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Archive for the ‘beer’ Category

Brewed on the Bikeway ABC’s: Athens, Beer, Cider & More

Posted by cmh gourmand on November 12, 2017

When I heard about Brewed on the Bikeway, I saw this as a way to combine two things I needed more of: riding a bike more often (as in cycling more than the 5 minutes I have biked each spring for the last three years when I fill my bike tires with air and test them out) and I needed to drink more beer. Well, not just beer, craft beer specifically crafted in Athens. So when I was offered a “partial scholarship” of sorts to explore Brewed on the Bikeway I was excited for an opportunity to blend beer and bikes.

Breaking down what Brewed on the Bikeway is, the name speaks for itself. A while back, a few sharp-eyed and forward thinking individuals noticed how close the many Athens area craft beverage makers are to the Hockhocking Adena Bikeway. The bikeway follows the former pathway of the Columbus and Hocking Valley Railroad and the former Hocking Canal, often parallel to the Hocking River. The trail offers almost 21 miles of scenery connecting Nelsonville with Athens. Another amenity the trail offers is quick access to: Multiple Brewing (Nelsonville), Devil’s Kettle Brewing, Little Fish Brewing, Jackie O’s Taproom & Production Brewery as well the Eclipse Company Store. The trail is just a short hop from the original Jackie O’s Public House (which started the brewery explosion over a decade ago) and West End Cider House. Any one of these destinations is worth the trip – all of these combined makes for a great day. I was excited to explore how this all comes together.

But then, I felt trepidation. I am in horrible physical condition. Instead of Brewed on the Bikeway, I started the to fear the title of this post might be Fat Dude Sprawled out on the Bikeway. However, I was determined to stay the course. I quickly discovered the Bikeway is all about ease and convenience.

Having explored Nelsonville in-depth and with a short time frame to complete my “mission”, I skipped the northern 11 mile leg of the trail connecting Nelsonville to the nano community centered around The Eclipse Company Town in the Plains. The Eclipse Company Store Beer Hall was the perfect place to enjoy a few local beers, a great lunch and spread out my maps and materials to plot out my adventure.

Walking through the door, I was immediately smitten with the place. I chatted with owner Sean Kiser about the wonderland he has created in what used to be a small company town general store. At the Eclipse Company Store Beer Hall, a well curated collection of 30+ mostly local (Ohio) beers are paired with an impressive menu of pub grub incorporating many local ingredients. This is a relaxed, comfortable and sprawling space that is as conducive to chatting to people biking the trail or listening to live music inside or out.

The Beer Hall is adjacent to the Bikeway. After my meal which included samples of hard to find and newer breweries such as Sixth Sense Brewing in Jackson, I decided for a quick elliptical stroll around Eclipse before starting my ride. I popped into the Shop Athens Ohio store across the street to peruse the local products offered in a former row house. I found many interesting items, including pint glasses of closed Athens area watering holes to help former Ohio University Bobcats relieve their glory days.

My next destination, just a few feet away was Black Diamond Bicycles. The shop sells and services new and used bikes and conveniently offers reasonably priced bike rentals. After a quick check to make sure my bike was a good fit for me, I headed off on the bikeway.

As I approached the trail, several observations calmed my fears of a posting about the “fat dude subdued by the Bikeway”. The trail is in incredibly good condition and well maintained. Following a former railroad bed, it is largely on flat, level terrain. There are maps at many of the trail heads as well as mini bike service stations where you can check your tires and perform minor maintenance on your bike.

In a very short time, I found myself at my first brewery destination, Devil’s Kettle Brewing. Located on Columbus Road, the brewery is not adjacent to the bike trail but if you know the lay of the land, you can figure out how to get to it with minimal disorientation. I had a directional advantage because I have conducted many “research” visits to Devil’s Kettle in the past. To help out for your Brewed on the Bikeway adventure, if you see the bridge below, you are getting close (this is also the only significant elevational challenge I had on my ride and I easily bested it).

At Devil’s Kettle I was impressed by all of the changes the owners have made to their space in the short time since opening a few years ago. The brewery has progressed from a very raw, industrial space to being almost fancy. The one bit of infrastructure I was most excited to see was the solar panel array the brewery installed to supply much of the energy needed to run the operation.

I have always enjoyed the assortment of beers served at the taproom here, but as a PSA, I would be remiss in not mentioning that Devil’s Kettle usually offers one or two sodas they craft as well, including a really exceptional Ginger Ale. If you are visiting all of the breweries on the Bikeway and looking to pace yourself, an occasional craft soda, and a lot of water, is aways a good idea.

I then continued along the trail on my way to what I cautiously share is my favorite brewery in Ohio, Little Fish Brewing. Having been a frequent visitor to this brewery as well, I spied a short cut that shaved 10-15 minutes off of my ride. I am not ready to give that short cut away, or to lure you off what is a really good section of the trail, but if you are pressed for time and every minute counts, an astute eye and good off road tires can be helpful. Again, (taking either path, and I did both) I was mildly shocked at how close Devil’s Kettle and Little Fish are by bike. I did not even break as sweat.

A craft beer fan would be hard pressed not to enjoy every beer on the Little Fish menu. In addition to a cozy indoor and outdoor space, Little Fish, has a little farm, where they grow some of their ingredients, a dedicated space for the many food trucks that serve at the brewery and because this is Athens and it is a brewery, solar panels. Among many notable notes regarding Little Fish, it was one of the first breweries to serve a beer with all Ohio ingredients (malt and hops).

