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CASTLE MALTING NEWS in partnership with www.e-malt.com Greek
21 January, 2021

Brewing news USA, OH: More Columbus breweries have opened than closed, despite pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic devastated Ohio's bars and restaurants. Dozens of taverns, pubs and eateries have closed in central Ohio since the virus first reached the state in March, the Columbus Dispatch reported on January 22.

Craft breweries, however, are still opening at a healthy clip.

Since the pandemic reached the Buckeye State, nine breweries have opened in central Ohio and five have closed. Statewide, 47 opened and 15 closed.

The trend doesn’t necessarily mean that small breweries are thriving — although few would argue the coronavirus robbed Ohio of its appetite for craft beer. Most openings were in the works prior to the pandemic, as a craft brewery typically takes months or years to go from the drawing board to the grand opening.

An official tally from the Ohio Craft Brewers Association lists 10 openings in Franklin County and the surrounding counties during the pandemic, against six closures. However, the 1487 Brewery is on both lists because it closed its Alexandria taproom and moved to Plain City.

A delayed opening wasn't an option for most of the nine breweries that went online in the last year.

“These folks opening breweries have likely been in planning since pre-pandemic,” said Mary MacDonald, executive director of the Ohio Craft Brewers Association. “Many already had a space they were renting and invested in equipment. Once they are invested, the best way to get revenue coming in is to start producing beer and opening to the degree they are able.”

Buckeye Lake Brewery owner Rich Hennosy long has sought to expand his operation in the lakeside village in Fairfield and Licking counties, but “we couldn’t get a space that was bigger in Buckeye Lake,” he said.

When officials from Reynoldsburg learned he was looking to expand his beer production, they asked him to consider their city, Hennosy said. The brewery owner started looking at buildings in the suburb in the summer of 2018 and eventually found the structure that would house Eastside Brewing Co., which includes a taproom.

“That’s where we make our money,” Hennosy said.

Delays in acquiring funds pushed back the opening date — right into the pandemic. If Hennosy didn’t already have a successful brewery in Buckeye Lake, he said he might have reconsidered the expansion.

At least one brewery opened a taproom during the pandemic not having planned it previously.

Derive Brewing Co. has brewed beer on a contract basis, and over the summer, owners Lucas Sherrill and Peter Steffes were offered the chance to buy the space in Clintonville that once housed SIP Local, which closed months earlier. Steffes said the opportunity was too good to pass up.

“Clintonville has a great demographic for craft beer consumers,” he said.

It hasn’t been smooth sailing. Derive temporarily shuttered after one of Steffes' and Sherrill’s business partners tested positive for COVID-19.

“We shut down for a total of 11 days,” Steffes said. “It was still nice weather, so that was a lot of lost income. It took us probably a month if not more to recover from that.”

It’s unclear if most of the region's brewery closures are related to the pandemic, and representatives of several of the defunct central Ohio breweries did not respond to messages seeking comment.

However, Gordon Biersch in the Arena District is among the closures, and Arena District bars and restaurants were especially hard hit by the pandemic as events were nixed at Nationwide Arena and the Greater Columbus Convention Center.

Elevator Brewing Co. owner Dick Stevens, 81, cited his age and low taproom sales when asked why he decided to close the brewery in October and sell its operations to Athens brewery Jackie O’s, which took over the venerable beer producer’s Downtown space.

The time it takes to get a brewery up and running depends on a number of factors.

“If you’re building a brewery from scratch, it can take years from concept to completion,” said Justin Hemminger, deputy director of the Ohio Craft Brewers Association.

Jon St. Julian, co-owner of Crooked Can Brewing Co. in Hilliard, said the fledgling brewery was in the works for about three years before a soft opening in early February. However, Gov. Mike DeWine shuttered most nonessential businesses in mid-March before the taproom could fully open

“We didn't plan to open during a pandemic, obviously,” St. Julian said.

Construction workers broke ground on Edison Brewing Co. in Gahanna in 2018, and the ownership planned to have the taproom open in 2019. Construction delays dragged into 2020, and work still wasn't finished when DeWine ordered his temporary closures..

“We had items for the brewhouse coming from overseas,” owner Wil Schulze said. “Parts and pieces of the system were delayed. That made finishing off the inside of the building go a little slower.”

Edison opened its doors on July 30, giving customers their first taste of the beer maker’s European-style offerings. And the work still isn’t finished, Schulze said.

“We’re getting ready to start expansion on the beer garden to make it even more of an outdoor space,” he said.

Bar and restaurant patrons have gravitated toward patios after infectious disease experts advised that the virus spreads faster indoors.

In spite of the openings, there can be no doubt that small beer producers have struggled to make ends meet in the past year.

St. Julian said he and his business partner made revenue projections before the pandemic, but “it’s not nearly what we thought it would be. We’ve never been open in a normal environment.”

Breweries sell their concoctions to restaurants and other bars, which have been hit by restrictions intended to stem the spread of the coronavirus, along with patrons who would rather enjoy their meals at home.

Those same factors also depressed taproom sales, which smaller breweries depend on for higher profit margins.

Hennosy expects to see more craft breweries close in the coming months as they deplete their savings.

“I think everybody is trying to hold out until spring,” he said.

The first Ohioans were inoculated against the coronavirus in the waning days of 2020, but vaccines aren’t expected to be available to the general public for several months.


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