For more than a decade, the old firehouse at 734 Oak St. has been one of those empty buildings in Olde Towne East with loads of potential. That potential became reality today when the new German-style brewery, beer garden and restaurant Gemüt Biergarten opened to the public. 

The people behind Gemüt are two service industry veterans: co-owners Chelsea Rennie and her husband, Kyle Hofmeister (a former general manager at 16-Bit Bar + Arcade). Their partners are brewers Rob Camstra and Nick Guyton, who worked at Four String Brewing Co. All live in the vicinity of Olde Towne East. 

After previewing the brewery on Thursday, here are three reasons to check out Gemüt—and soon: 

A renovated firehouse space and beer garden

Chelsea Rennie’s Macedonian grandmother has a saying about her native country’s labor-intensive cuisine. “Her favorite thing to say is, ‘It’s not for easy,’ ” Rennie says.

Opening Gemüt Biergarten has been “not for easy” given the building’s age and Gemüt’s ambition. The old Engine House #12 dates back to 1897 and had a previous life as the home of the Columbus Music Hall, which closed in 2008. The rough-looking back patio space I saw during a May interview has been completely transformed into a pleasant beer garden with proper, German-style tables and chairs, gazebo seating, an ivy-encompassed “throne” and even a children’s play area with a Little Free Library. 

From the back beer garden, a hallway passes the brewery’s tanks and into a handsome beer hall and restaurant featuring vaulted ceilings, a long bar and eight wooden, Craftsman-like tables with bench seating. The tables were crafted by Rennie’s father, Michael Rennie, owner of Nature of Wood Designs in Pickerington. 

The most eye-catching pieces in the room are five custom-made stained glass windows featuring scenes inspired by German folklore. London-based illustrator Kate Baylay designed the fantasy-inspired windows, and Franklin Art Glass Studio in German Village built them. “Her style of art is perfect,” Rennie says about Baylay, whom she emailed on a whim. “She was all over the project. I was giving her the stories of what all of these characters are based off of, and she really just brought it to life.” Another nice touch: The stained glass motifs extend to the branding on brewery’s crowlers.

A focus on German-style beers over hoppy IPAs

There are signs that Columbus is starting to suffer from IPA burnout, and the owners of Gemüt have taken notice. Although Gemüt plans to partner with an outside brewery for an IPA, Gemüt’s on-site seven-barrel system will focus on German-style lagers and ales, with a helles, dunkel and hefeweizen leading the pack. 

“A lot of service industry people just drink lagers. You ask the brewers what they’re drinking and half the time they're just drinking some cheap American lager—something yellow and cold,” Hofmeister says. “That’s the kind of beer that we like, so we said, ‘Let’s just take that back to its roots. … There’s room in this town for a lager house for sure.”

To start, Gemüt will pour its Alfheim Hefeweizen and Woden’s Hunt Dunkel, while other beers like the Helheim Helles and Huginn Kolsch come online. Several guest taps are already pouring German beers such as Reissdorf Kolsch and Weihenstephaner Original.

Wursts, duck schnitzel and kebapi

Heading the kitchen at Gemüt is chef Adam Yoho, a restaurant veteran who brings with him experience in German fare. Most recently, Yoho was executive chef at the new Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse in Columbus, but before moving to Central Ohio to be closer to family, Yoho ran a German bistro called Otto’s in Fredericksburg, Texas.

Yoho’s menu is mostly traditional German fare, such as sausages, several types of schnitzels (including Yoho’s special duck schnitzel, a dish he brought from Otto’s) and flammkuchen (the pizza-like German delicacy topped with creme fraiche, caramelized onion, arugula and cheese). Though outside the restaurant’s German focus, the Macedonian kebapi, hand-rolled sausages based on Rennie’s family recipe, are not to be missed. Unlike most of her grandmother’s dishes, Rennie says, the kebapi are easy to make and, based on my visit this week, even easier to eat.