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Cup Runneth Over

Photo by Collins Laatsch Humans have been drinking coffee for over six centuries, and caffeine is the most widely used psychoactive agent on the planet. Though it’s not hard to find a six dollar cuppa, very little of the money made from the end of the line works its way back to the hands that [...]
Jeni Ruisch

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Photo by Collins Laatsch

Humans have been drinking coffee for over six centuries, and caffeine is the most widely used psychoactive agent on the planet. Though it’s not hard to find a six dollar cuppa, very little of the money made from the end of the line works its way back to the hands that picked the beans. Founder and President of Crimson Cup, Columbus’s own Greg Ubert wants to change the coffee game as the world sees it, and he’s building his own arena right here in central Ohio. He has enlisted himself to strengthen the chain from tropical dirt to capital city cup, and back again. Ubert knows intimately that the place where you buy your hot morning Joe, or set up your laptop to “get some work done” is the end of a very long line of people. From farmers to field workers, roasters to purchasers, baristas to drinkers, these plants pass through many hands before they get splashed on your crossword puzzle

Laid back and soft spoken, you’d never know Ubert deals in caffeine. From Worthington to Harvard to a lucrative coding job in Chicago, Ubert found that his fire wasn’t being fueled in his chosen field of computer software. With his whole career ahead of him, he turned his back to the windy city, and headed home to the heart of it all to hit the books and the streets.

“In 1991, it was nothing like it is today. But with what Columbus had, I knew it was going to get here eventually. [It had a] really good school system, the Capital is here, [there are] businesses of all sorts, a great entrepreneurial spirit, and a culture of giving and sharing, which I think is really important. I’ve come to understand that we kind of take it for granted being here but that’s not exactly what happens in other parts of the country.”

The idea for coffee shops came to him while relaxing with some joe in a California cafe. Much like the software and code he was used to, he wanted to know every bit of information that went into the coffee buying and selling process.

“I wanted to understand the wholesale aspects of the business. So I was traveling from Omaha to Boston to Bar Harbor, Maine. Because there weren’t that many coffee houses around at that time. I tried to go to as many places as I could to find out ‘why are some places succeeding and why are some places not?’ So I learned that in the 90’s, and wrote a book about it (“Seven Steps to Success in the Specialty Coffee Industry.”) I realized that just supplying customers great products didn’t necessarily ensure them success. So that’s when we started the teaching and training aspects in the 90’s. And now you see (he gestures around to classrooms and the laboratory) the latest of what it is we do and how it is we teach and train and continue to innovate.”

When Ubert refers to his customers, he doesn’t mean the individuals who purchase cups of coffee at Crimson Cup locations. He’s referring to the owners of the shops (Crimson Cup franchises, as well as independent shops) that buy their beans wholesale from him. Ubert resides a few links back in the supply chain, ever the man behind the curtain.

What sets Crimson Cup apart from other coffee shops and suppliers is its relationships across the globe, and the research they do. The Innovation Lab is a brain trust of testing and teaching. There are classrooms, stocked to the gills with all the bells and whistles of brewing, open to the public, offering all stripes of coffee curriculum. From basics to roasting and brewing, anyone with interest in growing their barista skill set can enroll. There are 19 such Specialty Coffee Association-certified facilities in the country that can offer the same high levels of training, but Crimson Cup stands out. The company was named one of the 25 Best Coffee Roasters in America by Men’s Journal, and 2016 Macro Roaster of the Year by Roast Magazine. Lining the walls of the classrooms are at least a dozen fluttering, full size flags from countries all over the planet where Ubert buys coffee at a fair price, only from farmers who agree to treat their workers and the earth with the deepest respect.

“Not every farming community believes that it’s a good thing to do positive things with the environment [and] to produce better quality coffee. The harder part is us finding that community. And then continually working with them on that. It’s a challenge, but it’s also the fun part. It’s no different on the coffee house side.”

And work, they do. Brandon Bir, director of education and sustainability for Crimson Cup, has his feet on the ground regularly at growing facilities the world over. Being that coffee is a tropical plant, Bir finds himself in exotic locales on a regular basis. Asked to list off the places he’s been, he squints as he counts equatorial countries on his fingers.

Bir hails from Indiana farm land, where his fascination with biochemistry and botany took root. His face betrays a childlike enthusiasm as he explains the oxidation of tea leaves. Bir grins from behind the bar as he asks slyly:

“You want to see my UV light?”

In the lab, Bir fires up a scientific grade UV light, and demonstrates how it highlights microorganisms often found hitching rides on coffee beans.

