Ohio Brewery News
Happy Birthday, Ohio!
Cheers to 219 years of beers in the state of Ohio! While the modern notion of a craft brewery only dates back a few decades (Pat and Dan Conway opened our state’s first, Great Lakes Brewing Company, in 1988), Ohio’s brewing tradition extends back to the early 19th century.
Historical accounts vary on exactly when and where Ohio’s first commercial brewery was founded (sometime between 1808 and 1812), but the state’s brewing industry really started to take off in the 1820s and 1830s as immigrants settled in Ohio’s nascent cities. By the mid-1800s, Cincinnati breweries alone were producing nearly as much beer annually as all Ohio’s independent craft breweries do today, and without the benefit of modern technology, production techniques or a global supply chain. Many historic brewery buildings in the Over-the Rhine neighborhood have been repurposed for use by modern breweries like Rhinegeist and Northern Row. The neighborhood also still boasts an extensive number of lagering tunnels and cellars constructed by those 19th century breweries, which beer fans can tour courtesy of the Cincinnati Brewing Heritage Trail.
If you want to get a feel for how Ohioans brewed beer in the 1850s, take a trip to Carillon Historical Park in Dayton. The historian brewers at Carillon Brewing Company make beer using period-accurate ingredients and techniques, milling malt by hand, heating wort with a brick hearth furnace and fermenting ale in oak barrels.
It’s hard to tell what would have become of those Ohio breweries of old if Prohibition hadn’t taken hold in 1920. Breweries were forced to adapt their businesses to creating a no alcohol or low alcohol “near beer,” shift manufacturing to another product like malt extract or yeast, or shutter the brewery entirely. Some that survived Prohibition carried on for a few decades, but as a handful of very large companies exerted their dominance in the industry, those smaller, regional breweries slowly disappeared.
It took more than 50 years from the end of Prohibition before Ohio would begin to embrace its local brewing tradition. The breweries we now think of as having been around forever – Great Lakes, Columbus Brewing Company, Thirsty Dog, Maumee Bay, The Brew Kettle, Barley’s and so on – were actually taking a massive gamble that Ohio had an untapped thirst for a different kind of beer and brewery experience. That first wave of breweries set the table for the growth of the state’s craft brewing industry over the past ten years, as the number of Ohio breweries rose from 47 at the end of 2012 to nearly 400 today. The overwhelming majority of our breweries make fewer than 1,000 barrels (31,000 gallons) of beer each year: that’s an infinitesimal amount compared to the output of a multinational brewing conglomerate, but each of those barrels made by an independent craft brewer provides an outsized impact in terms of jobs and value to their local community compared to their Big Beer counterparts.
With the rise of independent breweries and a renewed focus on local production, Ohio’s craft brewing industry offers not only a great diversity of world-class beer, but also a vehicle for building communities. There are independent breweries in 70 of Ohio’s 88 counties, in urban neighborhoods and rural towns, some restoring and repurposing existing structures and some built from the ground up in new developments. What they all offer is a space for communities to gather, interact and work together, all while enjoying a pint crafted with care by one of their neighbors.
As we celebrate Ohio’s birthday, let’s raise a glass to our local independent craft breweries and continue to drink beer made here!