Jesse and I headed out to Fairfield to meet and talk to the folks from Swine City Brewing. We talked to owner Dan Ebben and his crew about opening a brewery and what to expect from Swine City when they open in the next month or two.
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.
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!