North High Brewing Co. -- which is celebrating its fifth anniversary this year -- is partnering with Amato's Woodfired Pizza to open a brewpub in Marion later this year.

"It's an opportunity for us to buy a small-scale pilot system for new product development, while tapping into a much less saturated market," brewmaster Jason McKibben said. "The Amato's team is great to work with and it's been fun meeting the people of Marion."

The brewpub, which will feature a five-barrel brewing system and six five-barrel fermenters, should open in the second quarter of this year, he said.

McKibben talked about the new location as part of reflecting on the Columbus brewery's first five busy years and its plans for this year.

North High launched as a tasting room and brew-on-premise operation along North High Street and later opened a separate production brewery to start distributing its canned and draft beer statewide. It's known for its award-winning Pale Ale, IPA and Milk Stout, along with seasonal offerings such as Jalalima, Grapefruit Walleye and the new Stardust to Stardust Imperial IPA, a tribute to Davie Bowie.

It's not difficult for McKibben to think of a defining moment for the brewery so far.

"Without at doubt, the highlight has been winning the silver medal at the 2016 World Beer Cup for our Pale Ale in the American pale ale category," he said. "It was a galvanizing moment for our team here at the brewery and our fans everywhere."

McKibben, who previously brewed at the Anheuser-Busch brewery in Columbus, and North High co-founders Gavin Meyers and Tim Ward were told early on that no matter how much money they raised, it would never been enough. That's held true.

"In spite of routinely hearing that, I'm still surprised at how much money it takes to operate and grow the brewery," McKibben said. "Starting from scratch and fundraising without giving up any equity has not been easy, but we're definitely moving in the right direction. We can't thank our investors enough for their support and Heartland Bank for their flexibility."

The Columbus craft beer scene is much more crowded today than when North High first began. There are now more than 50 breweries in the Central Ohio market.

"I don't think we envisioned this many breweries opening in Columbus, plus the number of out-of-market breweries beginning distribution in Central Ohio," McKibben said. "There's nothing we can do about that, so we just need to keep fighting for our slice of the pie. The competition is now very strong and it's caused us to staff up with sales and marketing support for 2018. I think many consumers are overwhelmed by the amount of information there is to process about beer, let alone everything else they have going on in their lives. With the additional sales and marketing efforts, we will be better equipped to connect with our consumers and keep them thinking of us. We still actively trade hops, malt and packaging materials with several of the Columbus breweries, so at least the degree of competition hasn't interfered with those relationships."

Asked about trends and where the industry is headed in the next few years, he sees "some gimmick-beer fatigue building."

"Every combination of beer styles has been done," McKibben said. "Every fruit and vegetable on the face of the earth has been infused into a beer. Hundreds of microorganisms have been used to make beer, whether intentionally or accidentally. People drank these beers and their opinions and preferences about craft beer have been shaped by these experiences. The slowdown of overall craft beer industry growth may be a sign that new off-the-wall beers aren't converting drinkers to craft beer, but rather just causing existing craft beer drinkers to rotate between craft breweries.

"In 2017, we saw more lagers and pilsners released by craft breweries and I think that trend is going to accelerate in 2018 and beyond. I know that people in the industry have been saying for several years now that the lagers are the next hot trend in craft beer, but I think now it's finally happening. The question is how many domestic beer drinkers are in play at a price point where a typical craft brewery can remain profitable? Or, is the lager trend just another trade-off within the industry?"