No beard, no beer

Dayton says curtains to craft industry

By Kevin J. Gray

Photo: Only a few area breweries remain after what industry experts are calling “The Naked Chin Massacre”


A report from the future:

“Can Dayton sustain double digit numbers of breweries?” This was the question on everyone’s mind in 2013, when it appeared that we would have upwards of a dozen breweries in the Miami Valley. Sadly, two years later, we now know the answer is a resounding, “No.”

At the end of 2014, Dayton’s craft beer scene was a juggernaut upon which many had pinned the hopes of Dayton’s economic recovery. Although craft breweries came late to the area, they hit us like a tidal wave, going from zero to a dozen breweries in just under two years. Craft beer was everywhere: we had big breweries and small breweries, beer tours and beer bars, gastropubs and strip clubs. Craft beer had arrived, and the city was much better for it.

Yet at the end of 2015, barely a year later, the industry remains a shadow of its former self.

Who among us would have predicted the demise of the industry would be as fickle as fashion? Literally. Think back to 2013 and 2014. Remember when big, bushy beards and ironic mustaches were “a thing”? They seem pretty silly now, but back then, it was a foregone conclusion that brewers were bearded. Facial hair was a requisite part of the brewer’s appearance, so much so that guys who had gone their whole lives without so much as 5 o’clock shadows launched breweries and sprouted beards.

But then fashion trends shifted. Fashionable gentlemen started shaving again and craft beer, inexplicably, suffered. No one knows for sure why it happened, but there are several theories. Some say facial hair was a harboring ground for local flora – that yeast took up residence in the brewers’ beards and inculcated their beers. Others credited bearded brewers as modern day Samsons, who gained their strength through their facial hair.

Whatever the correlation, once the beards came off, the beers suffered. The signs were there, but the industry missed it. Remember the anti-hipster at the brewery in the suburbs? Fed up with the itch of the beard, he took to the razor. It didn’t take long before folks started complaining about his beers. His Untappd ratings plummeted, he was shunned on Facebook and he was uninvited to several local beer festivals. There were a lot of theories at the time – a bad business model, a poor location, disputes between the brewer and the owner, but in retrospect, the true reason seems obvious enough.

After that, it was a free-for-all. Because no one connected the disappearing facial hair with the bad batches of beer, and because brewers are, by nature, on the cutting edge of fashion, it was an accident waiting to happen. By the time the industry realized the cause, it was too late. Dayton’s beer scene had been shorn clean.

So where are they now? Of the dozen breweries in the area, only four have survived. One of the downtown breweries was clandestinely negotiating with an “unnamed macrobrewery” during the height of what has come to be known as The Naked Chin Massacre. It has only been through the sheer force of the parent macrobrewery’s marketing division that this brewery has survived. Their beers are no better than the breweries that closed, but their marketing teams have convinced folks that this watered down beer is still craft.

Our historical brewery has been able to weather the storm, mainly because the brewers there never had beards. History experts tell us that in the 1850s, folks wore their hair short because it was a time of “creepy, crawly things,” mostly lice and crabs. True to period style, then, this historic brewery never suffered the death of a beard because they brewed without one.

Two other regional breweries, Pinups and Pints and the Yellow Springs Brewery, have survived, mostly because of their location and the availability of local flora. “There are still a ton of hippies with their beards out in Yellow Springs,” one local expert explains, “so Yellow Springs never lost the ambient yeast that other breweries did.”

And the others? The two Miamisburg breweries tried to join forces, becoming Death Star Brewery, but Lucasfilms’ ongoing lawsuit has crushed the dreams of recovery in that town. Another brewery fared equally badly. Who can forget the long lines for toilet paper at the cooperatively-owned brewery, which descended into anarchy reminiscent of 1980s Russia?

Prospects of an economic recovery are not completely lost, however. Two of the former breweries offer hope. The first was the thriving hipster brewery downtown. It has now been converted to a cannabis dispensary, enabled in large part by this summer’s new marijuana legalization. The other, a local gastropub, has converted their former brewing equipment to cash in on what the owner hopes will be a rising trend – they are proud to be Ohio’s first purveyers of artisanal gravy.

It is with a heavy heart, then, that we raise our bottles of macrobrewed rice lager to that which was, that which is no more: To craft.

Reach DCP freelance writer Kevin J. Gray at KevinGray@DaytonCityPaper.com

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