The name Thommy Long, or the name of his company LemonGrenade Creative, may not be well-known in Cincinnati beer circles, but it should be. Thommy and his team at LemonGrenade are responsible for more local brewery labels and artwork than any other company. I recently sat down with him to talk about designing beer labels.
It’s been well known for some time that the Grayscale Cincinnati project had taken up residence in the former St. Pius Catholic Church on Blue Rock Road in Northside. We learned earlier this year the project was fully funded, the build out was underway and the brewery portion of the project is called Urban Artifact Brewing. Grayscale Cincinnati founders Scott Hand and Dominic Mariano have partnered up with brewers Bret Kollmann Baker and Scott Hunter. The partners were drawn together by similar ideas and complementary skill sets, as well as complementary personalities.
All four indicate they gravitated toward Northside because of its welcoming and engaging community, its special small town feel, with an eclectic urban city presence and the unique opportunity presented by the beautiful and historic St. Pius Church (known at one time as St Patrick’s Church). Bret relocated to Cincinnati from Albany, New York while Scott Hunter relocated from the closer proximity of Deer Park. Besides the church, this Northside property has a spacious, 3-story house that used to serve as the rectory for the priests and more recently the Queen City Cookies Cafe, and a huge gymnasium that will serve as the actual brewhouse. Construction was well underway in mid-February when I visited for my interview.
The brewery itself will start with an impressive 30 barrel capacity. The complex will include a both a theater and music venue plus a tap house in the church, a restaurant on the first floor of the rectory and a beer garden between the house and the church. Though there will be parking on and around the site, both Bret and Scott Hunter are avid cyclists, who plan on having plenty of bike racks for the cyclists and being very tied into the local bicycling community. Scott Hand is an architect who is charged with overseeing the design of the project. He and his wife Kelly relocated to Cincinnati from Chicago, where they became active in the local homebrewing community.
There will be plenty of entertainment as Dominic, a music professor & noted local musician will be booking diverse local and regional music acts, as well as providing live streaming online for performances. The church will also be home to a local theater group, who will be performing regularly in its spacious interior. But musicians and actors are just part of the entertainment value. Beer will also have a starring role. I sat down with Bret to talk to him about what is in store for thirsty craft beer lovers; Scott Hunter also took a break from construction to join part of the conversation.
Chris Nascimento: “So, Bret, construction looks like it is well underway. When will Urban Artifact Brewing be opening & how many beers will you have on tap?”
Bret Kollmann Baker: “We will be opening in mid-spring, start out with 10 beers on tap.”
CN: “What kind of beers will you be producing? American IPAs & such?”
BK: “Actually, what we will be making beers inspired by sour brewing traditions.”
CN: “So lots of Belgian beers?”
BK: “Not just Belgian beers, but beers with Belgian, German and Flemish influences. What we are producing is more microbiologically inspired. We have a love of microbiology and will be using old world techniques with modern scientific application to increase the consistency & quality of what we produce.”
CN: “So what made you choose Northside?”
BK: “Lots of things, it’s a great neighborhood! Both Scotty and I live here, my wife and I bought a house here. It’s all about the community. Everyone has been extremely supportive, stopping by to congratulate us and asking what they can do to help. People here get the idea of marrying beer & art together. What we are doing really fits the culture in Northside.”
CN: “So what are your backgrounds and how did you decide you wanted to become brewers?”
BK: “Scott & I met at Ohio University, where I also met my wife Stephanie. Scott and I were both chemical engineering majors and founded a homebrew club at the university. We both have degrees in chemical engineering, and I also have a degree in brewing science and technology. After college, I purposely worked in some related industries. I worked for a lactic acid manufacturer, Cargill, working with a special yeast strain. I also spent some time working professionally for a winery at the Farhmeir Family Vineyard and for a distiller, the Albany Distilling Co.” Plus, last year, I conducted a seminar at the AHA National Homebrew Conference a historic lager yeast. It was called “S. Eubayanus: The Father of Lager Yeast”.
Scott Hunter: “I worked in food production. I worked as an engineer for Graphite Electrodes, and I am also getting another degree, working on my MBA.”
CN (incredulously): “So, wait, Scott, you are opening a new brewery AND getting your MBA?”
SH (chuckling): “Yeah. I am getting my MBA at Indiana-Wesleyan, at their campus in West Chester.”
CN: “I love sours & my wife is a huge fan as well. But what will make you guys different and stand out in what you do?”
