Columbus Beer Guide: The Brewpubs

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly
Barley's Brewing Co.

Columbus' current boom in craft beer dates back to the late 1980s and early 1990s. At the time, brewing laws dictated that breweries serving directly to customers also had to serve food, which is why Columbus' oldest craft breweries are also accomplished eateries.

Columbus Brewing Co. & Restaurant

Although sharing similar names, the Columbus Brewing Co. and the restaurant operate independently of one another. The brewery was started in 1988 with Scott Francis as head brewer; Eric Bean took over in 2005. Bean has powered a lineup of notable IPAs, including GABF winners. CBC beers may have the farthest reach of any in Columbus, with bottles distributed around Central and Northeast Ohio, and award-winners like the Creeper imperial IPA drawing enthusiasts from out of state. The brewpub began life as a Cameron Mitchell Restaurant before being purchased by the former general manager and a long-time customer. Although the brewing operations are moving to the West Side, the brewpub continues to pair CBC beers with pub fare like pizzas, jambalaya and pot roast.

Smokehouse Brewing

Originally named Barley's Smokehouse, Smokehouse Brewing has always differentiated itself by focusing its menu on pit barbecue dishes like smoked wings, racks of ribs and brisket. Lenny Kolada sold off his part of Barley's Brewing in 2012 to focus exclusively on the smokehouse, and the recent name change and the hiring of new head brewer Sam Hickey have further solidified its identity. The brewery continues to pair smoked meats with its predominantly English-style beers, but Hickey is introducing some of his expertise at brewing Belgian styles and playing with house-cultivated yeast strains.

Elevator Brewing

Elevator is the most ornate of the brewery restaurants. Its century-old Downtown digs have been lovingly restored to include a detailed tile floor, polished woodwork throughout and a massive, long mahogany bar. The menu scores the most points with its seafood, like an IPA mussels appetizer, pilsner corn-battered fish and chips and its signature surf and turf rock fillet which has diners sear meat on a sizzling rock at the table. To showcase the brewery's work, Elevator offers two beer education programs: the MBA (Masters of Beer Appreciation) and the Ph.D. (Professor of Hearty Drinking). Students must visit every month to taste a specialty brew and get their card punched. Studious drinkers can earn a diploma, pint glass and other swag.

Barley's Brewing Co.

Opened in 1992, Barley's has done the hard work of introducing thirsty patrons to the glories of craft beer. The crew has paved the way with loveable English styles, from the malty MacLenny's Scottish Ale (named after founder Lenny Kolada) to the cloudy and citrusy Blood Thirst Wheat, made with blood oranges. The brewpub serves pub classics like burgers, wings and sandwiches. Barley's has also played host to an annual home brewing competition, with the winner's brew produced for mass consumption.

The Godfather of the Local Brewing Scene

It's fair to say much of the Columbus brewing scene owes its existence to J. Scott Francis. As owner of the Winemaker's Shop for more than 40 years, he's advised hundreds of home brewers. In 1988 he brewed the first beers for Columbus Brewing Co.-the city's first craft brewery since the early 1970s. Then in 1992, Lenny Kolada tapped Francis to brew for Barley's Brewing Co. in the Arena District. Francis also helped Kolada open Barley's Smokehouse (now Smokehouse Brewing) in Grandview. Francis went on to establish nano-breweries at country clubs in New Albany and Hideaway Hills. Now, Francis is the brewer at Temperance Row Brewing in Westerville.