Photo by Collins Laatsch

“We’re trying to find defects in green coffee under UV light, and apply that to origin. Under UV, bacteria turn up at different colors… So we’re experimenting to see if taking those defects out that light up under UV are actually going to reduce negative effects in the cup.”

Crimson Cup wants their growers to have a fair deal. They offer a good price for their wares, plus innovation and improvement to their crop. But there are standards the farmers must rise to in return. As Ubert stated, great coffee isn’t all that goes into what they are selling. It’s the beating heart at the center of their philosophy that guides their business practices, from ground to mug. Bir is often the face that communicates these needs directly to the growers:

“We built a survey to make sure people are doing what they need to be doing. It’s a safety thing. Make sure there are covers around belts at mills, make sure there aren’t children working in the fields… You should have clean water available. It’s super important to be open and honest and have that as a foundation… I have three group texts going about different coffees, different farms, with different farmers. So accessibility is there. It’s pretty amazing that you can get internet in the middle of the jungle of Ethiopia.”

But travel doesn’t come cheap. As the president, Ubert signs off on each and every plane ticket and per diem.

“Someone might look at our expense report and say ‘what are you doing? It doesn’t make any financial sense at all to be doing that’ and they may be right… We just have a different point of view. What we want to do is have an impact with our customers, with people here at Crimson Cup, and with our farmers.”

“It’s not just caffeine and black juice in a cup.” Bir concurs “[There are] tons of people behind this. We should appreciate this, and do it right, and serve the highest quality beverage we can possibly serve.” •

For more about their operation, visit crimsoncup.com.

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New Suds On The Block

If it seems like there’s been at least one new brewery in all of the recent Stock & Barrel magazines, it’s because there is. And would you look at that? The winter issue is here, and we have three new breweries in the city. It’s time to get drinkin’. Olentangy River Brewing Company | 303 [...]
Mitch Hooper

