Growing the local beer community
By Kevin J. Gray
Photo: Mike Legg of Hairless Hare brews an early test batch
Welcome to the rebirth of craft beer in the Miami Valley.
We claim eight breweries with several more opening, local taps all around town and breweries growing to increase capacity. Albeit still in its infancy, this region finally has a brewing movement.
Yet, the building of a beer community is about more than just breweries selling beer. Communities are about relationships – relationships between breweries and customers, and vice versa. These relationships can have a vital, amplifying effect in fostering growth.
If we want a vibrant beer culture in the Dayton area, we all have a part to play. While most of us can’t quit our jobs to open a brewery, there are ways that we, as beer drinkers, impact the region’s growth. Below are tips for supporting our fledgling community.
Like most local businesses, many breweries start on shoestring budgets. Yet, brewing systems are tricky beasts. With each batch, brewers are making incremental improvements. “New breweries need time to dial in their systems and internal processes,” Justin Kohnen of Star City Brewing explained. “Batches will vary while we fight temperature control issues, equipment faults, recipe tweaks, etc.”
Pat Sullivan of Lock 27 takes this sentiment a step further: “Like anything new in life, it takes time to adapt,” he said. “Same goes for breweries on a new setup. It takes time to dial in a new system. Batch to batch, the learning curve is closer to being met. We are a young industry in our part of the country, and as time goes by we will grow into a reputable beer-drinking city. It will take some time, but with the right support it is well beyond possible.”
For consumers, that means investing in breweries by giving them time to work through the kinks. If you try a brewery and don’t like it, don’t make that the last time you visit. Give the brewery time to hit its groove. While you may find a go-to brewery, check back on what the others are doing. Pete Hilgeman of Dayton Beer Company sees this process as vital to the region’s growth: “Obviously people will have favorites, but that doesn’t mean you can’t support the other breweries in the area,” he said. “My hope is that people will continue to visit breweries they may not have gone to in a while.”
You might love IPAs, but don’t judge every brewery against that style. When at a brewery, seek out what that brewery makes best. Shane Juhl of Toxic Brew reminded customers to judge beers by the intended style. Speaking about his own growth as a consumer, he noted, “I do not favor some beer styles, but if drinking that beer, I try to put personal preferences aside and critique/enjoy the beer based on style. I also encourage the continual revisiting of different styles – even ones I previously disliked. Beer tastes often change over time for a person many times in their life.”
Use the wide variety of local beer styles as a learning opportunity. “We see education as one of the biggest components to enjoying craft beer,” explained Nate Cornett of Yellow Springs Brewery. “Like the wine world and even more so, craft beer is all over the map – literally. The more educated the people are about what they are drinking, the more they’ll enjoy it.”
Be forthcoming with constructive feedback
Brewers turn to consumers to learn what works and what doesn’t. “A solid critique from beer lovers who know their beer is always valuable, especially to new breweries fine tuning their craft,” Hairless Hare’s Mike Legg said. Tanya Brock, the brewer at the soon-to-open Carillon Brewing echoes Legg’s sentiments: “Part of being a brewery is growing with and responding to the community. When community members are willing to share excitement about what you are doing and keep an open dialogue about what they like and don’t like, that response is more genuine and meaningful.”
“The support from the Dayton craft beer community has been tremendous so far,” Neil Chabut of Eudora Brewing said. “As brewers dial-in their systems and continue to develop newer and better recipes, it’s important that we continue to see interest and support from craft beer lovers in the Dayton region. The more constructive feedback we get, the better our products will become.”
A word of caution: Trashing a brewery on social media is NOT constructive and does more to damage the community than it does to build it up. Most brewers welcome feedback, so do so with class by addressing them directly.
Be an advocate
What’s the best way to build the community? Spread the word. Joe Waizmann of Warped Wing swears by word of mouth: “We are all working to build disciples, spreading the word about local beer and bringing folks into our breweries,” he said. Nick Bowman, also of Warped Wing, added, “We urge Daytonians to seek out local beers at bars and restaurants and to ask for it on tap.” Because at its core, it comes down to this: the more folks are drinking locally and sharing feedback, the more our community grows.
Kevin J. Gray is Dayton City Paper’s Resident Beer Geek. A firm believer in all things balance, when Kevin isn’t drinking craft beer, he’s hiking or biking to keep his beer belly in optimal shape. Reach Kevin J. Gray at KevinGray@DaytonCityPaper.com.