Pedaling on, my next destination took me off the trail with a short ride to West End Cider House and a meeting with my pal cider maker, distiller and brewer extraordinaire Kelly Sauber. Kelly was a long time brewer at Marietta Brewing Company. Several years ago he created Dancing Tree Distillery, which later became Fifth Element Spirits. In spite of the demands of operating a distillery, Kelly siphoned off some time to get West End Cider House going as well. (Read my post on the Cider House ->HERE). Kelly is one of my favorite people in the industry so having some time to sample some of his ciders while he brought me up to speed on some exciting changes to the operation coming in 2018 was time well spent. If you are new or old to craft ciders, this is a true destination to expand your appreciation of this cider and spirits. West End Cider House also offers cocktails and area craft beers in a relaxing environment with a choice of locally focused snacks.

I stayed/strayed off the trail, navigating the streets near Uptown, but was clearly on track for my next depot on the Bikeway, Jackie O’s Public House and Brewpub, the spot that started the craft beer explosion in Athens in 2005. What started as a small brewpub has grown into a local icon and Ohio Craft Beer Institution. (To fully appreciate the story of Jackie O’s read this great overview article from Good Beer Hunting). While I had great food options at the Public House, including pizzas made with spent grains from brewing and other dishes showcasing ingredients grown on the Jackie O’s Farm, I did make a small detour off the Bikeway to meal up at two of my favorite Athens eateries.

O’Betty’s Red Hot serves what I consider to be the best hot dogs and fries in the state of Ohio. This tiny space seats about 20 in a cozy setting that also features a hot dog museum of sorts. Any trip to Athens requires me to consume two Mata Hari’s (hot dogs are named after famous Burlesque performers) with an order of fries.

Just across State Street, Casa Nueva is another of my mandatory Athens area pit stops. Founded as a worker owned cooperative restaurant in 1985, “Casa” helped pioneer the local foods focus of the community. While I might not always have room for a third or fourth meal while exploring Athens by bike, foot or car, my minimum “drive-by” order is a House Margarita with a side of locally produced chips and house made salsas.

Having fueled myself with encased meats and more, it was time to continue back in the Bikeway for the last stop, Jackie O’s Taproom and Production Brewery on Campbell Street. This space started in 2013 and now produces the majority of Jackie O’s beer. The attached taproom is a good place to wrap up the drinking portion of my Brewed on the Bikeway experience. And of course because it is Athens, and because the space is a brewery, the spot is largely solar powered.

The return to Eclipse Company Store was uneventful. If I had more time and if it had been a day of the week when Multiple Brewing was open, I believe I had ample liquid courage to pedal the 11 miles to Nelsonville to finish the Bikeway in style with a turn victory lap.

In summary, I survived Brewed on the Bikeway without any bruises to my body or self worth. The trail was easy for an old out of shape guy to navigate. The pacing of the stops helped maintain my courage to carry on. The ease of bike rental helped me avoid the hassle of loading and unloading my bike for the drive down. All in all, it was a great way to balance biking with exercising my 21st Amendment right to enjoy a few adult beverages.

Here are a few tips for your own Brewed on the Bikeway adventure:

  • The Bikeway can be pretty busy on the weekends, so check ahead if you are renting a bike and allow a little extra time to navigate crowded taprooms.
  • If you are doing the whole route, know that Multiple Brewing has limited hours, mainly some weekend and evening hours, so call ahead. There is plenty to do in Nelsonville.
  • Some sections of the trail can be prone to occasional flooding, if that is an issue, the Brewed on the Bikeway social media team do a good job of getting the word out. Plan ahead.
  • The bikeway does not have any directional markers for the “brewed” destinations. Finding your way to the stops in often not intuitive, so you will want to take a look at a mapping site to orient yourself on how to get to some destinations that are a bit off the trail. Many are not within line of sight of the bikeway. For the organizers, I’d suggest some signage that on the Bikeway that could serve as prompts for some destinations. Something like “Columbus Road Spur” could help those not familiar with the area know that trail segment is the turn off to get to Devil’s Kettle without advertising the business or causing any legal awkwardness related to promoting an alcohol business on a public byway. Some embedded mini maps with suggested paths to the destinations not near the trail like West End Cider House and Jackie O’s Public House would be a good public service.
  • Whatever the amount of time you have budgeted for Brewed on the Bikeway, add another hour, or day, to your plan. You will still find there is much more you want to do and see in the area.

  • For more information on the area, visit AthensOhio.

    And to connect with what is going on while you are in the area, look for these hashtags during your adventure.

    #AthensOhio
    #BrewedOnTheBikeway
    #OhioUniversity
    #VisitAthens
    #Athens30MM (connecting you with locally focused eateries and events in the area)

    Brewed on the Bikeway is just one path of many that will allow you to enjoy all that Athens County has to offer. The area is a hiking and outdoor enthusiasts paradise. There are several wineries that are well worth the short drive and countless other ways to unwind and enjoy what Southeast Ohio has to offer.

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    Posted in Athens, beer, culinary misadventure, restaurants | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

    Blystone Farm and Butcher Shop (& Deli & Taproom), Canal Winchester

    Posted by cmh gourmand on June 30, 2017

    Blystone Farms sign

    “Lord, I was born a rambling man, looking for a new lunch spot as often as I can. But when it comes to eating, I hope you’ll understand, as for now, I’m largely a homebound man.” By my makeup, I need to roam and explore, discover new things, etc. Over the last six months I have been adding a lot to my to read lists, to listen to lists, to watch lists, etc. As for my to eat list, it is extensive. When I hear about or notice a good candidate I start a blog post with the name of the destination and any bits that caught my interest others mentioned or based on a quick search of the interwebs. (I have 55 more places on my blog list). Canal Winchester has been a frequent topic of conversation over the last year due to Brewdog, and more than once someone would suggest Blystone Farm and Butcher shop as worth a visit. One guys description of a deli sandwich from the Blystone peaked my interest to the extreme, he loved talking about the sandwich almost as he enjoyed consuming it.

