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Land-Grant Brews Up Something Special in Columbus

Land-Grant Brews Up Something Special in Columbus | Tipico
Land-Grant Brews Up Something Special in Columbus | Tipico
Alex Valdes
Published: 2023-05-04

Welcome to our 'TipicOHseries, where we highlight the people and innovations behind our amazing partners in Ohio.

By Alex Valdes

A commitment to community. A commitment to Columbus. It’s the life blood of practically everything Adam Benner and Walt Keys do. It’s what brought these two Ohio State graduates back from the big cities to Columbus and what makes their mission and passion – Land-Grant Brewing Company – one of the most beloved and highly-regarded craft breweries in Ohio.

That commitment is what helped save the Crew from leaving Columbus, what brings people in on early Sunday mornings to watch Formula 1 racing and what gets LG consistently ranked highly by numerous publications.

Even the name of the brewery has local connections. It’s an homage to Benner’s and Keys’ alma mater Ohio State University, which was founded as a land-grant university after the Morrill Act of 1862 with the aim of providing equal access to higher education for all.

Benner and Keys opened Land-Grant on Oct. 18, 2014, eight years after the pair had graduated from Ohio State. In the intervening years, Benner moved to Chicago to work in corporate data analysis and Walt to New York for a job in book publishing. They had always dreamed of starting a business together, and, as it turned out, their unique passions and talents merged perfectly.

Adam was a home brewing aficionado, Walt an expert in graphic design. Adam would cook up a batch, and Walt would create a label. A couple of years after changing the name of their business from Oval Brewing – it was already taken – and raising $30,000 on a Kickstarter campaign, Benner and Keys opened Land-Grant in the historic Franklinton neighborhood of Columbus.

There were only a handful of breweries in Columbus then, now there are more than 60. But Land-Grant stands above most. It has the “coolest on-site games” of all breweries, according to a recent issue of Men’s Journal, Columbus Underground recently dubbed LG as the city’s best brewery and 614 Magazine named it as "Best Local Brewery 2023.”

Land-Grant has more than 60 employees and churns out 10,000 barrels per year, enough for it to be ranked among the top 5 percent for production among breweries in the U.S. 


Land-Grant’s commitment to community played a role in keeping the Crew from skipping town several years ago. Two decades after its inception as one of Major League Soccer’s 10 charter franchises in 1996, the club’s ownership announced in 2017 it would be moving the team to Austin, Texas. Land-Grant hosted several Save the Crew events and — after a complex series of events over the course of a year — the team’s new ownership gave a press conference at Land-Grant on Dec. 6th, 2018 to announce that they would be keeping the franchise in Columbus.

"Every square foot
that could fit anyone
was filled up."
-- Adam Benner, Land-Grant

”We were as involved as we could be,” Walt says. “It was very cool to be a part of.”

Land-Grant and the Crew have been partners since 2015, and the brewery has created several supporter beers over the years, starting with the inaugural Glory American Wheat.

“They’ve been awesome to work with,” Walt says. “The fan base has really embraced us, they show up for road matches and the brewery is packed with people watching the matches.”

Partnering with the Crew helped Land-Grant develop a passionate soccer customer base. On Nov. 25, 2022, when the U.S. and England battled to a 0-0 draw in the World Cup, Land-Grant had the busiest three-hour stretch in its history.

“Every square foot that could fit anyone was filled up,” Adam remembers.


The thing you get while talking with Adam and Walt is how creative and innovative they are, which again speaks to their passion for people and the fun experiences they can provide their customers.

It started early. Only a month and a half after Land-Grant opened in 2014, someone or someone's splattered their sign with paint balls. What to do? They couldn’t remove the splatters, that would have ruined their sign since both the paint balls and the sign were made from acrylic paint.

"Let’s take an ugly thing
and make it cool."
-- Adam Benner, Land-Grant

So, while ruminating over a solution in the taproom, they had a brainstorm – let’s sell T-shirts. Walt, who had honed his graphic design chops at Ohio State and Parsons School of Design in New York City, took a picture of the vandalized sign and mocked up a design within a couple of hours. They slapped the design on a bunch of t-shirts and sold them as a fundraiser, raising over $5,000, which they gave to two of their favorite local charities – the Gladden Community House and the Harmony Project.