BK: “All our sour organisms will be caught from the local environment. We will capture them, and then pick our favorite barrels, then use these to start the new barrels. The lactobacillus we are using was collected in the bell tower of the church, and it is unbelievable! We are really excited about it.
CN: “So you will be doing open fermentations?”
BK: “Small scale stuff. We will be doing some spontaneous fermentations, and are installing a cool ship, probably above the brewhouse. It’s all flat, reinforced and that location will work out really well.”
SH: “The real skill is not just in producing the wort, the beer, but in blending it….”
BK: “and having the cojones to dump it if it’s not working. You can’t blend away suck….”
CN (laughing): “I heard Gordon Strong say the same thing about blending mead.”
SH: “We will be working with traditional sours, guezes. Beers with flavor & depth. Flavors from Pediococcus. Beers with flavor & depth. Flavors from Pediococcus and Brettanomyces take time to develop. We want sublime, complementary barrels.”
CN: “So, how big will be the barrel farm?”
BK: “We will be starting with about 10 barrels and will add 30 barrels a month. There will be different barrels consisting of spontaneous fermentations, local mixed cultures and various spirit and wine barrels imparting flavors as well. Our flagships will be done using some special techniques to ferment in the absence of oxygen. We will do this with most of our seasonal beers as well. Our flagships are all made using a modified sour mash technique.”
SH: “To give you an example of a beer of a beer that has inspired us, look at Orval. Orval doesn’t go bad. It starts fresh and hoppy and ages beautifully, becoming funky and wild. I prefer not to drink any Orval younger than 2 years of age.”
CN: “Will you use kegs, serving vessels or some combination of the two in your taproom? And how much beer will you be producing in your first year?”
BK: “We will be using all kegs in the taphouse and music lounge. We will produce 3,000 barrels in our first year (365 days of production).”
CN: “How big could you guys go with the production in this facility?”
BK: “The brewhouse has the capacity to do 45,000 barrels a year. As we grow, if we find we outgrow the present space, especially with the barrel farm, we hope to expand the barrel farm into a warehouse space within Northside.”
CN: “We have a great local brewing community, and many of our local brewers are doing collaborations with each other. Does Urban Artifact plan to do any collaborations with other local breweries?”
BK: “We have plans to do some collaborations with other breweries in the Cincinnati area; as well as elsewhere outside the Cincinnati area.”
CN: “This is all pretty amazing, what else are you doing that is interesting and different?”
BK: “We are working with some new, experimental yeasts with a major yeast manufacturer. We can’t really say what, (Bret reaches over to pull a specially labeled sample out of a nearby fridge and shows them) but here is an example.”
CN: “This is really exciting, guys, I can’t wait to try some of your beers. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me!”
I should note that Urban Artifact already has formed some community partnerships as they work on their build out. They have rented out the second floor of the old rectory house for use as office space by Groundwork Cincinnati, who has cleaned up the Millcreek, including developing the Greenway Trail. Jess of Madcap Puppets is renting space in the church, which is very evident by the huge dragon puppet that has taken up space in part of the church. Gaia’s Oasis is also partnering up with them to put in a showcase garden.
The brewhouse is now in place, and Urban Artifact has obtained both their federal and state permits. So far, as of March 13th, Urban Artifact has been through two production brews, with more coming in short order. While I was not given an exact opening date, my impression is that “mid-spring” will be happening sooner rather than later.
Continuing my goal to help folks get to know the brewers and breweries behind their favorite local beers I stopped by Listermann Brewing Company in Evanston (next to Norwood) for a talk with owner Dan Listermann, head brewer Kevin Moreland, and social media director Jason Brewer. To provide some background info before we get rolling Listermann’s was first a home brew store, supplying the area with everything they needed to make their own beer. They then evolved into a small brewery under the same name and after a few more years decided to add Triple Digit as a separate brand, though it’s still brewed in the same place and on the same equipment as the Listermann’s beers.
Due to interviewing 3 people at slightly seperate times over 2 hours I have paraphrased most of the following unless otherwise noted.
About the brewer:
- How’d you get into “good” beer?
- Dan Listermann first brewed in 1973 (before home brewing was legal in the US) when he was at Miami University, he gave it up after a few terrible tasting brews.
