Foaming the landscape

Ohio’s craft beer scene continues growth

By Kevin J. Gray

Photo: Enthusiasts gather for Dayton Beer Company’s downtown opening

In March, Cincinnati’s nearly two-year-old Rhinegeist brewery announced a jaw-dropping expansion plan. As part of a $10 million undertaking, the brewery bought the building it previously leased, added a massive new brew system and fermenters and announced the addition of a rooftop deck and an event center to come later this year.

The expansion means Rhinegeist will triple its beer production. The brewery, which currently employs 56 people, expects that number to top 100 in the next two years, making it one of the largest craft breweries in southern Ohio.

Rhinegeist’s expansion is exceptional due to the scale of growth in such a short time. Many of the Miami Valley breweries are also seeing growth that exceeds their expectations. Far from being saturated, the regional beer market is thirsty for more. Dayton Beer Company, Warped Wing, Yellow Springs Brewery and Toxic Brew Company are all investing heavily to meet that demand.

Dayton Beer Company

April 23 marked the opening of the Dayton Beer Company’s downtown Dayton production brewery and taproom. Housed in the former Weiler Welding building, the taproom features 36 Ohio beers, including beers brewed at the adjacent brewery.

An all-Ohio taproom located downtown is exciting, but the bigger news is the upgrade in brewing capacity. In 2012, Dayton Beer Company opened as a one-barrel nano-brewery in Kettering, brewing nearly daily to produce 200 barrels a year. The downtown brew house is 15 times larger, and owner Peter Hilgeman expects to produce between 2,000 and 3,000 barrels this year as they scale up to 6,500 barrels annually within the next few years.

A larger brewing system offers more consistent quality and expanded distribution. Look for more taps around Dayton, as well as canned and bottled beers in retailers. But don’t expect the Kettering location to go away.

“This is the brewery we’ve always planned at some point,” Hilgeman notes. “Kettering was not the end goal.” Instead, the Kettering location will remain open as a pilot brewery.

Warped Wing Brewing Company

Most of Miami Valley’s breweries opened as brewpubs, serving beer on premise and gradually moving into distribution. Warped Wing flipped the model, with self-distribution as an integral part of their plan. This approach has paid off. Warped Wing has grown at a rate nearly twice as fast as anticipated, upgrading fermentation capacity twice, including the instillation of four 100-barrel fermenters, the largest in the area. They also added an offsite warehouse that serves as a distribution hub for the more than 400 accounts in Dayton and Cincinnati (including Great American Ballpark).

What triggered this growth? “Some of that is predicated on the introduction of cans last June,” explains Joe Waizmann, Warped Wing’s president. “Once we introduced cans, that created additional sales in retail, promoted brand growth and development, and as a result, draft has taken off even further.”

Waizmann also credits the overall beer boom in Dayton. “We’ve got a very knowledgeable, mature and understanding craft market and as a result, all local craft are thriving.”

Yellow Springs Brewery

Out of room but not ready to open a new location? Rip out the old system and install something bigger. That’s the plan at Yellow Springs Brewery. The brewery has maxed out its floor space, but it has room to grow upwards, so this spring, it’s replacing the 7-barrel fermenters with larger 30-barrel ones. The brewery is also upgrading to a larger brewing system. These changes, according to co-owner Nate Cornett, will result in a 700 percent growth in brewing capacity.

Although the brewery will shut down for a few weeks to install the new equipment, don’t expect the taps to dry up. The team will stockpile beers for the transition. They will also start offering other local beers, as well as ciders and wines, in their taproom.

Post-expansion, Yellow Springs will start canning, beginning with Captain Stardust Saison. Expect organic growth, though, similar to the existing model. When asked about marketing their beer, Cornett explains, “[We plan to] let people find the beer and let them experience it.”

Toxic Brew Company

As Toxic Brew Company celebrates its second anniversary, its owner is contemplating a second location. Even before he opened, owner Shane Juhl consistently added capacity to meet demand. Today, all eight of his 7-barrel fermenters, as well as his brite tanks and his new 23-barrel fermenter are full, straining to meet a growing thirst for Toxic’s beers.

As Toxic expands distribution throughout Dayton and into Cincinnati, Juhl sees the need for a separate production facility. “We’ve hit our limit on our capacity here, as far as where we can brew beer, where we can put it, the size of the system,” Juhl explains. “So probably early summer, we’re going to be looking at places.”

However, Toxic maintains a commitment to downtown Dayton and will keep the taproom in the Oregon District: “I love the Oregon District – I love this tap room. We’ll probably still be brewing beer here but we are looking at augmentation of the brewing license that will let us carry wine and liquor and things like that here.”

Kevin J. Gray is Dayton City Paper’s Resident Beer Geek. A firm believer in all things balanced, 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.

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