    With the breaking of weather in the spring and the breaking of myself from a lack of adventures I opted to combine work with a little pleasure in May. I assigned myself the “southern leg” of deliveries for the Columbus Ale Trail Brew books. I plotted out an all back roads route to make deliveries to Grove City Brewing, Brew Brothers, Loose Rail Brewing, Brewdog and Combustion Brewery. It was a great day to drive and conveniently Blystone was just slightly off my plotted path on my way to Loose Rail. (As a side, note, I did find a cool Taco Truck called Taco Time by Don Carlos on SR 317 in a VFW parking lot about one mile from Brew Brothers, that will be a future post here or on Taco Trucks Columbus).

    Blystone Farm deli

    I did not have any expectations of Blystone and I could not find much online (other than a very good post by Columbus Culinary Connection) so I just knew it was a farm based butcher shop with a deli. As soon as I saw the place in the distance, I knew I would like it. The moment I walked through the door it was love at first whiff. Blystone offers a full service butcher shop offering a wide range and variety of cuts of mea, many originating on the farm. The shop is also stocked with a deep selection of craft beers, wines, Ohio and other cheese and local products such as Sophie’s Pieorgi. As I was walking around the ship enthralled by my choices one of the butchers asked if I needed anything so I replied, “a lunch recommendation.” He walked through what on the menu originated in the shop and suggested I try the ham and cheese, especially since he knew the ham had been freshly sliced an hour ago. He also said the wings may meet my fancy as well. He then pointed me to the new taproom / restaurant.

    Blystone Beer Menu

    I loved the rustic look of the attached dining area. Positioning myself at the bar, I spied the beer list on the wall and was impressed with the choices in a largely Ohio based tap selection. I asked a few questions before placing my order. The soup of the day was a Mediterranean soup with a mix of unusual ingredients so I ordered that as well as a Ham & Cheese Sandwich, chicken wings and a beer flight. The woman behind the bar was immediately impressed by my ambitions. In this case, even for me, I may have been pushing my own envelope which exceeds the good sense and tolerances of most mere mortals.

    I cannot recall much about the soup other than it was flavorful and I liked it. I think that is because anything would have been forgotten in comparison to my two lunch orders. The Ham (house made) and Cheese (Ohio) sandwich was served on fresh thick Texas Toast style bread topped with homemade BBQ sauce and served with a pile of outstanding steak fries. The flavor of the ham stood out among an outstanding supporting cast of. The steak fries were perfectly executed, sturdy, firm, well salted and filling.

    wings and sandwich

    As for the wings, these are superior on all indicators. I’m not a big fan of wings in general. However, in the rare instance I find them to be the exception to the greasy, mediocre base line, I get a bit excited. The Blystone wings are clearly not dumped out of a frozen bag. These wings were big, filled with flavor and did not need anything to dip, bathe or a sauce to swim in. I’ll place these in the top three in Central Ohio with O’Reilly’s and Smokehouse being a strong tie and weak third place respectively.

    My approach to lunch attracted a bit of attention. Everyone in eyeshot asked about the wings. A woman I think may have been one of the owners was very interested in my opinions of the meal and I think my server wanted to adopt me although I am older than her.

    This spot warrants further research but my first impression is highly favorable and flavorful.

    Blystone Farm

    Blystone Farm
    8677 Oregon Rd, Canal Winchester
    (614) 833-1211
    (3 miles from Brewdog, 4 miles from Loose Rail)

    Posted in beer, Road Trip, sandwiches | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

    Grandview Theater – Get There

    Posted by cmh gourmand on January 10, 2017

    Grandview Theater

    While this is and has always been a food first blog, this is not the first time I have written about a theater, nor the second nor the third. I have written about Studio 35 before, While not a food purveyor in any sense it has a long history as a local craft beer supporter and destination. So let’s do a recap on Studio 35 because it is the key to what makes the Grandview Theater tick.

    In the world of megaplex movie theaters with multiple screens, extensive concessions, IMAX, 3D and other options it is hard for a neighborhood single screen theater with mo on site parking to survive. In fact most have not (nor have many drive in’s sustained either). The plucky Studio 35 continued on through the 80’s, 90’s and now in the 21st century looking for ideas to make the business responsive to the needs of the community. Owner Eric Brembeck took over the reigns after years of stewardship of Frank Marzetti and then John Conti. (Some historical notes: originally called the Indianola Theater when in opened in 1938, the name changed to Marzetti and then John Conti renamed it Studio 35 (because they showed 35mm films). Also of note, Studio 35 was the first movie theater in the nation to get a liquor license (in 1972).

    Now that we have been through the wayback machine when Eric Brembeck took over the theater was still limping along so he and his team started to focus on what customers connected with – mainly craft beer and special events. The bar developed a reputation for a finely curated craft beer selection. In addition to movies paired with special beer tastings, Studio 35 started to develop other special events most notably the Dudeathon (a tribute to the film The Big Lebowski). And file under if you can’t beat them, join them, the theater invites the public to come watch OSU games for free.

    The theater was renovated a few years ago to make the bar much bigger with more seating and tabs and to make everything much more comfortable.

