For the past two years I’ve made a list of my favorite Central Ohio beers of the past year. Before this January slips away entirely it’s time for my 2016 list. To be eligible a beer should be new (or at least new to me), newly packaged, flying under the radar, or have made waves in some fashion during the past year. Before we get to the list let’s take a moment to recap some of the more significant developments of the local beer scene over the past year.
The pace of brewery openings and expansions remained at a fever pitch. The trend of new breweries popping up in the suburbs continued. The class of 2016 included Kindred Artisan Ales (Gahanna), 2 Tones Brewing (Whitehall), Grove City Brewing (Grove City), and Three Tigers Brewing (Granville). It’s notable that all four are located outside of I-270, a trend that is likely to continue. Brewery expansions were just as prevalent. High gravity maestros Zaftig stepped their game up in a major way with the purchase of a gorgeous brew system from Portland Kettle Works, necessitating a move out of the glorified storage shed on Schrock road to a new bigger location in the shadow of the Budweiser plant. Columbus Brewing Company moved into new digs on the west side and started bottling perennial favorites like Bodhi, Creeper, and Sohio Stout. The old CBC space in the brewery district wasn’t vacant long. Columbus brewing veteran Lenny Kolada created Commonhouse Ales, Ohio’s first B-corporation brewery, to fill the void left by CBC. Rockmill opened up a brewery and restaurant in the old World of Beer location (check out Jim Ellison’s review here). Fittingly enough for a brewery whose logo is a horse, their brewery district location used to be the stable that housed the horses that delivered Hoster’s beer in its heyday. Hoof Hearted also gained a foothold in the city when they opened a brewpub on the increasingly sudsy section of N. 4th Street. The sleek Scandinavian design is an interesting counterpoint to the muddy farm fields of Marengo. As the days grew short Cleveland’s Platform Brewing opened a brewery and distribution center in Columbus, and west coast chain brewery The Ram opened a Columbus location in the Short North.
Brew Dog was often in the news, but as the sun set on 2016 we are still waiting for the first Ohio brewed batches of Punk IPA, Jack Hammer, and Cocoa Psycho. Nevertheless, their presence may have helped nudge the legislature to finally repeal Ohio’s ridiculous 12% abv limit. That opened the door to long forbidden high gravity darlings like Dogfish Head 120 Minute, Samichlaus, Perrin’s No Rules Vietnamese Porter, and many others. Not surprisingly Zaftig didn’t miss the chance to craft some potent brews, topping out (for now) at 16% abv with Ol’ Harvey, but for most Central Ohio breweries it was business as usual.
Enough news already, let’s get to the list. Despite my wife’s assertions that I attend a brewery opening, anniversary, or bottle release every weekend I’m in Columbus, I didn’t even come close to trying all of the new beers and one offs brewed in Central Ohio last year. So it’s altogether possible that one or more gems slipped by unnoticed by me. I’m sure you’ll let me know the most egregious omissions from the list.
Here they are in order of ascending abv.
Summer Sesh, Commonhouse Ales (Session IPA, 4.5% abv)
After a one year hiatus the King of Ohio contest returned this past autumn. This year’s session beer theme drew entries from nearly 60 Ohio breweries. Both the overall winner, Raspberry Beret from newly opened Streetside Brewing in Cincinnati, and the winner of the session IPA sub-category, Summer Sesh from Commonhouse Ales, were major upsets. Summer Sesh drinks like no other session IPA I’ve come across. The inclusion of wheat and oats in the malt bill gives an unexpectedly substantial and satisfying mouthfeel. The interplay between the venerable house yeast and a smorgasboard of fruity hops (Citra, Amarillo and Wakatu) produces spicy, fruity notes that are more reminiscent of a Belgian ale than a session IPA. If you missed your chance to get this beer last summer give the closely related Winter Sesh a try.
Pale Ale, North High Brewing (American Pale Ale, 5.5% abv)
North High Brewing stepped up their game in big way in 2016 putting out several beers that were contenders for this list. The David Bowie inspired Stardust to Stardust Double IPA was a hoplicious revelation. Grapefruit Walleye, a session IPA made with Citra hops and grapefruit, was a crushable summertime smash. The Norden Hoch Oktoberfest finished tied at the top of a strong field in my Oktoberfest blind taste test. In the end, I had to go with their Pale Ale on the basis of its silver medal winning performance in the über competitive American Pale Ale category at the World Beer Cup (Columbus’ only medal at last year’s WBC and GABF). The mixture of Mosaic and Nelson Sauvin hops gives a decidedly tropical character.
Home IPL, Land Grant Brewing (India Pale Lager, 6.0% abv)
I’ve heard people bemoan the paucity of locally brewed lagers on numerous occasions, but those folks obviously haven’t been paying close attention to what’s been going on down in Franklinton. Without much fanfare Land Grant has been putting out one tasty lager after another. The hit parade includes the Helles Lager Stevesy, the dark fruit notes of Deep Search Baltic Porter, the expressive pilsner malt profile of Pool Party, and the crimson tinged Skull Session Lager their Märzen-like ode to the TBDBITL. While I have a soft spot for Stevesy (there’s no place to hide flaws in Helles, and nothing to hide in this gem), my vote goes to Home India Pale Lager. This beer was brewed to commemorate the USA-Mexico World Qualifying match and featured over the top late/dry hop additions of some of the most distinctive American hops (Centennial, Cascade, Citra, Simcoe). Purists might say the onslaught of hops overwhelmed the lager character, but I couldn’t get enough of this beer. Here’s hoping we don’t have to wait four years to taste the next batch.