“I walked into a drug store in Oxford and it was a package with a pound of malt and an ounce of hops and I was supposed to boil that all up with 5 pounds of sugar and put that in a clean garbage can with a packet of fleischmann’s [bread yeast]. I had a special hydrometer with a big B on it and you were supposed to bottle it when it got to the B. So I bottled it then and most of them foamed all over the place and some of them blew up and it all smelled bad. You couldn’t get proper yeast.” – Dan Listermann
- Around 1987 Dan’s old roommate gave him a call, convinced him to hang out and brew again, and they made some really good brews. Dan started making beers again, joined the bloatarians, and wasn’t happy with some of the equipment available. Being an engineer by trade Dan set about making his own equipment. By 1993 his business was being held back by his job and his job was being held back by his business. Dan could get another job in engineering easy enough but to found another business would be very difficult.
- What has the local brewing community been like?
- Dan: Oh wonderful. I go to events and all the beer geeks are there and I know them all.Most of the guys who have breweries now started out here one way or the other. It’s a real tight community, we don’t look at each other as competition, we are mining the rich vein of Bud Light drinkers. The more they drink of craft beer the more likely they’ll drink our craft beer as well. The big conversion isn’t going form one craft beer to the next, it’s going from Bud Light to real beer.
About the brewery:
- How and when did Listermann’s get going? How bout Triple Digit?
- Dan Listermann started manufacturing homebrewing equipment back in 1991 out of his house. The store officially started in 1995 and kept manufacturing equipment until about 7 years ago. They found it wasn’t really worth the effort and in 2008 got a brewing license. It was really a side thing that didn’t take off very well at the time. In the winter of 2011/2012 Kevin Moreland was hired as head brewer and that’s when things really started taking off big time.
- Triple Digit was Dan’s idea from a long time ago. He wanted something to differentiate the Listermann beers from the “honking huge ones” that is big, high alcohol beers in 22 oz bombers.
- What’s it like managing two brands under the same roof?
- The upside is they are able to differentiate between two different kinds of beer and distribute differently. The downsides are having to double brand awareness efforts. They frequently have to explain to people that both Listermann’s and Triple Digit are actually the same brewery.
- Is there a story behind the names?
- Listermann’s Brewering Company (the store and brewery) are named after owner Dan Listermann
- Triple Digit is named for all their beers having a starting gravity of over 100. Starting gravity is a measurement of the amount of sugars in a beer; the more fermentable sugar the higher the starting gravity. The difference between starting and finishing gravity can be used to calculate the alcohol by volume.
- What is your brewing process, from brain storm to bottle shelf?
- Kevin: The first thing I do is listen to Jason nag about things about what we don’t have and what we should be doing. I always look at what the market is doing here locally, then I’ll look at our flavor profile, and something I want to drink during this season. Once we come up with a concept we have to figure out if it’s feasible to do at the brewery, how we’re gonna brew it, bottle it, label it. It kills you to do some small batch runs because the amount of labor involved and labels and everything. One of the big key things is if it’s gonna be unique enough for us to produce, we want to make sure it’s a home run and not something that’s just for 100 people in the room.
- Jason: Long story short it either takes 2 hours or 6 months. Like the Peanut Butter Porter I bugged Kevin for 6 months, every time he asked me what he should brew and I’d say the Peanut Butter Porter. One time though he asked me and I said brew me a double IPA, he went to his computer and 30 minutes later was brewing it.
- Kevin: At any time there’s 50 different beers in my head that I want to brew but it’s the space and time. That’s what I like about being in the small brewery and that’s why I chose to come here. I get an idea and next week you may have it on draft here. We’re not here to do 8,000 barrels a year, we’re here to do unique beers and making sure everyone gets paid.
- What can we expect to see from L/TD going forward?
- Slide Job – This is a collaboration brew with Cellar Dweller. It will be an oatmeal sweet stout aged in port barrels with cherries added.
- Cranium – Imperial oatmeal stout with vanilla and coffee, from Coffee Emporium, added.
- Julia with blackberries – Julia is a Belgian-style sour blonde brewed with Riesling and Muscat grape juices and aged in oak barrels
- The Cincinnati river boat series – Kevin: This will be 3 sour historical style beers, 2 of which are too far off in the future to talk about, but the first one will be called Colonel Plug its a Kentucky Common. This is a historical style brewed with a lot of corn, black malt, and 6-row malt. We did a 20 hour sour mash and used 40% corn, 6-row, and a little bit of honey malt. Which added some sweetness and gave it all a nice color that looks like Bourbon. We took the sour mash and got it to a certain PH that I felt was the right sourness for the beer. Ran it off and boiled it then aged it in American White Oak like how the beer would’ve been done back then. We’ve bottled it and are waiting on label approval. This was a collaboration with Ray Spangler, creator of the Bloatarian brewing league and home brewer of the year for 1987.
