State of the Brewnion: Where Columbus beer has been this year, and where it's going next

Nicholas Dekker, Columbus Alive contributor

BrewDog is coming to Columbus (well, Canal Winchester). Cans of locally made beer are proliferating on store shelves. Multiple breweries are upgrading equipment or shifting to larger spaces. Taprooms, growler specials and one-off beers abound. Sour beers are fermenting quietly; barreled beers are soaking up leftover spirits from their hosts. We celebrated our first Columbus Craft Beer Week. In short, the craft beer boom is still booming in Columbus, and it shows no signs of slowing down. We wanted to measure the growth of our beer scene, so we checked in with everyone. What's happened over the past year, we asked, and what's coming up next? Read on, friends, for the Inaugural State of the Brewnion.

The Actual Brewing Co.

655 N. James Rd., East Side

actualbrewing.com

Style range: rye beers, stouts, saisons, wheat beers

Signature: Fat Julian imperial stout

Actual embodies the major theme of Columbus breweries from this past year: expansion. They tripled their brewing capacity ("Although we still don't make enough," said owner and brewer Fred Lee), and more than doubled their overall square footage. They've added more space to their taproom, increased their portfolio to a dozen beers, enlarged the storage and brewing areas and added a canning line. "The future of craft is in cans," Lee said.

And cans are certainly where they're headed. They're testing the canning line and are aiming to start with a light lager. Lee said he's hoping to get anywhere from two to 10 beers in cans by the end of the year. Actual is also developing some new brews, including a porter and an IPA - yes, they're finally doing an IPA. Lee said they're also getting into sour beers - another recurring theme from many breweries - with at least 10 sours planned for limited bottle releases at the taproom.

Barley's Brewing Co.

467 N. High St., Short North

barleysbrewing.com

Style range: English styles

Signature: MacLenny's Scottish ale

As a mainstay in the Columbus brewing scene, Barley's has operated on the slow-and-steady for over 20 years. The past year, though, has seen some shifts toward significant growth. This past year, longtime head brewer Angelo Signorino transitioned to brewing exclusively at Barley's; he previously had split his time between Barley's and Smokehouse Brewing.

Signorino is now overseeing a major expansion of their operations to a building a couple blocks away on Vine Street. The addition will triple their capacity; the existing brewery will continue to service the brewpub, while the new system will allow them to keg and distribute more beer around town, and offer potential for bottling or canning beers. Equipment for the new brewery is arriving in mid-July. Barley's owner Jason Fabian also said they're planning to remodel the bar and begin making use of the building's second floor.

Columbus Brewing Co.

535 Short St., Brewery District

columbusbrewing.com

Style range: American IPAs

Signature: Bodhi DIPA

As one of Columbus' signature beer brands, CBC continues to raise the city's brewing profile nationally. Last fall, two of their beers medaled at the Great American Beer Festival: Creeper took the gold in the Imperial IPA category, while the ever-popular Bodhi snagged a bronze in the American IPAs. Meanwhile, head brewer Eric Bean and his team continue to brew and bottle pale ale, IPA, Summer Teeth and others.

The big news for CBC is their expansion to a much larger facility on the West Side. "We've been having space issues for years," Bean said. "And we're building this new space so as not to have problems for a long time." His current brewery is at the back of the Columbus Brewing Co. Restaurant (the two are separate businesses), which houses a 30-barrel system. The new brewhouse, arriving from Germany any day now, is a four-vessel, 30-barrel, semi-automated system. Bean said they'll go from brewing two beers a day to 10. The goal is to be brewing at the new space by the end of the year, with a taproom potentially opening in summer 2016. What about bottling Bodhi? Bean said they're just working to keep up with their demanding Columbus and Cleveland markets, so there's no timeline for more bottling or distribution. However, later this summer they're revealing new packaging.

Elevator Brewing Co.

165 N. Fourth St., Downtown

elevatorbrewery.com

Style range: German lagers, IPAs, red ales

Signature: Bleeding Buckeye red ale

Elevator Brewing seems to have two lives: one as the kinda-fancy restaurant in a 100-year-old building on High Street, and one as the rustic taproom a few blocks away. All told they've got an established roster of seasonal beers, monthly specialties for their beer education programs and bottled beers filling store shelves.

