Tastemakers 2017: Chris Davison of Wolf's Ridge Brewing
Why He's a Tastemaker
In a city bursting with breweries, it's both challenging and imperative for brewers to distinguish themselves. Consider what Chris Davison has done: He's brewed a steady supply for a full-service restaurant, cooked up interesting one-off beers for a taproom and created bottled beers for which beer geeks will line up. And he's won awards doing it.
The Homebrewer's Path
“It's weird that I brew beer now,” Davison says. “When I was young, I used to think I'd never drink. I had my first beer after I was 21. I had more money than a college kid, so I started with better stuff.” An interest in European imports and American breweries like Dogfish Head led him into the world of craft beer. “I realized I was trying more bad beer than good,” Davison says. “So I taught myself how to homebrew.” After working for UPS and looking for a career change, he opted for a position washing kegs at Columbus Brewing Company. By the end of the year he was brewing regularly; when Wolf's Ridge put out the call for a head brewer, he jumped at the chance.
Part of the draw of Wolf's Ridge was building a brewing program from the ground up. “I'm the kind of person that's never content,” Davison says. “I'm always trying to push the boundaries; I'm almost over-ambitious.” That work ethic has led him to successfully address the competing demands of an award-winning restaurant, a consistent roster of bottled beers (accounting for roughly 40 percent of their output) and the desire for interesting experimental brews.
All Bottled Up
Davison shares his bottled brews at release parties in the Wolf's Ridge taproom, which opened in 2015. “The releases happen whenever I choose to make one happen,” he jokes. He models the releases on Jackie O's Brewery in Athens. He would drive there from Columbus during his early days of beer geekdom, lining up in the freezing rain to buy rare bottles. The well-attended Wolf's Ridge releases are a chance for beer aficionados to empty out Davison's stock of brews like the bourbon barrel-aged Dire Wolf stout, the cinnamon-infused coffee cream ale (aptly named Cinnamon Toast Brunch) or the Rum Line stout crafted with One Line Coffee and aged in rum barrels. Pssst. Davison's sour beers are currently aging in barrels; a first release took place during Columbus Craft Beer Week.
One of Davison's greatest accomplishments is brewing so many styles precisely. Of the many medals he's collected, he's most proud of the awards from the San Diego International Beer Festival, a large-scale event drawing thousands of entries. In 2015, the brewery's Dire Wolf imperial stout took the gold for its category, while the Buchenrauch smoked lager took bronze. Last year Buchenrauch jumped up to gold, while the Clear Sky cream ale and Sustinator doppelbock took silvers. The fact that Davison has won multiple medals—in difficult styles, no less—is a testament to his work.
PREVIOUS GIGS Columbus Brewing Company and UPS
MUST-HAVE INGREDIENT Coffee. “It's become a daily staple to keep me happy and alert, but it's also a regular component of our beers, including Clear Sky Daybreak and Dire Wolf Canis Mexicanus.”
GO-TO DRINK Helles lager. “I love relaxing after work with a really clean, drinkable German lager.” My ‘house' beer that I used to always keep in my fridge was Augustiner Edelstoff.”
GO-TO SNACK Pretzels. “I probably eat a pound of them a week!”
DREAM DINNER DATES “I'd choose Jean van Roy (brewmaster at Cantillon, a Belgian brewery that helped resurrect the nearly extinct styles of lambic and gueuze), Gabriel Sedlmayr II (one of the fathers of modern lager) and Socrates.”