- Details on the new bottling line
- Jason: Currently 2 guys work together to hand fill the bottles much like a [slightly advanced] home brew system. We had someone the Ohio’s Bureau of Worker Compensation in at an event who mentioned that they had a grant available that you can write and get money towards a bottling machine. We looked into it and didn’t think anything of it, I wrote the grant, they came out and watched us. I had to write out all the steps for hand bottling and how much time and money we could save with a bottling machine. They approved the grant and we should have the machine here by the end of August. Then we just have to do case studies on the number of steps that are saved to prevent workers compensation claims, not that we’ve had any, but with the expansion that we’re doing there will be a whole lot more room for that to happen. We’ll start doing 4 packs of 12 oz for Triple Digit bottles.
- Where can folks go to get Listermann’s or Triple Digit?
- Listermann’s – Always on tap at Arnold’s and JAPs, often at Gordo’s, Rhinehaus in OTR, Firehouse Grill in Blue Ash has Jungle Honey, Parker’s in Blue Ash [and the Listermann’s tap room!]
- Triple Digit – Is available in bottles at better beer stores around town
- Anything else that you want folks to know?
- Kevin: Come down and have a beer with us! Cincinnati is booming with craft breweries coming on board and all the fans, and the bloggers, talking about all the collaborations and brands is great. I encourage everyone to go around and check them all out and for the local bars to carry the local beers.
When I first had Cellar Dweller last year I was not quite amazed. I remember trying 3 or 4 and found them all to be good, not great and certainly not astounding. That changed drastically a few weeks ago at Village Wine Cellar in Lebanon. I had the Doorbell IPA that went through a Hop Rocket right before kegging and man was it amazing (sadly as I found out there has only been one sixth-barrel of that so far). That motivated me to get me off my ass, pay a visit to the Cellar Dweller, and help you all know a bit more about them.
The fist things to know is that, as of now, Cellar Dweller is one guy, Steve Shaw, and he’s in a… well, in a cellar. Unlike most breweries who own their own warehouse, Cellar Dweller has the advantage of being beneath the Valley Vineyards Winery. Steve is part of Valley Vineyards family and they were happy to lend him a hand when he got the idea for Cellar Dweller.
Blank Slate Brewing Company (aka BSBC or Blank Slate) opened it’s doors in March of 2012 with the goal of focusing on a rotating selection of seasonal beers. This, in my opinion at least, is a relatively untested idea and very different from the status quo of focusing on a few core styles and the seasonal being secondary. I had the opportunity to meet Scott LaFollette at the Cincy Beer Fest on Fountain Square and setup the following interview a few weeks later.
I’m beginning what will hopefully be a long series of interviews with local area brewers. My goal is to interview the head brewers/owners at all the local area breweries and provide general information about those breweries. Lots of interviews I see with them are just about specific seasonals or events. In this interview and those that follow I intend to get the basics of what the company is about and where it’s headed. So without further delay here is my interview with Tom Hull the General Manager for Rivertown.
If you haven’t heard of Quaff Bros, you need to. They are making some of the tastiest, most unique beers in the Cincinnati/NKY area. They have a very different model than most brewers: all of the beers they released have been aged in a spirit barrel (often, but not always bourbon) and all of their beers are brewed at local breweries. For example, their newest beer, What the Wheat? (details below), was brewed at Listermann. Quaff Bros beers can only be found at The Party Source and currently there are less than 350 bottles of What the Wheat? left in stock, so hurry on over and pick a few up before they’re gone!
Danny Gold, one of Quaff Bros’ founding and current members, was kind enough to sit down and answer some questions I had about their operations and beers. What follows is that interview, with the only changes being minor ones for formatting and typos. Many thanks to Danny for doing this! Enjoy!
Who, exactly, are the Quaff Bros and how did they come to be?
Originally there were six of us, but over time with some guys moving on and what not, there are now two main guys behind the decision-making: myself (Danny Gold) & Jay Erisman, who is also the head of our whiskey and private bourbon barrel program. The name originally was Quaff Syrup, but TBA shut that name down in a heartbeat (no names with medicinal meanings), so with the time and effort already invested, we just made the change to Bros. For us it is the brotherhood between the Party Source and our local brewing community. So right now the Quaff Bros. really are Mt Carmel, Rivertown, Listermann’s and, most recently, Rock Bottom.
Can you give us a good summary of how your brewing process works, from brainstorming to the bottle landing on your shelves?
