Table Talk

Brewery tries to keep up with demand

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Lorrie Cecil/ThisWeek
Columbus Brewing Co. brewmaster Eric Bean packs beer as it comes off the company’s new bottling system May 16. Columbus Brewing Co. plans to add four new fermenters in the near future to increase production.
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Columbus Brewing Co. is set to double its production, flooding the market with 8,000 gallons – or 1,500 additional cases – of beer each week.

Eric Bean, owner and brewmaster of CBC, likes where his business is headed.

Over the past year, he’s invested about $300,000 into the Brewery District facility, which includes four new fermenters and a semiautomated packaging machine that allows CBC to turn out 60 cases an hour.

“The big thing we improved on is speed,” he said.

Columbus Brewing Co. is the largest craft brewery in the city, ramping up production to more than 10,000 barrels a year. Bean clocks the company’s growth at 30 percent a year in each of the last two years – and he still can’t keep up.

“Our demand is bigger than that, but we can’t supply it,” he said. “Everybody says that’s a good problem to have, and it is – but you’ve got to do something about it.”

The brewery is known for its four staples: pale ale, India pale ale and Scottish ale (all of which are available by the bottle) and the Bodhi, a double IPA. There’s also an abundance of seasonal brews, such as the Summer Teeth, which is now on the market.

“The ‘buy local’ movement has been super strong,” he said, noting he has made inroads in the Cleveland market. “We see it as the consumer and retailer pushing each other.”

Bean, 39, was a partner for six years and has owned CBC outright for the past year. The brewery is a separate entity from the adjacent Columbus Brewing Co. restaurant, 525 Short St. Space in the 6,000-square-foot building is at a premium. A new state law allows craft brewers to offer samples from their tasting rooms and sell directly to the public. The only problem: There’s no tasting room yet, pointing to the need for more space and likely a move in the future.

“That’s in the works for this year,” Bean said. “We’re trying to find a way to make it work with our limited space. We know we’re going to have to build a new facility” eventually, he said, adding he plans to stay in the city of Columbus.

A graduate of Kent State University, Bean completed the master brewer program at the University of California, Davis. He got his start at a brewery in Cleveland that’s no longer in existence. His mentor was a German brewmaster and one of his favorite styles is lager because of its complexity.

However, he doesn’t have a particular brewing philosophy.

“Generally our beers are approached the same way: We want to drink them.”

But Columbus Brewing Co. isn’t the only local brewery on the uptick. Elevator Brewing Co. just doubled the size of its South Fourth Street facility downtown and soon will install two 60-barrel fermenters and a 60-barrel bright tank, with the goal of increasing production from 7,500 barrels to 10,000 barrels a year by the end of 2013.

“I’m just adamant about building,” owner Dick Stevens said. “Our goal is to do the whole state by the end of next year.”

Yet with all of the craft-beer enthusiasm out there, there still are some challenges, particularly for breweries such as Elevator that self-distribute, Stevens said.

“With the proliferation of craft beer, shelf space is tough to get, just because the volume of beers that are out there in the market,” said Stevens, who also owns the Elevator restaurant, a separate business.

Local artisan breweries, such as the Four String Brewing Co., are coming on line more frequently. Stevens said he welcomes the newcomers.

“We still have a kind of fraternity in brewing,” he said. “It’s just a great industry to be in because we can all sit in a room and talk and, if we can, help each other.”

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