When the chapter is closed on this decade, it will likely tell the stories of breweries that opened and their varied experiences. For those that opened at the start of the 2010s, the landscape was different, hazy IPA wasn’t a popularized style, and the consumer preferences for packaging still trended toward glass.
As the halfway mark of the decade came around, business plans were being thrown out or already irrelevant, the breweries that were opening were grabbing the cresting wave and, in many cases, leaving their barely older competitors behind.
Seventh Son Brewing Co., which opened its doors in Columbus, Ohio, in 2013, in many regards falls into the earlier category. But by taking some risks, attempting to look into the future, and being nimble and not treating their existing brand as too precious, they have been growing. They have added a second location that looks and feels different from the existing brand, and they have changed up their offerings to keep the distribution arm of the business happy.
“We had a pretty busy 2018. We finished an expansion that started in 2016,” says brewery Cofounder Collin Castore. “I’d be lying if I said we weren’t worried in the past, with all the changes happening in the industry, but we decided with the expansion that we would make retail a big component because it’s always been a strength of the brewery and a great chance to interact with customers. It’s how we can best communicate who we are. It’s been working pretty well so far.”
The growth was two pronged. First, they expanded their existing brewery space from 5,000 square feet to 20,000 square feet by purchasing adjacent land. This allowed them to put in a larger brewhouse and expand their taproom to accommodate more visitors—they’ve added a second bar that can accommodate 250 people and an upstairs rooftop patio bar, complete with a retractable roof.
The company also purchased a second facility that focuses on wild and sour ales as well as hazy IPAs. The second facility is about a mile away in an abandoned urban antiques mall where they installed a taproom. It’s a sibling location to the existing brewery (all the wort is produced at the original facility and transported over) but kept the name of the previous business, Antiques on High, or AoH.
Given the proximity of the two locations, it was important to make sure that the two were connected but different, allowing visitors to feel as if they were visiting two distinct places. This is good for out-of-town visitors seeking variety. For the local clientele, there’s now the option for a place that feels more in-sync with their mood on any given day. Castore says 80–90 percent of the clientele is local.
AoH has a modern industrial feel to its decor mixed with a lot of natural elements, such as a stone floor, black granite bar, natural-wood tables, and—in keeping in the spirit of the building’s previous tenant—various antiques strategically placed throughout. But, it’s perhaps the bar base—a jigsaw collection of historic beer cans—that stands out the most. It’s easy to get lost for extended periods of time going down memory lane.
“We didn’t just want to open a second place and have it be a warehouse in the suburbs where we aged barrels. There are thousands of places like that. We knew we wanted a full retail space, and because it’s smaller than our original location, we can follow our existing brewing philosophy but make it feel intimate and different,” Castore says. Overall, the expansion was to prepare for the future and growth or demand for their beers, but it is also intended to manage expectations if the market continues to slow. “We were hedging our bets. We’re at 3,000 to 4,000 barrels per year. That’s good. If we get to 10,000 barrels, that’s great. It’s great at 20,000 barrels, but if we hang out at 6,000 to 7,000, that’s fine. Right now, we’re rolling with sales across the bar with the added space,” says Castore.
When the brewery first launched, the taproom was a necessary part of the business, but since they were among the first craft breweries to open in the Columbus market, they focused on distribution. Now, the sheer amount of beer in the market—Columbus alone has more than 50 breweries—has meant that the brewery has shifted its retail options. In addition to draft, “we started canning in 2014,” says Head Brewer Colin Vent. “We were doing 16-ounce cans, and now with so many in the market, we need to fight for shelf space. The distributors did market research and came back to us that it was too expensive. We were in love with the 16-ounce format, but this was a business decision, so we scrapped it and moved to 12-ounce cans as quickly as we could to keep and grow our momentum. We also gave up on the 750ml bottle format.”
In all of this, however, they never lost sight of who they were or where they came from. “We’re not a silver-can sticker-label brewer,” Vent says. “We do fully wrapped cans with distinct art that makes the package pop.”
The beers that make it out to retail are the ones the brewery started with or evolved into, such as a strong ale, a golden ale, a brown ale, and a few IPAs. (Among the IPAs is one called The Scientist, which they call a constantly shifting IPA because each batch is brewed with one ingredient changed from the previous incarnation.)
Since the brewery was fairly traditional in its original recipes, AoH has allowed them to dip into the more modern trends without alienating longtime customers and bring in drinkers more accustomed to pucker or haze.
Vent gets excited and animated when talking about his brown ale, a style that doesn’t often solicit such reaction, but it demonstrates his passion and commitment to customers who have been with them from the beginning.
“We need to remember that the majority of beer drinkers have yet to convert to haze,” he says. “In growing, it’s important not to forget those people. We need to have a diverse tap list so that everyone feels welcome and can find something they want to drink.”
Seventh Son was the brainchild of college friends who shared a passion for great beer and “the original idea was to make great beer in an inviting neighborhood spot on the outskirts of the city’s art’s district,” says Castore. Looking forward, Castore says the brewery is big into reaffirming its commitment to the local market. The increased competition in the marketplace demands it, and it’s what feels right to the company. BrewDog, the Scottish brewer, recently opened a brewery and several satellite bars across the city, for example, so Seventh Son wants to make sure that when it can capture the attention of customers, it holds onto it.
“For us, it’s about retail and relationships,” Castore says. “It’s not just about being someone’s favorite brewery. It’s about having regulars at the bar and having that deeper interaction that leads to long-term guest loyalty.”
They continue to work with their distribution partners, and their sales staff is constantly working on making lasting bonds with accounts.
“There’s just so much beer on the market these days. It’s a crowded landscape. The best way we know how to succeed for the long term is through our strength in relationships. Bring people in and then show them what you can do.”