Table Talk

From A to Zauber, craft beer taking off in Columbus

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The opening of Zauber Brewing Co. only confirmed what many people already thought: Columbus is an enthusiastic craft-beer town.

Central Ohio's latest brew pub, which has opened in the former Reed Arts space, 909 W. Fifth Ave., is now among 19 local craft breweries offering a distinct array of styles.

Local experts and devotees say there's room for more -- possibly another dozen -- in the region, as the thirst for artisan beers is on the rise.

"I think we're definitely not at our limit yet," said Cheryl Harrison, founder of Drink Up Columbus, a website dedicated to news and reviews of craft breweries and other beverage producers.

Harrison said she's aware of at least four more microbreweries planned this year for the area, so there could be a shakeout in the next couple of years.

"I think we'll see some of the smaller players go away," she said. "Right now, it's kind of a quality issue."

Geoff Towne, managing partner of Zauber, said he's developing an American-style beer with German roots. For now, he's brewing a small batch: one barrel -- 63 gallons -- a week, which is released each Thursday and sells out within several hours.

He said he will ramp up production this spring after a new 20-barrel system is installed.

Zauber started about a year ago on nearby Norton Avenue as a sort of pilot brewery, filling up 64-ounce jugs, or "growlers," and 32-ounce "growlettes."

The new 10,000-square-foot building, a third of which is leased to other users, features an industrial vibe, with wooden picnic tables, cinder-block walls and 14 beers on tap. A separate growler room has 12 taps.

Zauber, which means "magical" or "enchanted" in German, serves no food on premises. OH! Burgers, a food truck, provides meals for hungry patrons.

But Dave Kincheloe, president of National Restaurant Consultants in Denver, Colo., said microbrews that don't have a strong food component are likely to be lost in the panoply of pints.

Allowing people to bring in their own food, or relying on food trucks, is a "weakness" in the business model, he said.

Kincheloe said beer might bring people through the door, but food gives them a reason to stay, and for longer periods of time.

"They're going to have to add a restaurant or they're going to be in trouble," he said.

With or without food, microbreweries are good for the local economy and Ohio overall, said Mary Martineau, executive director of the Ohio Craft Brewers Association.

In the United States, Ohio is fourth in craft-beer production -- including a Samuel Adams brewery near Cincinnati -- with 981,000 barrels annually. Craft breweries contributed $1.2 billion to the state economy in 2012, Martineau said.

She said the uptick in artisan brews can be attributed to many things, among them the "buy local" movement.

"When the economy did what it did a few years ago, I think people began to look at how they could support their local economy," Martineau said.

Plus, state government has been very friendly to craft brewers, she said.

In early 2012, a law went into effect allowing craft brewers to sell tasting samples by the glass instead of having them secure a costly second permit.

Also, a bill recently was introduced in the Ohio House of Representatives that would increase the maximum percentage of alcohol allowed in beer sold or produced in the state from 12 percent to 21 percent, bringing Ohio in line with surrounding states.

Brewers say there's incredible support within the craft community, with pubs dedicating a few handles to their friendly competition.

Customers seem to like local options as well, said Tim Ward, co-founder of North High Brewing, just north of Fifth Avenue.

"Local beers sell better than anything else," Ward said of North High, which has 30 handles -- offering 10 of its own, 10 for local breweries and the remainder for 10 national labels.

"It's about creating good relationships," Ward said.

"And for the most part, we have a very good relationship with the other breweries in Columbus."

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