Columbus, Ohio, is not the meat-and-potato metropolis of many years in the past. Yes, there are the large restaurant chains. Wendy’s, White Castle and Sbarro, to call just a few, have nationwide headquarters right here. But the state capital is now one of many nation’s fastest-growing cities, and it has dynamic artwork tasks, good eating places and a revitalized riverfront. Recently, it additionally has been getting buzz for its spirits, with a recent crop of homegrown micro distilleries elevating town’s drink scene.
While craft breweries in Columbus have flourished by the handfuls, following a nationwide pattern, a surge in small distilleries of whiskey and different spirits has solely occurred in the previous couple of years due to legislative modifications that relaxed craft-distilling restrictions in the state.
“The environment is ripe for new distilleries to emerge,” stated Cheryl Harrison, who edits the weblog Drink Up Columbus.
Nearly 60 craft distilleries, largely clustered in the Columbus space, now function in Ohio, up from a handful a decade in the past. To draw extra prospects and to develop their manufacturers, many of those micro distilleries have added tasting rooms, bottle outlets and eating places that experiment with meals and spirit pairings.
The rise in craft distilleries is the results of profitable lobbying in 2016 by a bunch of native distillers to vary a state legislation, which evoked the Prohibition period by limiting the methods spirits might be produced and bought. Their efforts started in 2012 and led to a loosening of restrictions on distilleries’ means to serve on to prospects.
That new flexibility, extra aligned with practices in craft breweries, prompted the co-founders of Watershed Distillery, to open the chic, full-service restaurant, Watershed Kitchen & Bar, in late 2016, just a few months after the state law was changed.
“We thought about a great bar with a food truck, but we put so much into the spirits,” said Greg Lehman, a co-founder of Watershed Distillery.
Before the state law was changed, Watershed could only serve four quarter-ounce samples without ice or mixers, not ideal for a brand trying to show off its product; nor could it operate a tasting room or restaurant, unlike brew pubs or wineries, which were not subject to distilling restrictions.
Now after tours of the distillery, which last more than an hour and explore the distillation process from grain to bottle of their eight spirits, groups head to the restaurant, led by the chef Jack Moore, the former sous chef of The Greenhouse Tavern, an award-winning restaurant in Cleveland. Customers can sample the distillery’s gins, bourbon and an Italian liqueur called nocino made with Ohio-grown black walnuts in cocktails infused with local, seasonal ingredients. While admiring the distillery tanks through a window from a copper-topped bar, they also can savor farm-to-table fare like hay-smoked baby back ribs and popcorn sweetbreads.
Fronting an antique wooden back bar picked up from an old Cincinnati tavern, mixologists shake cocktails made with their rye pumpernickel whiskey and barrel-finished honey vanilla bean vodka, as well as spirits made from other distilleries.
On a recent visit, the dining room was filled with stylish patrons snacking on dishes like crispy short rib served with housemade bao and an oak-smoked brisket wrapped in Bengali fry bread, created by the chef Avishar Barua, who once worked at New York’s rule-breaking restaurants WD-50 and Mission Chinese. Having the restaurant has been a boon to the brand.
“In a regular year we might bring in 7,500 on tours, now with Service Bar we’ll bring in 50,000,” said Brady Konya, who founded Middle West Spirits with his business partner, Ryan Lang, the grandson of a bootlegger. “The exposure is huge.”
The hourlong tours of the 1,500-square-foot production room at Noble Cut Distillery, set in a business park in the suburb of Gahanna, have been a way to familiarize customers with the brand. Tony Guilfoy, the head distiller and co-owner, gives guests a brief history lesson, followed by a sampling. You can also pop into the distillery’s tasting room during visiting hours to sample orangecello or dark cherry-flavored whiskey.
In the buzzy Grandview neighborhood near downtown, High Bank Distillery Co. opened in 2018 as more of a restaurant with a distillery than a distillery with a restaurant. It’s a 9,000-square-foot industrial space with a long bar, mostly high-top tables, and foosball and table hockey games, in addition to TVs at every angle. The shiny distillery equipment can be seen through a glass window in the back. You can sample the vodka, citrusy gin and whiskey at the bar, though bourbon is still a couple of years away from release. The pub-style menu is built around Ohio eggs, meats, honey, dairy and maple syrup.
Similarly, Echo Spirits Distilling Co, also in Grandview, plans later this year to open a distillery bar that will dispense meals from on-site food trucks.
In suburban Clintonville, Chad Kessler operates a small distillery, 451 Spirits, out of what is essentially a large garage filled with barrels and a couple of stills, and decorated with guitars and skateboards.
The informal set up allows Mr. Kessler to be more experimental than some other distillers. He uses a labor-intensive method in his smoked apple-flavored whiskey, a process of fractional blending and aging different batches of the spirit, something more common in the production of sherry. He also infuses a New American style dry gin with local spicebush, sometimes called Appalachian allspice, among other botanicals.
He seizes any opportunity to try something new, even his dissatisfaction with the quality of Ohio grapes. “That’s why we use apple brandy for our absinthe,” Mr. Kessler said as he gave a tour.
Mr. Kessler told the 10 people gathered, most of whom found out about the tour on Groupon, that a great deal of knowledge about distilling was lost during Prohibition, when the production and sale of alcohol was banned nationwide from 1920 to 1933. He likes to think he’s recovering some of it, even if he sometimes makes things that don’t make sense on a larger scale.
Take for instance, his Pizza Pie-chuga. Mr. Kessler redistilled white whiskey with slices of pepperoni pizza from the local pizzeria, Mikey’s Late Night Slice, as a joke. They are now on their fourth batch and it sells out every time. He pours a sample into a plastic shot glass for everyone in the group.
“Oh my,” a young woman said. “That really smells like pizza.”
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