Seventh Son Brewing Co. was named best brewery by Ohio State students. Credit: Beka Cagle | Former Lantern Reporter

With most students trapped indoors, there is no better time to develop new interests. For some, this might mean picking up the guitar or cooking new recipes. For others, it means finding new and creative ways to drink.

In order to get a better understanding of what goes into craft beer and how to get the most out of it, The Lantern consulted this year’s best brewery, as voted by our readers: Seventh Son Brewing Co., with 26 percent of the vote out of eight contenders.

Seventh Son has a taproom attached to its brewery at 1101 N. Fourth St., where it normally serves food from a rotating schedule of food trucks in addition to one-off brews you won’t find in a can. Right now, that model has shifted to a focus on carryout and delivery. Co-founder Collin Castore said the taproom provided two-thirds of the brewery’s revenue, but he has seen enormous support for its new delivery option, which serves central Ohio as far as Lancaster and Delaware.

Don’t know the difference between a porter and a pale ale? Castore and Seventh Son’s brewmaster Colin Vent gave the lowdown on how to get into craft beer and what each variety brings to the table.

The journey from macro to craft

Castore said everyone has different tastes, and there is no one way to get into beer. Still, he had some solid advice on finding the kind that works for you.

“I always think that it’s good to kinda start off and find a brewery, or a few breweries, around town that you like going to, and then kinda taste through their lists and figure out what types and styles of beers appeal to you,” he said.

With so many breweries in Columbus, there are plenty of places to experiment. Castore said it is easy to walk down Fourth Street and find six breweries within a mile of one another, from Barley’s to Wolf’s Ridge to Zaftig.

Castore recommended experimenting with the beer varieties you find yourself enjoying most. Then, start to push the boundaries of that category. Try something more bitter or aromatic than you’re used to.

Castore added that nothing beats the time-honored tradition of sharing bottles with friends.

“Get a group together and stand 6 feet apart and all hawk beers at each other, and see if you can catch them,” he said.

Even professional brewers didn’t always have developed taste.

Vent said he was in college the first time he drank Blue Moon, which was the closest thing he had seen to a craft beer. From there, he said he hopped from beer to beer down the craft rabbit hole.

Castore said he started earlier, selling beer in the parking lot outside Grateful Dead concerts in high school. He said Dead Heads were ahead of the curve on craft beer, citing Sierra Nevada Pale Ale as his first go-to beer.

Types of beer and their distinct flavors

It’s important to know where you can find quality craft beer, but it’s also important to know what you’re getting into. Malt, yeast and hops are beer’s essential building blocks, and the three basic kinds of beer include ales, lagers and stouts, Vent said.

Malt is the grain used to make a beer. Vent said this is typically barley, but it can also be wheat, rye or oats. Grain provides sugars, which are fermented into alcohol. All of the nonfermentable sugars and proteins in the grain that are left over give beer the heavy mouthfeel that you won’t find in wine.

Malts are sprouted grains that are roasted, much like coffee beans, and Vent said the way they’re cooked can massively impact the flavor. Dark roasts can taste of coffee or chocolate and dry roasted and caramelized malts can add sweetness. He said the toast-like, biscuit-y, baking flavors in beer come from malt.

Next up is yeast. Vent said yeast is responsible for fermenting the malt’s sugars. The flavor of yeast is hard for him to pin down, but it often provides the distinct fruitiness you may find in certain beers. Microbiology labs around the world are in an “arms race” to find interesting and novel yeast strains for production, he said.

Finally, hops. Hops bring bitterness to beer, which would be far too sweet without it, Vent said. There are tons of varieties of hops, each with its own aroma and flavor.

“When you hear people talk about beers as being very citrus-y or grapefruit or tropical fruit characteristics, things like that, those are all derivatives from the hops,” Vent said.

Although beer is always primarily made from the same three ingredients in the same process, Vent said there are hundreds of kinds of each, leading to endless combinations. Still, there are three major types of beer.

Ales are Seventh Son’s specialty. Current offerings from the brewery include Humulus Nimbus, Proliferous and Assistant Manager. Vent said ales are defined by faster fermentation. All three ingredients contribute to an ale, but ales are the variety that most heavily features yeast. He said the yeast balances out the flavor.

One type of ale that has seen a recent explosion in popularity is the India pale ale. IPAs are extremely hop-forward, Vent said. The challenge is in constructing several hop varieties to give the beer an aromatic quality without being too bitter. The best entry point for IPAs are hazy IPAs, in Vent’s opinion. Castore said hazy IPAs are subtly sweet, less bitter and have a softer mouthfeel — meaning there is not a harsh bite when you sip it.

Another major class of beer is lager. Vent said lagers ferment slower and at lower temperatures than ales, leading to a less noticeable yeast flavor.

“When you hear about lagers as being very crisp and things like that, it’s because it doesn’t have the overall yeast character on top of the beer to round it all out,” he said.

Finally, there are stouts. Stouts are typically made from the aforementioned dark-roasted malt, which Vent said gives them a coffee-like or chocolate-y taste. They are also often sweet, thanks to the addition of caramel malts.

Stouts don’t typically showcase hops. Vent said porters, another classification of beer, are essentially hoppy stouts.

While traditional stouts, such as Guinness, don’t always have high alcohol content, there is a trendy variety called the imperial stout, which tends to have very high alcohol by volume — often between six and 14 percent. Vent said these stouts are aged in bourbon barrels and frequently have vanilla or chocolate added.

While beers can have citrus, coffee, chocolate or bread flavors in their own right, Vent said flavor additives are not uncommon. Seventh Son recently released a collaboration with Listermann Brewing Company in Cincinnati called “Baked,” which features chocolate, vanilla and coconut to simulate the taste of brownie batter.

Castore said there are lots of trends and breweries that inspire them, but it’s ultimately about what they want to make. Castore cited a lobster and seaweed-infused stout Seventh Son tried a few years ago, which Vent described playfully as “not one of our core options.”

“It’s kinda like anything else, with music or art, to a certain extent,” Castore said. “You’re always conscious of what else is out in the market and kinda what’s going on, but you want to use it to inform doing your own thing.”

Seventh Son Brewing Co. beer can be found in some grocery stores around central Ohio, Dayton, Cincinnati and Cleveland. It can also be ordered for carryout from the taproom or online through the brewery’s website. Fans outside the delivery radius can support Seventh Son by purchasing merchandise. Currently, 100 percent of proceeds from gift card purchases go to  bar staff members that were furloughed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.