Mike Stuart | March 10, 2013
As you probably already know, I sort of “scooped” Cincinnati’s newest brewery, Rhinegeist, a couple of weeks ago. Since then I’ve had a chance to talk with the gang and even made a trip down there a few days ago to see their under construction brewery. You may have even read the Enquirer article which did an excellent job of setting up the background and giving you an idea of their vision. However, the beer nerds demand more.
You can’t talk about Rhinegeist without first talking about their space. They have an ENORMOUS brick and concrete building just a couple of blocks north of Findlay Market on Elm St. It looks like any other abandoned factory space in OTR from the outside but once you learn about the history of this building you gain a whole new appreciation. They are working with their landlord to resurrect what was once the original Christian Moerlein bottling plant. This facility sits across Henry St. from the old brew house (great blog here for the history beer nerds) and diagonal from the old ice plant. Most interesting is that suds have not flowed in this building since The Noble Experiment as a variety of industrial endeavors occupied the space since. Another fun fact: my pal BeerMumbo unearthed that the bottling plant once employed no fewer than a dozen children under the age of 12. Small hands work great in giant, dangerous steam-powered industrial machinery!
Back to the present day. They occupy the second floor of the building which I was assured is very structurally sound and can easily handle the weight of thousands of gallons of beer. Why the second floor? The space is gorgeous and expansive. The roof is all new and has a series of awesome skylights that flood the space with tons of natural light. But wait, light is bad for beer – right? Let’s not forget that in a production facility all liquids are flowing through a labyrinth of plumbing as they move to their various destinations. If you’ve got beer exposed to light on that journey then you’ve got other issues! All this natural light serves illuminate the new concrete pad that will hold their 20bbl system – mash tun, brew kettle, hot liqour tank, cold liquor tank, a couple of 40bbl fermenters, bright tank, etc. Then there is a long row of empty space that can accommodate a series of 80, and possibly 120, barrel fermenters as business grows. That means good business will create some logistical installation nightmares that they are willing to tackle. I know these guys have done the actual math but my back of the napkin math reveals it has the potential of cranking out a metric shit-ton (yeah, that’s a real thing) of beer.
Remember this is on the second floor, so patrons will enter from Elm St. and walk up a cool, old staircase. Directly above the stair case is essentially an observation tower that will house their offices. It is totally set up like an old-school factory with the physical and mental reminder that you’re a peon on the floor and the boss is watching. This will be ideal for Bryant and Bob to ensure there is no tomfoolery down below (not that Jim would ever goof off, the guy is a scientist!). More on the men behind this in a moment.
Adjacent to the brewhouse area is the future taproom. Again, you have some amazing large windows (one of which should open to let in fresh air) that face Elm St. to bring in lots of light to the space. I totally goofed and forgot to take pictures of this part but I guess that gives me an excuse to request a return visit (update: BeerMumbo graciously shared his pictures, see the gallery below). It has large domed ceilings with lots of original crown molding and other ornate features that the boys aim to preserve as best as they can. The tables will be constructed from old wood salvaged from other OTR spaces to ensure the room retains its roots. There will be a long bar set up with sixteen tap handles and subway tiles on the back wall. Let’s hope the end up needing to expand this space as well (hello first floor!).
Enough of the Architectural Digest nonsense, let’s hear a little more about the beer. For those unfamiliar, Jim Matt has a great brewing pedigree having spent time at Sun King over yonder in Indy and most recently at the Moerlein Lager House. He has been working closely with the team to start developing their West Coast style beer recipes. Currently, the malt bill is pretty much together for some of their recipes and he now has the “onerous” task of brewing up single-hopped five gallon test batches to work through the desired hop profile. Once the individual hops are in order, he will begin to blend them to find out which flavors and aromas will work best together. If you’re not a hop head – don’t worry, its not all IPA, Imperial IPA, Double IPA, Triple IPA, and Triple-Double IPA. Their brewing philosophy centers around big West Coast beers as well as the flavorful session beers. I was assured there would be a solid selection of seasonal beers and some eyes lit up when I asked about any barrel aging projects. Now some of these may not happen right out of the gate but don’t worry, good things will happen as they get their system dialed in. Personally, I have faith in Jim and I believe my personal tastes match up really well with what he likes to brew. I’m seriously excited to see what they produce. Another piece of good news for guys like me, they will be canning (only) right out of the gate in tall-boy 16oz cans. Label design is currently happening now so I will try to keep my eyes peeled on the TTB website to see what they come up with.
THE BREWING COMPANY
I’ve wet your whistle with the space, the history, the room for growth, and their beer vision. When do they actually unleash their beers upon Cincinnati? The official answer is by the end of 2013. However, if the stars align it is possible that we might see something by Q3 (perhaps Oktoberfest or the Summer Beerfest??). This is a talented team that pulls together a variety of skill sets. Bob Bonder already knows the local market for distribution and retail operations through his Tazza Mia and 1215 Wine Bar and Coffee Lab operations. Bryant Goulding knows how to educate and sell the public on great beer from his sales time at Avery, Dogfish Head, and Golden Road. Jim Matt knows how to hone-in on specific flavor profiles because his formal education as a mad scientist (er, chemist). Oh, plus Bob and Bryant have some impressive business CV’s – it’s not all school of hard knocks.
The moral of this long-winded tale is that Cincinnati is in for a real treat with this project. The trio has the brains, the chops, and the creativity to bring this vision to life. OTR brewing is coming back with a vengeance!
Other nuggets that I couldn’t shoehorn into the story:
- The brew system almost didn’t come to fruition. It was purchased used from a Mexican brewery at a very favorable price. They had put a deposit down on the system and shortly before shipping were informed by the Federales that maybe they would hang on to it after all. Determined not to lose this steal, Bryant dropped everything to fly to Mexico the next day and rescue his equipment!
- They have a pallet of Simcoe hops already purchased, delivered, and sitting at their space. Mmmmm…. Simcoe.
- Jim brought a delicious robust porter that he brewed. I immediately realized my brewing game really needs some help!
- The building is adjacent to the future termination point of the street car. So that means it will start at the Lager House and end at Rhinegeist. It’s shaping up to be Cincinnati’s version of the Bourbon Trail.