    Now that the back backstory is completed let’s finally talk about The Grandview Theater. I have a long relationship with this spot as well. It was favorite destination for me when it was a Drexel Theater. When the previous owners took over in 2012 (?) I met them while I was at ECDI and tried to brainstorm ideas to help them keep the theater afloat. Both owners worked all day and ran the theater all night but their passion for the art of movies did not balance out the demands of keeping their business sustainable while burning both ends of the candle. Enter new owner Eric Brembeck who thought he could take the Studio 35 model and adapt it to Grandview. His first step was to acquire something the theater lacked – a liquor permit. After he obtained that, a lot of demolition and construction later we have the new Grandview Theater.

    img_5848

    There is a lot to like. The layout of the space is fun and functional with plenty of movie posters and such to decorate the space. The bar is deep in seating and beer selection. While popcorn is the main attraction for on site food there is an array of different seasonings to sprinkle or smother on as you see fit. Pizza can be ordered in for delivery just like at Studio 35.

    img_5849

    Moving into the theater itself, the seats are wide, deep and comfortable with wide aisles between seats. There are tables at the top of the seating area so you can dine while enjoying the cinema. All in all everything works well and recreates the magic of Studio 35 using the same focus on connecting with the community and being a neighborhood hangout that just happens to have movies too. Here is where civic duty comes in. Independent businesses like this contribute to the character of our neighborhoods as well as our sense of community. If you want places like this to continue they have to survive and thrive so that they are not constantly trying to rub two pennies together to keep the marquee lit. All you need to do is drop in for a beer and/or a movie once in a while. The Grandview Theater has made this an inviting place do so. So, just do it.

    img_5851

    Posted in bar, beer | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

    Rockmill Tavern in the Brewery District

    Posted by cmh gourmand on December 29, 2016

    rockmill

    Rockmill Brewery opened to the public in Lancaster in September of 2010. I was there shortly thereafter in November of 2010. It is interesting to reflect how much the world and in particular my world has changed in the span of just six years. In the world of local craft beer, imagine if you will the thrill when Rockmill nudged central Ohio breweries closer to the number ten. At my last count, we can expect to see well over forty microbreweries in Central Ohio by spring.

    With all of these changes afoot, owner Matt Barbee knew he needed to get a bigger footprint in the Columbus market and he realized the best way to do that was to establish a taproom(s). An attempt to open a location in German Village fizzled out but another location he had in the works in the Brewery District found some solid traction and uncommonly launched close to on time.

    Rockmill Tavern opened it’s doors to the public at the end of October this year. This was pretty amazing turn around, the previous occupant, World of Beer closed without warning on October 31st 2015. Barbee had much of his attention devoted to making the prospective German Village location come together so the Brewery District tavern was fast tracked as the other project got sidelined. The space has a lot of history that fits well with his concept. The space was literally made for beer. The original occupant of these hallowed brick walls was Hoster Brewing Company. Up until 1919 this address on Front Street was part of one of the largest breweries in the state churning out up to 500,000 barrels of beer per year. Rockmill’s production is a bit below that number (by about 490,000 or so). The particular space the tavern fills was once part of a stable for 125 horses for Hoster Brewing. So it is fitting that Rockmill’s logo is that of a horse. This truly was a match that was meant to be.

    I am excited about this development for many reasons. I have stayed in touch with Barbee since our first meeting years ago and have always been impressed by his vision and focus on how he wanted to grow the brewery and engage with the community. As for the Brewery District, I feel that the opening of Rockmill Tavern marks the official rebirth (3.0) of the Brewery District. If you are not a native of Columbus then you are probably not aware that the Brewery District was the place to be in the 1990’s. And in the early 2000’s it very quickly became the place to flee. A few businesses stuck it out and in the last year the area has seen a significant upswing with the success of Copious, Arepazo and other new hot spots.

    The main downfall of the World of Beer location was a lack of food. Some failed attempts were made to try to coordinate with food trucks but those efforts were…uncoordinated. Barbee saw the potential in the space but knew the key was to squeeze in a kitchen to churn out something better than fried fare and wings if he wanted guests to stick around for more than one beer. He ensured a slam dunk for food by engaging great talent in both the front and the back of the tavern. In particular, Chef Andrew Smith, most often cited for his work at Salt and Pine but in my book, well respected for his work at the Rossi.

    As for the food, they have nailed it. Open a short two months, I have seen Rockmill Tavern listed as the best new restaurant of 2016 as well as noted on the short list of best overall. Not bad considering they have just started cooking. I can only speak to the lunch menu but looking at dinner and brunch offerings I see nothing to fear in this line up. I shared lunch with a few members of the Columbus Ale Trail team and was lucky to be in the company of two young ladies that share the same affinity for Brussels sprouts and beets that I do.

    I’ll start with the sprouts. While they seem to be ubiquitous to any new menu in town I rarely find them executed to my liking. Those that I sampled at Rockmill Tavern were cooking to my loving. The portion size was perfect. They had just a bit of char to them and a trace of carmelization. They tasted fresh and flavorful with just a hint of crunch and chewiness.

    brussels

    Moving on along, the beet salad was a slam dunk. I don’t often fret about presentation but in the case of this salad it certainly looked good enough to eat but more importantly the layout of the ingredients made the salad easy to enjoy. The goat cheese was an ample portion and placed in such a way that I could easily control how much or how little I wanted with each bite. The beets themselves were cooked to pure perfection. I could not have been happier and I commit to ordering this salad whenever I am at Rockmill Tavern, even when I am not there to eat.

    beet-salad-1

    Here is an insider tip. I usually don’t get excited about biscuits. In my world I associate them with breakfast more often that lunch, brunch or dinner. More importantly, I encounter bad biscuits 90% of the time. Finally, I found a biscuit worthy of this quote -> Poetry is the synthesis of hyacinths and biscuits. – Carl Sandburg. The addition of a bit of cheese and a lot of love has produced the finest biscuits in the city. And since readership of the blog is down, I am going to give my readers a little insider knowledge (but don’t spread this around). If you know Cheryl Harrison (and you probably should because she is a good idea) then you should know that she LOVES these biscuits. If she had her way, they might become a form of currency.