“We were like, OK how are we going to make lemonade out of lemons?” Walt says. “We figured, why not embrace it? Let’s take an ugly thing and make it cool and shine a light on organizations that are doing good stuff.”

Adam remembers the day well – OSU had walloped Wisconsin 59-0 the day before. And the vandalized sign? It’s still there.

“We wanted to keep it and turn it into a positive,” Adam says.


And then there’s the beer curling. Adam and Walt wanted to utilize their brewery’s outdoor space – three times the square footage of the taproom – during the freezing winter months. Again, their creative genius kicked in. While living in Chicago, Adam had seen craft breweries with curling rinks and wanted to replicate that experience at Land-Grant.

"Customers tell us it’s the most fun
they’ve had in Ohio."
-- Adam Benner, Land-Grant

So, Adam bought an old municipal ice rink in an auction in Maine — “everyone thought I was crazy” — then turned his attention to curling equipment. Stone sets can cost several thousands of dollars, so he had the brilliant idea of using stainless steel mini kegs as the stones.

They launched the rink on Christmas Day 2021, and the idea has taken off. Land-Grant now has six curling lanes in their Wintergarden, and this past winter the lanes were sold out every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. They also have curling leagues.

Each lane has its own plastic igloo, so groups of friends and family can gather inside and check out the action while shielding themselves from the cold Ohio winters. Adam and Walt originally installed the igloos during the safe-distance days of the COVID pandemic, but they’ve become a permanent feature of the Wintergarden. There are even a few for non-curlers to huddle in and enjoy the holiday lights.

“It was another way to activate our outdoor space,” Adam says. “We know a lot of people are looking for experiences now. That’s why the beer curling has taken off. There’s always something going on around here, people don’t like to sit still.”

There’s no chance of that at Land-Grant. There’s cornhole, a putting green, live music, DJs and games for kids.

“We’re always trying to think of unique activities to keep people coming back,” Adam says. “Customers tell us it’s the most fun they’ve had in Ohio. If we can get someone down to the brewery where likely you’ll have you own great experience, you’ll want to tell your friends about it.”


One aspect of Land-Grant that keeps people coming back in droves is Adam’s and Walt’s insistence on creating an inclusive craft beer environment. Some breweries take a snooty attitude toward their beers, and that can rub some customers the wrong way.

But that’s not Land-Grant. Adam and Walt want literally everyone to feel welcome at their establishment, which is probably why sometimes you might find a DJ pumping out tunes and a Crew watch party going on at the same time.

"A lot of people tell us we are
their third space, after home and work."
-- Walt Keys, Land-Grant

Adam recalls a time when his wife was talked down to at a brewery on one of their many travels, as if being a women disqualified her from knowing craft beer. Adam and Walt want to make sure that never happens at their place.

“Customers don’t want to be talked down to,” Walt says. “They might want to try something new. If you have a holier-than-thou approach, it will turn people off to you and turn people off to craft beer. We want to create more craft beer drinkers. They can ask, can I try something new and feel welcomed and have a good time.

“A lot of people tell us we are their third space, after home and work. They might not be sure what they’re going to do after work, but they’ll head down to Land-Grant because there’s always something going on.”


Land-Grant’s commitment to inclusivity leads to a wide diversity of events to attract customers – like Formula 1 watch events on Sunday mornings. F1 races mostly take place in other parts of the world, meaning that the races start pretty early on Sunday mornings on American TV. But that doesn’t deter F1’s hardcore fan base.

“We’ll open at 6:30 a.m. and we’ll consistently have more than 100 people watching,” Adam says. “I don’t think people realized how many F1 fans there are.”

Land-Grant brews special beers with Formula 1 themes and custom labels that are available only on race days. After the races, there will be brunch food trucks and a DJ. Through its partnership with Tipico Sportsbook, the brewery also encourages customers to sign up with the Tipico Sportsbook app.


Adam Benner and Walt Keys obviously know how to attract, keep and grow their customer base with a mix of great beer and great experiences. Their beer is also available at the Horseshoe at Ohio State during football games, at Crew matches and at Columbus Clipper minor league baseball games.

Could a second Land-Grant be possible in the future? Could be, but …

“For us, it’s all about the right growth,” Adam says. “We’ve seen a few breweries that grew fast but then shut down. We’re still building our resources.

“We never want to jeopardize our space to chase growth.”

Land-Grant Brews Up Something Special in Columbus | Tipico


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