Urban Artifact Brings Out The Funk in Northside

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.

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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.

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Please Allow Me To Introduce Myself

Hi! My name is Chris Nascimento and I will be a contributor to Queen City Drinks from time to time. Why? Well, I used to blog about beer for a couple of other blogs, namely the now defunct Circle 3 and I did a couple of posts over at Cincy Voices as well. I had always meant to get back into blogging, but I got wrapped up in various projects. I should also note other people created beer blogs worth reading, so it became less of a priority and fell by the wayside.

Still, I’ve missed sharing my views and experiences with beer, which is something I am pretty passionate about. Back around last December, I mentioned as much on Twitter and Tom Aguero here at Queen City Drinks saw this,  reached out to me and offered me the opportunity to be a contributor. So before Tom could sober up, I quickly accepted the offer and promised to get blogging again with the specific, agreed upon date of “soon”. I have been busy with lots of other stuff, so “soon” ended up meaning about another four months.

What could be more important than blogging about beer? Well, I do a bunch of other stuff. I enjoy a beer now and then. I serve on the board of a few different organizations, including Cincinnati Beer Week. I run a homebrew shop called Brew Monkeys over on Cincinnati’s west side. I am also a member of the Cincinnati Malt Infusers homebrew club, presently serving them as PR officer. I have been involved with putting on a slew of other events, including beer festivals, and over the years I have judged in several homebrew competitions on a regular basis and made a number of beers myself. I have founded a few other events and otherwise kept busy working on stuff that allows me to enjoy craft beer & homebrew.

Oh yes, I’m not sure if my family wants me to mention them, but I will do it anyway. I am married to Wendy, a very tolerant, understanding woman who has attended way more beer events than what she has probably cared to even though she also really likes good beer. I have three children, two sons and a daughter. My eldest son is also a craft beer enthusiast and has dabbled with homebrewing. My daughter knows a lot about beer from overhearing stuff over the years, but has asked me not to talk about beer TOO much, and my youngest son, being autistic, just looks at me, shakes his head and says stuff like “Not beer again!” All three of my kids lead active lives, including many things that have absolutely nothing to do with beer. I try to be involved in or attend all their non-beer activities whenever it is appropriate for a Dad to do so.

While all these experiences may give me a unique perspective with a few things, let me be clear with the following DISCLAIMER: All views expressed by me on this blog represent MY views and SOLELY my views. Any opinions, thoughts, reviews I share here DO NOT represent the official views of ANY organization I currently serve, NOR those of my wife, family, friends or anyone else other than me.

A little bit of what to expect-I don’t write about every single beer event happening, that’s someone else’s gig. If you want to know about the fifty cent off deal on Yuengling at the Happy Canoodle Pub & Grill, don’t ask me. I simply don’t care enough to inquire about it or remember it, much less tell anyone about it. I try to stick to beers, events and topics I feel are worth exploring. If I don’t have too much good to say about a event or beer, I will generally just ignore it. If I feel a event or beer is REALLY BAD, and you, the craft beer enthusiast will likely waste your valuable time and hard earned dollars on it before finding this out, I WILL take the time to warn you. This is especially true if my perception is there is an attempt being made to scam you. But this doesn’t happen too often, so don’t look for much of this kind of stuff.

I have a few pieces I have been working on, so you will be getting to see more of my beer-fueled, innate ramblings in the near future. Among them are:

-Some homebrewing specific articles.

-An exclusive Q & A with the brewers at soon open Urban Artifact Brewing discussing what to expect out of their brewhouse.

-An update on new happenings at Old Firehouse Brewing

– Progress of the new nanobrewery opening soon in Mt Healthy, Fibonacci Brewing

-Opinion pieces on beer industry related topics I feel are worth exploring.

You have been warned. I should also note, any piece I write will dramatically improve when paired with the right beers while reading it. Usually, the more beer you drink, the better it will get. If you are really gluttons for punishment, I am an avid social media user. You can find me on Facebook, as well as on Twitter as @brewnas.

