With little fanfare outside the tight-knit Columbus, Ohio craft beer community, Geoff Towne opened Zauber Brewing, a small operation located in Grandview Heights, in 2012. His mission? Aside from producing small batches of the German and Belgian-style brews he loved, he sought to be part of the vanguard that could transport Columbus into the upper echelons of the craft beer world. Portland, Oregon (with a population roughly the same as Columbus) was home to some 40 breweries, while Columbus, despite a rich, nearly two centuries-old beer making tradition, could count only 5 breweries as its own (not counting the massive Anheuser-Busch/InBev brewery on the city’s north side).
Geoff’s credentials were legit: a graduate of the Brewmaster’s program at the University of California-Davis, he had worked at Great Lakes Brewing in Cleveland before heading south to Cincinnati to brew with the Boston Beer Company (Samuel Adams). His European travels had instilled in him a love for the Eurpoean beer culture, and he then made the move to Ohio’s capital city to venture out into the beer world as his own boss, first opening a small pilot-size brewery that sold growler fills and whose beers found their way into the bars of several local restaurants and then, in January 2014, opening a 90-seat bar/taproom setup (with an additional 50 seats on a patio that was completed in the summer) that, in addition to selling Zauber’s own (albeit limited-production) brews, also offered several taps of local breweries’ products, as well as an impressive rotation of local food trucks to serve hungry patrons. The summer of 2014 saw Zauber’s credentials get even more impressive with the hiring of Cameron Lloyd as Head Brewer. A Certified Brewmaster, Cameron graduated from Versuchs und Lehrenstalt fur Brauerei in Berlin, Germany, and, after stints at August Schell Brewing Company in Minnesota and North Coast Brewing in California, moved to Columbus and found an outlet for his love of Belgian and German-style beers at Zauber.
In just a couple short years, craft breweries in the central Ohio area have more than tripled, with several more on the way and, as the market grew, so, too, did the demand for Zauber’s beers. Still operating from the same pilot system, Zauber beers were often hard to come by, even in their own taproom. Released in small batches on Thursdays, it was not uncommon to visit the taproom late on the same evening to discover that the batch had sold out. This led Geoff to dreams of expansion and, in the spring of this year, Zauber completed an expansion to a 20-barrel system capable of putting out roughly 800 gallons (200 kegs) of beer each month, virtually guaranteeing that taproom patrons will always and forever be able to sample the fine offerings brewed just yards from the bar. The expansion launched with a four-beer lineup of Myopic Red (German Altbier, 5.00% ABV), Vertigo (Hefeweizen, 5.40% ABV), Kitschy (Kolsch, 5.30%ABV) and Berzerker (Belgian IPA). On a personal note, my favorite Zauber offering is the splendidly quaffable Portergeist (American Porter, 5.00%ABV), which I fully credit for turning me on to the wonders of a good porter. Plans are for as many as 10 Zauber beers on tap at any given time, and the original pilot system is still in place to provide a platform for one-offs and specials, as well as some experimentation.
Fans of great beer have good reason to visit Columbus, if for no other reason than to pull up a bench in Zauber’s taproom and, along with close friends or new acquaintances alike, share in the passion that Geoff Towne and company have brought to Ohio’s capital city.