A brewery's distinctive aroma, and the history of Flytown

When the Budweiser brewery aroma wafts across the northern part of the city in the summertime, what are we smelling? It’s very distinctive.
That aroma—quite distinctive, as you noted—comes from the steps of malting, mashing, wort and fermentation. All beers follow these same steps, but careful manipulation of them, along with added ingredients and maybe a little of the brewmaster’s sixth sense, is what makes all those suds so appealing—not to mention their availability from several dozen breweries operating in Columbus and environs.

So what are all those steps? You home brewers will recognize them: Malting is the soaking of grain in water until it sprouts and then drying it; it’s common for brewers to buy already-malted grain from maltsters. Mashing is when water is mixed with malted grain and heated to activate enzymes that change starches into sugars. Wort is the liquid that results. In the next step, the wort is boiled, and at this point hops are added to give the beer that “bite” or bitter taste. Then yeast is added to begin fermentation, which converts the sugars to alcohol. There are finishing steps such as filtering, and some brewers pasteurize, but these four are the basic ones.

As for that aroma, it’s very moist and grainy, right? It actually can come from any one of the steps, but the boiling of the wort creates a lot of steam that has to be vented, so that’s the likely source of the aroma we smell. If you want to learn more, any of the local brewers will be happy to give you more information—don’t just take my wort for it.

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Somewhere in Columbus was a neighborhood called “Flytown.” Where was it, and what’s there now?
The creation of Goodale Park in 1851 spurred housing and retail development around it, including the area immediately to the west and all the way to the Olentangy River. The street grid was laid out from Buttles Avenue on the north to Spruce Street on the south. As early as 1879, it had the decidedly informal name of “Flytown”—but not because of some insect infestation.

As our city’s economy grew quickly after the Civil War, people flooded into town seeking work. The area west of Neil Avenue, in particular, developed rapidly with small, closely spaced and mostly wood-frame houses that offered affordable homes to workers. The fast pace of growth inspired the Flytown name, so it’s said, because buildings seemed to “fly up” overnight. The neighborhood welcomed all kinds of people—white and African American migrants from Appalachia and the South, and foreign immigrants seeking a new life in America.

Flytown, however, was something of a forgotten area, short on public services and even basic maintenance. By the mid-20th century, it was badly run-down, a prime candidate for the urban renewal movement of the era. Over time, pretty much all of Flytown west of Neil Avenue was replaced by the Westminster-Thurber complex, new residential and commercial buildings and the ramps and lanes of the Route 315 and I-670 freeways. Even the street grid was remade into a more suburban pattern. Flytown lives on, though, in the hearts, minds and memories of families with roots there.

Sources: Eric Butler, sales manager, Wolf’s Ridge Brewing; Anheuser-Busch InBev Consumer Hotline; Columbus, Franklin County atlases; radio.wosu.org/curious-cbus

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Jeff Darbee is a preservationist, historian and author in Columbus. Send your questions to cityquotient@columbusmonthly.com, and the answer might appear in a future column.