The new tasting room's co-owner and general manager talk passion, product and patrons
Brewing beer at home can seem like a mystifying experience, even for now-aficionado Paul Benner, who co-owns Cleveland-based Platform Beer Co., which opened a Columbus location on North Sixth Street Downtown at the end of last year.
“I always pictured some guy with a bathtub bubbling, just making this witches' brew,” Benner said. But he started brewing and despite some mistakes, including a burned batch of pumpkin ale, he was hooked.
“I'd spend my day job researching recipes, formulating them [and] buying new gear,” said Benner, who worked as a director of admissions for schools in the Cleveland area. “I was probably the worst employee. All I wanted to do was open a business.”
Benner has succeeded above and beyond his goal, opening a home brew supply shop in Cleveland in 2012, the Platform Beer Co. brewery in 2014 and the Columbus tasting room in 2016.
The enthusiasm for the industry extends to the Columbus Platform staff, including general manager Jacob Wooten, who has worked for the Independents' Day festival and previously owned Old North bar and music venue Kobo (now Spacebar). He met Platform's director of sales and distribution, Matt Subel, last year.
“I was already considering shifting gears into working for a brewery,” Wooten said. “I started texting [Matt] every single day and asking if anything has [opened] up.”
Wooten describes the Columbus taproom as a “destination” that can be challenging to find. “A lot of people haven't driven this far north on Sixth [Street] before, but once you get here, you feel like you're in your own club,” he said.
The building, formerly Carfagna's production plant, boasts a spacious interior with multiple tables, colorful stools and four garage doors that will be open in warm weather. And a rooftop beer garden is in the works.
Also on display is Platform's three-barrel brew system, first used at the Cleveland production facility, which is expanding.
According to Wooten, one of the most popular products in Columbus is the Speed Merchant White IPA. “We do infusions every weekend, and one time we did the Speed Merchant … with cucumber and whole-leaf cascade hops, and that was our top mover that week,” he said. The tasting room also features rotating food vendors in the facility's on-site kitchen.
Benner loves the establishment's diverse clientele, which includes people who are just discovering craft beer, as well as longtime enthusiasts. Mingling is encouraged.
“You're not confined to talking with the three people that you showed up with at a table,” Benner said. “[It's] a communal space.”
Among the breweries in the industry, there's more collaboration than competition, Benner noted. “There's just a camaraderie there,” he said. “We all are working toward creating our own niche. … For us it's focusing on quality and variety, pushing the envelope for recipe formulation and then having this really kick-ass staff at our locations where people are having a good time.”