Brewing My Own at North High Brewing Co - Columbus, Ohio, USA

Occasionally, I come across a brewery with a unique hands-on opportunity. North High Brewing Co in my hometown of Columbus, Ohio, USA is one such brewery. North High opened six and a half years ago as a small, street-front brewery and taproom on High Street, the city's primary North-South thoroughfare. It's centrally located between the Ohio State University campus and the Short North Arts District, with lots of opportunity for drive-by and walk-in customers. It wasn't long before North High outgrew their original space and expanded to a much larger production facility not far away. The original taproom remains a hub for craft beer drinkers, and the original brew house is a "brew your own" facility.

 
I brewed my own beer

Brew Day

Not yet having hands-on brewing experience, I decided that North High's program would be the perfect way for me to get my feet wet with zero investment in home brewing equipment and supplies. I gathered my stepmom Kim and we set out to the brewery on a recent Sunday afternoon to brew our very own beer. We were greeted by James Clifford, the brewer who leads the brew-your-own program. After some quick introductions, we discussed beer styles. North High has a recipe book offering a diverse selection of brews. Knowing that we would be producing about 6 cases of beer, I wanted to pick a style that would have broad appeal. We settled on a modified IPA recipe that would be similar to a New England style: juicy and not too bitter.

One of the brew-your-own groups in the brewhouse

When James schedules individuals and groups to brew their own, he can oversee several kettles at once by staggering the brewing times of the groups. On our brew day, there were two other groups present, including one birthday party. Many of the brew-your-own participants choose this as a fun, social or team-building activity and are not interested in being 100% hands-on. Kim and I were different - we wanted to do as much as we could. Kim had some previous experience assisting my dad Steve years ago when he discovered home brewing, but I had no practical experience, and I wanted some.

While we waited for James to get our supplies ready, Kim and I enjoyed some delicious beverages from the bar. While I'm primarily a beer drinker, Kim is a vodka drinker. Neither of us was disappointed. Kim tried several vodkas from local craft distilleries, and I sampled some of the North High beers that I hadn't tried before, including Apple Brandy Life, a sparkling ale. Apparently I was too busy working and taking pictures to keep track of the other beers I tried, but I know that in the past I've enjoyed their Milk Stout and Mister Fahrenheit, the New England IPA that my beer would be based on.

Sampling malts

Measuring liquid malt extracts for our beer

Kim with our pouch of milled caramel malt, or grist

The brew-your-own program at North High offers a simplified brewing process, designed perhaps to save time and cost. Rather than making our own mash, we started with two liquid malt extracts (Pale and Pilsener) that went straight into the kettle. For good measure, James did have us mill some caramel malt, load the grist into a mesh sleeve, and dip it into the kettle to impart some of its flavor and starch. But because we didn't create a traditional mash, there was no need for lautering, or separating liquid wort from spent grain. Instead, our malt extracts dissolved into the boil.

 
Adding the grist
Our kettle
Kim adds one of our malt extracts
I add our second malt extract
And then the several hour boiling process took place. We added various hop pellets at specified times to contribute the classic bitterness expected in an IPA, as well as some citrusy flavors. Our hops were Summit, Chinook, Cascade, Centennial and Citra. At the end of the boil we were left with a wort that had just a little bit of solid matter from the spent hop pellets and proteins. James managed the filtering and cooling of our wort into a blue, plastic fermenting vessel where it would live for a few weeks. House yeast was added quickly, so as to not let much air into the vessel. And that was it for the brewing day.

Kim adds one of our wet hops; they went into the kettle at various intervals
And our beer boils
Transferring our wort from the kettle into the fermenter

James adds the yeast for us

And there it is: batch D098 wort, starting to ferment

Honorary North High brewers, we had a fun brew day with James as our guide

Dry Hop Day

About a week later, I returned to North High to add the dry hops to my beer under James' supervision. Typically, he manages this step for the batches that need to be dry-hopped, but I wanted to be part of it. I measured the hops, wrapped them in the mesh, and added them to the fermenting vessel quickly. The dry hops were Summit, Chinook, Centennial and Citra. 

Measuring the dry hops

Dry hops ready to go into the fermenter

And while I was there, I tried the newly released North High AF American IPA, which I thought was well-balanced and refreshing. I enjoyed sitting at the bar and talking to some of the happy hour patrons. The building housing North High's taproom was an old-time car dealership, as well as other businesses over the years. There is a lot of character to be found in the woodwork, the showroom floor (you can see where a a turntable used to display cars), and the wall of mailbox cubbies. The atmosphere feels very 1930s/1940s.

You can see some of the woodworking detail from the bar; on the far side is the brew-your-own area

Drinking a North High AF American IPA on dry hop day

Canning Day

Three and a half weeks after brewing, I returned to North High to can my beer. Brew-your-own participants can choose bottles or cans as their packaging. I selected cans because they're lighter, stack-able, air-tight and block all light from spoiling the beer. Before my canning day, I provided James with my label artwork. The brewery is required by law to label all beer that leaves the premises, but part of the label was ours to design (shout-out to my logo and beer label designer Ted Townsend). Before canning, I observed James transfer my beer from its fermenter into a keg, and then add the CO2. For canning, he hooked up a wand to the keg and the CO2 tank. The beer was fed from inside the cooler through a hose to the wand at a workstation outside the cooler.

Starting my canning session with a North High Grapefruit Walleye IPA

Kegging the beer

Labels printing

First taste of my beer

James demonstrated the proper techniques for adding first CO2 and then beer to each can, and then sealing the can. Little did I know how much time it would take to can six cases of beer by myself. Every single can had to be filled, sealed and labeled by hand. I spent a few hours at the brewery that evening, but it was worthwhile. First, I got to taste a new-to-me North High brew, Grapefruit Walleye IPA (does not contain fish), which was pretty good. And then I got to taste my own beer, which was indeed a very drinkable IPA that gave me some of the juiciness I was expecting, without too much bitterness. I also got to chat with Gavin Meyers, one of the brewery's founders. I told him about my brew-your-own experience and he also tried my beer.



Filling cans by hand

Sealing cans

Starting to stack the 6-packs

I highly recommend going to North High if you want to try your hand at brewing, and it certainly would make a fun team-building experience for a small group. You should know that this is a streamlined brewing process, and you won't be turned loose to do just anything that you want. There are recipes, controls and supervision in place, but these things ensure that you leave with six cases of good beer that you'll want to drink. James is willing to work with you to help with recipe selection, and explain as much about the brewing process as you want to learn.

Final product

Now, what to do with my six cases of The Brewery Log 2019 India Pale Ale? I think I'll plan a little can release party and invite friends and neighbors. The weather is just about right to have a little outdoor IPA tasting party one evening. I'll distribute a few six packs to select friends and family members too. And...I'll probably be drinking this IPA for a little while. Good thing it's tasty!

Visit

The North High taproom is open daily. In addition to beer and spirits, you'll find occasional food trucks, and there are many neighborhood restaurants where you can grab take-out to eat in the taproom. The brew-your-own program operates every day except Mondays and Wednesdays, and you can schedule your session online. Costs vary by beer style, but you can expect to spend about $300 total for brewing and packaging 6 cases to take home. The North High production facility is closed to the public except for special events, such as their annual anniversary party in December. Check out the brewery at northhighbrewing.com or follow them on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

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