    biscuits

    And last, but not least, the Tavern burger – made from good ground beef and not dolled up too much but I did appreciate the ciabatta bun and the bacon jam. It continues along my burger mantra of keep it simple to make it special. A burger should just be a burger but most places threw this belief out the window years ago. Don’t pitch this burger, pinch it in your hands and hold on to it for dear life until you finish it.

    burger

    In conclusion, most importantly, I am very happy for Matt Barbee. The Rockmill Tavern is a place and space that truly reflects his passion(s), not just for beer but the design of the interior and the rugged feel it projects connects with both the history of the building and the history of his brewery. When I met him six years ago, I enjoyed a great afternoon at a time when I really needed to reconnect with the good things he had going on in Lancaster and I feel all of those elements have successfully landed in this Brewery District space. (And extraneous note, I am writing this piece sitting next to my co-pilot on that first Rockmill trip – my dog CMH Tobias). Go for the food and stay for the beer and equally important, stick around in the Brewery District and help rebuild the area, one beer or bite at a time.

    Rockmill Tavern Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

    Posted in beer, restaurants | Tagged: , | 3 Comments »

    Yellow Brick Pizza and the Old Towne East Eating Intersection

    Posted by cmh gourmand on June 10, 2016

    Welcome to Olde Town

    Checking over my list of favorite pizza places, I noticed I had not written about Yellow Brick Pizza. My apologies. Yellow Brick is an Old Towne East Icon part of the Oak Street Boom, which unfortunately has not spread farther out. Opening in 2009, the place quickly established itself as a hot spot with good pizza and a craft beer collection with depth and breadth. The pizza is described as East Coat style with Rhode Island influences since one of the owners worked in a few Rhode Island pizza shops. The dough is hand stretched with a medium thickness to the crust and a signature thick dough ring. For the non-traditional eater in your life, Yellow Brick offers plenty of gluten and vegan friendly options for pizzas including gluten-free crust, vegan cheese and Textured Vegetable Protein sausage. Wondering about Rhode Island Red Sauce? It is featured on a few of the pizza options to give the sauce a bit of heat and kick. The specialty pizzas offer a wide variety of combinations many of which stretch the genre of traditional pizza toppings to great effect.

    Yellow Brick Slice

    Most pizza places offer a few mundane salads as an afterthought, not the case for Yellow Brick, I have found each of their salads to be exceptional. My favorite salad there and probably my favorite salad in Columbus is described below.

    Kale Salad

    All of the ingredients in this salad compliment and contrast well with each other providing a mix for flavors, textures and crunchiness. The red peppers in the salad are not just slices that have a bit of marinated flavor as well. Even my bean avoidant wife was happy to gobble down a few bites.

    Add in some Arcade Super Awesome upstairs in the evening for extra distraction and Yellow Brick is well worth a planned night out on the town.

    Yellow Brick Info

    Yellow Brick Pizza Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


    Speaking of town, this block on Oak Street in Old Towne is a mini entertainment district. Starting with the business that started things off – one of my favorite spots Angry Baker

    Angry Baker

    Old Towne Tavern also offers good food and selection of local and regional craft beers.

    Old Town Tavern

    And perhaps a new location will mean a bit of a rebirth for Camelot Cellars and an option for non beer drinkers on the block.

    Camalot

    Posted in beer, Best Pizza in Columbus, pizza, vegan friendly, Vegetarian Friendly | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

    Columbus Ale Trail Tales: Volume 1

    Posted by cmh gourmand on April 29, 2016

    I have been fortunate to be able to expand the overlapping cultures/communities I belong to. In the early 2000’s I found myself in the newly established food blogger community, which led to the undiscovered world of Taco Trucks which then drove me to the culture of street food which indirectly led me to a new career which in turn connected me to some in the world of Columbus Craft Beer just before the explosion of craft breweries in 2013 and after. Along the way I collected some new skills, some friends, business relationships and etc. All of those overlapping networks led to a spontaneous project.

    Several of us had encountered versions of craft beer trails around the country. My neighbors brought me a flier from Boston that got me to thinking about how it might work in Columbus. John from the Ohio Tap Room contacted me about the same idea at about the same time and within a week we had a group of four of us that then connected with the Ohio Craft Brewers Association, who were just starting to have that thought as well. At that point we thought Experience Columbus might be interested so we met with them. We all thought a Columbus Craft Beer passport of some sort made sense and thus the Columbus Ale Trail was born.

    It was a very quick gestation. We decided we wanted to launch the Ale Trail at the beginning of the first ever Columbus Craft Beer Week. This meant we had to create something awesome from scratch in less than two months. Many hours, and ideas, and late night edits later, the first Ale Trail Brew Books were ready for delivery. They started to filter out on May 1st and the first prize redemption for visiting all twenty breweries was on May 2nd. Oh my, we were on to something. The first 10,000 books were gone within a few weeks. With that validation and some quick planning and a bit of tweaking we obtained funds from the breweries to print another 20,000 books.

    Today with just a few days left in the first year of the Columbus Ale Trail, the project has been a slam dunk. Over 600 people have visited all 20 listed breweries. Almost 1000 have visited 4 breweries to get a free pint glass from Experience Columbus. And countless people have visited one to nineteen breweries just for the heck of it without redeeming for anything. It has been exciting, humbling and for me, redeeming as well. It is great to be part of an idea that turns out to be successful and in the process helps all of the small brewing businesses get new fans and grow their brands.

    As I write this, Volume 2 of the Columbus Ale Trail Brew Book has been sent off to the printer (after a lot of edits, and formatting, and changes, and bears, oh my!). The prize for completing the trail this time around (28 breweries) is a customized deck of cards featuring logos from almost all of our local breweries. It looks great. (See a card example below). The books should be ready by May 13th and the cards should be ready to hand to the first person (and all subsequent Ale Trailers) to go to all 28 sites (hopefully) within the following week.

