The long and winding road – Pat’s Pints turns four years old

This month marks the fourth anniversary of the Pat’s Pints blog.  Looking back, I realize that I fortuitously started this adventure at a point in time when the beer landscape in Ohio was in the early days of its current renaissance.  At that time there were about ten craft breweries in Franklin County, some of them so new that I was only vaguely aware of their existence (Seventh Son, North High, Zauber).  In the months that followed several new breweries came on the scene—Wolf’s Ridge, Actual, Sideswipe, Zaftig, Hoof Hearted, and Land Grant.  Zauber moved from a place that filled growlers to a much bigger space next door (unfortunately their brewing kit didn’t arrive for another six months).  The pace of growth has continued on that steep trajectory year after year. With 37 stops on this year’s Columbus Ale Trail, it’s likely that the past 5 years will be remembered as a golden period in the history of Ohio brewing.

Back in the mists of 2013 when I launched my blog the concepts of craft beer and local beer were not strongly linked in my mind.  Yes, I drank CBC IPA on a regular basis, but it didn’t occur to me that part of what made it so damn tasty was its freshness. I was always looking for an excuse to have dinner and a few pints at Barley’s or Elevator, but my attention was mostly focused elsewhere.  I closely followed new releases by the likes of Stone, Founder’s, Green Flash, and Dogfish Head.  It was unthinkable to pass up the chance to purchase Three Floyds on those rare occasions when their beer would surface in Columbus. Hopslam and Great Lakes Christmas Ale flew off the shelves as quickly as they could be stocked (a phenomenon that temporarily accelerated when Savor Growl opened).  No one confused IPAs with fruit smoothies or milkshakes.  All of the Trappist Breweries were located in the low countries of Europe.  When Microsoft told me the word gose was misspelled I took notice. The Reds and Indians were both in the playoffs.

Does anyone else remember those days, it seems like a dream to me now?

Central Ohio Breweries by Year
Number of breweries in Central Ohio, stretching southeast to Athens, as a function of time over the past 30 years.

 

My topical coverage was initially pretty amateurish with no particular focus on Ohio beers, but over time I realized that the world didn’t need more reviews of Ruination IPA or commentary on the ridiculous “best of” lists that Thrillist puts out. I tried doing videos for a while, that went over like a lead balloon. I realized that people weren’t willing to waste their precious free time watching me and my buddies drink beer and ramble on, when they could be pursuing any number of more enjoyable thought provoking tasks, like cutting the grass.  Some of those videos still make me laugh though, my favorite is probably this one from my very first blind taste test,  What makes it funny is my friend Amy’s reaction when she realizes the beer she has been trash talking is actually her go to IPA, Flower Power.

Slowly it dawned on me that people might be tempted to read about beer at work, when they were supposed to be doing productive things. I started to write improbably long pieces on local breweries that only friends and people on house arrest would read from beginning to end.  The audience grew marginally, but more importantly I realized that many local brewers were willing to answer my questions, show me around their breweries, and in optimal circumstances give me free beer.  Those interested in nostalgia might enjoy my early profiles on Zaftig, Wolf’s Ridge, Actual, Staas, and Land-Grant to get a feel for the zeitgeist that permeated their formative years.

As my interactions with the craft beer community strengthened, I launched a relatively short-lived podcast with my friend Mark Richards.  I was proud of that product, thanks in no small part to Mark’s careful editing of the interviews.  Our interview with Trevor Williams of Hoof Hearted goes in depth on art of brewing hazy NE IPAs before that term became common parlance. We got carried away drinking imperial stouts on a podcast about branding with Walt Keys from Land-Grant.  Literally hours of drunken banter had to be cut, but if you listen to the end of the show it won’t be hard to detect the slurred speech.  Professional, not so much, but those things can happen when you love beer.  The interview with Jimmy Stockwell and Sean White recorded at Little Fish Brewing in Athens offers a fascinating blueprint for building a brewery that is deeply rooted in its community and surroundings. I hope we can relaunch the podcast at some point in the future.

ppp-episode-7_little-fish
Post podcast libations at Little Fish Brewing.

Before this post turns into the blogging equivalent of a Bruce Springsteen song, let’s turn the focus to the future.

It feels like the American beer industry is entering yet another phase in its evolution.  Craft beer’s growth has slowed to a pace that signals a maturing industry.  New breweries are still popping up at a healthy clip, but a few are starting to close.  Central Ohio hasn’t seen any closures yet, depending upon how you classify Zauber’s reboot as Endeavor Brewing, but sooner or later you know it will happen. Large craft breweries are being squeezed from both ends as the multinational conglomerates gobble up craft breweries and small neighborhood breweries continue to proliferate.  Lagunitas is now owned by Heineken, and Brooklyn Brewing is in bed with Carlsberg. Ballast Point is almost unrecognizable from what it was when I visited their brewery in 2014. Boston Brewing Company increasingly depends on sales of beverages like cider and alcoholic tea to balance the books.  Even Anchor Brewing, who can stake a legitimate claim to be America’s first craft brewery, was recently purchased by Japanese brewing giant Sapporo.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be publishing a series of forward-looking posts that hazard a guess of what lies ahead.  To raise the odds of success from miniscule to unlikely, I’ve solicited opinions from a variety of people in the industry whose livelihoods are tied to staying relevant.  Still to quote the American philosopher Yogi Berra, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”

Here are the topics in that I’m going to tackle in this series.  Look for the first one early next week.  I hope you follow along.

  • Part 1 – Does Ohio beer have its own identity?
  • Part 2 – How long will IPAs rule the roost?
  • Part 3 – Life in the trenches, talking the business of beer with North High Brewing
  • Part 4 – Brewing Local: The rise of the neighborhood brewery

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