Search for new brew team takes Taft's Ale House head brewer across nation, ends in his own back yard

CINCINNATI -- A local brewer’s quest to find a new team took him across the country, but it ended right in his own back yard.

Kevin Moreland is head brewer and co-partner of the new Taft’s Ale House in Over-the-Rhine.

Work on the soon-to-be $8 million brewpub in a former church recently restarted after a holdup with the city over permits on the historic building. Moreland hopes to start brewing in December and have a soft opening in January.

Since the announcement that the three-story brewery, bar and restaurant was coming to Race Street at the old St. Paul's Church, Moreland has been monitoring construction, developing new beers and touring other breweries, all the while searching for brewers to help him produce what he hopes will be 12 beers on tap at any given time.

That led him to hire two familiar faces in the Cincinnati brewing community.

Moreland hired Jared Hamilton, of Madisonville and Mt. Carmel Brewing, as his lead brewer toward the start of 2014 and Patrick Woods, of Springfield Township and Rivertown Brewing, as an assistant brewer in the spring.

From left: Jared Hamilton and Patrick Woods are two of three brewers working at Taft's Ale House. Kareem Elgazzar | WCPO

Hamilton worked for Mt. Carmel for about four years and is their current head brewer. His departure will be in mid-September and comes not long after Mt. Carmel lost another brewer, Patrick Clark, to Sweet Water Brewing in Atlanta.

Woods previously worked at Rivertown for about one and a half years, starting as a cellar man before getting into the brewer rotation. He started as a volunteer at Blank Slate Brewing.

Moreland said the search for brewers was hampered a bit by his goal to get candidates with four to five years of experience on a 7,000-20,000 barrels-per-year system. He was also looking for a passion to match his own and a willingness to share beer in public, rather than just brewing behind the scenes at a production facility. 

Keeping good relationships with the local beer scene was also a consideration during the search. Moreland initially opened up the positions to national candidates to ensure it didn't appear he was trying to poach talent from local brewers, many of whom are his friends.

“I am truly a guy who has a heart; and Mike and Kathleen (of Mt. Carmel Brewing) and Jason and Randy at Rivertown -- I didn’t want these guys to think that I was going to their houses, knocking down their door and saying, ‘Hey, I’m taking this guy and this guy if they’re willing to come,’” Moreland said.

Hamilton also wrestled with that issue.

“It’ll be hard leaving Mt. Carmel because I’ve learned a lot there, but I’m excited for the future,” Hamilton said.

Moreland had hundreds of applicants for the positions, but he said choosing Hamilton was easy. 

“We had one conversation and he got the job,” Moreland said.

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“When it came down to it, it was an opportunity that I didn’t want to pass up. To be a part of something so unique for the city -- it’s going to be a completely different brewpub than anybody has seen before,” Hamilton said.

Woods and Moreland have known each other for years, going back to when Woods was volunteering at Blank Slate. Moreland interviewed Woods for a job at Listermann Brewing in the past, but the timing just wasn’t right.

“Everything happens for a reason," Moreland said. “I’m a firm believer in that.

"(Woods has) a great work ethic and loves this craft."

Woods studied brewing at the prestigious Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago. He took a condensed version of the institute's brewing program that included instructors and speakers throughout the beer industry.

Moreland is pleased with the experience and depth of the hires that he’ll spend a lot of time on the front end of the business with.

“It’s not like we’ve got one guy that does ‘this’ and another guy that does ‘that’; we’ve got a team that can diversify and work on all stages of the brewery and that’s what I was looking for,” Moreland said.

With Taft’s Ale House being a brewpub with rotating taps, variety will be more than the spice of life -- it’ll be necessary for their success.

Moreland said he doesn’t want to come up with every beer, either. Part of his focus will be on process and quality control while giving his team the freedom to be creative.

“That’s why I think they wanted to come here and be a part of it,” Moreland said.

Woods and Hamilton are both excited at that chance

“Brewing the same beer every day can get kind of old,” Woods said.

