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Columbus is 9th Top City for “Microbrewery Density”

Walker Evans Walker Evans Columbus is 9th Top City for “Microbrewery Density”Photo by Walker Evans.
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If it seems like Columbus has a new brewery opening up every other month, it’s because it’s almost true. The craft beer scene has exploded here in Columbus in the past decade. Prior to 2012, you could count the number of local breweries on one hand. Just five years later, there are over three dozen that call Central Ohio home.

“Nationally, the increased popularity of craft beer caught traction and continues to gain traction,” explained Mary MacDonald, Executive Director of the Ohio Craft Brewers Association. “We don’t get to claim ownership of of that just in Ohio, but Ohio has had some favorable legislation enacted in the past five years that has made it easier and more economical to start a brewery. That has been a catalyst for our state.”

According to a new study by CityObservatory.org, Columbus is now ranked one of the top cities leading the craft beer movement in an urban setting. The Portland-based think tank studied the number of breweries in major US cities located within a five mile radius of the center of the city, and Columbus clocked in at #9 on the list with 28 breweries tallied up. Cincinnati isn’t far behind with 23 breweries, and Cleveland clocks in with 20. Portland leads the list with 89, and Denver trails in a close second with 85.

“In an era in which so much of what we consume is commoditized and globalized, its nice to see a distinctive local product flourishing in so many places around the country,” stated City Observatory article author Joe Cortright.

It’s worth noting that when beer drinkers in Columbus think about local brew, they tend to stray beyond the five mile radius that the study takes into consideration. Drink Up Columbus founder Cheryl Harrison has tallied up 37 local breweries that are already open — or coming soon — and she doesn’t think that growth will end anytime in the near future.

“There more than 8,000 wineries in the US and around 4,500 breweries, and Americans drink a lot more beer than we do wine,” she stated. “There is still plenty of room for small and niche craft breweries.”

MacDonald agrees that there’s still a lot of room for growth in Central Ohio, pointing out that even though dozens of new breweries have opened in recent years, they don’t appear to be cannibalizing each other, and most have already begun expanding beyond their original capacities.

“The Columbus Brewing Company, Elevator, Four String, Seventh Son, North High and Sideswipe have all expanded or are planning expansions,” she said. “Some are buying or leasing additional buildings so they can have warehouse space to add larger tanks.”

While the growth is certainly good news for the local economy, MacDonald questions whether any of the local breweries will become as omnipresent as Bud Light or Pabst — or if they even want to grow that large.

“I don’t know which of our breweries have aspirations to be a national brand, but I think most want to have a strong Ohio presence,” she added. “Whether that’s in Columbus or Cleveland or Cincinnati, they’ll focus on our home state first, adding new facilities in other cities.”

That trend has been evident in Columbus already, with Cincinnati’s Rhinegeist expanding distribution to Columbus in 2015, and Cleveland’s Platform Beer arriving in Columbus just a few weeks ago with a new distribution, brewery and taproom facility.

“The fact that these breweries can self-distribute their own beer certainly contributed to accelerated growth in Ohio,” said Harrison.

In terms of specific styles and taste preferences, MacDonald said that microbrew aficionados can expect to see the popularity of sours and barrel-aged beers continue to grow while IPAs will remain top-of-mind for most craft beer consumers. Harrison predicts that the movement will continue to grow even more hyperlocal in the coming years.

“The desire to support local seems to be narrowing from ‘beer brewed in Ohio’ to ‘beer brewed in my same zip code’,” she said. “I expect to see more small breweries opening up in neighborhoods and suburbs that don’t currently have their own brewery, or only have one or two.”

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