CINCINNATI -- Part of the spirit of Cincinnati’s history is the drive to strike out on your own, to be the master of your own destiny and at times -- open up with both barrels.
Such is the spirit at one of Cincinnati’s newest breweries.
Bad Tom Brewery is the result of a friendship between two local fathers, a shared love of beer and an entrepreneurial spirit.
Sean Smith and Charles Boucher said they met a few years ago while their kids were on the same soccer team. Boucher would host parties at his home for the teams and happened to be a homebrewer with six taps in his basement.
Smith said he got to know Boucher over that time, and he came to see Boucher wasn’t just a great brewer, but a potential business partner.
Smith owned his own insurance company for a time before selling it off, and after being impressed by the quality of Boucher’s beer, he saw an opportunity. About three years ago, the two men decided to make the big leap and start their own brewing company.
The owner of Terry’s Turf Club owns the building that Smith and Boucher selected for their brewery’s home. They said the building was mostly used for storage and parking before they started leasing it.
The pair said they would come down every weekend for more than two years after they got the lease to work on the building. Once that was in order, it was time to find a brew house.
The guys were in luck as they had come across a workable system while scouting out an alternative location. A company called Accurate Mechanical was holding on to a big set of tanks from a flavoring company that would be perfect for a brew house.
Bad Toml was able to work out a deal with Accurate Mechanical to not only buy the tanks, but to have the tanks refurbished into a workable 40-barrel brewhouse. Smith and Boucher said they would like to continue to source as much of their equipment and resources as local as possible.
Their first brew day on the new system was on New Year’s Eve of 2012.
“It was a 24-hour day for us,” Smith said. “We’ve managed our time better since then [laughs].”
The guys said they have yet to brew on the system at full capacity so there’s a lot of room for growth.
“By the end of the year, we’d like to be running about 15 barrels per week, at least,” Boucher said. “Realistically we could ramp up at any minute.”
Ramping up their recipes has been an interesting process for Boucher.
“At home I was brewing 10- to 15-gallon batches. For a while the smallest thing that we could brew was 500 gallons at a time. So for a while we were making 20 gallon test batches on the homebrew system before ramping it up for production,” Boucher said. “As long as we keep the gravity right, everything works out and we’re good to go.”
Bad Tom has a rather unique part of its history that is almost unheard of in modern craft breweries: Smith and Boucher financed the brewery entirely out of pocket. The pair did not take out a bank loan or find investors. That has meant the construction and time until production has taken longer since they’ve done almost everything independently.
“I was having a conversation with Scott (LaFollette) over at Blank Slate the other day, and he made a good point. We might be the last of a dying breed to be able to do something on your own that slow. Anybody nowadays would probably need to come out with investors and a lot more capital and just say, ‘Boom, go!’ … So that slower business model is out the window with that trend now,” Smith said.
Smith said they estimate that they’ve been working 80 hours a week split between their previous jobs and getting the brewery ready.
The guys are hoping to move to bottling or canning eventually but for now they will be focusing on keg sales and filling growlers in the tap room. They said bottling or canning could be a possibility starting early next year. For now, they want to get a good base among the bars and restaurants across town.
“We really feel fortunate and lucky with a lot of this because going back to when we got going in 2011, there has been a huge shift around us. While we were standing around with sledge hammers and jackhammers, at least three breweries have grown up around us,” Smith said. “We feel fortunate that there’s this bigger wave that we’re on than we thought.”
Both men said their families have been very supportive as they worked on the brewery. Their friends have also come down to the brewery to help out and spend time at the tap room.
Every beer at Bad Tom has a story. Smith and Boucher do research and produce stories about each of their brews. Their flagship beer is the Bad Tom Brown Ale.
The Bad Tom Brown is named after a notorious outlaw in Kentucky named “Bad Tom Smith”, who was Smith’s great-great uncle. Smith said “Bad Tom” has the distinction of being the last man who was hanged in the Bluegrass State. Their American Strong Ale is also named after the namesake of the 101st Airborne.
“The theme has kind of become, ‘Double Barrel Brewery (the brewery's former name,) Legendary Brews,’” Smith said. “We wanted to become the type of brewery that not only had quality beers but also had a bit of a story behind them to keep it interesting.”
Over the years, Boucher has tried many different styles with different recipes. Boucher said he has mostly tried to brew beers in ways that would be something that he would want to drink and has been lucky that people seem to like what he’s making. They have about 30 recipes in the books right now and are always thinking up different things to try.
“We wanted to come out with something that would be easy to drink for everybody … Everybody already had IPAs out there already so we wanted to create something that would appeal to be a bigger audience,” Boucher said of the Bad Tom. “Most of the beers that we have are more of a session beer, of course we do have some wild hairs.”
Boucher said they will strive to have beers that finish clean, that people can drink and not still taste their previous beer when they switch to another.
The pair said they are excited to be getting out in public, meeting the other brewers and moving into the next phase of their business.
“There’s just such good synergy in this city from limo tours going around, the bar owners being more interested in craft beer to consumers just being more knowledgeable about beer,” Smith said.
Smith describes it as “being in a cave and now we’re coming out.”
Photography by Jesse Folk, WCPO Digital editor
Double Barrel Brewing can be found at 4720 Eastern Ave. in Cincinnati.
They can be found online at: http://thedoublebarrelbrewery.com/home/
Tap room hours:
- Thursday-Saturday: 6 p.m. 11 p.m.
- Sunday: 1 p.m. – 6 p.m.
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