The challenge now, said owner Dick Stevens, is staying relevant among all the new breweries. "Wow, we're the old guys now!" he joked. They'll continue producing specialty beers for the restaurant, while bottling eight regular beers (four year-round, four seasonal). Stevens invested in a bottling line, although he's only dabbled in cans. Last fall, in celebration of their 15th anniversary, they released 22-ounce bottles of a bourbon barrel-aged imperial red ale; Stevens said they plan to release more one-off bottled beers. They're landlocked at the brewery, he added, although a move to a new space wouldn't occur until 2016.

Gordon Biersch Columbus

401 N. Front St., Arena District

gordonbiersch.com/locations/columbus

Style range: German lagers, IPA

Signature: Marzen

Like Hofbrauhaus, Gordon Biersch is a national chain with a presence in Columbus. The brewery has been camped out in the Arena District for nearly 10 years, producing a solid roster of German- and Czech-style beers. Brewer Keith Jackson shared that the company eased restrictions on their brewers over the past year, allowing them to play with more seasonal and one-off beers. Out of the 10 house taps, Jackson now has six or seven at his disposal (the others run two house beers and a seasonal). Now Jackson can address beer interests across the board, from bigger IPAs to spiced beers to darker offerings. His IPA has been in demand, and a stout brewed with Stauf's coffee went over well.

Jackson said he changes recipes regularly, always experimenting with his portfolio so guests can visit every month and find something new. At the end of July, he's releasing a Belgian IPA brewed from a recipe that won the silver medal at last year's Great American Beer Festival. Throughout the rest of the year, he's releasing more specialties like a double red ale, a festbier and a winter bock.

Hofbrauhaus Columbus

800 Goodale St., Grandview

hofbrauhauscolumbus.com

Style range: German

Signature: Premium lager

The Hofbrauhaus chain, modeled on the Munich brewery, opened a Columbus location in late 2014 and seems to have been well-received. The operation is significant; brewmaster Robert Makein estimated they've brewed 132,000 liters of beer in 2015 so far. They feature four year-round beers - a light lager, a dunkel, a premium lager and a hefeweizen - with a monthly specialty as well. This September they'll go all out for their first Oktoberfest.

Firkin Ales

Signature: cask-conditioned beer

Firkin Ales is still in the planning stages. An attempted Kickstarter campaign didn't raise enough funds to meet the stated goal, but Ruth Thurgood Mundy and Lauren Spence's brewery is still in the works, with a business plan completed. The two continue to brew their beers to be served in firkins; they've eyed potential spaces in Weinland Park as well.

Four String Brewing

985 W. Sixth Ave., Grandview

fourstringbrewing.com

Style range: pale ales, IPAs, wheat beers

Signature: Brass Knuckle pale ale

Four String has taken some big strides over the past year and is poised for major growth in 2016. Owner Dan Cochran has made his Grandview taproom a destination for beer-seekers, brewing multiple specialty brews and adding two new beers to his lineup: the Switchblade IPA and Payback Pilsner. Established beers like Big Star white IPA and Brass Knuckle pale ale are found in every beer store.

But the best is yet to come. Four String is currently under construction on a new 25,000-square-foot production facility with a 30-barrel brewhouse, canning line, sensory analysis lab and eventually a second taproom. The current taproom and brewery will remain in place to create specialty brews. Heading up the new facility is Larry Horwitz, Four String's new brewmaster and partner. To accommodate the increased output, Cochran is working to expand distribution statewide.

Ill Mannered Brewing Co.

30 Grace Dr., Powell

illmanneredbeer.com

In less than 12 months Ill Mannered Brewing has gone from a discussion among four friends over beers to a nearly open brewery.The crew will begin brewing soon and plan to open in September. Co-owner Tom Ayers said once they're open they'll "brew like crazy" on their three-barrel system, using their small batch size to experiment with different brews before settling on some customer favorites.

