BLUE ASH, Ohio -- Three longtime friends and LaSalle High School graduates promise to blend their love of music and craft brews in unexpected ways when they open Fretboard Brewing Co. this fall.
"All three of us are musicians," said Joe Sierra, one of the co-founders. "We want an experience that doesn't just embrace music but the creativity in music, that reflects the parallels between the creation and social aspects of music and brewing. We feel like they are very complementary to one another."
Sierra's business partners include Jim Klosterman and head brewer Brad Plank. Remodeling began last week on Fretboard's future location at 5800 Creek Road, Sierra said.
Blue Ash is the third location choice for the brewery, which Sierra, Plank and Klosterman began planning in 2014. Fretboard is also the brewery's second name; the owners originally planned to call it Six String Brew Works but changed the name after discovering a similarly named brewery, Four String Brewing Co. in Columbus.
"The process has been somewhat challenging," Sierra said. "We kept pushing and kept pushing to find the right place. It's a little bit surreal. To see things progressing, and then opening it up, will be awesome."
Once remodeling work is complete, Fretboard's front portion will include a taproom, 20-barrel brewhouse and Smoked Out BBQ, an eatery that the owners of O'Bryon's Bar & Grill will run. The back of the brewery will house a private entertainment area, offices and practice studios for musicians.
"(The studios) are there. We've got them on the plans," Klosterman said. "Now we get to decide what to do with them and how to do it. When we approached the brewery we wanted to make sure all the things we had done, our experience, got incorporated into the brewery as well."
Some of those experiences include Klosterman and Sierra playing guitar together in the local band Only Everything in the mid-2000s.
"We had worked with the Dave Matthews Band," Klosterman said. "We wanted to be on their label, but it never happened. For us, there is this intrinsic connection between music and beer. We were always playing music, drinking beer and talking about beer.
"We also practiced in studios in not the best parts of town. If someone said I could practice or play at a brewery, I would have practically paid anything for that."
'I have always loved beer'
On the brewery side of Fretboard, Klosterman said Plank brings more than a decade of home brewing experience.
Sierra and Klosterman had already started brainstorming ideas for the business when Plank got involved after reconnecting with Klosterman during their 20th high school anniversary in 2014.
"It was a happy accident," Plank said of the partnership. "I have always loved beer."
Two other events cemented the trio's partnership, Plank said.
First, the owners of Jefferson Social approached him about brewing the bar a house beer. ("I threw together a recipe," Plank said. "They liked it.") Then tragedy struck: Joe Sierra's brother, Cincinnati Police Officer Eric Sierra, died unexpectedly from a brain aneurysm on Nov. 8, 2014. When the owners of Jefferson Social heard the news, they put Plank, Sierra and Klosterman in contact with Rhinegeist Brewing. Rhinegeist offered to produce Plank's beer, distribute it and donate proceeds from sales to a fund supporting Eric Sierra's three children.
The American pale ale "S23," which the brewers named after Eric Sierra's badge number, will be on tap when Fretboard opens, Plank said.
Musical roots in brewery's name
The group recruited the help of longtime friend Lisa Boh, a partner at Kerning Brands, to research marketing and logo elements for their brewery. The co-founders initially contracted Kerning Brands last year to vet the Fretboard name with focus groups.
As Boh explained, the fretboard on a guitar is typically the neck on which a player presses down strings to create different notes.
"What we loved about finding a name that had to do with both Joe and Jim playing guitar is that the fretboard offers this beautiful visual, but it also tells this story of the finger on the strings," Boh said. "You want a name that leaves room for stories to be told but is also known to musicians and has a little bit of edge that musicians and music lovers get."
The owners said they were not ready to reveal all the surprises they will have in store when it comes to that musical and brewery experience. ("When we say we are going to have a music experience, it doesn't mean you're going to see a live band," Sierra said.) However, there will be musical elements to the names of Fretboard's beers, Klosterman said.
"Stouts are more complex and might be compared to jazz," he said. "We have a lot of opportunity to brand beers around certain styles of music. We certainly want to name our beers something that sticks."
Plank said he hopes to experiment, improvise and then tailor what he brews to meet consumers' tastes.
"I have a plan for a goetta beer," Plank said. "It seemed to be receptive among family and friends. No meat will be harmed in the process, I can tell you that. I might delve into the gluten-free stuff. I think we are going to be exploring a non-alcoholic craft beer. It's all about consumer reception."
The group said they hope to produce about 2,500 to 3,500 barrels of beer in their first year, with plans to self-distribute as well.
"You'll certainly find Joe and I playing at the brewery as well," Klosterman said. "That's really our idea behind it: Craft beer and craft music."