Now that we’ve closed the books on 2015 it’s time to look back on the year in beer in Central Ohio. Once again there was much to celebrate as growth of the craft brewing industry showed no signs of slowing down. No less than seven new breweries officially opened their doors in 2015—Temperance Row in Westerville (soft opening in 2014), Lineage in Clintonville, Pigskin in Gahanna, Knotty Pine in Grandview, Ill Mannered in Powell, Restoration Brew Worx in Delaware, and Brew Brothers inside the Scioto Downs Racino. Brew Dog announced they would be locating their North American production facility south of Columbus in Canal Winchester. Columbus Craft Beer Week was launched, challenging the conventionally held notion that a week consists of seven days.
Four String opened a shiny new production facility on the west side. Columbus Brewing Company is also moving out to the west side, but as of this point in time that move is still a work in progress. Hoof Hearted upgraded their brewing capacity, but not nearly enough to satisfy the insatiable demand for their hoppy, irreverently branded brews. Land Grant Brewing was honored by the Ohio Made Awards as the Outstanding Ohio Brand. Local breweries doubled down on cans, as in-house canning lines were purchased and installed at Land Grant, Actual, Four String, and North High Brewing. More expansion is on the way with Barley’s, Hoof Hearted, Rockmill, Wolf’s Ridge and Zaftig announcing plans for new facilities and/or locations in 2016.
What follows is a list of eleven beers that make me happy to call Central Ohio my home. I’ve limited my focus to beers that were either introduced in 2015, are flying well below the radar, or did something noteworthy this past year, like being packaged for the first time or winning a major award. In compiling the list I did solicit feedback from people that I respect, but in the end the choices are based solely on my opinions and tastes, such as they are. Bear in mind that I didn’t sample every new beer that appeared in the past 12 months, though not for lack of trying. Apologies in advance if I missed something deserving. Without further delay here are the Pat’s Pints Beers of the Year, in order of increasing abv.
Touche de Gris by Lineage (Grissette, 4.2% abv)
The first entry on the list epitomizes several popular trends in the US craft beer industry. A small neighborhood brewery revives an all but forgotten historical style and the resulting beer is both sour and sessionable. Grissette, a close cousin of Saison, was traditionally brewed for miners in Northern France as a low abv workday thirst quencher. Lineage’s version employs both wheat and spelt in the grain bill, and relies on kettle souring for a crisp, clean tartness. I’m assuming the name, which translates as Touch of Grey, is inspired by the Grateful Dead song and not the men’s hair dye. While there are no working mines in Clintonville, this beer gets my vote for the best summertime thirst quencher in Franklin County. Look for it to reappear next summer, and in the meantime keep your eyes open for other kettle sours at Lineage, all of which are worthy of seeking out.
Greenskeeper by Land Grant (Session IPA, 4.7% abv)
In a short period of time Session IPAs have gone from a novelty to one of the most popular styles of craft beer. In its first year as an official BJCP style category there were 161 entries in the Session IPA category at the 2015 Great American Beer Festival. There are several locally brewed options, but my favorite is Greenskeeper by Land Grant Brewing. Made with six different varieties of hops it’s got more aromatic hop presence than most full-fledged IPAs, yet retains enough residual sweetness to maintain drinkability and some semblance of balance. As an added bonus you can find the attractive matte green cans year round throughout Central Ohio. Other quality local options include Seventh Son’s Oast and CBC’s Dalton.
Clear Sky Daybreak by Wolf’s Ridge (Cream Ale, 5.0% abv)
It was a breakout year for Wolf’s Ridge Brewing. In January they opened a taproom, which made it so much easier to stop by the brewery for a pint. In June the brewery collected two medals at the San Diego International Beer Festival—a gold for Dire Wolf Imperial Stout and a bronze for Buchenrauch Smoked Lager (a beer that made my 2014 list). Finally they jumped head first into the world of coffee infused beers. Brewmaster Chris Davison infused styles ranging from Imperial Stout to Doppelbock to Hefeweizen with various blends of locally roasted coffee, but the most notable and widely available is their Clear Sky Cream Ale infused with whole coffee and vanilla beans. This blonde, fruity, slightly sweet beer will change your perception of coffee beers. Click here to read my full review.
Mogabi by Elevator (American Wheat Beer, 5.5% abv)
It was a good year for Ohio at the Great American Beer Festival, with ten medals coming back to the Buckeye state. Only one of those was captured by a Central Ohio brewery, a bronze in the American Wheat Beer category for Elevator’s Mogabi Hoppy Wheat. Interestingly when Elevator tried to enter Mogabi in the same category five years ago they were told it didn’t fit the style guidelines because it was too hoppy. That’s tells you something about the way American craft beer is trending. The award was a wake-up call for many of us (at least for me) that in the quest to try the latest, greatest beers we might be overlooking some gems that have been right in front of our noses. I revisited Mogabi after the festival and was reminded how well the big citrus notes from the American hops work with the slightly slightly sweet, tangy flavors of the wheat.
