Fred Lee and his friends were determined to launch a brewery in Columbus and stop working for the man. So much so that they figured they had to start a religion first. Seriously.
See, they surmised that they would brew on a nano system, producing only five-gallon batches at a time. Heck with that big brewery stuff. But the only way they could make a living on a venture like that would be to not to pay taxes.
Queue the cliched light bulb going off above your head.
If they started their own religion, dilemma solved. (Yes, they admit they weren’t fully sober when hatching this initial plan.)
"We really did spend a lot of time thinking about this," said Mira Lee, Fred’s wife and one of the business partners. "What are the satisfying parts of religion? It’s getting together with friends semi regularly, making a casserole, learning things, chatting about your life."
They wanted their religion to be based in fact, science and beer. Instead of heading to a church each Sunday, folks would meet to talk about science.
They called it Actualism.
"We couldn’t have any faith," Fred Lee said. "We couldn’t have any believe-in-this-shit-without-proof sort of stuff. It had to be actual."
He even filed the necessary paperwork with the IRS.
In the end, the religion didn’t materialize — mainly because going to jail for tax evasion was inevitable. But the brewery, aptly named the Actual Brewing Co. and using the slogan "Believe in Beer," did. Actual, which features a science-looking logo, is just getting off the ground with quite a bigger system than once was envisioned.
The production brewery, located in an industrial park near the Port Columbus International Airport, has a 10-barrel copper system that once brewed beer at the New Albany Country Club. They also plan to open a brewpub and coffee shop on East Main Street in downtown Columbus where they will play with recipes and produce artisanal brews.
For now, there’s no tasting room or sales at the brewery. Instead, they hope to drive traffic to the brewpub once that opens, hopefully sometime next year.
Actual is launching with three beers: a French ale with ginger and black pepper, a red rye India pale ale and an imperial stout. The brewery will sell its brews in 750-milliliter bottles and there will be select draft accounts around Columbus.
Its red rye IPA, called Conductor, is now available at North High Brewing in Columbus.
"I want to take our time and do it right," said Fred Lee, who sprinkles in the occasional curse word while talking. "A lot of breweries crank it out in five days. Every one of our beer recipes are 21 days in the tank. At least. It’s a lifestyle thing. I believe my beers are great. If people want to buy them, that’s even better. I’m a dick about beer."
Besides the odd tale behind the formation of the brewery, there are many other fascinating stories bubbling at Actual.
For starters, there’s Fred Lee himself. He’s a big fella with a big beard who resembles the Brawny paper towel guy.
He sports a "Mom." tattoo on his left forearm (yes, the period is in the tattoo).
A homebrewer for about eight years, he was in the U.S. Navy working as an information warfare specialist from 1996 to 2002. That career took him to Japan, where he lived for four years. He most recently was working a tech job at a bank.
The tech background is evident at the brewery.
While providing a tour, Fred Lee noted that he can control the brewhouse with his smart phone.
For example, he can track and adjust temperatures right from his phone.
"I can’t call myself a craft brewery unless I take every step in the process very seriously," he said.
Then there are the unique business cards, which feature silhouettes of the person’s head but with no eyes, nose or mouth. Fred Lee’s card lists him as "F. Dangerous Lee. Powerful Executive." Mira Lee’s just calls her "Actualist."
Mira Lee also is restoring a 1913 printing press, which will be used to produce Actual promotional materials.
The Lees are excited to join the Columbus brewing scene, which has exploded over the last two years with new operations such as Four String, Zauber, Hoof Hearted and Seventh Son.
"It’s been a huge year for beer in Columbus," Mira Lee said about the new breweries that are opening in central Ohio. "I feel like it’s just going to keep going. We have capacity for another wave, absolutely... Columbus feels like it’s a little bit late on the craft scene. I feel like Columbus is equalizing and we’re almost achieving the number of breweries we should have."