“We’re kind of go-big-or-go-home guys, and that documentary made us say ‘They’re not gonna push us around anymore’ and we started brewing our own beer,’ said Gokenbach.
They have not had a Bud Light since.
In fact, their recently launched Zaftig Brewing Co is essentially the opposite of Bud Light: the new nanobrewery focuses exclusively on big, high alcohol, full-bodied beers. “Full-bodied” is played up from the pinup girl artwork to the brewery’s own name.
zaftig / zäf-tig/ adj.
(of a woman) having a full, rounded figure; plump.
Zaftig thinks they’ve found an untapped niche locally in these types of beers.
“Most of the breweries – and there are some great breweries here in Central Ohio – but most of them don’t make the beers that we like,” said Gokenbach. “They’re brewing 5-7% [ABV beers], and that’s where most of our beers start. We’re at 7-12% now, and hopefully if the laws change in Ohio, that will go up.”
Currently, beer is capped at 12% ABV in Ohio, but legislation has recently been introduced to increase that to 21%.
“I feel like [the ABV limit] is a little archaic,” said Halsey. “Ohio has a lot of history in prohibition and I think it’s great that our congress is looking at those laws and hopefully preparing to increase [the ABV limit]. Quite frankly I think 21% is a great step, and I certainly wouldn’t turn it down, but I don’t think it’s enough.”
Legal limits aside, Halsey and Gokenbach are quickly discovering other reasons why local breweries may not make as many of these strong beers.
“Brewing big beers, especially all-grain big beers, is a logistical nightmare,” said Halsey. “Most systems are designed around brewing up to a 1060 gravity beer, which is around a 6% beer. Once you start going beyond that you start running into inefficiencies, because you’re shoving a lot of grain into a system isn’t designed to take that much grain.”
It’s also not as easy to sell.
“When you’re taking a big beer out to a bar, a person who might have 2-3 beers that are 4-6% [ABV] may not be in a position where they can drink more than one or two strong beers,” said Halsey. “That means the turnover is slower and you’re not moving inventory. It’s tougher to be profitable with big beers in general.”
Zaftig has four big beers that they plan to launch with: Heavy-Hearted Amber, a traditional Amber with a strong, malty body; Black Perle Stout, with rich chocolate and caramel notes; Too Cans Imperial IPA, heavily hopped but balanced; and their flagship beer Shadowed Mistress.
“Shadowed Mistress is a beer that doesn’t really fit any on category,” said Halsey. “It’s probably best under 2-3 categories. It’s kind of part IPA, part ESB and maybe part barleywine. It’s a dark, overly-hopped – put into perspective it uses about half a pound hops more per five gallons than our Imperial IPA – citra hopped with a really unique citrusy flavor and aroma. We’ve had a lot of people who don’t like IPAs or hoppy beers really enjoy it.”
Zaftig will make their Central Ohio debut at the sold-out Grandview High Gravity Hullabaloo. The Ohio Taproom has also ordered Zaftig’s beer to carry shortly thereafter.
“We’ve been delaying getting into any place else while we work through operations of brewing our beer, making sure we’re compliant with all of the federal and state rules,” said Halsey. “We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves.”
They also plan to operate their small Worthington warehouse as a taproom for growler sales, but no date has been set for when that will open to the public.
“We think a lot of breweries have huge, great lines of beers but our goals are to really take the highlights from those breweries that we seek out and hopefully all of our beers are at that level,” said Halsey. “We’re not looking to have your everyday drinking IPA, we want that bigger, fuller-bodied beer. That’s what we want to be known for.”