OMG, I’m so happy!
If you don’t hang out on social media you may have missed the rapid spread of Hopwater. The short is that Hopwater is a hop, and flavor, infused tonic water.
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.
Earlier today news hit the internet that Mahou San Miguel, Spain’s biggest brewery, bought a 30% stake in Founder’s Brewing Company. You can read the full press release at All About Beer. This investment will help Founders grow across America and into emerging international markets around the world. Obviously a great move for Founders. Hopefully, this also means an easier time getting KBS next April.
Here’s where things get fun
On Wednesday I got to attend a media sneak peek in the newly opened New Riff Distillery. I could tell as it was being constructed that it was going to be a beautiful facility with a lot of serious investment behind it. After talking with the production manager Jay Erisman and learning about the research, planning, and science that has gone into creating New Riff, I am firmly convinced that this will be a world-class distillery and treasure for local whiskey lovers.
The outside of New Riff is impressive, with a glass tower showing off the 60 foot column still. Inside the copper was polished and ready for photos. The large glass windows, stone walls and urban location reminded me the Town Branch distillery in Lexington but as Jay walked me through the distillery it became clear that New Riff was going to be a very different distillery than Town Branch. To start with the equipment itself is different. New Riff has both a column pot still so that they will be able to produce a variety of spirits, even adding some modifications to the traditional column still so that adjustments can be made to the distillation process at all levels. Jay pointed out over and over again little details they had adjusted or changed to ensure that they would be producing the highest level of whiskey they could. Everything from the angle of the mash tubs to the placement of the grain silos has been deliberately calculated, not just for the product they will start producing this week, but also for what they hope to be making ten years from now.
Everyone who is opening a new distillery has to create a story behind their brand. Many distilleries do this by telling you about their grandfather the moonshiner and the secret recipe he handed down. These stories are charming but often you find the facts don’t always add up when you scratch below the surface. That is why I was so impressed by New Riff’s attitude toward the outside resources they are using to get started. One resource in particular is the consultant who was instrumental in the development of New Riff, Larry Ebersold. Ebersold is the former master distiller at the MGP distillery in Lawrenceburg and Jay repeatedly credited him for his contributions to New Riff. And speaking of that Lawrenceburg distillery, that is also the source of the OKI Reserve bourbon that New Riff will begin selling this summer. Neither of these things, hiring a consultant or bottling a sourced bourbon, are at all unusual in the world of whiskey, but it is rare enough for a distillery to even admit doing it, let alone celebrate it.
Although small compared to other well-known bourbon producers, New Riff is large for a micro-distillery and even though they just opened their doors, they are planning for growth. In the meantime, while waiting for the barrels to age, you will be able to book one of their two beautiful event spaces for private events. You can also become a part of their innovative Ranger Program. Becoming a New Riff Ranger not only gives you a lifetime membership, a discount at the gift shop, and bragging rights, it allows entitles you to one personalized bottle of single barrel bourbon four years after you purchase your membership. Buy one for your friend’s wedding this summer and they can toast you with their bottle for their 4th anniversary.
Needless to say, I left New Riff feeling very excited. It is great to see that our area’s distilling history is starting to be revived alongside its brewing history. And may I say, well done to Ken Lewis. Bellevue now has the country’s largest beer and spirits store with a microbrewery and a distillery all in the same location. If he can just build a monorail to take you to each location he would be the Jungle Jim of the alcohol world.
Richard Dubé, the Vice President of Brewing Operations at Christian Moerlein, is leaving the company effective immediately.
Richard came to Christian Moerlein with a very extensive brewing background including working at Labatt and Boston Beer Company as well as teaching at the prestigious Siebel Institute of Technology, one of the best brewing schools in the country.
Richard began working with Moerlein in 2012 opening and brewing at the Moerlein Lager House. He tweaked all the recipes that Moerlein had been contract brewing and bottling and in my opinion he drastically improved them. Initially these improved recipes were only available on premise at the Lager House on the Banks.
Just over a year after his arrival Christian Moerlein ended their contract brewing and opened their own production brewery in Over-the-Rhine. Once Moerlein was making all of its own beer Richard’s recipes became the base recipes for all Moerlein beers. Be it bottle or draft, the Lager House or La Rosa’s, if you were drinking Moerlein beer after March 2013 you were drinking a recipe from Richard. After reinvigorating the brand and helping launch the Moerlein production brewery in OTR he was promoted to the Vice President of Brewing Operations for all of Christian Moerlein.
This is obviously a huge loss for Christian Moerlein but I want all our readers to rest assured that Richard has hand-picked a great team of brewers at Christian Moerlein. I have faith that this team will continue to execute Richard’s recipes in excellent fashion.
As far as what the future holds for Richard himself, we don’t yet know. I got the impression that he is going to relax and spend some time with his family and perhaps run the Grand Canyon again (yeah… he’s in his 50s and ran down and backup the Grand Canyon. Just thinking of that makes me tired). What I do know is that in the past he has said his wife is not willing to move again. What does that mean? It mean’s Cincinnati has a fantastic brewer who isn’t going anywhere and won’t be able to sit still for long. No one knows what Richard is going to do but whatever he does will be in Cincinnati and will be delicious.
This is coming on the day of the celebration for the rebirthed Christian Moerlein’s 10th anniversary (for more on the full history of Christian Moerlein Brewing Company start my series here). Tonight at the production brewery in OTR they are having a celebration including some of their 10/161. 10/161 is the Christkindl that’s been bourbon barrel aged in Woodford Reserve barrels and is, in my opinion, very delicious.
Updated: Late last night I reached out to Moerlein CEO Greg Hardman and received his response this morning:
We appreciate the contribution Richard Dube made in assembling our team of talented brewers as we have a strong team of innovators that will continue to drive our commitment to craft brewing. As we have enjoyed tremendous growth at our Over-the-Rhine brewery in a short period of time, Christian Moerlein will continue to strengthen its position in the craft beer category. We do wish Richard the best of luck as he pursues other endeavors and thank our team for their continued creativity and commitment to our beers and our brand.
Dayton has slowly been birthing new craft breweries for 2 years now. So far all the breweries have been small affairs with 7 barrel systems, or less, and focusing on on-premise consumption . That trend is changing with the opening of Warped Wing Brewing Company.