Despite signs of slowing growth, craft breweries are most certainly still a thing. According to an article in USA Today, the craft beer industry surpassed the 7,000 operating breweries by the end of 2018, according to the Brewers Association. Furthermore, the Association expects another thousand or so breweries will join the fray by the end of 2019. And while Ohio may not match the sheer numbers of craft breweries found in other states, they are more than holding their own in volume, ranking fourth in the country according to the Brewers Association.
These sheer numbers have made it more important than ever to tune in to their surrounding community. If you can’t draw the locals in on a regular basis, your chance to achieve that next level of destination brewery pretty much rates as nil.
In many ways, that had changed way of writing about the breweries from here on out. A few select ones are going to be just plain outstanding and likewise a few select ones are going to just plain terrible. Most are going to fall in that big bell curve area in the middle, and as long as they’re keeping the locals happy, they can be quite successful.
|US 33 out of Columbus is a slow but steady climb to Bellefontaine|
So what of our recent visits? Heading northwest from Columbus on US 33 will get you to Ohio’s highest point (Campbell Hill, at a not terrifying high 1,550 in elevation) and the town of Bellefontaine, which certainly ranks as one of the top 10 Ohio cities newcomers to this state mispronounce (just say Bell-fountain and you’ll be okay.)
This town of roughly 13,000 people formed a major railroad crossroads for nearly a century via the Big Four Railroad, which saw this city as a perfect hub between major cities like Cleveland, Cincinnati, New York and St. Louis. Roundhouse Depot Brewing, founded by husband and wife team Ron and Kathy Troyer, rests where the old depot used to reside.
Roundhouse not only pays homage to the city’s railroad heritage reputation both outside and in, but also sports a decidedly relaxed and friendly atmosphere. We enjoyed sampling flights on fun steam engine-themed flight boards and enjoyed an unexpected sneak peek of their habanero mango cider (tasty despite just a touch too much habanero), as well as shared a chat with folks visiting from nearby Brewfontaine, a target stop for us the next time through the area and a place that has earned a reputation as being one of the best beer bars in the state the past few years.
Our travels into Dayton later that day were reminiscent of our past travels through cities that had at that time suffered nature’s wrath, such as Santa Rosa, CA and Joplin, MO. Structural damage and shredded foliage were still visible to either side of I-75 along tornado paths as we headed southward towards into the center of town to sample two new breweries for us.
Venturing into the Fifth Street Brewpub feels as if we were dropping into a friend’s house in Dayton. Located in the St. Anne’s Hill neighborhood, this brewpub offers a unique structure both in operation (as a co-op, the brewery’s members own the brewery) and in the building itself, which dates back to 1856 (the establishment of the brewpub itself was instrumental in preserving the building.)
Despite the temptation of having Petrus on tap, we went with a couple of house brewed beers. Nothing wow-inducing with our selections (the Apollo Landing Saison and Jo Jo\’s Midnight Stout), they were fine accompaniment with our food. Fifth Street sports a pretty nice selection of more-healthful options (we went with a Corn and Black Bean Avocado Wrap and Quinoa Chickpea Salad along with the more hearty fare. Combined with the down-home feel, and this made for an overall satisfying stop.
Our last stop for the day was Branch and Bone, a brewery whose beers were easily some of the best we had at the excellent Pick Ohio Beer Festival at Pickerington’s Combustion Brewing earlier this year. This whetted our appetite for an actual taproom visit the next time we were in Dayton.
Open for just over a year now, this brewery resides in South Park, a developing neighborhood that intrigued the brewery founders greatly. As co-founder John Joyce said in an article in Dayton.com, “(South Park has) an eclectic group of people. This neighborhood is improving, and we want to be a part of that improvement.”
The philosophy of Branch & Bone as detailed on their website reminds us quite a bit of Morganton, NC’s Fonta Flora, with brews that “will often feature local ingredients including ones foraged from our local flora” and with “a large focus on funky, alternative fermentation.” And similar to Fonta Flora, the Branch & Bone beer menu featured a wide array of styles, from a Pilsner to several IPAs and a bit of a rarity for a summertime beer list in the Feral Dawn Imperial Stout.
Indeed, the beers we tried this day featured that touch of next-level sophistication that puts Branch & Bone as an almost must visit when we’re in the area . The interior helps accentuate that feel, with a sleek, sophisticated feel (this could easily pass muster as a wine tasting room) and, on this day, some really cool art, part of their monthly featured artist program, by Dayton-local Amy Kollar Anderson.
Addendum: The response after the May tornadoes by the people in Dayton and other surrounding communities proved to be tremendous. Breweries in the city more than did their part, with the \”Dayton Strong\” fundraising event at Carillon Park raising more than $56,000 to the cause.
This sense of tragedy has been unfortunately been amplified: not long after we made our visit to Dayton, a gunman entered the Ned Pepper\’s bar in the city\’s Oregon District, shooting seventeen people and killing nine. Several area breweries held special days where proceeds were slated to go to the victims of the shooting.
Charitable efforts continue onward with the local brewery community, especially with the tornado recovery. This weekend, the Dayton Brewing Alliance plan an area-wide release of the #daytonstrong IPA, with sale proceeds going to tornado victims. If you are interested in contributing to the cause by raising a few, this article by Rick Armon of the Akron Beacon-Journal details the release plans.