Knotty Pine Brewing

1765 W. Third Ave., Grandview

knottypinebrewing.net

Style range: porters to IPAs

Signature: Cherry Wood Smoked Porter

This past March saw Grandview's Knotty Pine return in the form of a microbrewery. Owner Jay Kessler took over after the Rude Dog Bar & Grill closed in the old Knotty Pine bar's space, and he set to work revamping it as a restaurant and brewery. Kessler is working on a half-barrel brew system currently, and he's established four house brews: the Mirror Lake IPA, a Mandarin wheat, a cherrywood smoked porter and a hard root beer.

Kessler is upgrading to a 3.5-barrel system within the next month. With the new system, he'll increase his portfolio to six beers by adding a black IPA and a blueberry ginger saison (which he debuted at Digfest in June). He's hoping to distribute some kegs, too, once he's met the demand of the brewery. The restaurant side stays busy as well, with a fall menu hitting in September.

The Land-Grant Brewing Co.

424 W. Town St., Franklinton

landgrantbrewing.com

Style range: IPA, kolsch, brown ale

Signature: Stiff-Arm IPA

Land-Grant is less than a year old, but they've accomplished quite a bit. They opened their Franklinton brewery and taproom last October and since then have produced 24 different styles of beer. They've grown from two employees to nine currently, and a new brewer joins the ranks this August. Like many breweries around town, the Land-Grant crew has begun canning their beers; in May they became the first Columbus brewery to own its own canning line. So far their Stiff-Arm IPA and 1862 Ale have been canned, and the Greenskeeper session ale is next.

They're in the process of increasing capacity and making use of their space to barrel-age beers. In March they added a 40-barrel fermentor, and two additional 80-barrel fermentors will arrive in August. They also renovated their patio to accommodate more patrons in the taproom and to better host food trucks. Land-Grant - along with Zauber, CBC, Elevator and Four String - began serving their brews at Columbus Crew SC games. Land-Grant is partnering with the club to brew a specialty beer just for them.

Lineage Brewing

2971 N. High St., Clintonville

lineagebrew.com

Style range: cream ale, IPA, altbiers

Signature: Shoot-the-Chutes cream ale

Like a number of breweries in this list, Lineage's biggest achievement in the past year was opening. The brewery opened its doors in March, and to date co-owner/brewmaster Mike Byrne has brewed 16 different beers on their seven-barrel system. Since opening, they've also added more fermentors to increase production overall.

In the next year, they're planning to add another draft tower to the bar to offer more experimental beers. Byrne's goal is to brew 25 beers by the end of 2015. Hopefully on the horizon for late 2015/early 2016: brewing enough to distribute some kegs and bottle some limited-edition beers.

North High Brewing

1288 N. High St., Short North

northhighbrewing.com

Style range: pale ale, hefeweizen, IPA, milk stout

Signature: pale ale

North High has seen explosive growth this past year. Just over a year ago they welcomed Jason McKibben as their new brewmaster and brewery partner. Then last August they opened a production facility at Fifth and Cleveland avenues, increasing output from a two-barrel system to a 40-barrel one with five fermentors . To handle the increase, they signed with Premium Beverage Supply for distribution; North High beers are now on tap in every major city in Ohio. In April, they started canning their IPA, Pale Ale and Milk Stout. The original bar and brew-on-premise site in Short North continues to stay busy: in March they celebrated the 2,000th batch brewed by a customer.

This month they've begun more expansion at the production brewery, adding more 60-barrel fermentors, a 60-barrel brite tank, a 20-barrel fermentor for smaller seasonal brews and a canning line that will have the capacity to turn out nearly 120 cans per minute. In the next couple months, North High will roll out their fourth canned beer, their hefeweizen. Co-owner Gavin Meyers also said they've begun conversations with parties interested in franchising the brew-on-premises model.

Pigskin Brewing Co.

81 Mill St., Gahanna

pigskinbrewingcompany.com

Style range: IPA, cream ale, gose, hefeweizen

Signature: Undefeated IPA

Like a handful of other breweries, Pigskin's biggest development of the year is just coming into existence. The brewery opened its doors in February of this year, and is already producing 10 house beers from their 3.5-barrel system. Standouts so far have included their Undefeated IPA, Cream of the Crop cream ale and their Gose All The Way mild sour.

