Now and again people in the beer industry are kind of enough to consider me part of the media. We all know that’s not really true, but the gig often includes free beer and sometime food, so I’m happy to play along . On Wednesday, I mingled with the likes of Dan Eaton, J.D. Malone, and Cliff Wiltshire at the long awaited, soon to be open, Actual taproom in Clintonville . At this point articles on the new venture have appeared in Columbus Business First, the Columbus Dispatch, and Drink Up Columbus, among others, so what can I tell you that you don’t already know? Probably not much, but here goes anyway.
Let me start with some key points that while covered elsewhere are central plot points of the Actual story.
- The taproom is located in a former florist shop on the north end of the Lucky’s parking lot, right next to the US Post Office. It is scheduled to open in early January. The official opening is scheduled for the second week of January, but a soft opening may happen sometime during the first weekend of 2019.
- Alana Shock will be running the food program. Alana was the owner and driving force behind the much beloved Clintonville institution, Alana’s Food and Wine. That venture closed in 2016.
- Scott Francis and his son Alex will be handling the brewing operations. As most people know, Scott figures large in the history of Columbus brewing. He was the first brewmaster at Columbus Brewing Company, then Barley’s, and now Temperance Row. Scott and his wife Nina have run the Winemakers Shop in Clintonville, a homebrew supply store since the 1970’s.
- In addition to beer, the taproom will serve wine and cocktails. General Manager Maureen “Mo” Hemmelgam, formerly of Barley’s, will oversee taproom operations.
- The kitchen will be open for lunch and will remain open until 1 am. Both Alana and Fred noted the hole left in late night Clintonville dining options when the Blue Danube closed. A wrong they plan to put right.
- The brewpub has 24 taps that will be divided along the following lines: 4 taps for beers brewed on-site, 12 taps for Actual beers brewed at the production facility on James Road, 2 taps for ciders, 1 for a selection from Uprising Mead, 1 for wine from the Winemaker’s shop, 1−2 for craft sodas like Frost Top Root Beer, 1 for a cocktail of some type, 1 for cold brewed coffee.
- Beer will be brewed on-site using equipment recently relocated from Actual’s production facility . This brewkit was once housed at the New Albany Country Club, yet another Central Ohio brewery started by Scott Francis. The brewing system was gathering dust in a barn before Fred Lee coaxed it out of retirement when he launched Actual Brewing in 2010. If mash tuns could talk .
With that out of the way, let me move onto my opinions on the whole affair. Journalists, who are meant to be objective (the good ones anyway), don’t usually get to do this.
Firstly, I think the location is a coup for Actual. Compared to the Short North, Italian Village, Franklinton, Grandview, Gahana, even Canal Winchester, Clintonville has been underserved in the brewery taproom department. From all outward appearances Lineage Brewing has thrived since they opened in 2015, and there is no reason to believe that Clintonville can’t support both breweries. Actual has the added advantage of access to a large parking lot.
With Alana on board Actual’s Clintonville taproom will immediately compete with the best Columbus brewpubs on the food side of the equation. Alana, who since closing her restaurant has taught in Belize, tended bar at Cedar Point, and run a pop-up restaurant on Kelley’s Island, told us she wanted to work in a place where she could have fun. While the menu isn’t going to take itself too seriously, anyone looking for standard pub fare isn’t paying enough attention. Vegetarian options and sandwiches will figure prominently. Fred and Alana both stressed that chicken wings were a must have menu item, but not just any wings. Alana’s wings will be grilled and feature a spicy Szechuan sauce. The centerpiece of the lunch special will be an ever-evolving version of shit on a shingle, but don’t look for it to be made with canned tuna as my mother used to serve when I was a kid. Alana spoke of a cheese menu, a strong pickling program, and bluefish pastrami. I don’t even know what bluefish pastrami is, but I;’m pretty sure it’s not something you can easily get from a food truck.
An unanswered question is what to expect from the beer brewed on-site. From my conversations with Fred Lee and Actual’s head brewer Zac Baaske, I get the impression that Francis will be given full reign to brew what suits his fancy . Scott is closely associated with English ales, so I think it’s safe to say we can look for bitters, milds, esbs, porters, Scottish ales, and the like. Since coming back from a year in the north of England I’ve been pining for a good pint of cask ale, so I was delighted to hear that there will be a cask beer served from a beer engine on offer. I hope this is true and that the people of Columbus support that effort. Cask ale fades quickly once the first pint is poured and no doubt the success of this program depends on steady demand from the public. I plan to do my part.
In closing consider this thought. If commercial ventures were musical groups, Actual’s Clintonville taproom would be a supergroup. Not only have Fred and Mira Lee recruited Scott Francis and Alana Shock to join their team, Victor Ecimovich III, former brewmaster at Hoster’s and first head brewer at Goose Island, is now overseeing brewing operations at Actual’s production facility. It’s an impressive collection of talent and experience. What remains to be seen is if this supergroup will have more in common with Cream or The Firm (hopefully with a longer tenure than either group).
 As I write this story I’m enjoying a glass of Pragmatist, Actual’s new Baltic Porter. I’m partial to the style and this is a damn good Baltic Porter. I bet J.D. Malone doesn’t enjoy such perks when completing stories.
 Jim Ellison (aka the CMH Gourmand), whose journalist credentials are similar to mine, showed up not long before I left. I later learned that this was followed by a blind taste test that pitted chicken nuggets from McDonalds, Wendy’s and Burger King. I’m still trying to figure out if it was a blessing or a curse to just miss out on this rare populist culinary experience.
 Actual is getting a new 20 bbl brewing system at the production facility. In the interim they will be brewing at various places around town that have excess capacity.
 When I asked Fred what to expect from the beer program, he told me that Scott listens to music when brewing and his choice of music can influence his brewing choices for the day. I’m not sure how that works, maybe when listening to Fairport Convention he hops with East Kent Goldings, whereas a Greatful Dead day might push him toward Cascades. Fred told us that he’s hoping for more prog rock, less Beatles.