His beer epiphany occurred in England eight years ago. Paul Fryman, then an Allegheny College student studying abroad, discovered pub after pub serving different, tastier brews than the Busch Light and Natural Light that he’d been exposed to growing up in West Salem.
Fryman, an economics major, became captivated by the brewing industry, especially after discovering craft beer when he returned from overseas. He wrote his senior thesis on the "economics of beer" and realized that his real passion was beer and not economics.
After stints at Great Divide Brewing, Snake River Brewery and Great Adirondack Brewing, Fryman, now 28, is opening the Wooster Brewery in downtown Wooster, the first craft brewery in Wayne County. He received final approval Thursday from the Ohio Division of Liquor Control.
A specific opening date hasn’t been set, but it could be as soon as next weekend. That’s when his first beer, a yet-to-be-named cream ale, will be ready. He’s now "brewing like mad" to follow up with a malty red ale, India pale ale, hoppy brown ale, foreign-style stout and other styles.
"I want to keep that color spectrum going," said Fryman, an award-winning brewer who has taken home two silvers and a bronze medal for a stout, kolsch and saison at the Great American Beer Festival while brewing at Great Adirondack in Lake Placid, N.Y. "You’re going to like something."
The seven-barrel, steam production brewery and large tasting room are located in a large red brick building dating back to 1899. The Gerstenslager Co. once built horse buggies there. It more recently served as a motorcycle shop, NAPA Auto Parts store and an artist co-op.
The Wooster Brewery will join a growing number of new breweries in the state. There are at least 30 across Ohio that have either announced plans to open or have opened this year.
"The more breweries the merrier," Fryman said. "It keeps you on your toes."
The cavernous tasting room, which has a high ceiling, covers 3,140 square feet in the front of the building. It’s filled with a multi-colored hang glider attached to the ceiling, old buggy, and sculptures and artwork made by Fryman’s father Jerry, owner of Haynncorp in West Salem. The elder Fryman also built large communal tables and benches out of local ash and oak trees.
The tasting room, which has a black and white tile floor, is a work in progress.
"I’m going to let it morph into whatever it can morph into," Fryman said.
In addition to offering his beer at the brewery by the glass and growler, Fryman plans to sell his draft beer to bars and restaurants in the area. He’d like to have accounts in Wooster, Medina and Akron.
Eventually, he’d like to open a restaurant at the site and bottle his beer. But those are long-term goals.
His immediate objective is a simple one.
"I want to make quality beers," said Fryman, whose father, mother Laura and brother Tony Brown are helping with the venture. "I don’t want to rival anybody’s IPA or anything like that. But I want it to stand side by side and have people say, ‘This Wooster beer is top notch stuff.’
"I want to have fun with it. I don’t want it to become super stressful — any more than it is."
The Wooster Brewery should be well-received in the community, which takes pride in locally made products, said Jeff Griffin, president of the Wooster Area Chamber of Commerce.
"If it’s specific to our area, people get excited about it," he said.
Elmer "Goose" Steingass, one of the founding members of the Wayne County Brew Club, said the Wooster community is clamoring for craft beer.
"It’s going to be really good for the city," he said. "It’s going to be great. Wooster has needed this for a long time."
Wooster Brewery has no website yet, but it does have a Facebook page: www.facebook.com/WoosterBrewery. This story, along with photos, will appear Saturday on the Akron Beacon Journal website: www.Ohio.com.