“We decided we were going to start a religion,” explains Fred Lee, co-founder of the Actual Brewing Company.
“We had this little tiny brewery and we were looking at how we could turn it into something that was profitable, and the biggest obstable we saw was tax, so we were like ‘Let’s start a brewery AND a religion, and we’ll brew like monks, and we’ll take vows of poverty and then we can put all of the money back into the church.’ We were searching really hard for a religion that we liked, so we invented our own – Actualism. We believed in facts, and actual shit, only. We were gonna have Neil deGrasse Tyson speak and talk about the universe and shit like that. He said ‘no.’ Actually, his personal assistant said ‘no.’” (He has the email saved for proof.)
“Well we didn’t really want to go to jail for tax evasion and whatnot, so why don’t we just ACTUALLY try to open a brewery,” said Rob Camstra, the other co-founder of the Actual Brewing Company.
Camstra and Lee met about three years ago over a shared love for homebrewing and a shared desire to make a living off of beer. Not long after, they decided to figure out a way to do it – one that didn’t involve a fake religion or tax fraud. The DIY-lovers built a pilot system piece by piece over several months in order to emulate what it would be like to operate a production brewery, on a small scale.
Acquiring their full-scale brewing system may have been an act of the gods of Actualism: an auctioneer – “someone’s neighbor’s father or something” – just happened to have brewing equipment sitting unused in a barn in Centerburg for the past 17 years. When he made them an offer they couldn’t refuse, they pulled the money together and bought it.
The building where the brewery is housed – located by the airport and, despite what Google maps might tell you when you’re en-route to an interview, is NOT in the middle of a field – also has its blessings. Since it already had the floor drainage and electrical they needed, they were able to save tens of thouands of dollars in construction costs.
One of the first beers Actual will offer is Fat Julian Imperial Stout.
“It’s named after Julian the Apostate,” said Lee. “He was the last pagan emperor of Rome. There had been two Christian emperors before him. Paganism was falling out of style, and Julian the Apostate was a pretty kickass emperor, and he was running the show. He had a big beard and he didn’t give a fuck, at all. A lot of people were critizing him, like ‘You’re an old pagan guy. You don’t believe in Christianity, the hip new shit.’ Razors had been made cheap and barbershops were real popular, so everyone was shaved at the time. It was the thing to do. There was a lot of critcisim, ‘Why are you wearing this big fluffy beard, you’re the emperor of Rome!’ And he’s like ‘Listen, bitches, I’m the EMPEROR of ROME, and I’m knee deep in pussy, and I conquer societies every single day – and you’re gonna knock on my beard?!’ That’s a quote. From the scribes and shit.”
For what it’s worth, Wikipedia mostly backs Lee’s narrative. Lee describes Fat Julian as very chocolatey with a nice bitterness and caramel notes and about 10% alcohol.
“We worked really hard on the recipe – it’s two years in the making,” said Lee. “We brewed it a shit load of times to get it right. And now we could brew it with our eyes closed, and that’s what really matters is that it’s consistent – and delicious – every time we make it. There’s a lot of science and a shit load of math in that beer. And there’s a lot of expensive ingredients. We’re really proud of it, but if it sucks we will pour it down the drain and make something else.”
Another beer Actual will offer is Sans Culotte, a french farmhouse ale with ginger and other “proprietary ingredients.” While Camstra laughed that he thought it meant “without panties” in French, Lee filled me in on its real meaning with another history lesson:
“The peasants during the French Revolution couldn’t afford culouttes, which were ‘fancy pants’ so they said ‘sans culouttes’ which was ‘without fancy pants’ and that was the name of the group in the French Rebellion,” explains Lee. “They identified themselves as a party. A lot of bad shit – a lot of heads getting chopped off and shit – came out of that. It’s very rebellious.”
They’re also working on the “Columbus Common” or what they refer to as “lawnmower beer”, which is Actual’s take on the steam beer style. The goal is to create afforable craft beer, competitively priced against the mass produced light lagers of the world. Columbus Common is a half american cream ale, half american lager that is very light and drinkable and features Columbus hops.
Then there’s L’Apocalypso, a Belgian IPA – they’re still tweaking the recipe for this one, but it will showcase Calypso hops and come in around 7-8% ABV.
“It’s a single malt, single hop beer, and it shouldn’t taste like it tastes,” said Lee. “It shouldn’t be as complex, fruity and aromatic as it is. It’s nuts. It’s got 30,000 different flavors – or more. And it’s smoother than a neutron star. [pause] They are the objects thought to be the smoothest thing in the universe. You can write that down.”
And finally in the Actual lineup is Rattigan’s Red Rye pale ale, which will showcase the complex and often underrated flavors of rye. It’s named after an Irish clan from the 1700s that defied the Reinheitsgebot (the “German beer purity law”) by including Rye in their ales.
The Actual Brewing Company hopes to have kegs of beer available in bars around the city by late July or early August. They’ve already got a bottler, and will probably bottle Fat Julian and Apocalypso out the gate. They also plan to utilize their homemade pilot system to brew small experimental batches and bottle those.
While they do intend to open a brewpub in downtown Columbus in the future, their first priority is ramping up production to be able to amply supply bars. After that, they will start growler sales of their own. And only after they can meet those demands will they worry about supplying a brewpub, too.
“It seems like in this industry it’s not really a problem to sell the beer – it’s just being able to keep up with your production to have the beer for people,” said Camstra. “People are going to buy beer.”
“I’m excited to get rid of the mass-produced crap we’ve got on tap at all these places,” said Lee.
He proceeded to call out a certain mass-produced beer, but later asked that I did not mention them so that a predator drone wouldn’t come down his chimney and kill him with his own kitchen knife (his words) – and really, I don’t want to do anything that might deprive the world of the hilarious duo Fred Lee and Rob Camstra, the fact-based practice of Actualism, or a great new brewery in Central Ohio.
Photos courtesy Actual Brewing – credit Damian Wohrer, Kinopicz American