    Smokehouse

    Over the course of the past year I have personally passed out almost 2000 Ale Trail books to people on brewery tours. I’ve spoken with over 100 people using the books as I have crossed paths with them at breweries all over Central Ohio. The consistent message is: This is great! I can’t say that anytime in my professional career have I been lucky enough to work on a project that was universally loved like this. What I have heard frequently and what I like the most is that people enjoy the book – because it is a book, not a gadget, or app but something real and tangible that they enjoy looking at, reading through and most importantly getting the stamp (of approval) at each brewery they visit.

    While I have heard great stories, my two favorite are documented below and I was lucky enough to have a small part in each.

    The two ladies below completed their Ale Trail last fall. They enjoyed it so much they made costumes to wear to their last few stops. I met them at the Ohio Taproom where they came to get their Ale Trail T-shirt to reward them for their efforts. I hope they get to wear these costumes again for Volume 2.

    Ohio Ale Trail heroines


    ale trail heroines

    The image you see below is a cautionary tale. A couple came into the Ohio Taproom while I was wrapping up a tour there. The wife was excited but the husband seemed a bit forlorn. As it turned out, only she was redeeming. He shared a tale of woe in that he had pocketed his book after they hit the last stop, forgot about it and washed his pants without removing the contents. The results are shown below.

    ale trail mishap

    As part of the Ale Trail team, I authorized the shreds of book as complete and he was validated for finishing the trail too. Lesson for Volume 2, keep your Ale Trail book in a special place and monitor closely. Friends don’t let friends lose or wash a perfectly good Ale Trail book.

    Good luck to all racing to finish Volume 2 of the Ale Trail and congratulations to those that finished all or most of Volume 1.

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    4 String Brewing: Four Years and a Beer

    Posted by cmh gourmand on October 26, 2015

    IMG_3466

    For the last four years, October has been a big month for Four String Brewing’s Dan Cochran. In October 2011, after months rehabbing an old machine shop, Four String was born just ahead of the Columbus Craft Beer Boom 2.0. In 2012, the space was taking shape with some retail customers including the BW-3 (Buffalo Wild Wings to you millennials) across the parking lot and some momentum. Cochran was working by day and brewing by night and picking up extra equipment where a small budget on a debit card would allow. In 2013, October was a double blessing. Changes in regulations allowed Cochran to open a bona fide taproom so that people drop in for a pint instead of a taste and a growler fill that felt like something clandestine. Cochran added a new baby Cochran to his team as well. Things were looking up and Cochran was fully invested in brewing full-time. As fall of October 2014 arrived Four String was committed a big jump to partnering with a distributor and starting to can beer to get it to the masses. As canning became a weekly ritual (and rite of passage for many loyal volunteers) the cans took hold of a large market and a tipping point tipped.

    This year, October is still a big deal for Four String. A new production brewery on the “near west side” is cranking out kegs, casks and cans, Cochran has or will soon add another baby to the brood, and the taproom is transformed after a few days of hard work (last week) has doubled in sized as a new space even long time regulars would not recognize. Things are looking good for Four String and as a business that literally started on a shoestring that is a big deal. And because that is a big deal Four String is going all out with a four year anniversary party paired with Halloween and a BIG bottle release. The party is October 31st at the Taproom and it should be a doozy.

    I won’t invest too much time writing about the bottle that is being paired with the party since it will probably be gone by the time you get there (and if you are not reading this before October 31st 2015, just skip the next paragraph). The Solo Series, has become a signature of the brewery and will be a selling point for the taproom, is a periodic release of limited number of small batch beers that you will never see again. This anniversary edition is an Imperial Stout aged in OYO (Middle West Spirits) Bourbon barrels. The ABV (alcohol by volume) comes in at 10.8% but tastes like at least a bourbon shot more. I was lucky to get an advance bottle to try. Leading tours on Saturdays is counter productive to getting solo series bottles or the traditional Saturday casks so this was a real treat for me and it will be for you (go early and take friends to get some).

    IMG_3468

    OK, so all of this is well and good, a four year anniversary party, a bottle release and a lot of new-found elbow room to celebrate of this. But as they say at Commfest, this is a party with a purpose. While that might now be apparent, the purpose (I have proclaimed) is to remind Columbus Citizens that craft beer is a big deal in Columbus. That is cause to celebrate and Dan Cochran and his team worked their asses off to contribute to this growth – that deserves a tip of the hat and a raise of a pint glass.

    There is a lot more to the story of Four String (if you want the full scoop – join Columbus Brew Adventures on the Grandview Brewery Tour or the pitchers and pizza tour) but I’ll stick to the bullet points. Cochran found a passion for home brewing while in college but he focused his energy on another passion – Rock and Roll. He played bass for a series of local bands including Big Back Forty and Feversmile. Not having a million dollars saved up as well as jumping into the craft beer pool just before it was filled, Cochran has to find another path to starting a brewery. He opted to create a Franken-Brewing system (a term he did not know until after he finished it). Collecting used dairy tanks as well as a tank from the local Marzetti plant, Brass Knuckle Pale Ale starting pouring our of those tanks instead of milk and ranch dressing. It took a lot of McGuyvering to make all of that work, but it did and it got Four String on the market ahead of the other upstart breweries in town and well…..the rest is history. Most of those original tanks have been removed and repurposed but the story still remains and some different tanks are coming back to the taproom to keep unique and one off beers pouring for the regulars that have come to call the taproom home.

    October 31st is more than a bottle release and party at Four String, it is a celebration of a dream. I’m raising my glass below.

