Brews Café – A Craft Beer Pioneer

Written by on October 27, 2016 in Bars, Beer - 2 Comments

Editor’s Note: Brews closed its doors earlier this month. A sign posted says the bar will reopen December 1, although we’ve heard reports that it may not reopen at all. We are working to verify.

UPDATE: According to the Newark Advocate, Donato’s will take over Brew’s Cafe.

brews-2It’s 2003, and Brett Fulton just flew from Columbus to San Diego. As he walks from the transit station and heads to his hotel, he passes the Pizza Port. If you know your craft beer history, you know that Pizza Port is one of the iconic beer bars and breweries of its time. Without hesitation, Brett makes a hard right, drops his backpack, and grabs a seat at the bar. He strikes up a conversation with the bartender — about beer of course. He happens to mention that he is the beer manager at a place called Brews in Granville, Ohio. The bartender responds, “Brews, oh yeah, I know all about that place!”. That says it all. Brews in Granville, Ohio — little Granville! — is well known even on the west coast.

If you are into the central Ohio craft beer scene, you most certainly have been to Brews. A very highly regarded beer bar and restaurant in Granville with 52 craft beers on tap and upwards of 150 more in bottles. I have been to Brews many times, but I have to admit that I never fully appreciated the niche held by Brews in craft beer history until I sat down with Jerry Martin, one of the owners; Bryan Ross, the House Manager; and Brett Fulton, former beer manager. Here is their story.

Fuller’s Grocery store was a long time fixture at 128 East Broadway in Granville. After Mr. Fuller’s passing, the business changed hands several times. One of the subsequent owners, Joe Powell, put a few tables and beer taps in the back of the grocery, with that cubbyhole being referred to as “Joe’s.” The next owner, Robert (Bunky) Allen then converted Fuller’s to a small bar and renamed it “Brews.” The real transformation came about several years later when Jerry and Christine Martin bought the small bar in January 1996. The Brews that the Martins bought was a typical bar with five taps, all pouring the standard American light lagers of the day. After three months of extensive renovations, the new Brews opened with 12 taps and a focus on imports and some of the few available crafts of the day, such as Sierra Nevada. Bell’s and Great Lakes. They quickly expanded and evolved into a 17 tap, all craft line-up. This was no longer your grandfather’s beer bar.

Success breeds success, and Brews continued to grow in both reputation and size. In 2004, they moved just a few doors down the street into the former First Federal Bank building at 116 East Broadway, more than tripling the size of their business. This spacious new bar and restaurant that started with 35 tap handles soon expanded to the 52 they have today.

brews

It’s not by accident or simple good fortune that a business achieves the success, growth and sterling reputation that Brews enjoys. Jerry and his team have worked diligently at building the relationships that have made Brews into one of the premier craft beer bars in the nation. Fifteen years ago, he was sending key staff members, such as Brett and Bryan, to the Great American Beer Festival in Denver. They would travel to Colorado several days before the opening of the festival in order to visit area breweries such as Left Hand, Tommy Knocker, and Breckenridge. They experienced the atmosphere, sampled the beers, and most importantly meet the owners and brewers. While they were always on the lookout for new breweries and new beers to bring back to Ohio, the purpose of these trips was decidedly broader. It was a nice perk for the Brews staff that also supplemented their knowledge of the country’s best beers and brewers. Clearly though, the relationships they developed on their travels is what proved to be most critical to the ultimate success of Brews, and provided them with name recognition across the nation.

“Flying Dog and Left Hand were literally arguing over who got to take us to dinner that night, said Fulton. “In a compromise, we went to dinner with one brewery, and to brunch the next day with the other.”

Their travels also took them to San Diego in 2003, when Stone Brewery crowded Brews, “the Most Arrogant Bar in the Nation.” It was recognition for selling more of Stone’s Arrogant Bastard ale than any other bar in America. They traveled to Avery in Boulder Colorado for their Anniversary Party when Brews sold more White Rascal Witbier than any other bar in the nation. They traveled to Cooperstown, New York to attend the Belgian Beer Festival at the renowned Brewery Ommegang, camping out just a couple dozen yards from the beer taps. (sidenote: I think I want a job at Brews.)

These treks to the major breweries across the country were often repaid in kind. The owners of some of these same breweries have paid homage to Brews by making the journey to Granville. Giants of craft brewing including Greg Koch (Stone), Pat Conroy (Great Lakes), Adam Avery (Avery), Larry Bell (Bell’s), and Eric Wallace (Left Hand) have all come to Brews to share a beer with Jerry.

Clearly, the decision 20 years ago to hitch their wagon to the craft beer movement has a lot to do with the success and reputation that Brews has enjoyed. Taking care of the Brews’ ‘family members’ with trips to breweries and festivals around the nation only buoyed their fame and success. But make no mistake, Jerry is not taking his foot off the gas pedal and resting on his laurels. In his determination to “have beer on tap that no one else has,” he has been known to drive around the state from brewery to brewery to personally pick up kegs of unique beers to bring back to Granville. That speaks to a passion and dedication that makes the difference between good and great. As testament to their continued excellence, Brews has been selected by ratebeer.com as the best in Ohio in 2013, in 2014, and again in 2015. Beer Advocate also rates Brews at 96 out of 100. High praise from the two preeminent craft beer websites.

So it is, that Brews has a place in craft beer history. And it’s in Granville, Granville Ohio, little Granville Ohio. Who would have thunk it?

About the Author

Bill Babbitt is a retired engineer, beer lover, and freelance writer for Beer Advocate Magazine.

2 Comments on "Brews Café – A Craft Beer Pioneer"

  1. Fraser October 31, 2016 at 8:54 AM · Reply

    Brews is GREAT, but WHY IS IT CLOSED NOW? There are many rumors flying around out there. What is the TRUTH? Thanks.

    • Garrett April 30, 2022 at 1:42 PM · Reply

      I know! It’s a shame. That was my favorite place for a quick bite on the weekends. It’s still a mystery why it closed?

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