BELLEVUE, Ky. -- There is a lot of hustle and bustle going on at the Party Source in Bellevue, and while the majority of the hype is about the distillery that is rising up, the new development will also be home to the area’s newest brewery.
Danny Gold, the Head of the Beer Department at the Party Source, said the site will be home to Ei8ht Ball Brewing in addition to a tap room and an expanded beer section.
“We just have such a strong love for craft beer that we wanted to be a player in it and have a small part in it,” Gold said.
Gold took over beer buying for the company a bit more than two years ago, and in that time he said he’s brought in about 1,000 new beers the company has never sold before.
“I can’t tell you all the beers have worked, but I can say with confidence that 95 percent of them have,” Gold said.
The Party Source already has a beer label of sorts active at the business. They currently team with brewers under the name Quaff Brothers in what Gold calls a “gypsy label.”
Gold said that when he got hired, one of the questions he said he continually asked was “why doesn’t the Party Source have their own private beer label?” Other retailers did and Gold thought it would be a good product for the company to have.
His managers allowed him to create a pilot program to test the waters. Gold teamed up with a another co-worker -- who will be the manager at the distillery and is the Party Source’s main whiskey purchaser -- and the idea came to fruition. When the Party Source purchased a private whiskey from the distillers, the store would also get the barrel the whiskey came in and the theam decided to put beer in the barrels to make use of them.
Since the Party Source didn’t have a brewery on site at that time, they partnered with local brewers -- Mt. Carmel first, then Rivertown and Rock Bottom, Listermann/Triple Digit -- and they continue to add other partners. The label serves as a connection between the retailer and the brewer. They call it a “gypsy label” because they’re constantly rotating styles and projects with the brewers.
“We have such a huge respect for beer, and craft and local beer, that anything we can do to help be a part of that is great,” Gold said. “Quaff Brothers is the brotherhood between the Party Source and the local brewing community.”
The Party Source comes with the barrels and a concept, with the brewers taking it from there. Gold said they’ve had to put limits on Quaff Brothers purchases because they run out so fast. They’ve sold the beer to people in more than 40 states so far.
“It’s this little, tiny thing that we never thought would be where it is. Although it’s never going to be huge and we don’t want it to be huge, it’s a very cool project that allows brewers to step outside their box and push the envelope and do something things,” Gold said.
While some might think that Ei8ht Ball and Quaff Brothers will be closely tied, that’s not entirely the case, according to Gold. He said Quaff Brothers and the brewery will be separate entities.
Gold said the Quaff Brothers project should be able to grow stronger with the new developments. Since the company will have more barrels thanks to having the distillery, Ei8ht Ball will get barrels for its own aging projects and Quaff Brothers will have enough barrels to keep taking on more ideas.
He said he continues to bring in more beers because the craft beer buyer is always looking for new and exciting things. Gold said the idea for Ei8ht Ball came about when the business launched the distillery project. It was originally intended to be a nano-brewery.
“We started to kick around names and wanted to be local without being obviously local. A staff member came up with the name Ei8ht Ball because when people ask for directions to the Party Source we always tell them to look for the “8-ball exit,’” Gold said.
Once the Party Source decided to move ahead with the brewery, it meant they had to find a brewer with a solid reputation. Gold said they were set on hiring the right person and Mitch Dougherty, the former head brewer at Rock Bottom Cincinnati, was the perfect man for the job. Gold said before Doherty came onboard, he was already consulting with the Party Source as needed on other projects.
Dougherty said he got his start while working at the Rock Bottom Brewery in Phoenix. Since starting brewery work at age 21, Dougherty has one two World Beer Cup medals, (a gold and bronze,) and back-to-back gold medals at the Festival of Wooden Barrel Aged beers in Chicago. He said all three of his gold medals were for his Golden Ale that was aged in Buffalo Trace bourbon barrels.
He came to Cincinnati by way of Rock Bottom's apprenticeship program. Dougherty came to the Queen City right as downtown started its revitalization process.
“I really like Cincinnati. Even though I’m an outsider, I’ve been able to see the growth that’s taken place over the last six years. When I first started working downtown, it was a ghost town. I remember seeing that transition. I live
downtown myself and I love this city. It’s a neat city,” Dougherty said. “It’s a big city with a small town atmosphere, which is good for me.”