 

Horse and Barrel Bourbon Bar

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I have to admit that I was a little skeptical when I heard that there was another bourbon bar opening in Cincinnati. Most bars in the area already have a pretty good selection and I have been really hoping for someone to go in a crazy new direction and open a tiki bar. But when the Horse and Barrel opened on Walnut Street downtown, I immediately heard good things about it from my whiskey friends. Then, when I met one of the owners and much of the staff at the January meeting of the Greater Cincinnati Bourbon Society and learned more about the history behind the bar, I knew it was worth checking out.

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The owners of the Horse and Barrel, who also own Nicholson’s Scottish Pub, have deep ties to Kentucky and used to own a bourbon bar called Horse and Barrel attached to their Lexington deSha’s restaurant before it closed. So this isn’t so much a brand new bourbon bar hopping on the whiskey bandwagon but more of an established bar opening for the first time in Cincinnati. I had such a great time talking to the group at the meeting that Charlie and I went down to check them out last Sunday at the opening party.

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The presentation and selection of the bourbon was all very well done. Unfortunately after being open for only a few weeks most of the rare bottles they had started with were already sold out, but they still had a great mix of old favorites and lesser known whiskeys. The cocktails were mixed perfectly and they had a nice selection of classic and creative cocktails on the menu. I thought the beer selection was also great compared to most whiskey bars I have been to. The food was outstanding, and something that many bars downtown are missing. I am craving some more of the blue cheese dip with fried bread even as I write this. And I do think that having the Horse and Barrel, a bar known for its bourbon, attached to Nicholson’s, a bar known for its scotch, is a great combination for one-stop whiskey drinking in Cincinnati.

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It is still hard to compete with bourbon bars in Kentucky based on selection but until Ohio changes its liquor laws it is nice to have a good bourbon bar downtown, especially for people who are visiting the area and want to try some local flavor without venturing over the river. Now if someone can just get on opening that tiki bar for me I will be really happy.

 

 

 

Calamity Labs and Stillwrights Spirits

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Calamity Dawn and Dorian Bridges are: Calamity Labs!

It is hard enough keeping up with new breweries, distilleries, and bars opening in Cincinnati. Trying to keep a handle on what is going on in Dayton seems like just a little too much to ask these days. Luckily, I have a couple of friends in the area who invite me up when things get interesting.

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Award-winning moonshine

Calamity Dawn and Dorian Bridges are the geeky bar-tending duo behind Calamity Labs. Together they roam the Eastern United States bringing booze, informative panels, and killer room parties to steampunk, comic, gaming and various other conventions, as well as doing private events. I got to know them during my misspent years with the steampunks. Calamity was one of our first guests on The Charlie Tonic Hour and created our official cocktail. I have followed the development of Calamity Labs as they have gone from doing panels at regional shows to leading presentations at DragonCon and competing and placing in The Bourbon Social Cocktail Competition. On Tuesday they hosted a test run of the latest panel that they will be presenting at shows this spring, Mixology 320: Mixology in Motion and they were kind enough to invite Charlie and I up to participate.

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The three competitors wondering what the hell we got ourselves into.

The event was hosted by Stillwrights Spirits at their Flat Rock Distillery in Fairborn, Ohio. Stillwrights has only been on the market for the past four months but Calamity Labs became fans right away. I was thrilled to be able to combine a trip to see friends and experience a fun night with learning about a new distillery that I didn’t even know existed. Stillwrights primarily makes flavored moonshine but they have a straight moonshine, bourbon and rum as well. One interesting thing about this distillery is that the owners were in the machine business before starting the distillery and were actually able to fabricate their own still. In addition to the traditional moonshine flavors I was excited to try some of the more tropical flavors they had like Margarita and Key Lime Pie. You can do a tour and tasting there on Saturdays for $10 so if you are in the Dayton area I encourage you to stop by and check them out.

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The winning cocktail. It wasn’t mine.

