Suburban Flight – A closer look at Ill Mannered Brewing

What’s your favorite Central Ohio brewery?  With the number of choices rapidly approaching 30 it’s a daunting, subjective task akin to picking your favorite David Bowie album, but that doesn’t stop people from trying.  One such attempt is the Columbus Underground reader’s poll of the best microbreweries in Columbus (strange that they still use the term microbreweries).  For the past three years Seventh Son has topped their list, which isn’t too surprising given their Italian Village location, the chill vibe of the taproom, and the lineup of seriously tasty hop forward ales.  In 2013 and 2014 Columbus Brewing Company held down the number two spot, but this year’s list featured two relative newcomers wedged between the perennial favorites—Land Grant and Ill Mannered captured the #2 and #3 slots.  Judging from comments on social media there were a few people surprised to see Ill Mannered, a suburban nanobrewery that had been open for only a few months, debut at such a lofty position.  So I headed up to Powell with Pat’s Pints photographer Mark Richards to see firsthand if one of Central Ohio’s youngest breweries is worthy of such praise.

tasting flight ill mannered

Making the Leap

How many of you have at least dabbled in homebrewing?  Maybe you received a Mr Beer kit for Christmas or helped out a neighbor who brews in his garage (which is a great gig because it mostly involves drinking beer while watching water boil).  The basic process is simple enough to allow a novice to make drinkable beer.  With a bit of equipment and a little experience homebrewers can make good, sometimes exceptional, beer.  A select few homebrewers have the skill and passion to consider the next logical step—opening a nanobrewery.  In a day and age where the number of breweries in the US is at an all time high the barrier to entry has never been lower, but it’s still a pretty scary move to go from hobby to business.  Last year long time friends Tom Ayers, Greg Dannemiller, Brian Mathias, and Ryan Romer-Jordan decided time was right to take that leap.

Of the many obstacles that must be navigated to open a brewery no step is more critical than choosing your location.  There are only so many people willing to drive out to a muddy farm field or a utilitarian industrial park to buy beer. You don’t have to be an economist to know that locating in a place with high demand and low supply is optimal. The Ill Mannered team figured that Powell would meet both criteria.  Not only is there no brewery within an 8 mile radius, Zaftig being the closest option, the success of establishments like The Daily Growler and Kraft House #5 suggests that the people of Powell love a good craft beer.

The next step is to get some equipment, and all of that shiny stainless steel doesn’t come cheap.  So the four partners pooled their savings to finance the purchase of an all-electric brewing system from Bru Gear.  The smallish 3 BBL system allows them to brew batches 93 gallons at a time (that’s 6 kegs per batch).  Then you have to navigate what must seem like a never ending pile of paperwork to get the necessary permits.

After you’ve got the space, equipment, and permits it should be easy street, right? Let’s do some simple business math.  A barrel of beer (31 gallons) yields approximately 250 pints and the brewing system at Ill Mannered can produce one 3 barrel batch per week.  If Ill Mannered sold all of their beer at $6 per pint that would translate to 3 barrels × 250 pints/barrel × $6/pint = $4,500 in gross sales per week.  That number goes down significantly if you sell kegs to other establishments.  Once you pay for ingredients, rent, utilities, insurance, free samples for beer bloggers, etc. it’s pretty easy to see that a nanobrewery doesn’t generate enough revenue to provide a living wage for a four person operation.  Translated into simple terms, don’t quit your day job.  In their “off-time” the Ill Mannered co-owners serve beer at the taproom four evenings a week (Wed-Sat).  Each Sunday two of the four partners spend their day brewing, putting in an 8-9 hour shift to brew that week’s batch of beer.  Such is the life of a professional nanobrewer.

While each of the co-owners is involved in making and serving of beer, there’s a lot more to operating a small business than boiling wort and slinging suds. Ayers handles the marketing and brewing operations. Dannemiller oversees the taproom and procurement. Mathias is the craftsman of the group, and Romer-Jordan takes care of the finances.

ill mannered fermenters2
The all-electric three barrel brewing system at Ill Mannered.

Taproom/Brewery

  • Website: illmanneredbeer.com
  • Address: 30 Grace Drive, Powell, OH 430655
  • Hours: Wed-Fri 5–10 pm, Sat 3–10 pm
  • Prices: Beers come in $2, $4 and $6 pours, or $15 per growler
  • Food: No, but you can bring in outside food

When we arrive it’s about half past three on a rainy Saturday in early January.  The taproom occupies a middle space in a small single story commercial building not too far from downtown Powell. Even though they’ve only been open for thirty minutes the half dozen seats at the bar are all taken, as is one of the two tables that sit in the relatively small area between the bar and the front wall.  The brewing equipment takes up the back half, and then some, of the 1000 square foot space.  Although similar in size to the informal taprooms of local breweries like Zaftig and Sideswipe the taproom at Ill Mannered is laid out a little cleaner, more like a bar and less like the living room of a college apartment.  The walls are covered in repurposed pallets and patrons sit either at the bar or one of two handmade wooden tables, rather than on hand me down couches.