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If it seems like there’s been at least one new brewery in all of the recent Stock & Barrel magazines, it’s because there is. And would you look at that? The winter issue is here, and we have three new breweries in the city. It’s time to get drinkin’.Olentangy River Brewing Company | 303 Green Meadows Dr.Standing as the first brewery to land in Lewis Center is Olentangy River Brewing Company, the brainchild of Scott and Bethany Schweitzer and Ryan and Sarah Wilkins. While Ryan said he and the owners aren’t brewers, they were definitely beer drinkers and that’s what led them to opening their own brewery. It started with a simple question between the two couples over some beers: why isn’t there a brewery in Lewis Center? And the answer quickly solidified. The idea was to make a brewery that was accessible to everyone—including those who don’t like beer.“Our opinion is that there’s probably a beer that everyone can like, but if they don’t like beer, maybe they just haven’t tried it yet,” Ryan explained.Looking at ORBC menu, the variety is there. If you’re into the hops of IPAs, the Arrowhead double-IPA is what you’re looking for. If you prefer a more robust and dark beer, the I Can’t Feel My Pants Russian Imperial Stout is smooth with that coffee-like flavor. ORBC also boasts its original style of beer as well with their Sofia IPA which has been dubbed the Ohiorrican IPA thanks to one of their brewmasters, Enrique Iglesias (not the singer), a brewer who moved to Columbus from Puerto Rico after being one of the first people to open a brewery in Puerto Rico. Ryan explained that the beer was not quite a west coast IPA which is hops forward, and it didn’t quite hit the New England hazy IPA standard, so they coined a new beer term altogether.After fighting for a dozen different locations, ORBC finally landed on a 9,000-square-foot warehouse with office space that they transformed into a 10-barrel brewhouse with a taproom. The taproom is spacious and features many wooden fixtures reminiscent of something you might see at a Colorado ski lodge. In addition to being family-friendly, the taproom will have a large patio that will also be pup-friendly. While most breweries operate in the afternoon and evenings, ORBC is offering a little more by opening every day at 7 a.m. along with their partnership with the downtown coffeeshop, Roosevelt Coffeehouse, as well as the vegan bakery, Pattycake Bakery. Ryan explained that this is the other part of ORBC, creating a community. He said some people seem reluctant to get into craft beers and such because people might think it’s only for the “cool kids” in downtown Columbus. By bringing popular downtown establishments into Lewis Center, Ryan and his team are making these places more accessible. Now you can start and finish your day at one place.“We have some people that set up shop and are working in the taproom,” Ryan said. “They’ll come in in the morning, they sit there and work all day, and by the end of their workday, they have a beer."Somewhere In Particular Brewing Company | 5055 Dierker Rd.“Where are you guys trying to go tonight?”“Oh, Somewhere In Particular.”“So, where do you want to go??”That should be a fun game to play with your friends before heading out. Though the name Somewhere In Particular keeps things vague, there’s a story behind it that puts it all into perspective. Patrick Sullivan, owner and brewmaster for SIP, owns another brewery named Nowhere In Particular, but now that Sullivan has set up shop and calls Columbus home, he is quite literally somewhere in particular.The taproom offers a wide selection of beers ranging from brown ales like the Sting Chamber to sours like the Cherry Berliner Weisse. If Newcastle has ruined you from drinking brown ales, give Sting Chamber a try. Owner Joe Casey explained that SIP wanted a menu that offered a little bit of everything like lagers and pilsners as a way to make sure they have something for everyone. But that isn’t to say they don’t have more unique styles of beer. SIP also has a rice-based IPA, the Kitsuni Okami.“It’s one of the first beers Pat made with Nowhere in Particular a few years back,” Casey said. “The rice helps lighten the body of the beer, and lets the hops come through. Also, with using some rice, you will have a lighter malt backbone. [It’s] something we like in our IPAs.”The brewery, taproom, and kitchen were part of an addition to the nearly 100-year old Henderson House. Inside SIP, the dining area is tight, but cozy, with an earthy aesthetic as the wall behind the bar features artistic metal tree branches with tufts of grass serving as leaves along with common house plants to compliment. The large windowed garage door also allows for natural lighting, and opens when the weather isn’t so cold it makes your hair hurt.You can also E-A-T and S-I-P. The menu is simple, but homey. Things like Beer Nuts, cheese balls, and pretzels take me back to a time that I was actually never around for, but it’s still nostalgic. The menu also offers more modern takes like beer-infused queso with candied jalapenos (excuse me while I wipe the drool from my face) and pita paninis served with kettle chips.Nocterra Brewing Company | 41 Depot St.Nocterra Brewing Company was first started by Bryan Duncan and Bruce Vivian who have built their experience through home brewing competitions. Nocterra’s name originates from a common love of the outdoors shared by the two brewers, and another business partner, James Knott. While Duncan was a white water rafter in West Virginia, Vivian took it to the next extreme with skydiving and backpacking.“The name, Nocterra, is a play on words,” Duncan explained. “It’s from the land at night—being home brewers with kids, we could only brew at nighttime so we wanted to bring in that mantra. And then “terra”—from the land—it was paying homage to those outdoor activities and being outside.”As for the beer, Duncan said Nocterra is a luxury, since he and the team are both owners and brewers. They have the freedom to dabble into any style of brew they are interested in, whether that be a sour or a stout. And while the IPAs and porters will be out for the drinking, the brewers will also be working on a seperate sour project through a sour beer wood aging program. Between the extensive production process for sour beers and wanting to have variety, Duncan said they opted out of being an exclusively sour beer brewery.In the taproom, Duncan said there should be 10 beers on tap—including a white pine IPA. He said this goes back to Nocterra’s mantra of the outdoors and nature.“It’s one of our home brew recipes we’d made. We want to do a whole tree series, like a quarterly series, where we used an ingredient from a tree,” Duncan said. “Everyone thinks it’s pine so they think all these resin flavors, but it actually comes across way more citrus. White pine is a totally different flavor.”Nocterra’s brewery and taproom features 5,800 square feet of space in addition to a large outdoor area that’s a little over a quarter acre in size, which will be used as a beer garden and outdoor event venue. For its initial opening, the patio will feature seating as well as a firepit, but come spring, Duncan said there are plans to fully complete the outdoor space with a can release party.Nocterra will also be able to can and distribute its beer from day one, Duncan said.“We talked about it a lot and it’s like: where do you drink most of your beer at? And with us having families, most of your beer is consumed at home... If I can’t go out and buy it on the shelves, I more than likely wouldn’t have access to it, so for us it was a big thing that people would be able to get the beer, and as we expand we can get into larger stores.”
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Fresh Brew

For each of us, every day begins as a blank slate, a way to get a “do-over” from the mistakes and stresses of yesterday and an opportunity to start fresh. And for many of us, the day starts with coffee. It all comes together at Blank Slate Coffee in Gahanna where you can snag your [...]
Laura Dachenbach

