Inside Wolf's Ridge Brewing's Downtown taproom

Anthony Dominic, Crave

"Why not specialize in one style of beer?"

This question has been posed to Chris Davison, head brewer at Wolf's Ridge Brewing, over and over throughout his career.

" 'You'll get better at that one style,' " peers have told him, reassuringly. But this isn't the way his brewer's mind works. Davison is a home-brewer at heart and values experimentation.

In late January, Wolf's Ridge opened its new taproom behind its Downtown restaurant, giving Davison 20 new tap lines with which to do just that. It's a brewer's playground, the former Columbus Brewing Co. brewer says.

"I wanted to have that freedom to brew more recipes and more varied styles," he says. "We like that here, and our customers do, too."

The taproom is situated in a separate, 2,000-square-foot space behind Wolf's Ridge's North 4th Street restaurant. (There's a street entrance near the corner of Lazelle and Hickory streets.) Its high ceiling, sleek tables and exposed brick are reminiscent of the restaurant dining room, but the space is far more casual, with TVs, a small fireplace and plenty of standing room.

In preparation for the opening, Davison spent months honing Wolf's Ridge standards, like the Clear Sky cream ale, while perfecting his own additions. The stars: his Dire Wolf imperial stouts. The base is a big, dark, roast-y ale with chocolate and coffee notes. He created four variations with chocolate, coconut, coffee and pepper.

The stout's coffee version, brewed with an espresso blend from Short North roaster One Line Coffee, has been the favorite so far, he says, while the pepper riff offered an opportunity to collaborate with the restaurant's kitchen, led by chef Seth Lassak.

"It's great to have that insight, to have those chefs on hand to pop in and ask a question or when working with strange ingredients," Davison says.

Most of Wolf's Ridge current beers are on the boozy side (think 7 to 11 percent alcohol-by-volume), but Davison made a point to add a highly drinkable helles-style pale lager (5 percent alcohol-by-volume) to the lineup, called Golden Standard.

Not a beer drinker? The bar also offers house cocktails and several draft wines from California-based Pacific Standard.

For the time being, restaurant orders cannot be placed from the taproom. Instead, the bar offers a simple menu of small bites, like pickled veggies and barbecue pork rinds. The kitchen will occasionally prep a special for the taproom, like paczkis on Fat Tuesday.

In coming months, Davison is brewing a new saison, farmhouse-style ale and a black IPA, both of which will be available in the taproom. There are also plans to regularly host live music in the space by summer.