The panel itself was a lot of fun. After a brief intro about the distillery and the basics of cocktail making, three audience members were chosen to go up to our mixing stations and were given twenty minutes to create an original cocktail recipe. I was able to compete and decided to play it safe by mixing ginger beer and grapefruit bitters with the Stillwrights Peach Cobbler Moonshine. Unfortunately for me, Calamity Labs rewards boldness and innovation, plus I over did it with the ginger beer a bit so I did not win. I did however, have a wonderful time. I think everyone learned a lot about the subtle art of cocktail creating. Along the way we were able to try a skill that was out of our comfort zone, and I got to see several good friends that I hadn’t seen in a long time.

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The three competitors with two of the owners of Stillwrights

If you want to learn more about Stillwrights or Calamity Labs they both have Facebook pages you can follow and you will find Calamity Labs at a variety of conventions in the coming year. You can hear more about the panel and our interview with the owner of Stillwrights on Episode 151 of The Charlie Tonic Hour.

Milano’s Atlantic City Subs in West Chester

If you never lived in Dayton you may not know that Milano’s Atlantic City Subs is a small chain of 3 stores in that area. Recently they have opened their newest location closer to us in West Chester.

I had heard about the chain from some folks I know in Dayton who mentioned the good beer and tasty pizza. Milano’s grew to more notable fame in my mind for landing the first tap handles in the area of Fat Head’s new Hop JuJu. Hop JuJu is FatHead’s impressive Imperial IPA that won gold at last year’s GABF.

Milano's Atlantic City Subs

I never got up to the restaurants to try Hop JuJu but did finally get their last night and strongly regret not doing so sooner!

Continue reading “Milano’s Atlantic City Subs in West Chester”

Salazar and The Eagle Open in Over the Rhine

Over the Rhine’s dining and bar scene continued its quest to take over the rest of the city, with two great new restaurants, Salazar and The Eagle, opening within two blocks and two days of each other this past December. I’m here today to give you a quick run down on their food and a deeper discussion of their bars.

To The Queen (yes that is marigold leaves as the garnish)
To The Queen
yes that is marigold leaves as the garnish

All of my foodie friends in Cincinnati have been eagerly awaiting Jose Salazar opening his own restaurant and a few weeks ago it finally happened. Salazar is located on the corner of Republic and 14th Street in Over the Rhine and serves food that can perhaps best be described as gourmet french comfort food. The menu is rustic and farm inspired but with a degree of class that belies its comfortable bistro style seating. The food I’ve had is incredible but the bar menu is what we are here to talk about.

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The 71 South
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The Coco Del Cielo

In the interest of full disclosure the bar manager, Jacob Trevino, has become a good friend since he first waited on Charlie and me at Japp’s. Not only have we interviewed him on our podcast, he came to our Boxing Day party so he’s basically family now. That being said, I have been genuinely impressed by the bar menu he came up with for Salazar.  Cincinnati has a wealth of great places doing retro/classic style cocktails and I love them all. But Jacob is making drinks that are more forward thinking and original than a lot of other places in Cincinnati. Several of his drinks are less sweet than you might expect for a restaurant cocktail and none of them taste like anything that other people are serving. Perhaps because he came to Cincinnati via Texas and New Orleans, the spirits, combinations, and even some of the garnishes are just not what you would expect and I think that is a great thing.

Just to give you an example, his Creole Gimlet has gin and lime but it also uses a house-made falernum and creole bitters. I’ve had just about everything on the menu at this point. They are all amazing but the 71 South, Pinky Swear, and the Coco Del Cielo were three of my favorites. The beer selection was smaller but focused, with a few quality examples of several types of beer from both local and national microbreweries. Do yourself a favor and get in there to check out the restaurant and bar soon.

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While Salazar had the breathless anticipation of the foodie crowd in Cincinnati, The Eagle seemed to have just about everyone waiting to get a seat once they opened. Owned and operated by the same people who have Bakersfield, The Eagle also opened in late December and is located on Vine Street, just a few blocks away from Salazar.  The Eagle is located in an old post office and continues the trend of doing high-class cheap food, this time with fried chicken. For a more detailed review of the food check The Eagle Has Landed, but I thought it was very good. The price was right and I liked all of the sides a lot. The fried chicken was actually kind of too spicy for me. I am pretty sure they use tabasco in the batter so be warned.

