New Barons of Brewing

Amid a storied brewing history, four locals are restoring the craft beer culture of Cincinnati

Nestled among the houses, busy streets and skyscrapers of Cincinnati lay the ruins of what was once the lifeblood of the city. Above and below ground sit empty breweries, some left abandoned since Prohibition.

On Sixth Street just east of I-75 downtown, a smokestack bearing the Hudepohl name can be seen jetting into the sky. The red brick building, once a thriving brewery, appears to be caving in around itself. Through a chain link fence, weeds can be seen growing among the remnants.

Years ago Cincinnati was a brewing capital of the nation.

The city’s great beer barons — such as Ludwig Hudepohl II and Christian Moerlein — came from Germany and settled in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood north of downtown during the late 1800s.

“Beer is built in to the landscape of Over-the-Rhine,” says David Stradling, a history professor at the University of Cincinnati.

University of Cincinnati history professor David Stradling narrates a pictorial history of Cincinnati brewing. 

Along with the German immigrants came the invention of lager beer, taking the city and the rest of the world by storm. Working at one of the many breweries became the livelihood for a great number of the city's residents.

But Prohibition started a long decline in the city’s brewing business. By 1986, the last of the great breweries in Cincinnati, Hudepohl, was sold. The business, and the local beer culture, was left greatly diminished.

In recent years, Cincinnati's brewing legacy has seen a revival. And four local people, whom you could call the new beer barons of the city, have been at the forefront.

Gregory Hardman of Christian Moerlein has reintroduced historic Cincinnati beers such as Hudepohl and Moerlein. Jason Roeper and Randy Schiltz of Rivertown Brewing Company have brought new and exciting beer recipes to the city. Dan Listermann of Listermann's Brewing Company has worked to create positive changes in craft and home brewing.

There appears to be little or no competition among the group. At times they can be seen enjoying each other’s company at one of the city’s many pubs. Each is willing to lend a hand to the next.

“All these guys realize that they’re not competing against each other,” says Listermann in reference to the other local craft brewers. “There is a camaraderie.”

Soon, behind the efforts Hardman, a local beer will be brewed in Cincinnati's Over-the-Rhine neighborhood for the first time in decades. The Christian Moerlein Brewery, located at the old Housman Potato Chip factory at 1621 Moore St., is scheduled to open in March.

Although out-of-state breweries such as Sam Adams of the Boston Beer Company are operating locally, this will be the first time a Cincinnati-based company has returned its production to the city.

The Moerlein Lager House opened Monday, Feb. 27. Located at Smale River Front Park and adjacent to the Great American Ball Park downtown, the microbrewery will be the largest in the world.  

In homage to Cincinnati's past, the lager house will feature a Beer Barons Hall of Fame, as well as food reminiscent of what was served locally during the 19th century. Along with the Moerlein brand, beers from around the word will be available.

“Both the lager house and the brewery are very positive changes,” says Bret Androski, owner of Arnold's Bar and Grill. “The brewery itself is a nice addition for employment, and the lager house will be a great destination point and a way to bring more people in to the city.”

These are just some of the recent signs of the city’s brewing revival, led in large part by these four men.

Gregory Hardman, Christian Moerlein

Hardman, CEO of Christian Moerlein, has made it his personal goal to restore the local craft beer culture.

“I saw the lifeblood of Cincinnati's beer industry literally get ripped out of it with big major nationals taking over. I thought if ever I was in a position to right that wrong, I would do something about it,” Hardman says.

Hardman's interest in beer started while he was at Ohio University and working at the Hanger 5 bar. When the bar introduced 25-cent Burger Beer, sales skyrocketed.

Hudepohl, which distributed Burger Beer, noticed the bar’s large volume of sales and invited Hardman to tour its brewery in 1985. During the tour Hardman learned that Hudepohl was closing the facility.

“I literally saw one of the last bottles of beer rolling down the line," Hardman says.

Hardman's passion for the beer business continued to grow. By the age of 34, he became the CEO of an international beer company, Warsteiner. Still, he never forgot what he saw at Hudepohl.

After eight years as CEO at Warsteiner, Hardman decided he wanted to be the person to return beer brewing to Cincinnati. He abruptly resigned in 2004, and the next morning he bought the brand rights to Christian Moerlein.

He had a four-phase plan in mind.

“The way we are going to compete with multinational companies is that we’re going to brew great beer. We are going to celebrate Cincinnati's brewing heritage, and we are going to have fun,” Hardman says.

