Hail the Ale

Craft brew fans at Cask AleFest compare notes. Craft brew fans at Cask AleFest compare notes.

The art of craft beer in Dayton

By Kevin Gray

It’s a snowy Friday night in early January and I’m navigating traffic to get to South Park Tavern to meet Joe Waizmann, founder of AleFest, Dayton’s largest annual beer tasting. The week has been long and I’m eager for a pint.

Despite the weather, I am lucky to find a spot in the full parking lot, and inside, the place is equally packed—a good sign for the bar, which specializes in high quality brews. I look around for a seat at the bar and see a friend of mine at a table nearby. He waves me over.

Brian and Heather had been ice-skating downtown with their son and stopped in for pizza and a drink. We chat for a bit before the conversation turns to beer. Instinctively, Brian offers me a taste of his beer. It’s a big West Coast IPA, heavy on the hops, and the three of us spend the next few minutes enthusiastically analyzing the beers’ flavor. It’s a bit too over the top for my friends, but I’m in the mood for a big beer.

As if he had been at the table with Brian and Heather, Waizmann later explains that it’s not uncommon for drinkers to educate each other. “I’d have a sip of your beer, you’d have a sip of mine and you wouldn’t think anything about it …  to me, that’s part of the fun of it. That’s the enjoyment.”

To Joe, craft beer is “all about sharing” and he’s quick to point out that this enthusiasm for discovering good quality beer is rooted in the overall trend of consumers seeking out more flavorful foods and beverages. “We’ve been exposed to better wine, better cheese, better coffee,” Joe notes. “[Craft beer] is something else we’ve picked up from Western Europe.“

What sets beer apart is its accessibility. “Because beer is every man’s beverage, we can all relate to beer,” Waizmann explains. Dayton’s craft beer community has a grass roots feel, as drinkers discover the wide variety of flavors available and then share them with their friends.

Not surprisingly, this culture of enthusiasm has its roots in the industry itself. Earlier in the week, I met with Mike Schwartz, owner of craft beer haven Belmont Party Supply and its homebrewing counterpart Miami Valley BrewTensils. Like Waizmann, Mike is a longstanding member of Dayton’s beer community.

Craft brew fans at Cask AleFest compare notes.

When I asked Schwartz about the root of Dayton’s growing craft beer awareness, he was quick to credit the folks behind the scenes. There is a communal nature to the industry, starting with the distributors themselves, evidenced in a story Mike tells about members of competing distributors helping each other out. The reason behind this? “We work together to grow the industry.” And this sense of community fosters growth: “If we grow the industry, we’ll grow and we’ll all grow together,” he explains.

That’s what separates the Dayton community from other less developed beer cultures—a critical mass of dedicated industry folks and a receptive consumer base eager to discover.

By the end of my Friday night conversation, Joe, his wife and I are joined by a host of other beer drinkers. True to form, we pass glasses back and forth, sampling and discussing. Asked where this is headed, Joe observes, “we still haven’t even scratched the surface … in Dayton alone, I project in the next five years, we’ll have at least two breweries.” A bold prediction, to which he adds “the consumer demand for craft beer will more than double in Dayton alone.”

I see further evidence as I walk through the parking lot. There’s already another car lined up to take my spot.

Want to join the craft beer community?

Start brewing: There’s no better way to learn about craft beer than to start making it yourself. Pick up a starter kit at Miami Valley BrewTensils. For help, talk to the knowledgeable staff there, sign up for one of their homebrewing classes or attend a DRAFT meeting, Dayton’s homebrew club (meetings are held on the second Friday of every month).

Host a party: Head over to Belmont Party Supply, Dorothy Lane Market, Miami Valley Wine and Spirits or one of the region’s other quality beer suppliers. Pick out six or eight beers that look interesting, invite some friends over and start tasting.

Lift a pint: Next time you meet up with friends at a bar, seek out one that specializes in craft beer. South Park Tavern, Boston’s, The Trolley Stop, Tanks and Chappy’s Tap Room consistently carry high-quality beer. Ask the wait staff to help you find something new.

Attend a tasting: From the weekly tastings at places like Arrow Wine to the large scale events like AleFest and Miami Valley Beer Festival, beer tastings offer tastes for every palate in a fun and social atmosphere.

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