    IMG_3473

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    Victor Ecimovich: Brewer Laurate of Columbus

    Posted by cmh gourmand on April 27, 2015

    Victor Ecimovich III is a name you probably can’t pronounce and may never heard of. While interviewing Ecimovich (at a bar of course) we were approached by Kelly Sauber. No slouch in brewing experience, Sauber brewed for Marietta Brewing Company for fifteen years, then started Fifth Element Spirits and West End Cider House in Athens. Sauber apologized profusely for interrupting but he wanted to “shake the hand of (Ecimovich) one of his brewing heroes.” Sauber shared that one of his inspirations to pursue brewing was the beer Ecimovich was crafting in the 1990’s.

    Introduced to brewing when a friend threw in the towel on a home brewing kit, Ecimovich decided he would “like to give it a shot.” He always enjoyed cooking and figuring out how to make things so he quickly discovered that he preferred yeast and hops to his electrical engineering studies. On some level, he was fated to ferment since his grandfather had been a brewer for Meister Brau when it was a favored Windy City beer. Ecimovich found his way to the Siebel Institute’s brewing program (luckily located in his hometown of Chicago) “as an independent.” Ecimovich was one of only two students paying his way for an eleven-week course, the rest of his colleagues were sent by breweries from around the world. Ecimovich made an impression on his instructors so before he studies were over, he found himself brewing beer on weekends at Millstream Brewing in Iowa (a 3 ½ hour drive away). When offered the position Ecimovich recalls “I knew if I thought about it too long, I would talk myself out of it, so I just said yes.”

    Ecimovich’s recollections of brewing with the traditional German brewers at Millstream sound (to this writer) like drill instructor scenes from the movie Full Metal Jacket. After a few years of training (or surviving the heavy handed hazing) in the traditional techniques of lagers, helles and bocks, Ecimovich found his way to a new upstart called Goose Island back home in Chicago. In 1994, Ecimovich, having never visited Columbus signed on as brewer from the Hoster Brewing Company in the Brewery District. During the hey day of the 1990’s the corner of High and Hoster was the place to be in Columbus in part due to the wide variety of highly regarded beers Ecimovich was brewing.

    In the case of Hoster (closed in 2002) the glory days ended when, the Brewery District lost its allure as The Arena District and Easton caught and kept customers attention. In 2004, Daniel Myers partnered with Ecimovich (Vice President of Brewing) to buy the rights to the Hoster brand and recipes in order to revive Hoster’s signature Goldtop beer. Production resumed in 2005 with Ecimovich balancing overseeing offsite contract brewing of Goldtop (currently in north east Ohio) while working in the construction business.

    Today Ecimovich finds it is “an exciting time for beer drinkers and brewers alike”. In the 1980’s and 1990’s, Ecimovich (like his other band of microbrewing brothers) had to brew beer that “would win the hearts and minds” of a new wave of beer drinkers. If someone “tried a craft beer they didn’t like, you lost them” as a customer and a craft beer drinker. “Subpar breweries either had to get their act together quickly or go out of business” and many did tap out during the craft beer bubble of 15 years ago. Craft beer has changed a lot since then. “Thank goodness” say Ecimovich, “now there are so many bars with fifty taps, more breweries than I can count, and new brewery seems to open every month or even every two weeks.” Ecimovich equates the “old school” brewers and the new, bearded kids on the block, with downhill skiers and snow boarders doing half pipes – he can appreciate what the new brewers are doing but he is happy to keep speeding down the mountain doing what he knows best.


    Gold Top

    The Three Eras of Hoster Brewing

    1836 to 1919
    The Hoster’s were the first family of brewing in Columbus. The Hoster Brewing Company was open longer than any other brewery past or present. During the heyday of the beer barons of the 1890’s, Hoster was one of the top ten breweries in the country producing up to 300,000 barrels per year; in comparison Columbus Brewing Company (today) does about 12,000.

    1989 to 2002
    The brewpub located at Hoster and High was the center of nightlife, food and beer in the Brewery District until other entertainment areas stole the limelight and allure of the area. The brewpub closed in 2001 and brewing stopped in 2002.

    2004 to present
    While production has waxed and waned, Hoster Goldtop (a signature beer of all three eras) had been brewed and kegged our of town for limited consumption under the watchful eye and experienced palate of Victor Ecimovich. The most likely spot to find a pour of Goldtop is Quaker Steak and Lube at Polaris.

    What is Hoster Goldtop?
    Goldtop is a flagship from all three eras of Hoster Brewing in Columbus. The beer is a Dortmunder / Export Lager. The gold / pale lager is named after a city and a brewery in Germany – Dortmunder.

    Posted in beer, beverages, Columbus, culinary knowledge, FooderHero | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

    DK Diner: Kind of Dynamic

    Posted by cmh gourmand on January 22, 2015

    IMG_2851

    My primary and secondary references to DK Diner have focused on their donuts. There are three reasons for that: 1) These donuts are among the finest in the state anywhere and I have the research to prove it 2) DK stands for Donut Kitchen – the previous name of this former Lawson’s location 3) As has been established before, Breakfast is my fifth favorite meal behind Second Lunch and Midnight Snack but I do make an exception for Breakfast – donuts. (Writer Note: I ordered 200 DK Diner donut for my wedding and there was only one box left the next day mainly because I hid it).

    DK Diner originally established themselves as a breakfast destination (which can be confirmed any Saturday or Sunday Morning). I had forgotten I had breakfast there – once – I had to go through my notes to confirm such but I did indeed have breakfast there and it was good. I’m sure I had donuts. But there is more to dining life other than donuts and breakfast so DK Diner has continually been tweaking their approach to dining after Noon. (Writers Note: This post is dedicated to The Dining Duder who is the least favorite fan of the Ohio Donut Trail).

