Community feature: Drink Up Columbus toasts to seven years

Erica Thompson
Cheryl Harrison

The first craft beer Cheryl Harrison fell in love with was Bell's Two Hearted Ale. “I didn't know beer could taste like that,” she said in an early-May interview at a Gahanna restaurant. “I'd been drinking whatever crap in college. [I thought], ‘This is exciting. I want to explore this more.'”

That was back in 2010, just before the craft beer scene exploded in Columbus. In 2011, Harrison launched the alcohol blog Drink Up Columbus with a group of friends, but a few months in her co-founders got busy or moved way.

“I was left … holding this new site wondering if it was worth continuing,” Harrison said. “And then all these breweries started opening up. … [They] kept reaching out to me, and I didn't want to not tell their story, so I kept it going and I'm very glad I did.”

Seven years and over 1,000 articles later, Drink Up Columbus has become a go-to source for news and reviews about Central Ohio breweries, bars and distilleries. Though it's still a modest operation Harrison runs in addition to a full-time job, the website has grown to include staff and contributing writers, as well as special events. And as part of Columbus Craft Beer Week, Harrison is throwing an anniversary party for Drink Up Columbus on Monday, May 14 in the Underground at Barley's Brewing Company.

“It's been really lovely and interesting to watch Drink Up Columbus stay strong and relevant through the growth of craft beer,” said staff writer Abby Hofrichter, who views the website as “a small business news outlet.”

“I try not to call it a beer blog,” she continued. “It does try to stay as neutral as possible and just give people the facts.”

While it often seems there's a new brewery opening every week in Columbus, Harrison believes the city is far from being oversaturated.

“I think there's plenty of room,” she said. “There are still neighborhoods in Columbus that don't have a brewery, and there's neighborhoods like Clintonville that I think can support two or three more easily because there's plenty of beer drinkers there. I'm one of them.”

But there is competition among breweries to remain innovative, especially as consumers pressure them for new products. “The big one right now is New England IPAs,” Harrison said. “I feel like every brewery has to try to make one of those. … It's kinda hard for breweries that only make four or five flagship beers … to sell into certain bars and restaurants because they only want whatever's new on tap, even if it's not necessarily good.”

Another trend Harrison has noticed is an increase in women drinking craft beer and working in the industry. She could tell the difference by studying the attendees of the national Craft Brewers Conference. Several years ago, she remembers noticing only a dozen women among thousands. This year, she estimates women were 40 percent of the crowd.

While women work in all areas of the field, brewing positions are largely held by men, even though, historically, women were brewers in agricultural society.

“Women have to fight their way back into something that they had been doing for thousands of years and are perfectly capable of doing,” Harrison said.

In addition to Drink Up Columbus, Harrison also co-founded the Columbus Ale Trail four years ago. The goal is to visit all participating breweries and get the trail book stamped for prizes. Two years ago, 600 people completed the trail. Last year, the number increased to 2,500.

“I'm really proud of it. I haven't been to a brewery since we started it [without seeing] one person with an Ale Trail book.”

And as for Drink Up Columbus, Harrison has no plans to stop anytime soon.

“I will do it until I don't enjoy doing it anymore,” she said. “I still get lots of free beer. I still get to talk to lots of fun people. … It's just an interesting life still.”

Barley's Brewing Company

6-9 p.m. Monday, May 14

467 N. High St., Short North