Tenacity by Actual (Brett Beer, 5.75% abv)
Central Ohio breweries have been a little slow getting into the world of sour and wild ales, but when you think about the patience needed to make a barrel aged sour you can understand why. To make this beer the brewers at Actual first brewed two different base beers, blended them in used Woodford Reserve Bourbon barrels, then let two different strains of funky Brettanomyces yeast complete the fermentation over the next eleven months. The resulting beer possesses a complexity that few local beers can match; notes of pineapple and tart blackberries, a touch of brett funk, and an approachable sourness from the lactic and acetic acids. Click here to read my full review. Lovers of Brett beers were treated to a second option in late December as Seventh Son released Winterborne, a beer fermented entirely with Brettanomyces yeast. It’s on tap now at Seventh Son and I highly recommend it.
Ulysses by Barley’s (Imperial Red, 7.5% abv)
Borrowing a page from Hollywood, Barley’s brewmaster Angelo Signorino took an old favorite, Barley’s Irish Red, and brewed a bigger, badder 21st century sequel named Ulysses. Made with five different types of malts, Ohio honey, and dark candi sugar, the malt base of this beer is an irresistibly delicious mix of butterscotch, caramel and honey, accented by a healthy dose of British hops. The rich and luxurious mouthfeel could easily fool you into thinking this was a barrel aged beer. It debuted in time for Saint Patrick’s day this past year and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it will reappear this March.
Konkey Dong by Hoof Hearted (Double IPA, 8.0% abv)
I think it is safe to say that no one’s beer was more coveted in 2015 than the hoppy ales coming out of Hoof Hearted. Early in the year they installed a new 15 barrel brewing system and moved to a new location that while still fairly remote at least does not require cohabitation with livestock. Every time the mobile canning system came out to Morrow County hundreds of people queued up to snag freshly canned product. It is no enviable task trying to choose just one Hoof Hearted beer to put on this list. The can release party for Dragonsaddle Triple IPA was completely off the chains, with all 270 cases of beer selling out in just over two hours. I went to a blind tasting event at the Daily Growler and everyone in my party chose Roller Blabe DIPA as the best of a four beer flight that also featured Bodhi, CBC Yakima Fresh Hop, and Hoof Hearted’s South of Eleven. In the end I chose the über fruity, impenetrably hazy Konkey Dong over Roller Blabe by the narrowest of margins, in part because it’s the only Central Ohio beer with its own video game, and in part because I had a glass on New Year’s Eve so its deliciousness is still freshly imprinted on my brain. Expect another big year for Hoof Hearted with things on track for an early February opening of their Italian Village brewpub.
Defaced by Sideswipe (Imperial Red, 9.0% abv)
I know we’ve already had one imperial red ale, but when I tried this beer over the holidays I knew I it would be a crime to leave it off the list. It’s been many moons since Sideswipe released a new bottled beer, but the wait was worth it. Each drink packs a 1-2 punch that starts with rich caramel and toffee flavors and finishes with a wave of citrusy American hops. A combination that reminds me of caramel coated oranges. As an additional bonus the price tag of $7 for a 22 oz bomber is a bargain compared to most of the other higher abv beers on this list. Click here to read my full review.
Golden Delicious by Staas (Belgian Golden Strong, 9.3% abv)
Delaware’s Staas Brewing is a little off the beaten path for many of us, and their tiny half-barrel Brew Magic brewing system means that the vast majority of their beer is sold on premises, but the quality of Liz and Donald Staas’ Belgian and English Ales makes a trip out to Delaware worthwhile. Once you get there the next dilemma is choosing from a list of dozen beers. You can’t go wrong with a pint of ESB from the beer engine, or a snifter of the Belgian Quad based on a family recipe and dripping with dark fruits, but my favorite is the aptly named Golden Delicious. It’s a Belgian golden strong ale that combines fruity esters reminiscent of pears and apples with subtle hefeweizen-like flavors of bubble gum and clove. It’s technically not a new beer, but I first discovered one of Ohio’s best Belgian-style beers in 2015 so I’m including it anyway.
Cask Aged Noir by Rockmill (BA Black Saison, 10% abv)
Ohio’s best known farmhouse brewery starts with their Saison Noir, an interesting beer that combines the dark malts of a Schwartzbier with the fruity, peppery spiciness of a saison yeast. Rockmill then turns the flavors up to 11 by aging in Middle West Spirits whiskey barrels. The the malts are long on chocolate and short on bitter roastiness and the vanilla from the barrel is to die for. It packs an unbelievably rich and complex flavor profile but somehow manages to avoid being overly sweet or heavy. If this was a rank ordered list, this beer would be a strong contender for the number one spot. Click here to read my full review.
Bourbon Barrel Oubliette by Seventh Son (BA Imperial Stout, 11.5% abv)
There was no shortage of barrel aged stouts to hit the market in 2015. Count yourself lucky if you were able to sample rum barrel aged versions of either Dire Wolf (Wolf’s Ridge) or Beard Crumbs (Land Grant). Bourbon barrel aged versions of Fat Julian (Actual) and BamBaLam (Zaftig) were decadently delicous. Choosing a favorite is like picking your favority Christopher Guest movie, but I’m going with Seventh Son’s Oubliette Imperial Stout aged in bourbon barrels. The base beer Oubliette (the French term for a dungeon accessible only through a ceiling trap door) is bursting with intense flavors including an unusually hoppy nose for an Imperial Stout. Although the extended barrel aging causes it to lose some hop aroma, the loss is more than compensated by the addition of luxurious aromas and flavors of vanilla and oaky bourbon.