The beer fest with class

Brew Ha Ha benefits Montessori School of Dayton

By Sara Mastbaum

There’s no question about it: Ohio versus Michigan is always a brouhaha. When the contenders are a certain pair of college football teams, only one will emerge victorious. When the contenders are 40 craft beers, it’s Brew Ha Ha, and we’re pretty sure everyone is a winner.

The real winner, of course, is the Montessori School of Dayton. Scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 25, the third annual Brew Ha Ha craft beer festival will benefit the school’s capital improvement fund. Previous years’ festivals raised the capital needed for a new gym floor. This year’s proceeds “are about energy improvements to the building,” said festival Co-chair Michael Taylor. “We’re working towards the first level of LEED certification in the school.” LEED certification, an initiative offered through the U.S. Green Building Council, denotes environmentally friendly buildings.

Not only does the school benefit from the festival, it also plays host. A school hosting a beer festival isn’t necessarily a stretch – especially when that school boasts several rock bands and a student-run coffee shop. Naturally, the concept raised eyebrows at first, but when you consider school fish fries, it’s not really so radical.

“We serve better beer and no fish,” joked event co-chair and DCP resident beer geek, Kevin Gray.

The event began as a way to supplement the school’s annual Heritage Festival fundraiser, and the first Brew Ha Ha drew around 165 attendees. It has grown exponentially, and organizers expect a crowd of about 350 this time around.

In keeping with the school’s focus on the local community, all 40 beers come from Ohio and Michigan, with offerings from several Dayton breweries available.

“Part of the philosophy of Montessori is to support local,” said Taylor. “So, the idea of being able to support these up-and-coming breweries that are just getting started […] we think that’s really exciting.”

The competitive aspect of this year’s event has been a big draw for all concerned. “It’s really ambitious,” Gray said. “Michigan has a lot of established breweries. It’s kind of a David and Goliath story. We’re putting these Michigan breweries against our local guys, and I think a lot of local guys have beers that are as good or better than what established breweries in Michigan are coming out with.”

Unlike the Buckeyes versus the Wolverines, this year’s Brew Ha Ha is a friendly competition. “I’m doing Michigan, and Kevin’s doing Ohio,” Taylor said. “I may have to cede a few because we both want to support the local guys.” But don’t count Michigan out. “The best dozen out of Michigan make it a fair fight,” Taylor added. Fighting words, indeed.

The beers themselves are selected to appeal to a variety of palates, from beer novice to hardcore beer geek. “We have a broad range of beers,” Gray said. “We have beers for people who are maybe just learning about craft beers, entry-level accessible beers, but we also like beer geeks, so we have some rares, some hard-to-finds, beers that are delicious, but maybe less accessible.”

As to specific beers, Gray and Taylor are still narrowing down the list, but patrons can be assured of tasty libations and a knowledgeable staff. Because the event benefits a school, education is a large part of the festival’s mission.

“Montessori is all about education – when you experience something, if you want to ask questions, you should be able to ask questions,” Taylor said. “So we try to educate all the people that are serving beer. The night before, Kevin hosts a tasting, we provide cheat sheets on all the breweries, so if you’re working a table you have to know all four beers that are at the table – not just that it’s a porter or an IPA or a Belgian. It’s where was it brewed, what makes this unique. If someone comes to a table that doesn’t know about craft beer, they can ask ‘What flavors do you like?’”

Volunteers are trained to help guide patrons through the festival, answer questions and make recommendations. “We also bring in grains and hops, so people can get a sense of what these things taste like,” Gray said. In addition, “last year we added sponsors, some of the better beer bars in town […] we pair them at the tables with the folks from the school. Our folks get a chance to meet and talk with the professional bartenders.”

Many breweries also send representatives to educate volunteers about the particulars of their brews.

Of course, the students won’t have an active role in the pouring and tasting, but the idea of contributing to a good cause directly reflects the school’s curriculum. School directors Toby and Tim Meixner, who purchased the school in 2008, have added a number of sustainable and community-focused programs to the school. Gardening and composting, along with robust art and language programs join the student-run coffee shop.

“Part of the mandate for the coffee shop is they have to set aside a certain portion of the proceeds to donate to a local cause,” Taylor explained. “It’s very cause-oriented, and that’s part of Toby and Tim’s mission as well.”

“We do this partially because we’re craft beer fans, but we also want to support a good thing,” Gray said. “The school is amazing. […] We found a way to take something that we really love and turn it into something that is really good for our kids.”


The third annual Brew Ha Ha will be held on Saturday, Jan. 25 from 6-10 p.m. at the Montessori School of Dayton, 2900 Acosta St. in Kettering. Tickets are $30 in advance and $35 at the door. For tickets and information about the designated driver program, please visit

Reach DCP freelance writer Sara Mastbaum at


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