Juicy Lucy, Zaftig Brewing (India Pale Ale, 7.0% abv)
You probably thought I was going sneak in one of the high gravity offerings from Zaftig, maybe their retooled Too Cans IPA which has migrated up to 13.5% abv since the lifting of the abv limit, or the 16% abv Ol’ Harvey Russian Imperial Stout. No knock against those big hitters but for my palate it’s hard to beat Juicy Lucy. Effectively serving as Zaftig’s idea of a session beer, it pairs fruity hops with a caramel-forward malt backbone, when fresh it’s a treat akin to a medley of caramel coated citrus fruits.
Maker of Things, Little Fish Brewing (Flander’s Red, 7.5% abv)
I have to use the term Central Ohio liberally to include Athens-based Little Fish on the list, but these guys are making ales that demand attention. Barrel aged Woodthrush, a biere de garde aged in cabernet barrels, made a big splash when it won a gold medal at the World Beer Cup. Sunfish is a saison chock full of spicy phenols, fruity esters, and just enough tartness to turn the refreshment factor up to 11. Despite my adoration of these beers I’m giving the nod to Maker of Things Flander’s Red. Rodenbach has been acquiring and conditioning foeders for hundreds of years, while Little Fish has been at it for just over a year. The fact that the two beers can be discussed in the same conversation says all you need to know about this beer (but if you want to know more check out my profile of Little Fish Brewing or our podcast with owners Sean White and Jimmy Stockwell).
Citra Noel, Columbus Brewing Company (India Pale Ale, 7.3% abv)
In early December I restarted my Ohio vs the World blind taste test with a match between Sierra Nevada’s venerable Celebration Ale and CBCs brand spanking new take on a holiday themed IPA, Citra Noel. When the dust had cleared, it was a near unanimous TKO for the local favorite. CBC pairs rich caramel malt flavors with their penchant for massive late/dry (Citra) hop additions to create a holiday classic that is a hop bomb on the nose but treads with a light touch when it comes to bitterness. Let’s hope this one will be around for years to come.
Obscura Obscura, Lineage Brewing (Golden Stout, 7.9% abv)
I’m a sucker for a good coffee beer, particularly when you least expect it. Based on a tip from Cheryl Harrison I dropped into Lineage back in November and became immediately enamored with this golden stout. The base beer is an English blonde but the addition of coffee, cocoa nibs, and vanilla produces a flavor profile that cannot be anticipated from its appearance. To make what is already a tasty beer completely irresistible they serve it on nitro in the taproom.
Four Seas Imperial IPA, Barley’s Brewing (Double IPA, 8% abv)
While this beer isn’t new, when talking to people I realized that it’s so far under the radar that many people are completely oblivious to its existence. Brewmaster Angelo Signorino doesn’t hold anything back in this old school IPA that features the classic four C hops—Cascade, Centennial, Chinook, and Columbus. It’s fruity, earthy, and piney with a sweet pale malt base and packs a 120 IBU punch. Let’s just say no one is going to confuse this beer with a glass of orange juice or white wine. This is how people used to make Double IPAs, every once in while its good to remember the world as it used to be.
Bodhi, Columbus Brewing Company (Double IPA, 8.5%)
As soon as plans for the CBC expansion were announced people’s anticipation for the release of bottled Bodhi started building. In April, Columbus Dispatch reporter J.D. Malone asked owners Eric and Beth Bean when we might expect to see bottles of Bodhi. In his normal close to the vest style Eric replied “We don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves”, while Beth provided a more realistic appraisal “But people might kill us if we don’t bottle Bodhi soon.” As it turned out Christmas for Central Ohio hopheads came in July when bottles of the Columbus’ original must have beer were made available. For the next month or two hopheads stalked the CBC delivery truck and posted sightings on facebook. Not a bad buzz for a beer that first debuted six years ago.
Barrel Aged Bison Imperial Stout, Homestead Beer Co. (Imperial Stout, 10% abv)
To no one’s surprise barrel aging remained a hot trend in 2016. I tasted Ohio beers aged in bourbon barrels, rum barrels, wine barrels, gin barrels, and scotch whisky barrels among others. Mad Tree’s Joon (a kolsch aged in gin barrels) was delicious, as was almost everything I tried from Jackie O’s (although at a dollar an ounce those babies should be special), but when it comes to BA beers emanating from Central Ohio the last one I tried is the one I can’t get out of my head. Homestead used Elijah Craig Bourbon barrels to transform their Bison Imperial Stout into something special. Notes of chocolate and coffee from the dark roasted malts mingle with rich vanilla, oak and bourbon (but not too much bourbon) from the barrels. If you are Catholic, the mouthfeel alone might be enough to send you to the confession booth. (Note: If you didn’t get this one the first time around I see they are pouring Barrel Aged Bison and Drie Triple IPA at Bob’s Bar tonight.)
Well that closes the door on 2016, time to start taking notes for 2017. For those with entirely too much time on their hands links to my lists from previous years are given below.