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The Moscow Mule
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OTR Lemonade

Rather than focusing on craft cocktails that pack a punch, all of the house cocktails at The Eagle are classic drinks served in large glass mugs that really make you feel like  you are getting your money’s worth. The Moscow was my favorite but the OTR Lemonade and the Bloody Mary were also enjoyed by my group. The beer selection was very good, much bigger than similar sized restaurants in the neighborhood. The downside of The Eagle is the wait. Be prepared to wait 1-2 hours for a table on the weekends. If you go I recommend putting your name in and then heading to Salazar for a cocktail and some warm olives while you wait.

Introducing Ei8ht Ball

A massive disturbance in the Cincinnati beer scene is going to begin at 11 am Saturday morning. At that time Ei8ht Ball will officially open it’s doors.

The Cincinnati area has had some great bars for a long time now. Dutch’s, Lackman, Japps, and Arnold’s are all fantastic places full of amazing beer. Ei8ht Ball is a different beast entirely. Oh yes, it serves beer but it also brews its own beer. Yes, it has tap handles… 42 of them! And those tap handles contain  some of the best beer you can get anywhere, including many locals. They also have bottles, but there’s no Bud Light here just a little thing called Zombie Dust  and another bit of nothing called Cantillon Classic Gueuze, but nobody likes either of those!

The other great thing Ei8ht Ball has going for it, and against my bank account, is that it’s located in The Party Source. You have to cross their entire craft beer section to get back to Ei8ht Ball. The Party Source has been one of the best bottle shops in town for years and now they’re adding Ei8ht Ball… oh, and a distillery will be opening there soon as well.

I keep mentioning that it’s a brewery so let’s talk about their beer. Ei8ht Ball is opening up with 2 brews, Prodigal Son and K-Hole. Prodigal Son is an American pale ale that really does justice to the style. Far too many APAs are light IPAs and that’s really not what the style is about. K-Hole is just plain nuts it’s an imperial stout but it’s got so much coffee it’s crazy. Both of these beers are amazing and are must tries as soon as you can get down there. Mitch Dougherty is heading up brewing operations there. Mitch was formerly the head brewer at Cincinnati’s Rock Bottom and won gold at the 2012 World Beer Cup in Wood and Barrel Aged Beer for Sarah’s Two Headed Buffalo so the guy has lots of experience making awesome beer.

Ei8ht Ball Tap List
Dat Tap List! – Thanks to Danny Gold for the photo

What’s a great bar, brewery, or bottle shop without great people though? For all the awesomeness I’ve already discussed it would suck if the people there didn’t know their shit. Danny Gold has been the craft beer guy at The Party Source for a while now and has done a phenomenal job at it but he couldn’t take care of this whole bar/brewery by himself. He’s assembled the Cincinnati beer dream team, they came together and formed Voltron wielding a pint instead of a sword! I already talked about head brewer Mitch Dougherty but Danny has also brought in Peanut Khales, formerly with the Dilly Cafe and always with the best damn beard in town! Peanut has been packing huge amounts of craft beer knowledge since before I was born.

So they’ve got 2 guys with mad beer knowledge so what, well they also have 2 awesome women with mad beer knowledge. Natalie Phillips was the head beer maiden at Belmont Party Supply up in Dayton, which was and still is Dayton’s best bottle shop. Lastly but certainly not least is Andrea Besl who was tending bar at Rivertown’s tap room and has been involved on increasingly higher levels at almost ever Cincinnati beer fest for the past few years. I’ve seen a fair bit of complaining lately from craft beer nerds that a place may have great beer but your server doesn’t know anything about them. These 4 don’t just know beer, they love beer, and they live beer.

The Dream Team - Thanks Jesse Folk for the photo!
The Dream Team – Thanks Jesse Folk for the photo!

This has been a lot of hyperbole but I really am truly excited for Ei8ht Ball’s future. They’re opening big and I know they’re only going to grow and get better over time.

Now that you’ve read all this go check out Brew Prof’s excellent post he did on Why you need to visit Ei8ht Ball.