BRU signifies another leap in DIY beer in Columbus

From the December 13, 2012 edition

Everyone likes beer. Some people love it. Homebrewers are obsessed with it. Making your own beer is becoming more popular and the increasing number of first-timers giving it a shot is readily apparent. But the established homebrewers becoming more immersed in the culture is also driving this trend.

With the upcoming opening of BRU, independent brewing in Columbus could take another leap. BRU, besides being the latest addition to a surge of new local breweries in Columbus, will be a destination for both experienced and novice homebrewers, and a hangout for those looking to drink craft beer.

The multi-use facility will offer on-premise brewing and homebrewing supplies, along with being a fully-licensed bar and wholesale brewery. BRU is betting homebrewers are excited to combine their favorite pastimes: brewing and drinking.

“You can come in empty handed and brew your own beer, drink a beer that was made on-premise, do a shot of whiskey and walk out with a homebrew supply kit too,” said BRU co-founder Gavin Meyers.

BRU is hitting the market at an opportune time.

For the second consecutive year, the American Homebrewers Association’s survey of homebrew supply shops showed a 16 percent increase in gross revenue. Additionally, the 2011 survey found that 82 percent of shops saw an increase in sales of beginner kits in 2010, another strong indicator of the growing interest in the hobby.

Growth is occurring locally as well. Bill Denen, of Barley Hopsters, a beverage carryout specializing in craft beer and which also sells homebrewing supplies, has seen a 50 percent increase in homebrewing related sales over the last two years.

“It’s a mixture of the well-established homebrewers and people looking to get into it,” said Denen.

Ben Siefker, president of Columbus’ homebrewing organization Scioto Olentangy Darby Zymurgists, or SODZ, has seen the group’s membership go from 50 to 140 over a couple years.

“It just seems like a big trend that homebrewing is becoming more popular. Craft [beer] is becoming more popular; it’s a quality over quantity thing,” said Siefker.

Many beer geeks aren’t satisfied anymore by the ample selection of craft beers you’ll find at local bars like Bodega or Bob’s Bar. They need to constantly be on the forefront of drinking the best beers and styles. Once you dive into craft beer, there are endless options to explore.

“There are certain types of beers I like that I couldn’t readily get. So we started working on recipes for beers I would want to drink,” said Jason Kusowski, homebrewer behind Spruce Campbells Brewing Co.

Kusowski represents another growing trend among homebrewers — brewing as a full-time business. All of the Columbus breweries that cropped up in the last year began as homebrewers. With four years of homebrewing experience, Kusowski is currently scouting spaces to start up a small scale nano-brewery.

Many other homebrewers are seeking opportunities to brew on a larger scale. Meyers and fellow BRU co-founder Tim Ward saw the six month wait at The Brew Kettle, an on-premise brewing facility and microbrewery in Strongsville, and knew the demand would be high here.

“The conversation was, ‘Why isn’t there one of these in Columbus?’” said Ward.

BRU has all the necessary equipment, recipes and supplies to brew and bottle your own 15-gallon batch for between $160 and $180. Beginning brewers will have all the assistance needed to complete a batch, and experienced brewers should appreciate the professional equipment, including a one-of-a-kind kettle system. The gorgeous apparatus has eight 15-gallon kettles that are arranged in an octagonal shape for a specific reason, namely the good times that arise from proximity to other brewers. After working at Crown Brewing Co. in Indiana and Finch’s Beer Co. in Chicago, BRU Brewmaster Charlie Davis will offer his expertise to on-premise brewers, but knows making beer is first and foremost fun.

“My goal is to educate people about craft beer. The vision here is for people to have the opportunity to experience brewing every step of the way … the comradery, the joking around, having fun in the brewery,” said Davis.

Whatever your goal is at BRU, whether it’s brewing or just hanging out in their bar, the experience should be pleasant. Despite still going through final construction phases on the 3,600-square-foot space, everything looks spectacularly designed. Many pieces of the décor — doors and windows from Ohio State’s demolished Brown Hall, aluminum storm shutters from a 19th century distillery, an antique money order window — are repurposed pre-prohibition era architectural items that gives BRU an added sense of character. Meyers and Ward said they hope to open around Christmas, but promises a big party come New Year’s Eve.