    All of this came about then I was picking up some donuts for Mrs. Gourmand. I noticed some specials listed near the cash register including a coney special. I love a classic hot dog snadwich but Columbus does not support a hot dog or coney culture so I felt a need, well actually mission, maybe even an obligation to support a coney special. So I made note to come back on a Monday so I could belly up my support.

    Coney

    The coney special includes two coneys with cheese and onions with a hearty serving of hand cut fries. My coney cliff notes: Good combo and a great price. While consuming a coney I noticed another weekly special, Meatloaf. Meatloaf is the litmus test or the canary in a coal mine of any true Diner, so I planned on coming in during my next open Wednesday for more research. This special includes a fist sized serving of meatloaf, mashed potatoes with gravy, green beans (that are cooked not poured out of a can then reheated) and one half of a bun grilled to toast level crispness with a bit of butter. The meatloaf was cooked to perfection with just the right amount of ketchup baked in to the meat. This dish is all DK Diner needs for official diner status.

    meatloaf

    Another item that caught my eye in the side dish category was potato chips. Well actually this caught my eye and kept it, so I ordered these as my appetizer for my meatloaf main course. Wow, these chips are great, they are spindle cut and deep-fried to order coming out fresh with plenty of crispness with just enough slightly chewy pieces intermixed in the mess of potatoes piled into a basket. Other than OH! Chips, you will not find a better fresh potato chip in Ohio.

    Chips

    While masticating meatloaf I spied this on the regular menu: “Schlamager Bratwurst – DK’s special recipe, served on a grilled torpedo bun with sauerkraut, grilled pepper and onions”. So I looked for a day to come back and tried this. Verdict: Sehr gut. I asked my server if she knew anything about the name of the bratwurst or the special recipe, clearly she knew I was trying to get some “intel” so she feigned ignorance. Heading back home, I did some internet research to “crack the Schlamager code” and while I found lots of references to DK Diner I could not find a Schlamager on my screen. What ever Schlamager subterfuge is going on here, the end result is that it is an exceptional bratwurst sandwich experience served with a side of chips (and during my meal, a free donut at check out). What could be better than that? Well. While I was doing research I discovered DK Diner did offer a special featuring this brat with baked beans and pierogis, that would be slightly better than what I had and I would like to see that as a daily special.

    Brat

    So what is the key to success at this dynamic diner? They adapt to the times. Over the years the business has added patio space, focused on building up their bar business with local craft beers and some locally sourced spirits from Watershed Distillery. Another cool thing in the beer offerings, each beer is displayed in a baseball card style format to help guide your drinking decision and to help DK avoid constantly printing new beer menus. While all of this is being crammed into a small amount of space, DK Diner does not challenge guest with complicating anything. Booths feature instructions on how to interact with the diner: Drinks are self-serve, when it is time to leave, go to the counter with your table number and they will ring you out. Want the wi-fi password? It is listed on the information sheet. Another handy feature is the donut menu so you can see what they have to offer. This simple approach to diner satisfaction because most old school diners cater to their regulars that already know “the rules” while DK Diner wants to make you an “insider” on your first trip.

    IMG_2852

    DK Diner Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

    Posted in bar, beer, Diners, donuts | Tagged: , | 3 Comments »

    Leftovers: F. Scott Francis Interview Outakes

    Posted by cmh gourmand on June 28, 2014

    The Summer issue of Stock and Barrel has a story I wrote about the Johnny Appleseed of Columbus Brewing, F. Scott Francis, here is the -> LINK. It was a real joy to get to know Scott and get to know more about his brewing life.

    As part of the interview, I asked him to answer some questions as a sidebar to the story, I have that “bonus” posted below. I’m looking forward to learning about and maybe writing about some of our other pioneers in town like Victor Ecimovich who brought back the Hoster name in the late 1980’s.

    A serving of craft beer wisdom from F. Scott Francis.

    On the current movement to raise the alcohol by volume (ABV) limit to 21%.

    Raising the limit to 21% is worth pursuing but other recent developments have helped local breweries more. Going to 6% was very important; it allowed brewers to brew out of a narrow range of styles. The progression to 12% allowed many new beers to come into the state and allowed local brewers the freedom to brew a much wider range of styles such as Russian Imperial Stouts. The Taproom law changes of a few years ago were also very important. As for a 21% ABV beer, those are much more challenging to brew, requiring a lot more yeast and specialty ingredients and in the end are not very profitable or sustainable for a brewing business.

    Advice for budding brewery owners:

    Having money for a lot of new equipment does not equate a successful brewery. If you have to manage your resources spend a little more on the brewer, which will give you a better chance of creating beer that is appealing to your intended customers. Don’t name your beers before you brew them (which can type cast them). Name the beer after you create it and taste it.

    Advice for new home brewers

    The first thing I tell people is to use a good quality yeast. Also have your primary fermenter surrounded by water, which will help to control the heat. A lot of heat is generated in the first few days of fermenting so controlling the heat will keep the yeast from racing. If you have time and space, do two batches exactly the same but finish one with your fermenter surrounded by water and the other without the water. You will be amazed at how different the two will taste. Talk to as many experienced home brewers as you can before you immerse yourself on Internet brewing sites.

    Difference between brewing in the 1990s and brewing in 2014.

    In the early days the challenge was getting people to try the beer. Today you have a big cross-section of customers of all ages and all levels of craft beer knowledge who are more willing to try new beers. Customers want flavor. Making beer that people want to buy is harder than making a beer style that is technically correct and consistent. Because you made it right does mean it will taste the way the customer expects it or wants it.

    Posted in beer, Behind the Counter, Leftovers | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »