Up Columbus.

The first thing we wanted to know: Is Columbus really a "hotbed" for craft beer?

Sort of, Harrison says. Thirty breweries have opened in five years, but Harrison says we’re not unique.

“We do have a lot of breweries here, and we are probably one of the top 50 cities in the country per number of breweries, but we’re not by any means the only city seeing this growth,” Harrison said.

She says craft brewing is exploding nationwide.

But Bob is onto something. It does feel like it’s such a "Columbus thing" right now. There are neighborhood breweries all over the place, Harrison says. And that’s by design.

“We’ve really seen the shift to neighborhood-centric breweries. I mean we have smaller towns like Canal Winchester and Pickerington that are even getting their own breweries now," Harrison said. "A brewery like Lineage in Clintonville, they really don’t distribute their beer much, that’s pretty much the only place you get it.”

Handcrafted demand

So I headed over to Lineage Brewing, where beer barrels gleam through a window in its rustic-themed tap room. I asked co-owner Mike Byrne about his neighborhood brewery concept, and how they can compete with a nationwide craft brewery like Sam Adams.

“I think it’s because Columbus is such a young city," Byrne said. "And right now, our generation and the generation below us, there seems to be a resurgence of handcrafted items. I think there’s just a much bigger appreciation now for small batch and high quality items.”

So while the craft beer boom might not be proprietary to Columbus, or even Ohio, there are about 200 breweries in the entire state of Ohio. That's certainly a lot more options than just a decade ago.

Government help

Now, the other part of Bob Grove’s question: Is Ohio government doing anything to facilitate the craft beer boom?

“The legislature changed the A1A permit that allowed breweries to sell their own beer on premise," Harrison said. "Before that, you weren’t able to serve a pint of your beer unless you were a restaurant.”

Byrne said they also made it cheaper.

“They lowered the permit price for manufacturing beer and malt beverages, and that’s a huge help," Byrne said. "That’s a significant amount of money for us.”

As recently as this year, Ohio lawmakers raised the legal alcohol limit for beer made or sold in Ohio.

Got your own question about Central Ohio? Ask us below for Curious Cbus.

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