Phase one of Hardman's plan began with his purchase of the Moerlein brand. His goal to bring back the ownership of Cincinnati's most famous beers was further realized with his purchase of Burger, Hudepohl and Little Kings Beer brands in 2009.

Phase two, which is making local beer relevant to consumers, is an ongoing effort. Stages three and four will be completed with the opening of the Moerlein Lager House and the opening of Christian Moerlein Brewery on Moore Street in Over-The-Rhine in March.

Local residents and business owners say Hardman has kept his promise to give back to the community. They are excited about the new jobs that the lager house and brewery will bring to the city.

“Greg Hardman has done wonderful things in this town,” Listermann says.

Jason Roeper and Randy Schiltz, Rivertown Brewing Company

In August 2009, Roeper and Schiltz met through Bloatarian Brewing League, a home-brewing club in Cincinnati. Schiltz and Roeper had been home-brewing for years, and both were planning to start local craft breweries.

Roeper had been a finalist that year in a popular competition in which home brewers sought to have their beer nationally distributed.

“It (the competition) helped him know he could brew great beer,” Schiltz says. “When you win one of those competitions it’s a good ego booster.”

By September 2009, Schiltz and Roeper had developed a business plan that would allow them to open a brewery together. A few months later, the pair acquired an Ohio business license and opened Rivertown Brewing Company.

On Jan. 10, 2010, Rivertown brewed its first batch of craft beer at their current location of 607 Shepherd Dr., which is just west of I-75 in the Lincoln Heights area of Cincinnati.

Rivertown estimates that its second year's sales were 3,000 barrels of beer, which is just shy of 100,000 gallons.

With Rivertown now in its third year, Schiltz's and Roeper's goals for the brewery are similar to those of any other small business owner. They would like to see the business grow and expand.

“The short-term goal is to get our beer out to the people of the Tri-State area and to get our name out there,” Schiltz says. “The long-term goal is to expand beer sales out of the Tri- State area.”

Despite efforts to expand sales, production of Rivertown beer will remain in Cincinnati.

“The two of us have a passion for craft brewing, and we think that Cincinnati has a lot of room for craft brewing, so we help other brewers,” Schiltz says. “We don't see it as competition. We see it as, you know, bringing up craft beer.”

Dan Listermann, Listermann's Brewing Company and Listermann Manufacturing

Listermann started brewing beer in 1973. He says his first batch of craft brew was unsuccessful.

“It was horrible — it tasted terrible,” Listermann says. “I gave it up pretty quickly.”

In 1987 Listermann achieved success while brewing with his brother. From then on he continued making home brew, but he found that the available supplies didn't work well.

Dan Listermann discusses his experience manufacturing brewing supplies and Cincinnati's rich brewing scene.

“I didn't like the bottle fillers that were commercially available,” Listermann says. “A lot of other equipment wasn't well addressed.”

It did not take long for Listermann to design a bottle filler of his own. By 1990 he had convinced his wife that manufacturing brewing supplies would be a good business venture. With in a year Listermann was manufacturing his own home-brewing equipment.

IN 1995, with the help of the Hamilton County Business Development Center, Listermann purchased his current store at 1621 Dana Ave., a few blocks from the Cintas Center at Xavier University.

“It's a wonderful building,” Listermann says. “It's almost 13,000 square feet with almost an acre of parking.”

Several years ago Listermann started developing his own home-brewing kits, which he sells at his store. The home-brewing kits have been extremely successful and are consistently made with the freshest ingredients.

“It might sound trite, but the freshness of extract is excruciatingly important to beer. If you get old extract, you get cidery flavors and weird, sweet flavors,” Listermann says.

In addition to selling home-brew supplies, Listermann got his brewing license three years ago. He then turned the manufacturing area of his building into a brewery.

“I can't say I've made money on the brewery. Mostly that is my fault for not being aggressive enough, but I do have a good time,” Listermann says. “Whether it makes money or not is less important than having fun.”

Listermann says Cincinnati is behind the craft-brewing trend when compared to other areas of the country.

“Cincinnati is really starting to blossom, but it's way behind the curve compared to the West Coast or Chicago.” But, Listermann says, “We're coming back with a vengeance.”

Contributing writer Kristen Vinci is a second-year student in the journalism program at the University of Cincinnati and on the staff of the program’s New Media Bureau . The story was edited by UC journalism student Stephanie Kitchens.

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