By Elizabeth Granger
COLUMBUS – Pizza and beer. Without a doubt, one of America’s great food pairings. And this pairing is especially great at a growing Columbus pizzeria/craft brewery, now with national stature. But in the beginning, it was about engineering.
That’s what got Kurt Zwanzig and his wife, Lisa, to Columbus, Indiana, in the first place – he in acoustical engineering and she on the environmental side of things. They loved Columbus from the start. Their corporate jobs, not so much. “So we started kicking around the idea of what to do next,” Kurt Zwanzig says. Their plan ultimately found them purchasing a small commercial business building and turning it into a pizzeria in 2002. They’d both grown up in small towns with strong independent pizzerias – he in Illinois, she in Ohio – and Columbus had chains but no independents. At first they worked their pizza business in addition to their corporate jobs. “It got so busy so fast that we had to make some decisions,” Kurt says. Six months into the pizza business he left his corporate job. One year to the opening date she left hers.
That first building was their “experimentation station,” Lisa says. “We worked with the dough, we worked with the sauce, with the arrangement of toppings, …” And they listened to their customers, who’d suggest variations which the Zwanzigs would produce. The building was so small, with only a tiny spot for customers to pick up their pizzas, that they often couldn’t get to the phone. “So the customers would grab the phone and answer it for us,” Kurt says. “We realized we needed more space.” That led to another location and a major remodel, this one with dining space. And the growth continued.
Meanwhile, in Illinois, Kurt’s college roommate was busy making beer. Really good beer. His bosses were interested in quantity; he instead was itching to expand his brewing expertise with small-batch craft beers.
In Columbus, the Zwanzigs were itching to expand their pizzeria’s offerings with small-batch craft beers. The timing, and the matching philosophies, couldn’t have been more perfect. So Mike Rybinski moved to Columbus and became the ZwanzigZ brewmaster.
Fast forward to October 2016 and the annual Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Colorado. ZwanzigZ took a silver medal with The Ticket Chocolate Beer – “intentionally light in color to trick your senses” – and another silver with its Frankenwald Eisbock. And then ZwanzigZ was named Small Brewpub of the Year.
Rybinski, with assistant brewer Trent Fleener, was named Small Brewpub Brewer of the Year. “You can’t prescribe a more exciting moment,” Kurt says. Rybinski shakes his head and adds, “Every day I wake up and … now, what’s that? … oh, yeah. Wow. … And now people are coming to Columbus to see what we’re all about. We’re just trying to keep the tanks full.” Heady stuff, for sure.
And their favorite beer? “Lisa and I have very similar tastes,” Kurt says. “We’re always experimenting and finding new things that we like. But I think we are not traditional as brewery owners. People who are really into craft beer go for hoppy beer. But Lisa and I are the exact opposite. We go to the higher malt beers.” Lisa adds, “They pair nicely with foods. They’re like fine wine; they’re more complex.” And Rybinski? He says his favorite beer is “the one in front of me.”
ZwanzigZ Pizza & Brewing
1038 Lafayette Ave. Columbus, IN