Pigskin has already begun serving their own food, but in the coming weeks they're expanding to be a fully-fledged brewpub, with a menu of shareable items and sandwiches, many of which use house beer as an ingredient. Co-owner Tarry Summers said they'll start distributing their beers outside the brewery at the start of September.

Seventh Son Brewing Co.

1101 N. Fourth St., Italian Village

seventhsonbrewing.com

Style range: ales and IPAs

Signature: Seventh Son American strong ale

Seventh Son has enjoyed continuing popularity with a healthy roster of beers, plenty of patio square footage and a regular rotation of food trucks. Over the past year they began canning some standards like the Seventh Son American strong ale and Humulus Nimbus pale ale. They also added a monthly 750ml bottle release of specialty brews like the Wood Wolf double IPA and the Chester Copperpot German smoked ale.

Next up for Seventh Son is more expansion. They added more fermentation tanks over the past year and are working on growing into another brewing facility. They're also working to take ownership of their building, and have increased seating on the patios and are adding a small bar on the back patio.

Sideswipe Brewing

2419 Scioto Harper Dr., West Side

sideswipebrewing.com

Style range: IPA, smoked stout, saison

Signature: Fisticuffs IPA

Sideswipe has had a heavy presence in bottled beers, but their taproom is a growing destination for Columbus beer lovers. Craig O'Herron opened the informal taproom in his brewery about a year ago, and has expanded to Thursday, Friday and Saturday hours and added a patio. He's always got six beers on tap, including standards like the Fisticuffs IPA and Elegant Hoodlum smoked stout. He doubled his production capacity to four tanks total and has introduced seasonal beers like the Pixelated Sun wheat beer and the Squashing Pumpkins pumpkin ale. All told, O'Herron is producing 25 to 30 barrels of beer monthly, with over 100 accounts carrying his offerings in the bottle or on draft.

O'Herron said the brewery is on the verge of a lot of things, with the new summer seasonal OH Country kölsch coming online this summer, and with four or five other beers in the planning stages, including some imperial versions. He's also on the lookout for a new space, more on the beaten path, with room to expand brewing capacity and to allow for a full bar.

Smokehouse Brewing Co.

1130 Dublin Rd., Grandview

smokehousebrewing.com

Style range: English ales, cask-conditioned ale

Signature: Centennial IPA

As one of the more established breweries, Smokehouse is finding ways to reinvent itself. "We know we make kickass beers, and want to share that," said owner Lenny Kolada. "Like everyone else, we're exploring options." The pit barbecue-focused brewpub announced the addition of brewmaster Sam Hickey earlier this year, and with his arrival they've seen a slew of new beers. Kolada said they've introduced nine new beers this year, like a saison, a Belgian quad and a session IPA, and there are plans to release three more, including an imperial IPA coming mid-September. They've also started brewing super small batches of one-offs, like their Fussy Sipper pumpkin peach ale brewed in response to Budweiser's Super Bowl dig at craft beer.

Many of their new offerings are built over the long-haul. They're releasing a gruit - a beer that substitutes botanicals for hops - and this fall they'll introduce a series of small-batch sour ales, some of which have been aging for two years. Kolada said they're also doubling down on their barrel-aged beers. Typically they'll age specialty beers for six months, but many new batches will have spent a year in the barrel and will be released this winter.

Spruce Campbells Brewing Co.

facebook.com/TheSpruceCampbellsBrewingCompany

Jason Kusowski calls Spruce Campbells Company, an outgrowth of his music ventures, "gypsy brewers without a license." Over the past year he's collaborated with folks like North High Brewing, Luna Kombucha and Mad Moon Cider to produce small batches of beer. Some of Kusowski's brews can be found on tap at North High. His long-term project, however, is Native Funk, a collaboration with multiple people to cultivate wild yeast strains around Columbus. Kusowski is working to isolate specific strains to grow full-blown cultures, then brew wild beers with them.

Before that happens, though, Kusowski and business partner Andrew Park are headed to South Korea next February, where they'll open a $15 million brewery. The two of them met in beer school in Germany and are in the design approval phase. They'll establish the brewery, and then return to brew wild beers and open a brewpub in Columbus.

Temperance Row Brewing Co.

