Research. Re-pour. Repeat.

An historical brewery experience at Carillon Brewing Company

By Kevin J. Gray

Photo: Katie Nowack, program manager of the Patterson Homestead, stokes the fire under a large copper kettle used for hearth cooking demonstrations for the historical food-ways programming; photo: Haylie Schlater

Walk into any modern brewery and the scene is awash with stainless steel. From the mash tuns to the fermentation vessels and the kegs themselves, everything glitters in reflective metal.

Against this context, a step into the Carillon Brewing Company is a step back in time. There is no visible stainless here, just brick, iron and wood, with an occasional glint of copper. Nor are there electric pumps or gas heating elements. Instead, a huge hearth fills one side of the room, where the beer is made using direct heat from multiple fires and is moved from kettle to barrel using gravity and brute human force.

The Carillon Brewing Company is the newest addition to Carillon Historical Park, a Dayton History project that seeks to make the past tangible. Carillon Brewing Company is also the newest addition to the Miami Valley brewing community. Yet, what makes it unique is despite its recent birth, everything in it is inspired by Dayton’s brewing history. From the gas street lamps to the wooden doors to the scalloped plates to the beers and food itself, everything in Carillon Brewing Company has been crafted to connect visitors with Dayton’s brewing legacy.


Beer as history

Beer has long played an important part in the development of modern society. It has ties to transportation, agriculture and immigration, all themes visitors can explore at the Carillon Brewing Company. In the 1800s, beer was treated much differently than it is today. It wasn’t a luxury, but rather a daily staple. What made beer so important? Tanya Brock, manager of the Carillon Brewery (and also head researcher and lead brewer), explained that in the 1850s, beer was life, literally.

At that time, Dayton was a city of about 11,000 citizens, many of them recent European immigrants. These immigrants came from highly-populated cities in England, Ireland and Germany.

“Often, in those cities, you were dealing with a lack of, or very, very poor, water sources,” Brock explained. “Today we all carry water bottles everywhere we go, but back then, you wouldn’t have drank the water. As much as there was scientific knowledge, they didn’t know all of it, they just knew the people who drank the water got very ill and sometimes even died. The people who drank liquors and wines and beers survived. … The thought then was, ‘oh, it’s the alcohol that got rid of whatever what was making people ill.’ But really, it’s the boiling process.”

So, in the 19th century, beer was a household staple, as necessary to survival as bread, vegetables or meats. Until the mid-1800s, most beer making was done in small batches in individual households. The beers were relatively weak and were served with every meal to all members of the household. “Making beer at home was very much a housewife’s chore,” Brock explained. “Often, once a week, she’s going to be brewing a whole barrel of beer for her family. It’s what you served your children, when they wake up. It’s what you and your husband and farm hands are going to be drinking all throughout the day, and, if you ended up making a strong ale, that’s what we consider a more alcoholic beer, like today’s beer, that’s what you are going to be enjoying with your dinner, with your Christmas parties, all of your social gatherings.”

Although brewing was largely a home-based task, commercialization had started to take place. As early as 1810, settlers started founding breweries in the Miami Valley. In fact, famous Daytonian Col. George Newcom built a small brewery next to his tavern (a building you can still explore in another part of the Carillon Historical Park). By the middle of that century, canals and railroads were starting to connect Dayton with the rest of the United States and breweries were growing.

“The 1840s, 1850s is when you start to see a beer being made at home transitioning into big business by men,” Brock explained. This transition is captured as part of the Carillon Brewery experience.


The brewery

Carillon Brewing Company isn’t just resurrecting old styles using modern equipment – everything about the brewery itself has been meticulously researched and designed to replicate, as much as possible, the experience of walking into a Dayton-area brewery circa 1850.

The time warp begins with the building itself. The architectural design was inspired by two brewery-related businesses still standing in downtown Dayton: Jay’s Seafood Restaurant, which was built in the 1850s as the Kratochwill Dayton Corn and Grist Mill, and the former Hauer Music building, which was built towards the end of the 19th century to house the Sachs-Prudens’ Brewing Company.

The Carillon Brewery building is divided into two main areas. The first is a large, open room accessed by double doors in the front and back. These doors will remain closed most of the time, but in the 1850s, they would have been opened to help distribute the beer barrels. Horse-drawn wagons would have pulled into this open area, been loaded up with barrels and then sent off to the local taverns. The room is lit from high windows and is clad in hand-hewn wood, all created using historical building methods. The doors themselves are nearly works of art, from the painstakingly detailed hinges – Brock spent three weeks and many hours in the car visiting sites in surrounding cities to understand what the hinges would have looked like – to the cut iron nails, driven and peened using traditional methods. Today, this room will serve as a main entrance into any events held at the park. It also can be used as a special events room.