It’s always different; the way we believe craft beer should be, with left brain thinking being our muse 24/7. Sometimes we let the barrels tell us and sometimes we already have a plan on what styles we want to do. Jay and I from day one have always picked the style or had a general idea that we took to whichever brewery we were working with at the time. Sometimes we bottle all the beer, sometimes we keg it all. It depends on the style and if it is a seasonal beer or not.
Judging by the beers I’ve tried of Quaff Bros so far, it seems that you use some very high quality barrels. Many brewers use Heaven Hill and other “lower shelf” spirits for barrels largely because of cost. Where do you get your barrels and what is done with them after a beer is finished aging in them?
Jay Erisman is one of the most respected men in his field. Jay with his private barrel program is able to get barrels that would cost most breweries an arm and a leg (that is, if they could get them at all). These include Four Roses, Buffalo Trace, Dolce dessert wine barrels from Napa, rare Rye barrels and, most recently, Bernheim Wheated. The biggest problem is making enough beer for all the barrels that Jay gets. Most of the time breweries have the opposite issue of not enough barrels. As I am writing to you now, I am looking at over 15 different barrels in our stock room.
While some brewers have one-offs and other limited-release beers, Quaff Bros bucks the norm in that every one of the beers made is barrel aged. What made you decide to go with this model? Along the same grain, what are some of the features that a barrel treatment imparts that you really enjoy?
When I had the original idea four years ago, my thought was this: Why are we not making beer? How can we do this? And we can, what is the hottest style out their? At that time it was (and for the most part still is) aging beers in barrels or with oak chips and hops. The concept could not have been timed more perfectly, as Jay’s program was about to blow up. As far as flavor goes, every barrel is different but the one thing they do add is depth, intensity and complexity. Plus hey, we are in Kentucky and this is Bourbon country.
Tell us about your newest beer, What the Wheat? I was lucky enough enough to try it at the Cincy Winter Beerfest and picked up a couple more bottles at The Party Source last weekend. (Shameless plug: I’ll be reviewing it for a post this weekend.)
We wanted to create a beer style under the name Quaff that was not your normal everyday beer. After looking over the shelves and tasting brews from around the world for inspiration (this is hard work ya’ know), we both agreed on the nontraditional style of wheat wine. This big beer is not a classic wheat ale nor is it a wine. Confused? Don’t be. The manner of which this beer is based is on the more popular version called barley wine. But instead of barley the focus is shifted on wheat and the term wine comes from the boozy alcohol by volume. When it was finally time to brew this beer, it was an instance where the barrel as well as the time of the year picked for us. Originally, we were going to do a wheat wine with Persian lime. I’m kinda glad the barrel spoke up.
I know I’m very excited for The Party Source expansion and I’m sure I’m not the only one. What has you most excited about it? Will the expansion allow Quaff Bros to move production in-house?
I’m excited about the 40 tap-handle beer bar, getting back into selling home-brew equipment, the 10 barrel system brewery aka “The Shack in the Back”, but what I am most excited about the expansion of the beer department itself. Because in the end, we wanted to make beer so we were a micro part of something that myself, as well as our employees, managers, and even all the way up to the owner of the store loves so much, and that’s craft beer. Craft beer is such an exciting world and we feel very lucky and blessed that we are able to play in it. The expansion will allow The Party Source to do many things with not only their private whiskey labels, but also private beer labels.
The obligatory question: You. Desert island. Three beers and three spirits. What do you go with?
WOW! BEER: Gouden Carolus Noel, anything by Mikkeller, and a new found love for me, 8 Wired Saison from New Zealand. As far as spirits go, that’s Jay’s category but I’ll go Milagro Silver Tequila, Aberlour A’Bunadh Single Malt Scotch, and to save face, one of Jays private Four Roses barrels. He’ll like that answer.
Finally, what does Quaff Bros have up its sleeve that we should be keeping our eyes out for in the near future?
More left brain thinking and hopefully high quality small batch beers. Besides What the Wheat?, we poured an American brown ale aged in Four Roses barrels called Brown Chicken Brown Cow at Cincy Winter Beerfest. We will have it in bottle soon, but before that there is this same recipe, but aged in more specific 1792 [Ridgemont Reserve] barrels and we added a little local honey provided to us by our friends at Blue Oven Bakery. That, we will keg all of and it should be out in two weeks. We have some high gravity beers being aged in 18 year old Elijah Craig barrels and finally, Mitch at Rock Bottom is brewing for us a Robust Porter aged in Buffalo Trace barrels. Here we plan to add raspberries and vanilla. I am also getting my hands on some port and sherry barrels this summer, so look out!