Take one large passenger van and fill to capacity with curious beer enthusiasts. Steep generously with Columbus beer history while adding a comprehensive beer tasting. Pitch in the experience and knowledge of two local food experts. Finish with the personality of some of the city’s finest brewers to develop unique character. In a little over three hours, you have a first-rate beer tour.
Columbus Brew Adventures is the latest venture by food and drink aficionados Bethia Woolf and Jim Ellison. Sister company to Columbus Food Adventures, this new endeavor follows suit by providing informative tours exploring some of Columbus’s most unique establishments. With a variety of tours that range from an afternoon in Columbus to longer forays into neighboring counties, Columbus Brew Adventures offers patrons an opportunity to experience a representative cross-section of Central Ohio’s burgeoning brewing scene. This past weekend, Christine and I embarked upon the Downtown Brewery Tour.
We began the tour at the Columbus Brewing Company Restaurant, which is attached to the Columbus Brewing Company Brewery (despite the same name and proximity, the two are actually owned by different folks) near the city’s Brewery District. An array of appetizers were presented to our group, including nachos, several varieties of pizza, and wings, which provided a nice base for the forthcoming afternoon beer tasting. Our first flight of the day featured a few of Columbus Brewing Company’s most notable ales: Pale Ale, IPA, and Bodhi (CBC’s double IPA). Both the Pale Ale and IPA are no strangers to our refrigerator at home; they’re quintessential examples of Columbus beer and established a solid note on which to begin the tour. As we sampled our beer, Jamie Young gave a brief history of brewing which led into the history of brewing in Columbus and the establishment of the Brewery District.
Our second stop included a tasting in the basement of Barley’s Brewing Company on High Street across from the Convention Center. Housed in what used to be the ground-level of High Street, the cave-like room beneath Barley’s restaurant provided a cozy backdrop to Barley’s brewer extraordinaire, Angelo Signorino. Using a proprietary yeast, Angelo has been responsible for the extraordinary beer Barley’s has produced over the years. His pride and ownership of every batch has helped Barley’s establish itself as one of Columbus’s premier, and longest operating, breweries. Our tasting samples touched on their diverse offerings and included MacLenny’s Scottish Ale, Blood Thirst Wheat (a hefeweizen flavored with blood orange zest), Hoptoberfest, and Infinity Grand Cru (a Belgian dark strong ale). Although I’ve recently avoided overly hoppy beers, I really enjoyed the Hoptoberfest. A cask conditioned ale, its hops added complexity and subtle flavors without overpowering the beer.
Third on the tour was Seventh Son Brewing Company. Perhaps one of Columbus’s most exciting new breweries, Seventh Son resides in a refurbished garage on the corner of East 4th Avenue and North 4th Street in Italian Village. Brewer Colin Vent delved into the science behind brewing as our group was invited to sample barley malted to different stages, catch a glimpse of actual yeast through a microscope, and become acquainted with hops in its many forms. The behind-the-beer-scenes orientation gave the group a better understanding of how flavors are developed through the brewing process and why some beers may be more malty or more hoppy than others. Colin stressed that Seventh Son’s lineup is always changing and is the result of their embrace of seasonal brewing practices. The beer flight at Seventh Son was indicative of their eclectic approach to traditional styles: Humulus Nimbus Super Pale Ale (Christine’s favorite), Summer Farmhouse Ale, Oubliette Imperial Stout.
Our final stop was at North High Brewing. Located in a beautifully renovated corner space on North High Street in the Weinland Park neighborhood, North High Brewing is unique in that half their space is a bar, while the other half is set up for patrons to brew their own beer. Co-owner Gavin Meyers enthusiasm for his beer and his business was quite contagious. As he pointed out several of the architectural features that were incorporated into the bar (including reclaimed window arches from old OSU buildings and window slats made from wooden bleacher seats), we were poured three samples highlighting their brewing style: Chocolate Milk Stout (amazingly rich and delicious), E.S.B. (English Special Bitter), and Pale Ale. While I didn’t find the samples at North High Brewing as exotic as some of the the Seventh Son beers, I did think they were some of the best new beers I’ve tasted and believe they are indicative of the direction Columbus’s brewing scene is headed. Christine, who has done a little home brewing herself, was very excited to see the Brew on Premise portion and is looking forward to taking advantage of their brewing space and services.
Each stop on the tour afforded our group the chance to visit a brewery that was distinct both in what they do as well as the beer they serve—we didn’t feel like we were getting different versions of the same beer at each location. With an average of three samples per stop, we felt we got some depth into the variety of the breweries while not getting intoxicated. The insights offered by both the guides and brewers into the Columbus brew scene gave tour participants a unique experience where we could not only taste a broad sampling of what Columbus has to offer, but also learn from the people behind the brews.
Photography by Christine Rohweder