41 N. State St., Westerville

uptowndeliandbrew.com

Style range: English

Signature: Any of their beers on nitro tap

Temperance Row Brewing, housed inside Uptown Deli & Brew, opened last December by bringing two pieces of history alive. The first is a nod to Westerville as the former headquarters of the temperance movement that led to Prohibition. The second is the employment of Scott Francis as brewer. Francis owns The Winemaker's Shop in Clintonville, and had a hand in establishing Barley's, CBC and Smokehouse Brewing. Temperance Row rotates about seven or eight beers on tap, almost all of which are available on nitro tap. Owner Toni Cabilovski encourages patrons to try any beer on nitro, especially the IPA.

Cabilovski said they've just established operations this first year. The deli is up and running, and the back patio is open. The IPA, Scottish ale and pilsner have been hits. They'll introduce new beers - including a hoppier IPA - in the coming months, and hope to hit up more festivals and beer tastings next year.

Wolf's Ridge Brewing

215 N. Fourth St., Downtown

wolfsridgebrewing.com

Style range: stout, cream ale, brown ale, Belgian

Signature: Dire Wolf imperial stout

In its first year of existence, Wolf's Ridge has distinguished itself in many ways, earning top honors as one of the city's best new restaurants. Two major developments have let the brewery side keep pace with the eatery. First, brewmaster Chris Davison came onboard last August. Second, they opened a taproom at the back of their building earlier in 2015. The taproom carries a selection of roughly 20 beers, giving Davison the grounds to experiment with one-off brews and infused variations. With the taproom opening, they released the Dire Wolf imperial stout and variations made with coconut, One Line coffee and spices. At the end of June, they released three versions of Dire Wolf in 22-ounce bombers, which sold quickly. They also nabbed some awards for the beer, including a gold medal for the Dire Wolf and a bronze for the Buchenrauch Smoked Lager at the San Diego International Beer Festival.

Owner Alan Szuter said they're finalizing expansion plans now, tripling their capacity with the addition of three new fermentors and a new brite tank. The increased output will allow them to start bottling and canning some of their beers. Szuter said they've also begun a barrel program and a sour beer project.

Zaftig Brewing Co.

545 Schrock Rd., Worthington

drinkzaftig.com

Style range: Anything high gravity

Signature: Shadowed Mistress strong ale

Zaftig is the little brewery that could, producing beers with big flavor that push the limits of Ohio's 12% ABV limit. Co-owner Brent Halsey said they doubled their production volume over the past year, but the biggest update is the release of beers in 22-ounce bombers; Zaftig has bottled four so far - a breakfast stout, a strong ale, a stout and a wee heavy - with an IPA coming soon.

In the coming months they're planning more specialty bottle releases, including bourbon barrel-aged strong ales and stouts, and a soured bourbon barrel-aged version of the wee heavy. They're also eyeing a bigger space in the neighborhood, a 5,000-square-foot facility to hold a 15-barrel brew system. Halsey said they're in talks with investors and the building owner, and will hopefully be transitioning to a new space by the end of the year.

Zauber Brewing Company

909 W. Fifth Ave., Grandview

zbeers.com

Style range: German and Belgian beers

Signature: Vertigo hefeweizen

After existing for two years as small pilot system in a back-alley warehouse, Zauber is finally hitting its stride with a fully-fledged brewery and taproom. A year ago owner Geoff Towne was first turning on his new 20-barrel system, and by last August he was able to put his German- and Belgian-style brews on tap regularly. Gone are the days of patrons rushing in on Thursdays to snatch up pints of house brews. The bigger system has allowed Zauber to introduce more seasonal and specialty brews, like the Berzerker Belgian IPA or Ominous Belgian stout. The other big development was the arrival of brewmaster Cameron Lloyd, a Certified Brewmaster with training at the Versuchs und Lehranstalt fur Brauerei in Berlin.

Last fall, Zauber added their front patio, and coming soon is a kitchen inside the brewery serving a blend of American and German fare - finger foods like brats, pretzels and sandwiches. Towne also contemplates adding a small coffee shop in place of their growler room, bringing the brewery closer to his original concept of the true German beer hall with small market kiosks serving food and drink.