Ohio: the heart of it ale

Beer road trip destinations dot the state

By Kevin J. Gray

Photo: Willoughby Brewing Company’s red brick exterior

The brewery explosion of the last three years isn’t a purely Dayton phenomenon. Since 2011, Ohio has grown from 49 operating breweries to more than 100, with more to come (the Ohio Liquor Control has issued more than 120 brewery licenses as of the writing of this article). Attributable to changes to licensing laws that were more small-brewery friendly, as well as a surge in interest in craft beer, Ohio is quickly becoming a brewing powerhouse.

As some readers may know, this writer is a co-organizer for the Montessori School of Dayton’s annual Brew Ha-Ha, an event for which the Dayton City Paper is the lead sponsor. This year’s event, which takes place Saturday, Jan. 31, marks the first All-Ohio tasting in the Miami Valley. The planning team scoured the state for breweries that represent the Ohio brewing landscape, from first wave brewpubs established in the late 1990s to taprooms and production breweries that are still in their first year of operation. Presented below are highlights of that research, with the hope that readers will use this information to explore more of what Ohio has to offer.

Northern Ohio

Willoughby Brewing Company

Willoughby is old school, having opened in 1998. Famous for their occasionally brewed Peanut Butter Coffee Porter, this beer is now brewed year-round. The one-story red brick building is an example of the types of brewpubs opened during its time, offering not only house-made beers, but also a full kitchen with a robust menu and ample seating. (4057 Erie St., Willoughby; willoughbybrewing.com)

Millersburg Brewing Company

Tucked away in a tiny but typical Ohio post-industrial town by the same name, Millersburg opened in 2012. The taproom blends 1920s and modern ascetics with small-town Ohio comfort. The Lot 21 Blonde is their best seller but their Octoberfest was the best version of that style in 2014. (60 E. Jackson St., Millersburg; millersburgbrewing.com)

JAFB Wooster Brewery

JAFB Brewer Paul Fryman worked for several large craft breweries in Colorado and on the East Coast before moving to Ohio to start JAFB with his father and brother. His beers, served in an expansive taproom set in a former factory, are a mix of traditional and experimental styles, all brewed with a subtlety that can be elusive to new breweries. (120 Beall Ave., Wooster; jafbwooster)

Central Ohio

Weasel Boy Brewing Company

Opened in 2007, the brewery has a coffeehouse vibe that would be equally at home in Yellow Springs, with salvaged couches and hand-hewn tables. Weasel Boy’s many beers have ferret-related names, but the brewery became famous for Anastasia, their GABF-medal winning Russian Imperial Stout. (126 Muskingum Ave., Zanesville; weaselboybrewing.com)

Homestead Beer Company

Homestead opened in 2011 on the site of a former Air Force Base. Most of Homestead’s square footage is dedicated to brewing, and visitors get a glimpse of the operation on the way to the small, dedicated taproom. Homestead brews the house beer for Pies and Pints in both Dayton and Columbus. (811 Irving Wick Drive West, Heath; homesteadbeerco.com)

The Actual Brewing Company

In the shadow of Port Columbus airport, this tiny taproom opened in 2012. Actual is more a production brewery than a brewpub, with beers on tap throughout Columbus. Located in industrial park, the brewery is a bit hard to find, but worth the search to try the Conductor Imperial Rye IPA. (655 N. James Road, Columbus; actualbrewing.com)


This oddly named brewery, which opened early last year, brews full-bodied beers on a tiny half-barrel set-up. The taproom looks more like your friend’s basement than a brewery, with mismatched furniture and bearded 20-somethings playing board games, but the atmosphere is fun and comfortable. (545 Schrock Road, Columbus; drinkzaftig.com)

North High Brewing Company

Located in a former 1917 Ford dealership, North High has huge glass windows that overlook its copper brew-on-premise equipment. North High recently added a production brewery a few blocks away to service the growing demand for their beers. Go for the hoppy beers, but be sure to try the North High Life lager, which is spot on. (1288 N. High St., Columbus; northhighbrewing.com)

Seventh Son Brewing Company

Seventh Son opened in April 2013 in Columbus’ historic Italian Village. The building, once an old garage, is bifurcated – shimmering stainless steel brewery to the left, chic bar to the right. Wood burning fireplaces make Seventh Son taproom both modern and comfortable. Their beers are unconventional, with special releases that push styles and expectations. (1101 N. 4th Street, Columbus; seventhsonbrewing)

The Land-Grant Brewery

The newest brewery on this list, Land-Grant opened in October 2014. By no means a trembling-legged rookie, Land-Grant intends to go big, with a state-of-the-art 20 barrel brew house and plenty of room to grow. The brewery blends OSU pride with a modern, communal feel that even people who aren’t sports fans can enjoy. Land-Grant’s signature beer is their Kolsch, which is unusually subtle choice in a beer landscape populated imperial this and sour that, but the beer stands very well on its own. (424 W. Town Street, Columbus; landgrantbrewing.com)

Kevin J. Gray is Dayton City Paper’s Resident Beer Geek. A firm believer in all things balanced, when Kevin isn’t drinking craft beer, he’s hiking or biking to keep his beer belly in optimal shape. Reach Kevin J. Gray at KevinGray@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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