Cover Story: The Beer Is Back in Town

Greg Hardman promotes Moerlein, Hudy, music and his adopted hometown

Sep 19, 2007 at 2:06 pm
Joe Lamb

Greg Hardman

I'm meeting Greg Hardman at Kaldi's, and as I walk along Main Street I see Christian Moerlein umbrellas and cups everywhere. They're obviously a big supporter of Second Sunday on Main, which is just getting started for the afternoon.

Our interview is briefly delayed while Hardman and a representative from "Tha Blast" iron out details of Moerlein's upcoming participation in the urban arts and culture festival that's now in its fifth year.

Wrapping up, Hardman tells me about the Oktoberfest celebration that Moerlein will co-sponsor with the Mount Adams Tavern Association. He's particularly jazzed about the band he's helped line up for the event on Sept. 19.

"The Heuboden Band from Bavaria," he tells me excitedly. "They'll be playing at Oktoberfest Zinzinnati, too, but we have them first!"

Of course, Moerlein will also be a presence at the Downtown Council's Oktoberfest Zinzinnati Sept. 22-23, but that's the point: They're everywhere: Brew Ha Ha, Bockfest, Taft with a Twist...

Hardman is eager to work with any event that gets folks to come out and explore the city — particularly downtown and Over-the-Rhine.

Perhaps it's no surprise, then, that his company's two newest products are "O-T-R Pale Ale" and a seasonal offering called "5th and Vine Oktoberfest Marzen."

(Both, by the way, are excellent.)

In the four years that Hardman has been president and brewmaster of the venerable Christian Moerlein Brewing Company, he's done an admirable job re-establishing the brand to stand for quality Cincinnati beer.

The "Cincinnati" part of that brand proposition is really key: Hardman has enormously high regard for the great wealth of brewing tradition and history in his adopted hometown. Looking up at the display of old beer cans above Kaldi's bar, he says wistfully, "I still can't believe that I own Moerlein and Hudepohl..."

Moerlein has also bought the trademarks of Hudepohl-Schoenling and is now heavily marketing Hudy Delight light beer.

More than just the brand, though, Hardman has made himself part of the fabric of this neighborhood. As we amble toward the beer truck, I hear him called "The Mayor." Others refer to him as the "Beer Rock Star."

Folks repeatedly stop him to complement his products or discuss some downtown initiative. He's well-known down here because of his participation on various civic organizations and his personal commitment to the success of various events: the Over-the-Rhine Foundation, the Brewery District Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation, MidPoint Music Festival and more.

At the mention of MidPoint, our conversation takes a sudden turn away from beer and into music.

It turns out Hardman is a huge music fan. Obsessively so, some might say.

While we reminisce about bands we've seen, he calls a friend to confirm which band sang a certain song from the early '90s. We debate the exact title of a Big Audio Dynamite track. His eyes light up when he tells me about the time he saw Soundgarden in Atlanta during the Olympics, and he quickly rattles off the artist lineups from several early iterations of Lollapalooza.

"Just about the first thing I did when we bought Moerlein," he says, "was contact Bill (Donabedian) and Sean (Rhiney), the guys who run the MidPoint Music Festival, and tell them, 'I want to be involved.' "

Because Hardman isn't one of those guys who stopped listening to new music around the time they turned 30, he's actually psyched to see many of the 230 or so little-known bands that will pour into town for this year's festival starting Sept. 26.

"Hudy Delight sponsors the festival's compilation CD," he tells me. "So I make it a point to check out bands that are on the disc. Then I go through the program and pick out the other acts I want to see."

Coincidentally, we run into Rhiney buying a Moerlein OTR at the beer truck. He tells us the one act that shouldn't be missed this year is Superdrag, the Tennessee-based Indie rockers who are reuniting for a MidPoint pre-party event. I see Hardman making a mental note to add them to his list.

Walking back along the street we pass a tent where they're doing tarot readings. I tell Hardman I'm skeptical of this stuff, but ask if he's ever had his cards read.

"I have," he says, turning a little circumspect. "She told me I've never failed at anything in my life and that I never will fail at anything."

That's a pretty good reading — one that obviously bodes well for Hardman but also for Christian Moerlein and especially for all those downtown causes that Hardman throws himself into.

I ask if he thinks she was right.

"So far," he says, grinning. ©

Q: What's the coolest thing about you?

Greg Hardman: "My music collection. I have over 4,000 different CDs, plus loads of vinyl and digital, too. In all musical genres. Actually, I've been saying 4,000 for years; it's probably more like 6,000. And people love when I DJ. They even ask me to set up playlists for their digital music. Oh, and by the way, I own a brewery."

Q: What's so cool about the MidPoint Music Festival?

Hardman: "I love that the bands are right there. And if you want to, you can have a beer with them — really meet and talk with really cool bands from all over, from L.A. or Tallahassee or Ohio. MPMF is really such an undiscovered gem for so many people. They need to know how cool it is that you can just bar hop for three days seeing great bands."

Q: What's one of your coolest music memories?

Hardman: "When I was working for another beer company, we were co-sponsoring the New Music Festival in New York City. This was years ago, and I was down at CBGB with (owner) Hilly Kristal and Mark Josephson (founder of the New Music Seminar). They introduced me to Joey Ramone, and we all watched Lisa Loeb perform when she was still an unsigned artist."