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Ohio State alum entrepreneurs brew up Oval inspired beers

Courtesy of OBC

The Oval is a treasured location to past and present Ohio State students, and for two OSU alumni, it became the heart of their hobby-turned-business creation, Oval Brewing Company.

Oval Brewing Company president and owner Adam Benner and creative director Walt Keys are creating a “social brewery” to house their craft brewing and turn out a product and atmosphere that embodies a throw-back spirit of college sports and good times.

“The Oval is this meeting space where students come together,” Keys said. “Even if you’re not playing Frisbee, you’re still going to walk across the Oval and cross paths with your fellow students. We want the brewery to have the same feeling of a community where people can go and hang out.”

Benner and Keys were friends and housemates during their junior and senior years at OSU. Benner studied finance, and didn’t start brewing on his own until 2009 while living in Chicago.

“By my work, there was a home brew shop, and I just stopped in one day,” Benner said. “I’ve always been kind of obsessed with beer and wanted to know how it was made.”

From there, Benner started brewing in his garage as a hobby, but his entrepreneurial spirit took over, and he’s been working on building the brand and concept ever since. Benner commissioned Keys to do the design work and creative concepts. Keys studied English at OSU, but took some design classes and ended up getting into the business after graduation.

Benner said he was inspired by Chicago’s growing craft brew scene that is taking root in Columbus, which comes with a refreshing camaraderie among brewers.

“It’s the little guys banding together,” Benner said. “If you can collaborate and get rid of a couple Bud, Coors or Miller taps because people are actually wanting more flavor in their beers, and to support something made locally, it’s great.”

Benner and Keys have yet to nail down a location for the brewery, but their vision is set. They said they’re working on finding a centrally-located venue for their social brewery concept. Grandview, the Short North and the Brewery District are on their radar, but it has to fit their concept and brewing needs.

“There are all different ways to start into the market as a brewery,” Benner said. “It could be a brewpub, like Elevator (Brewery and Draught Haus) or Barley’s (Brewing Company), in the city or a production facility that’s out in the boondocks or you could marry the two, which is kind of what we’re trying to do.”

Their beers are a play on words and flavors.

“We like making beers that we like to drink,” Benner said. “So we come up with an idea for a good name of a beer and then find a style and brew it, or visa versa.”
Benner said this is how their India Pale Ale, Stiffarm, came about. Stiffarm is the name of an offensive football move and also describes the stiff hoppy nature of an IPA.

“Our Kölsch, which is a German style ale, is pretty accessible,” Benner said. “One of those that we give to people who don’t drink a lot of hoppy or malty beers that’s easy to get into, so we called it our House beer, like if you’re at a party and people call house.”

Oval Brewing has been full steam ahead since April 1, when they ended their Kickstarter.com funding campaign. They broke their goal of $30,000 by more than $1,000 in just two months.

Benner said most donations were from Ohio friends and family to begin with, but by the end of two months, they had 196 backers from all over the country and one in Australia.

Keys said part of their goal in branding was to appeal not just to OSU fans, but a broader audience. Besides the obvious use of the Oval, they tried to keep things non-specific, but relatable for Buckeyes.

“That was a conscious decision,” Keys said. “And we’re Ohio State alums so we love it, but not everyone loves it, and some people can get fatigued by that.”

Benner and Keys plan to have a location for the brewery by summer and hope to launch mid- to late football season.

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