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For each of us, every day begins as a blank slate, a way to get a “do-over” from the mistakes and stresses of yesterday and an opportunity to start fresh. And for many of us, the day starts with coffee. It all comes together at Blank Slate Coffee in Gahanna where you can snag your morning cup of joe from an all-aluminum Airstream RV.Located in the Creekside district, Gahanna’s mixed-use gathering space of park, residence, and retail along Big Walnut Creek, Blank Slate Coffee is in the business of not only serving excellent coffee, but adding to the spirit of the community. Nestled within the remains of an old self-serve car wash, Blank Slate has provided a place for caffeine, imagination and togetherness to work their magic.“We’ve definitely found that what we’re doing resonates with a lot of people here,” said Matt Roberson, owner/operator of Blank Slate Coffee. “Our motivation in choosing to operate at Creekside has less to do with a conscious business decision, and more to do with the fact that we live here. For us, being able to build community is our main motivator. So finding a niche outside of Gahanna just didn’t make sense.”Coming to Columbus by way of Colorado, Roberson and his wife Kayla settled in Gahanna and hit the ground running. Not wishing to be idle bystanders in the community, The Robersons started making Blank Slate more than just great coffee. In the guts of the former car-wash where a few fingerprints of old pipes and spigots remain, Roberson, a former art teacher, had custom murals painted on sides of the stalls. He contributed to the collaborative designs, and created one entirely by himself.Yes, it’s a world of food trucks, pop-ups, and generally mobile dining opportunities, but why an Airstream?“One of the things we’re committed to as a business is using local Ohio products whenever we can,” said Roberson. “So when we had the opportunity to use a legacy Ohio product like the Airstream to house Blank Slate Coffee, it was the perfect fit. Our Airstream is from 1971 and was in Indianapolis when we found it.”The Airstream is finished off with black-and-white checkered tiles, wooden chairs and a slim wooden countertop, a retro feel contrasting with the modern shine of the high-tech coffee brewing machines. The old car wash office has been refurbished into “The Hart Room” and serves as a place for patrons to kick back as they sip while they check out more artwork and an antique turntable. The Hart Room more generally functions as a place for open discussion, community, and general creativity and has housed community talks, live music, coffee and canvas nights, game nights, and pop-up events.“We refer to it as, ‘A resource for the creative community,’ ” said Roberson. “We’ve been able to allow a few artists to do their first ‘gallery show’ in the space. It’s definitely a little rough so we don’t try to brand it as a legit gallery.”This idea of taking ownership of your day (through caffeine or otherwise) and realizing what you want is very much a part of Blank Slate’s philosophy. What may seem like a heavy mission for a local coffee shop, Blank Slate achieves quite naturally. Interactive art such as “Before I die I want to…” board allows customers to question and communicate. If you’re not sure what it is that you exactly want to do before your death (a heavy question at 8 a.m.), the hundreds of responses from guests who have already rolled through and left their mark on the board can serve as inspiration. Other interactive art pieces make use of upcycled materials.Although it occasionally moves to meet the crowds where they are, the bright silver Airstream is now a recognizable Gahanna landmark. While many people stay in their cars and take advantage of the large front window that doubles as a drive-thru, customers can also go inside to order coffee and even sit in the small countertop area while basking in the vintage glory of the refurbished recreational vehicle, replete with succulents and classic audio equipment for a completely Instagrammable and enlightening coffee experience.From a variety of espresso options to different blends of tea ranging from Sunstone to Black Pearl, a common or not-so-common coffee or tea drinker should have no struggles finding something to suit their palate. Additionally, Blank Slate offers speciality coffee options like the lavender latte, or the popular cold-brew coffee.Beyond coffee, tea, and esspero, the Blank Slate menu has Italian sodas as well as Italian cream sodas—carbonated water with a flavored simple syrup. A modest food selection of doughnuts, bagels, and muffins is also available.Roberson’s blend of community enthusiasm, amazing product, and prudent use of space lent itself to the creation of Blank and Brush Block Parties this past summer. The Blank and Brush parties brought together local artists selling goods, a few food trucks, music, and was another success for the two-and-a-half-year-old small business.“The block party events happened pretty organically, and we were really impressed with how quickly people jumped on board and were willing to contribute,” said Roberson. “I think that shows that not only does Gahanna need community, but they want it and are willing to work to make it happen. So that helps us feel like we’re on the right track.”
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Brewed To Be Wild

Expanding operations is nothing new for the people at Seventh Son. From their fully-stocked and recently expanded taproom on Fourth Street to their craft beer and wine shop, The Barrel and Bottle, in the North Market, making waves and setting trends seems to be second nature. That’s how it’s been since their humble beginnings five [...]
Laura Dachenbach

