Jackie O's eyes a spring opening for its Fourth Street brewpub

Andy Downing

John Clift didn’t expect Jackie O’s to open a Columbus location in 2020. 

For the past seven years, Clift, who’s been with the Athens-based brewer since the mid-2000s, has been on the hunt for a space to bring Jackie O’s to Columbus the first city outside of Athens to which the brewery delivered. (Clift recalled making the first deliveries via car to Weiland’s Market in Clintonville.) But once the pandemic hit last year, Clift reasoned that any Columbus expansion would likely be tabled until at least 2022.

“But then this place came open, and even just walking through it, this felt like Jackie O’s in Columbus,” Clift said recently during a masked tour of the former Elevator Brewing space on Fourth Street Downtown. Since December, Jackie O’s has operated a curbside retail space out of the location (orders can be placed online here), and current plans for opening the brewpub are targeting May, should the coronavirus allow for it. “We always wanted an older building, something with some character. … And it was always going to be a brewery. There was never a second thought about the concept. It always had to be a place where the liquid was being made.”

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Of course, there’s still significant work to be done before brewing can begin at Fourth Street. Current plans call for the removal of 75 percent of the tanks and fermenters currently occupying half of the 5,800-square-foot downstairs space (the second floor includes an additional 3,000 square feet that could be converted into an events space in the future). This will reduce the location’s brewing capacity and open up additional seating in the cavernous space, which is dotted with skylights that introduced a welcome natural light even on a cloudy January afternoon. Clift said that most of the beer brewed at Jackie O’s on Fourth, which he envisions seating somewhere between 250 and 350 people, would be served on-site in the brewpub’s taps, though the occasional keg would likely make its way from Columbus to Athens.

In addition to the coming internal renovations, the brewery plans to take full advantage of its small, Fourth Street-facing patio, incorporating a third garage door into the structure that, with all three opened, will give the space an indoor-outdoor feel, expanding seating opportunities as we enter into spring and summer months that will hopefully coincide with a decline in the pandemic.

“In the spring, people want to be outside more anyway, and I think they’ll just lean a little more toward that even as everyone’s getting vaccinated and things are getting a little healthier,” said Clift, who is serving as general manager at Fourth Street.

Ideally, by late summer, Clift hopes the location will produce its first on-site beers, though it has yet to be determined what that focus might be. There’s some talk of brewing a lager, but the brewery hasn’t yet conducted tests on the composition of the water at the location, which could have a pivotal role in determining any direction taken. At the Athens brewery, for example, Clift said the water is ideally suited to the big, boldly flavored dark beers for which Jackie O’s is often celebrated.

“The water in Athens, Ohio, is just right for doing giant stouts. … So we’re taking that lesson that maybe you don’t want to force anything in a direction, and you want to work with what you’ve got,” Clift said. 

Regardless, the intention is to let the Columbus location develop its own voice over time, operating within established traditions but not functioning as a clone of the Athens brewery.

“There’s a kind of culture we want to represent, and things we feel we’ve achieved successfully down there that we want to replicate … but we’ll also be doing completely different things up here,” said Clift, noting that Columbus staffers would also spend time at the Athens locations as a means of absorbing these traditions. “We’re not going to produce Mystic Mama. I imagine all kinds of new beers that have never been made popping out of here. … The liquid being made here will create its own identity beyond Athens.”