Table Talk

Shop's owners helped brew up new hobby in Columbus

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When brothers Scott and John "Kenny" Francis bought the Winemaker's Shop in 1974, brewing beer at home was essentially illegal.

Not that it mattered, Scott Francis said, because police generally ignored the arcane law and few people were home-brewing anyway.

Things are much different these days, long after the law that dated to Prohibition was repealed in 1979.

Kenny Francis later became mayor of Reynoldsburg, but Scott stayed in the business and would hire his future wife, Nina Hawranick.

As they reflect on their 40 years at 3517 N. High St. in Clintonville, they marvel at the current enthusiasm in home-brewing and craft beer in general.

"It's becoming very sophisticated," Hawranick said. "Home brewers are so much more educated."

Back in '74, home brewers had one style of hop, a cascade and two malt extracts.

"There was no business because the yeast I had was bad and the hops came in bricks wrapped in paper that sat on a shelf," Francis said.

Now there are more than 100 styles of hops, better yeast and malts, and a greater variety of ingredients, they said.

People are more knowledgeable about the equipment and how to use and store the ingredients.

In addition, Hawranick said, amateur brewers have more access to professionals through more speaker conferences, brewer visits and microbrew fests.

"And people want to know that stuff," she said.

A typical kit costs $95 with ingredients running about $75. That will yield five gallons, or a little more than two cases. To the frequent home brewer, the investment is well worth it, Hawranick said.

"You are saving money brewing your own," she said. "It's fresh -- no chemicals."

When the Winemaker's Shop started, beer accounted for about 5 percent of the business. Today, it's about 60 percent.

The couple were quick to point out there is no false competition between wine and beer. Many enthusiasts make both at home.

Yet there is no denying that many Americans have become hopeless devotees of craft beer, creating more home brewers, microbreweries and brew pubs.

Francis said when he bought Winemaker's, there were 40 functioning breweries throughout the United States. Now, there are roughly 100 craft breweries in Ohio, and the number keeps growing.

But it wasn't always that way.

Francis helped to found Columbus Brewing Co. in 1989, before it moved to its present location in the Brewery District and a restaurant was added to the complex.

Francis said times were lean back then.

"I couldn't give the beer away," he said.

Bar managers were reluctant to buy it, saying it was too expensive and people had become too accustomed to American macrobrews.

But over time, a few brew pubs sprouted up in Columbus -- including Hoster, Elevator and Barley's, the latter of which Francis was head brewmaster for 18 years. The selection at bars, carryouts and specialty stores blossomed, ushering in a new era in beer appreciation.

Brewing has become something of a family affair at the couple's household, with sons Ivan and Alex involved in the business.

Ivan designed and maintains the store's website and directs social media, while Alex will join his father at Uptown Deli and Brew Co., set to open soon in Westerville.

Hawranick said she and her husband had considered relocating to a bigger storefront with a tasting room and in-house production, but they never found a suitable location and the timing never seemed right.

"We'd like to stay in Clintonville," she said.

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