The second main area houses the brewery, the bar and the restaurant. A huge brick hearth extends toward the large, open ceiling, dominating the back of the room. This hearth contains not one, but five fireplaces. The largest is used to cook and for ambience. Each of the smaller fireplaces is set into the brickwork at various elevations. These ovens power the brewery. Cresting the brick at different intervals are the kettles used for brewing.

Looking out from the hearth, a long row of barrels separates the brewing operations from the dining area. These barrels help break up the space and lend authenticity to the experience. Yet, these are no Disney props. The oak barrels hold the fermenting and conditioning beer served at Carillon Brewing Company. They will also include exhibit information to help educate customers as to what they are seeing.

The walls to the right of the hearth are also covered in brick and house the bar and the kitchen. The rest of the room is filled with wooden tables and benches, similar to what would have been found in a tavern or restaurant of this period. Guests can sit in this main dining area or along the wooden balcony that lines the brewing room. During the summer, guests can also take their beverages and food outside to seek respite in the seasonal beer garden. The inside seating accommodates about 180 people; the beer garden will seat about 100.

The beer

The 1850s were not a time of automation. As such, beers brewed during this time were immensely labor-intensive. The largest breweries would have had crews working in shifts, around the clock, to crank out brew. Carillon’s brewery will create a much more reasonable volume, likely brewing about four times a week – most likely Thursday through Sunday, during peak visiting times, where guests can see the team in action.

The Carillon brewing process is aided by gravity, but still requires extensive labor on behalf of Brock, her lead production brewer Kyle Spears and their team. Tucked atop the main brick hearth is a large kettle, the hot liquor tank. The brewing team heats 100 gallons of water in this kettle over a charcoal fire. From there, they scoop it down to the next level, one half-gallon at a time, using a heavy, wooden ladle. The water goes into the cedar-clad mash tun. Here, the water is mixed with barley and other grains and the start of the brewing process takes place. The hot water activates enzymes in the grains that convert their starches to sugars in a process called mashing. Once the mash is complete, Brock and her team ladle about 75 gallons of the liquid, now called wort, into a third vessel called a boil kettle. This kettle, made of copper, is also heated from below with a charcoal fire. The wort is boiled for a set period of time (usually an hour to 90 minutes), then is cooled and transferred to fermentation vessels.

All of the beers will be fermented in oak barrels, which will impart a woodsy, authentic flavor to the beers. The beer will rest in the fermentation vessels for a week, then move to oak conditioning barrels for another two weeks. From there, they will be kegged. Some of each batch will go into firkins, small casks that are naturally carbonated. Others will go into stainless steel kegs where they will be force-carbonated (a necessary concession to modern brewing science to keep up with the volume). In keeping with 1850s methods, the barrels will be rinsed and reused for subsequent batches of beer, retiring only when they are damaged or imparting unacceptable flavors into the beers.

Guests will be able to compare various beers side-by-side to see the differences in the packaging processes, including a guest beer from the Heidelberg profile (the distributor is one of the three main donors to the brewery), and a beer from a local craft brewery. Brock expects visitors to notice a stark difference between the antique styles and the more modern ones: “You’ll get to try ours, from that firkin that is naturally carbonated, close to room temperature; ours that has been carbonated; a Heidelberg beer; and we are going to change out a tap of a local craft brewer. You will be able to drink through your flight and say, ‘Wow, look how far we’ve come.’”

What sort of beers will guests get to try? Brock has spent extensive time researching recipes, drawing on both commercial records of the time and cookbooks for housewives. The styles will be similar to those brewed today: “A lot of the standard styles predate what we are doing in the 1850s. Definitely in the categories of pale ales, amber ales, a stout, a porter,” Brock explained.

There was one big surprise though: the recent trend toward pepper beers turns out to be an old trend resurrected. “The one that really surprised me was a spiced ale,” Brock noted when asked about the recipes. “It came from an 1830s housewife cookbook. I looked through and said, ‘spiced ale? Really?’ Maybe it’s spices, not spicy. But sure enough, it had capsaicin, the ingredient in peppers. So, it surprised me. But with more research, it made sense. Around the 1830s, hot peppers were being looked at as a medicinal item.”

The brewery will also serve food, inspired by English, Irish and German dishes of the time. Expect mettwurst and bratwurst, two kinds of sauerkraut, different potato dishes, ham sandwiches and a few different salads. There will also be breads baked with the spent brewing grains, a process that excites Brock.

“Historically, there were many brewers who also worked as bakers,” she said. “It’s another historical food way that we can use to tell the story. During our off days, we can shift the story to talk about breads. It’s another way of talking about how things would have been used.”


Carillon Brewing Company, located at 1000 Carillon Blvd., opened in late August. It is open Monday-Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Membership to Carillon Historical Park is not required to visit the brewery, but there will be membership tie-ins that will offer discounts and other benefits to members. For more information, please call 937.293.2841 or visit

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