Once a place of constraint, Columbus now leads craft cocktail, distilling and brewing revolution
COLUMBUS, Ohio – This year marks the 100th anniversary of a nationwide prohibition on alcohol consumption, which ironically started in Columbus. Today, the city is a mecca for craft beer, cocktails and spirits, with a number of skilled makers leading the national movement. As a result, visitors can immerse themselves in Cbus’ sizzling nightlife, fueled by wildly creative cocktails, breweries and distilleries – many of which also boast some of the city’s best dining.
Named the “Dry Capital of the World,” the Columbus neighborhood of Westerville was ground zero for prohibition legislation, when it started shutting down bars and liquor sales in the 1850s. This led to a nationwide ban in January of 1920. A century after national prohibition, what was once a dry area, is now a roaring boozy city. Columbus breweries and distilleries are helping define what is one of the most exciting beer and cocktail scenes in the country, placing the city on the map as a must-visit destination for craft cocktail, beer and booze buffs.
BrewDog DogHouse, the world’s first hotel that’s in a brewery, opened in Columbus after the popular Scottish craft brewer picked the city as its North American headquarters. Principals tapped Columbus when social media demonstrated that no U.S. city is more passionate about craft beer. BrewDog’s largest development to date, the complex also includes an interactive beer museum, tap room and the U.S. production facilities. BrewDog’s research bears out, with some 60 craft breweries dotting Columbus’ unique neighborhoods. Most have joined in on the Columbus Ale Trail. Visitors can snag a passport to one of the nation’s most prolific brewery trails, get it stamped and reap rewards with a prize for multiple stops. Columbus Food Adventures brewery tours help travelers truly dive into the city’s profuse local libation scene. Tours tap the city’s many beer-centric neighborhoods, hit styles such as wilds and sours and sample popular pitchers and pizza. Even fine dining is on the menu at one of the city’s top restaurants tucked into one local favorite, Wolf’s Ridge Brewing.
Columbus’ internationally respected distilleries offer the city’s many innovative bartenders locally crafted ingredients that garner best-in-class accolades. The just-opened Law Bird was launched by bartender Annie Williams Pierce and her husband Luke Pierce. Williams Pierce is the first woman to win the U.S. Bartenders’ Guild’s, in partnership with Bombay Sapphire, coveted Most Imaginative Bartender in the World title. Law Bird joins a long list of bars serving incredibly creative cocktails born of local craft spirits.
Rooftop cocktail bars are booming all around Columbus. Lincoln Social Rooftop elevates guests’ experience with a clever cocktail list and stunning views of the Short North Arts District. Juniper, located on the rooftop of a former hardware warehouse, creates a sophisticated aroma, combining refined cocktails with an unrivaled perspective on the Columbus skyline. Perched atop the new Canopy by Hilton in the vibrant Short North Arts District, Goodale Station is the newest addition to the city’s burgeoning sky-high nightlife scene.
Serving up much more than just bottled spirits, Columbus’ two largest and most longstanding distilleries, Middle West Spirits and Watershed Distillery, are home to uber-creative cocktail programs led by wunderkind bartenders. In both cases, the bars are matched by equally exceptional dining in onsite restaurants, thanks to a change in Ohio law that allows distilleries to serve up cocktails -- as long as dining is offered as well. Restaurant and bar operations were added to already revered distilling houses, making the most of the culinary aspect of cocktails. As a result, some of the city’s most creative libations are available just steps from where the hooch is made.
Middle West Spirits’ Service Bar opened in late 2017 after landing executive chef Avishar Barua, who brings influences from his Bangladeshi roots and experience at Mission Chinese. His imaginative menu is punctuated with playful riffs on fast food favorites from his Columbus childhood that once offered a change-up from his mom’s South Asian home cooking. The bar reflects that same spirit in a beverage program that’s a mix of skillfully mixed classics, contemporary twists and unusual smoked concoctions. Awards abound here, as well. Middle West was named U.S. Distillery of the Year in the Berlin International Spirits Competition and nearly every one of its dozen or more spirits, including gins, whiskies, bourbons and vodkas, have brought home gold and silver awards in key spirits competitions. Even Middle West’s bourbon barrel-aged maple syrup won Best Maple Syrup at the Good Food Awards.
Watershed Distillery opened the state’s first restaurant connected to a distillery, Watershed Kitchen & Bar, in early 2017, serving an impressive menu led by chef Jack Moore and a bar program where technical skill and creativity add to the allure. Bar Manger Josh Gandee’s creative menus have become collectibles, changing seasonally and playing on themes such as a survival guide, Columbus’ notable fashion scene, a high school yearbook or even an Ikea catalogue. Watershed’s spirits garner rave reviews, like its rare and seasonal nocino. But its creations also win awards; Watershed’s Guild Series Chamomile-Flavored Gin brought home Double Gold from the World Spirits Competition in San Francisco.
Brothers Drake Meadery has been making great mead from only local honey for well over a decade. A full bar with an impressive cocktail program features recipe that include their mead as a mixer -- along with local spirits. Local music is also served up on Friday and Saturday nights, creating a buzzy spot for Columbus nightlife. Meanwhile, Mad Moon Cider uses local apples to craft cider that’s served up in its tap room and available at local bars and grocers.
Upstart 451 Spirits, tucked into an alley next to a neighborhood dive bar in Columbus’ hip residential neighborhood of Clintonville, is something of a mad scientists’ den for spirits. Interesting improvisations on rum, whiskey and absinthe start with unusual mash bills and end with great results. There’s even Pizza Pie’Chuga, distiller Chad Kessler’s play on Pechuga mezcal that’s infused with local favorite Mikey’s Late Night Slice pizza. At first it sounds like a wholly crazy notion, yet, it makes magic in a Bloody Mary.
Columbus is a city unlike any other. Vibrant and alive, Ohio’s capital is known for its open attitude, smart style and entrepreneurial spirit. Columbus' blend of neighborhoods, dynamic nightlife, noteworthy music scene, arts and culinary experiences, events, attractions and accommodations are all made unforgettable by the diversity of its outgoing locals who warmly welcome visitors. Free travel guides, maps, online booking and detailed information are available at www.ExperienceColumbus.com or 866.397.2657 (866.EXP.COLS). Visitor information is also available on Facebook: facebook.com/ExperienceColumbus, , Twitter: @ExpCols and Instagram: @experiencecolumbus.