Tom Ayers and Greg Dannemiller are working the taproom when we arrive, and Tom greets us as we step up the bar.  Naturally we each order a full flight of beers.  I can’t help but notice that they have a couple dozen Speigelau IPA glasses near the taps, which I later find out are for the members of their taproom society.  That’s a sign of people who take their beer seriously, the Speigelau glasses aren’t cheap.  The flights are served in tasting paddles made from old growth oak, and cost $8 for a flight of five.  A few minutes later, beers in hand, we relocate to the one unoccupied table to conduct our research.  As I look around the taproom my eyes can’t help but be drawn to the hand blown mugs that hang above the front window. Each personalized mug belongs to someone, many of them family members or friends, who made an investment in the brewery to help get it up and running.  They add an artistic, classy touch to the taproom.

mug club ill mannered
The most artistic mug club in Central Ohio.

Beers

JAFB owner/brewmaster Paul Fryman once told me that if you are angling to be a neighborhood brewery you better have something on tap to keep everyone happy.  Ill Mannered’s tap list seems to adhere to this philosophy.  Later when talking with Ayers he tells us that they try to keep something easy drinking, something hoppy, something dark, and something Belgian on tap at all times. On the day we visited they were pouring a blonde ale (Ill Manna Slamma), a west coast amber (License to Ill), an oatmeal brown stout (Smooth Jazz), a Belgian Dubbel (The Ill Monk), an IPA (POWELL! Right in the Kisser), and a winter wheat (Stoic Pine).  The blonde ale is nicely done and would be a great choice for a hot day or for anyone not looking to get too adventurous in their choice of beer.  License to Ill, which inevitably led to a conversation about the Beastie Boys, is spot on for a hoppy amber ale. The Ill Monk didn’t do that much for me, but it was just a sample so I’ll need to give it another try.  The last two—Stoic Pine and POWELL! Right in the Kisser—were excellent.

Stoic Pine is their winter seasonal made with red wheat, local honey from Honeyrun Farm, orange peels, piney hops, and Belgian yeast.  It’s a great combination that gives it a unique flavor profile, which is no easy feat in a world with tens of thousands of beers to choose from.  Unfortunately, it has already run its course this year, but look for it to reappear next December.  Powell! Right in the Kisser is made with fruity, tropical hops from the US and New Zealand giving it a juicy succulent aroma and taste.  It tends to alternate with their double IPA, Bitter Ex, on the menu board.  I’m not surprised to learn that these two hoppy ales are the best sellers.

menu board ill mannered
Who knew you could make old pallets look so classy.

If you are thinking about visiting Ill Mannered, Wednesdays would be a good time to do so because every Wednesday they infuse a house beer with something special.  Examples include the The Ill Monk infused with raspberries, pears and cherries; Stoic Pine infused with fresh Simcoe hops; License to Ill infused with bourbon soaked cherries, and Ill Manna Slamma infused with oranges.  Another angle that will appeal to the beer geeks out there (and if you are reading this blog I’m talking about you) is the nascent barrel aging program.  At this moment the Big Donkey Porter is maturing in a bourbon barrel from Middle West Spirits.  Customers can expect to see it on tap in very limited quantities sometime in February.

While most of the beer sales are still in house you can find Ill Mannered beers at a handful of outside locations. Powell residents looking for to satisfy their Ill Mannered fix on a Sunday, Monday or Tuesday can head to Local Roots, Kraft House No. 5, The Daily Growler, or Kinsale Country Club.  For Columbus residents with an aversion to suburban traffic, the best bets are the Daily Growler in Upper Arlington, the Ohio Taproom, or Gallo’s.

Summary

Is Ill Mannered the third best brewery in Central Ohio?  That’s a pretty tall order for a newly launched nanobrewery.  Is it worth the drive up to Powell to check them out?  Definitely.  The owners are passionate and knowledgeable about their beer.  The atmosphere in the taproom is convivial and welcoming.  No matter what kind of beer you like there is usually something for everyone, and the best beers are truly worth seeking out.  If you are still not sure about making the trip look for Ill Mannered at the upcoming High Gravity Hullaballoo and the Columbus Winter Beerfest and judge for yourself.

ill mannered taproom

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