Patrick Woods is one of the brewers working at Taft's Ale House. Kareem Elgazzar | WCPO

Taft's Ale House won't throw all their recipes at the public at once, but the team said they’ve already created some beers they think will be a fit with the Over-the-Rhine community.

“A lot of the things that they put into the design of the building will really allow us to do all kinds of things,” Hamilton said. “There will be barrels stacked up everywhere. There’s an entire cellar that we’ll be able to put a lot of secrets down there and bring them back out.”

The cellar will allow them to store about 210 half-barrels of beer and the team also has plans for special bottle releases as production ramps up.

The only issue now is when the brewpub will actually open. With many of the rotating taps affected by the change in seasons, the exact opening date will play a large part in what beers are available.

“We’ve already gone through 10 lineups on what our first lineup will be and I doubt that even what we have now will be what we end up with,” Hamilton said.

The brewpub will likely have a few different IPAs at any given time and they hope to bring different takes on various beer styles to the tap.

“We’ll try switching up yeasts on different styles but one of the focuses will be pairing different flavors that aren’t the typical profile for that particular beer,” Hamilton said.

It's not just beer the new brew-team will be working on. What the chefs create at Taft's will inspire drinks to pair.

In addition to his brewing expertise, Woods is an handcrafted food enthusiast and smokes his own meat. Since he’s also a fan of smoked beers, some pairings may be in the restaurant's future.

And the emphasis at Taft's is not just about what goes on inside their walls. They want to have strong ties with the OTR community and a respect for the history of their namesake.

That responsibility will come naturally to a group of men who have called Cincinnati home for most of their lives. 

“I think it’s another aspect to our brewpub. I know a few of the local brewers are from the area but not all of them,” Hamilton said.

Jared Hamilton is a brewer at Taft's Ale House. Kareem Elgazzar | WCPO

While they must start by getting the new brew house up and running, a barrel-aging program is among the first projects the team wants to tackle.

“Right off the bat, do an anniversary beer,” Hamilton said. “Just get something brewed and in a barrel the minute we open that once a year rolls around, we can break out.”

But the excitement surrounding Taft's and the new hires is not without its challenges. 

Woods and Hamilton said one of the daunting aspects of the new gig will be learning a completely different way of brewing. Working at a brewpub as opposed to a production facility means they’ll be burning through beer and recipes at a much higher rate.

“I think the biggest challenge will be just learning our brewer," Hamilton said.

That new brew system is a source of pride and excitement for the Taft’s Ale House team. Moreland said he’s wanted to work on a DME Brewing system ever since he got into the industry. The efficiency and processes provided by DME brewhouses are vastly superior to most other breweries thanks to higher quality tanks and better automation.

“It’s like a Cadillac for a brewpub. When you go to top notch brewpubs, it’s what they have and I wanted to know why,” Moreland said.

During his travels to various breweries across the nation, Moreland got to brew on DME systems from time to time and it solidified his opinion that Taft’s deserved nothing less.

Another section of the brewpub that Moreland is particularly happy with is the lab. The brewery will have access to a full-fledged lab in the basement they will test all their batches with.

Moreland said it will be one of only a couple he knows of in the city. Once they get to a point where they are able to distribute the beer in greater quantities, having that lab on hand to provide quality and control will be key, Moreland said.

Other than getting down to business, the team's agenda in their first few months together includes a visit to the Great American Beer Festival in Denver this October and the Craft Brewers Conference to look at what's hot around the country and begin to build relationships with other breweries.

While there isn't a definite opening date yet set for Taft's Ale House, Moreland promises something unlike anything else, not just in Cincinnati, but the entire craft beer industry.

“I (want) to create something that will create buzz for this city,” Moreland said. “I want you to be able to go to a place that has sours and barrel-aged beers and get them all the time.

“I (want) to create a unique environment that you can’t go to in any other city."

From left: Jared Hamilton, Kevin Moreland and Patrick Woods are the three brewers working at Taft's Ale House. Kareem Elgazzar | WCPO

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