He said he originally got to know the team at The Party Source when they came to him to do a Quaff Brothers collaboration. After that, Gold was asking Dougherty to come to a meeting about beer brewing, possibly on a nano system.
Dougherty said while serving as a consultant as The Party Source debated opening a brewery he advocated starting with a bigger system rather than a nano-capacity system because the company would have to make a large capital investment in the first place and a larger brewhouse and production facility would give them room to grow.
It wasn’t long after that when The Party Source asked him to come on as a fulltime brewer for the new project.
“I think it’s every brewer’s dream to build your own brewery. A lot of brewers don’t get to do that with somebody’s money; I say what I did was ‘hit the brewing lottery ticket.’ I’m very grateful to have an owner that trusts in his people to, basically, set them free and make their and his vision come to life,” Dougherty said.
Gold says the company has already tried to “do the right thing” and position itself properly in the market. They actually got started talking about a brewery a few years ago when the owner, Ken Lewis, came to them to discuss the idea of building a brewery, distillery and 42-tap handle beer bar.
“Not only will we be able to educate -- which is our No. 1 priority -- we’ll be able to provide a unique experience that no other retailer has done,” Gold said.
Ei8ht Ball will have a 15-barrel brew house, which should allow them to create a few core beers and have several experimental brews.
It has the capability of making some mash for the pot still at the distillery as well as beer production. Dougherty said everything on the system was built to spec to fit in the facility they have.
In addition to the brewhouse, Ei8ht ball has four 15-barrel fermenters, a 30-barrel fermenter and a 30-barrel bright tank.
“It should allow us to do pretty much anything we want,” Dougherty said.
Ei8ht Ball will start out with only two full-time beers. The first being a Golden Ale that will be lightly dry hopped. Ei8ht Ball will also always have a different pale ale/IPA style. Dougherty said they might keep on batches they like longer and that they wanted to have freedom to do different IPAs.
The head brewer said they plan on trying a multitude of different styles and will also be seeking input from fans as they get going. That said, they have plans for several beers already including a black IPA, an imperial stout, an American red ale with all Centennial hops, among others.
“My personal philosophy is to create clean, palatable beer that has layers of flavor. I think if you do that then you will be successful. Outside of that, [I want] to experiment and have fun; I’m kind of a traditionalist when it comes to brewing beer. I don’t necessarily think that a ‘tripel Belgian IPA’ even exists. At some point I think we have to take the reins in and just say, ‘It’s a Belgian IPA,’” Dougherty said. “We want to do things that maybe haven’t been done and just spark peoples interest. The thing about experimenting is that you open yourself up to people who may have not even considered drinking a beer.”
Dougherty said he hopes to be able to take over all the taps in the bar but when they first start up it’ll likely be five or so Ei8ht Ball brews at a time. He said he’d like to get to a point where he has 10 of his own beers on tap at any given time.
“The only thing that limits us there is our tanks because we’re pretty much locked into the space that we have. We’ve taken the brewery and maxed it out based on the size of space that we had to work with,” Dougherty said.
He estimates that Ei8ht Ball would max out at about 5,000 barrels per year maximum if they ran the brewery continuously.
“I’m just excited about everything. I’m excited about the opportunity that I’ve been able to build a brewery from scratch and have the opportunity to be involved in every aspect of the bar. We’ve got a great time that is putting together a bar program including everything from tasters, to flights to growlers to go,” Dougherty said.
In addition to Dougherty, there will also be an assistant brewer at Ei8ht Ball. Andrew Ritterbeck has brewed locally in Cincinnati at Rivertown Brewing and also worked at Great Lakes Brewing in Cleveland.
Well-known “beer ambassador” J. "Peanut" Kahles will be heading up the bar at The Party Source. (Peanut is known to many beer fans in the Cincinnati area as he was a longtime employee of the Dilly Café in Mariemont and was in charge of the beer section there.)
“What we tell people is that no style will be left unturned and we’re not scared to try anything or everything,” Gold said.
The beer will be draft only to start but they hope to package eventually. It will be sold exclusively at the Party Source to start but the brewery will grow