Get to know: Spruce Campbells Brewing Company, the city's next great brewery
There's a whole lotta local beer love in Columbus, but there's one name - that doesn't have its own brewery, yet - poised to bring out even more adoration. For some the moniker Spruce Campbells is familiar (and not because it references the man, the chin, the legend). Some know Spruce Campbells as a local band trading in psychedelic pop, others as an up-and-coming brewery operation that's already earned a substantial amount of buzz.
Jason Matthew Kusowski, the front man of both Spruce Campbells' music and beer endeavors, is never one to rest on his laurels, but more importantly he's a man of patience. If you've heard Spruce Campbells' music, you know Kusowski is meticulous. If you've sampled Spruce Campbells' beer, you know he's a perfectionist.
"We've been doing our due diligence to provide people with a superior quality product. We never wanted to open a brewery until we put in the time to make sure it's something to appreciate. We wanted to make sure we were as good as we could possibly be knowledge-wise," Kusowski said. "I'm constantly trying to learn, innovate and change because if you're going to do it, you have to be proud of it. We've been spending many years fine-tuning things in the shadows so that one day we can be that entity we want. If somebody is going to spend money on us and put in that trust, you have to be willing to give them what they expect - quality."
Kusowski has long been a home-brewer, making some top-level beers that would be offered at Spruce Campbells' shows. Now, along with business partner Andrew Park, Spruce Campbells is on the brink of spreading its wares to a larger audience. Kusowski - who earned a certification from Siebel Institute of Technology (a renowned brewing school in Chicago) and Doemens Academy (a German school that takes beer knowledge to a master-sommelier level) and is a certified Cicerone, one of the most advanced and difficult beer education achievements - is ready to make an impact on an already busy local brewing scene in a partnership with North High Brewing.
Spruce Campbells and North High brew Kusowski's recipes collaboratively and serve those on draft at the brewpub in the Short North. Kusowski and Park, who met at Siebel and Doemens, had been looking for the right local brewery to work with for a few months. They are testing recipes and perfecting the process before opening their full-fledged operation in Park's home of Seoul, South Korea in 2016.
"As I got to know my classmates, I got to see who was really passionate about beer and I was very fortunate to meet Jason. He was at a level where he didn't need to be in school, but was there to get the certification. The knowledge he had sometimes surpassed that of the instructors," Park said. "If you want a partner in your business, life, or whatever, you want to have the same vision, character, goals - and be very passionate."
Upon returning from South Korea, Kusowski and Park will open a Spruce Campbells facility in Columbus, but there's another, more immediate and exciting project already happening. Last fall, Kusowski, along with assistant brewers Rick Durham (head brewer at Luna Kombucha) and Rory Harms (assistant brewer at Mad Moon Cider), began Spruce Campbells' Native Funk project.
Native Funk requires a considerable effort, as the group dispersed autoclaved wort (dry malt extract, yeast nutrients and aged hops) to 73 locations around Columbus for a wild beer project slated for release in 2016.
"We have everything plotted on a map. We can even tell you if it was sitting under a tree, next to a garden. We loved to get in areas that had gardens or fruit, stuff where wild yeast hangs out," Kusowski said. "What we're trying to do is capture enough wild strains to start making beer in Columbus with microbes only found in Columbus."
The Native Funk project proved fruitful, resulting in the group identifying a number of yeast strains ideal for production. The project resulted in 11 strains of Brettanomyces (wild yeast), two Lactobacillus (lactic-acid-producing bacteria) and one particularly exciting strain of Schizosaccharomyces isolated with the help of Nick Long, a biochemistry PhD candidate at Ohio State.
"We stumbled on this strain of berry-flavored Schizosaccharomyces," Kusowski said. "We're going to have to run it through a gastro chromatograph to find what key esters it's putting off. Is it raspberry? Blackberry? Raspberry is actually really expensive to produce, so if we had a yeast strain that produced raspberry flavoring we could end up providing our yeast strain to produce raspberry flavoring all over the world," Kusowski said.
Schizosaccharomyces, Brettanomyces and Lactobacillus, oh my. While these may be foreign terms to most - and even some beer geeks - this is the level of dedication Kusowski envisions for Spruce Campbells.
"We'd rather make smaller-batch, higher-quality stuff that people really enjoy," Kusowski said. "This is our home base, where we're extracting wild yeast and … we're going into it with the notion that no matter how large we get, we're never going to sell beer outside Ohio. [That's] to show our dedication to the state and make people proud of Ohio. From the artwork (labels created by local artist Cyrus Fire) to the beer itself, we want this to be an encompassing, joyful experience. We'd love to have the die-hard loyalty of Three Floyds, the bizarre beers of a Jester King and the commitment to a home state like New Glarus in Wisconsin."
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