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Expanding operations is nothing new for the people at Seventh Son. From their fully-stocked and recently expanded taproom on Fourth Street to their craft beer and wine shop, The Barrel and Bottle, in the North Market, making waves and setting trends seems to be second nature.That’s how it’s been since their humble beginnings five years ago. Now, going to Seventh Son for a drink is just as much of an experience for the booze as it is for the atmosphere with their retractable rooftop patio. Keeping that trend-setting spirit alive, the owners of Seventh Son have ventured into a new, and sour, operation and created Antiques on High.The new brewery will reside in the Columbus Brewery District where they will specialize in sour, funky, and Belgian-style beers. Sour beers are a combination of barrel-aging, blending, and a strange sorcery of spontaneous fermentation. In other words, while most modern breweries stick to a very strict and structured brewing process when it comes to yeast fermentation, sour beers allow yeast and other bacteria grow wild to help form that tart taste. Don’t be scared, though, this kind of bacteria isn’t a bad thing.The space will boast 5,000 square feet, along with decor within the store that pays homage to the antique mall that previously resided there. Many of the artwork and pieces hanging on the walls and around the brewery date back to midcentury times all the way up to the 1980’s—much like what the Greater Columbus Antique Mall would have sold during their time on High Street.“When we took possession of the space it still had a busted old sign and everything,” said brewmaster Colin Vent. “We took that as inspiration for the name. It works nicely conceptually in that sour beer production is a very old school, old world way of making beer, so we’re somewhat crafting antiques here.”The space features a giant double Chesterfield sofa sitting in front of a breeze-block gas fireplace, eclectic artwork, classic beer signs, and wooden community tables. Hundreds of vintage beer cans behind glass panels are built into the front and sides of the bar itself.“We literally went antiquing for most of the decor,” said Vent.Antiques on High will be both a complement and contrast to their flagship brewery, a chance to explore the funkier styles of beers, although traditional craft fans will be able to find some of their favorite Seventh Son beers on tap as well.“It allows us to show another side of our talents. We can take a step back from full-on industrial brewing and slow way down to explore blending and aging and all the things that go into making these beers,” said Vent.Although the sour stuff may be making a splash online, the decision to go funky was not trend-driven, Vent insists. The entire ownership group, consisting of Vent, Collin Castore, Jen Burton, and Travis Spencer, has been playing with the idea for several years, and Vent doubts you’ll be seeing any of his sour beers sitting on the shelves at The Barrel and Bottle, largely for practical reasons.“We’re quite proud to be making beer in this historic district, said Vent. “We can’t produce much of this style of beer at a time. Some of the blends involve beer that’s aged for upwards of 18 months, so that really precludes much in the way of distribution.”Instead, Vent hopes the unique style will be a homing beacon of sorts for those who appreciate sour beers and want to have an ideal experience hanging out and enjoying a beer brewed by those invested in the process, with a true love for presenting these styles.“We are committed to our spaces. We work hard to create comfortable, cool bar experiences, and keeping those niche beers in house presents a solid reason for making the trip in to see us,” said Vent.Part of that experience will be the rooftop patio with its lounge-style seating and fireplace, a definite reason to visit, relax, and make new friends in the brewery district.“There’s an upstairs four-seasons patio with amazing views of the city as well as small front and back patios at ground level,” said Vent.Initially, Antiques on High will have scheduled food trucks with plans to move towards carryout from Ambrose & Eve, also a new addition to the Brewery District.New to the sour beer scene? The style can be an acquired taste. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from the experts. Vent suggests a frank conversation with your bartenders, the experts on Antiques’ ever-changing lineup.“They can guide a person to a beer with a lower amount of acidity and more accessible flavors,” explained Vent. “Right now I’d recommend either our sour red ale Hoop Driver, or the blended saison Trinket. Both of these have a minimal level of acidity, just enough to add a twang on the finish.”Although Antiques on High hopes to offer a boutique experience to play with unusual beers styles, there’s a little something for everyone.“We’ve got 24 taps that are divided between the sour and funky beers, hop-focused hazy beers, draft wine and draft cocktails,” said Vent. “The cocktail program was developed by Travis Owens from Behind the Glass Consulting. We really wanted to offer some stuff you don’t see around town much, that’s where the draft cocktails and wine came into play.”Landing right on trend, or perhaps staying ahead of the curve. It’s all a bit like spontaneous fermentation itself—accidental at first, then deliberate. But it seems to be the direction for the Seventh Son brewery empire as it continues its way at the forefront of Columbus’ bar scene, something it achieved largely by loving what they do.“It’s a really fun way to brew,” said Vent, hoping Columbus sour fans, old and new, will agree. “Hopefully they’ll think it’s cool and wanna hang with us and have a couple.”
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