Beer-tivities: Brewing at North High

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From the July 18, 2013 edition

I’ve drunk a lot of beer. A lot. But I’d never brewed my own. I’ve occasionally assisted in homebrew endeavors, which equate to cleaning out kegs or holding a tube in place, and obviously samplingthe finished product.

Brewing always seemed interesting andfun, but homebrewing is a hobby that involvessome extra time and money. Neither of which I have a lot of. Plus, I’ve been told homebrewers run the risk of becoming obsessed and drawing the ire of their better halves while toil away an entire Saturday instead of making quality time (or competing that to-do list).

Thankfully, there’s a solution to this predicament right here in Columbus. North High Brewing is an on-premise brew facility where everyone — from the veteran homebrewer to the uninformed noob(like myself) — can brew using professional-level equipment.

After completing the task — and a couple pints of North High’s excellent saison — I’ve come to the conclusion brewing at North High a great way to spend an afternoon. I’m not alone.

Experienced homebrewer Kyle Kastranec, who was brewing two batches that same day, has also brewed atOhio’s most popular on-premise facility, The Brew Kettle in Strongsville. He and I had similarly enjoyable experience

“The process is familiar, but the whole setup is totally different,” Kastranec said. “I don’t see why [I won’t brew here again]. For the amount of beer you get, it’s totally worth it.”

To brew one batch (15 gallons, or about seven cases) at North High costs between $170 and $250 depending on which of the 40 recipes is chosen. I decided on Belgian Blond because it seemed like a fitting choice for this time of year—something light and refreshing, but containing a well-rounded flavor.

Kastranec was joined by a fellow, less experienced homebrewer in Mike Sawicki, who’d hung out at North High’s bar but never brewed there. Sawicki was having “a lot of fun” while expanding his brewing repertoire.

“Even though I’ve been brewing for a while, there’s still a lot to learn about brewing on a system like this,” Sawicki said. “This is a step closer to commercial brewing

North High has eight brew kettles situated in an octagonal apparatus. It’s a remarkable system, from appearance to engineering. Novices could be slightly intimidated, but North High pairs every group/individual with an expert handler (in my case Patrick Connaughton, a chemical engineering student at Ohio State who’s working on North High’s yeast propagation program).

“The whole idea is to have new people come in who have no idea what to expect and feel comfortable and have fun.” said North High brewmaster Charlie Davis. “There are people who’ve brewed at other places, or been here before and just do it. But for those people who’re coming in for their first time … they want to make sure it’s going to turn out all right. That’s why we’re here.”

The Belgian Blond took about two hours and was a fairly simple process — intentionally so. I lacked the confidence to brew anything too complex. Plus, I was brewing with my sweet lady and didn’t want her to wait idly by while I attempted a detailed brew (similar to homebrewing risks above).

The recipe was of the all-extract variety. Extract brewing is different from all-grain brewing because mashing, where grains are heated in water to release sugars that will ferment to create alcohol, is skipped. Malt extract already contains those sugars; hence the consistency is similar to molasses.

The steps werestraightforward. Extract is added to the heated water, then hops, and then it boils for about 90 minutes. The wort is then cooled and yeast is added to start fermentation. From there, it’s off to the climate-controlled “beer nursery” to ferment. A few weeks later the beer is bottled or kegged and ready for consumption.

The experience of brewing at North High was educational and entertaining, but the jovial energy bounding throughout the brew room was mostfascinating. The large group with Kastranec and Sawicki was constantly laughing and joking, conversing about beer with elation and adoration. My beautiful brewing partner and I calmly chatted about nothing in particular, but were both particularly cheerful. After a few hours I left drenched in the unmistakable scent of beer brewing, anxiously awaiting the finished product, with a genuine smile upon my face.

Beer-tivity points: 5 out of 5

Brewing at North High

The Parsons Challenge at Hal & Al's

Other beer challenges

Running with beer

Neighborhood bar crawls

Final score

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