It all started with the story of an infamous Kentucky outlaw: Bad Tom confessed to killing six men before meeting his maker at the scaffolds — “bad whiskey and bad women” were to blame, so he said. Today, Bad Tom Smith Brewing, co-founded by Sean Smith, a distant relative of Bad Tom and now head brewer, harkens back to that outlaw legacy with the motto of “Bad ass in a glass.” Originally located in Linwood, the brewery recently opened a new taproom in Madisonville in a former bank, complete with a century-old vault.
Current owners John and Sheryl Vojtush purchased Bad Tom in 2015 and now live in Pittsburgh, where they manage the Bad Tom taproom-breweries in Cincinnati and Cleveland; the Cleveland operation opened in December 2017.
John, who works in IT, and his wife, who worked for Bayer, got involved with Bad Tom after seeing an abundance of entrepreneurial opportunities in the brewing industry.
“We saw the brewing industry in general and, more specifically, in Cincinnati, how it was something that was part of the economic evolution of the community and its revitalization,” John says.
After purchasing Bad Tom, they renovated the Linwood location, with plans to expand to a larger space. Three years ago, they signed on to a $25 million development project at the corner of Madison Road and Whetsel Avenue in Madisonville with the Ackermann Group. John says Bad Tom is the first retailer who has committed to the project, but that 315 apartments will be built on the block in the next two-plus years.
“We were really surprised at how much the community, much of which goes back many generations, have been wanting to have a brewery in their community. And they’ve been incredibly supportive,” he says.
The first tenants of some of those aforementioned apartment complexes are slated to move in April 1, according to John. He’s hoping those new to the neighborhood and long-term residents will both see the taproom as a common space.
“Madisonville is a very old community, many generations of families have grown up there. There’s a lot of concern around the gentrification that may be coming as a result of a project like this, so we look at ourselves as somebody who is bridging the old community and the new community,” he says. “We welcome everybody.”
The brewery currently offers 18 Bad Tom beers on tap, which include options like the 13 Preachers märzen, American Outlaw IPA and Redemption saison. The bar also offers cocktails, wine and John says Bad Tom Smith Bourbon is coming soon.
“In terms of our brewing portfolio, we try to provide a broad range of styles and stay within the guard rails of those styles, meaning that we try to represent them in the way that, if a person’s going to try a porter, a stout, a pale, an IPA, it’s a traditional approach to those beers,” he says.
He does call out their Kentucky Common, named Doc’s, as being a regionally inspired brew with a heavy malt presence that ties in with the Bad Tom tale. But being too unique or out there isn’t the goal.
“The way I look at it is, we’re trying to appeal to the critical mass,” John says. “In the craft brewing industry, there are a lot of people that migrate toward that next thing, or, in some cases, you get pigeonholed. People believe that all millennials want are wild or sour beers, or women only want light beers. That’s a big misconception when you start categorizing people by demographics like that. What we’re trying to do is create a portfolio of beers that’s appealing to everyone.”
While the taproom and brewery don’t make or serve their own food, they have partnered food trucks on select days during the week. The goal is to make some long-term decisions about in-house options within the next two months. John says they’ll hopefully add items like buffalo wings and entrée-type dishes to a line-up of Bavarian pretzels, popcorn and other snacks.
While thinking about the current expansion of Bad Tom and future goals — John and his wife are looking at growing the brand in cities within a four-hour radius of Cincinnati, including Columbus, Northern Kentucky and Pittsburgh — he waxes poetic about how the brewery got its start.
“The original owner, Sean Smith, who’s now our brewer, he along with two of his buddies were soccer dads. They decided to start this brewery and had no idea that it would turn into what they see today. I would venture to say that most of the other breweries that started out five years ago had no idea what it was going to look like today,” John says.
“Which is why me and Sheryl got involved and decided we wanted to do something like this. We operate the day to day. While we don’t do the brewing, it is our objective to create an experience where we leverage our skills while also leveraging Sean’s skills from a brewing perspective to bring the best product to the community. Who knows what it’s going to look like five years from now, but we hope that Bad Tom’s footprint will be bigger than what you see today.”
Bad Tom Smith Brewing, 5900 Madison Road, Madisonville, badtomsmithbrewing.com
*A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Bad Tom had partnered with Sweets & Meats BBQ