CINCINNATI -- As one of Cincinnati’s most storied breweries prepares to celebrate a homecoming for one of its beers, its head of brewing is looking ahead to a bright future.
Before that, Vice President of Brewing Operations Eric Baumann spoke with WCPO about the brewery’s recent expansion and plans for the future.
Moerlein recently started a transformation that will triple its production capacity.
“With the new expansion that is coming on, we’ll have enough production capacity to make about 55,000 barrels [of beer] at this facility,” Baumann said. “Then we’ll be readily able to expand to 100,000 barrels.”
The brewery is adding two high-speed canning and bottling lines. Moerlein also built out a new fermentation hall in an upstairs space that has room for 14 120-barrel fermentation tanks.
“We have enough bays to add on to the brewery capacity as needed to get us up to speed,” Baumann said. “Thankfully, a lot of this space is already built out.”
Currently, the brewery produces all the Moerlein beer brands in-house, and they are continually adding more and more of their legacy brands in Cincinnati. The goal is to eventually phase out any out of state contract brewing as time and space allows.
“Our dream is to bring back all the brands, and we’ll just continue to work at that,” Baumann said.
The expansion did not require a new brewhouse, but Baumann said that could be coming in a couple years.
The process isn’t over yet either as Moerlein will have more equipment rolling in through the end of January. The brewers hope to have the high-speed production lines online by that date as well.
“With this expansion, we’re really focusing on our quality and consistency,” Baumann said. “We’re putting a lot of effort into that and building our lab out.”
The brewers said fans should expect to see more exciting products roll out as the expansion comes fully online.
Learning the Ropes
Baumann has been working at the brewery for 10 months now after coming from Oskar Blues where he worked in Colorado and North Carolina.
He started to learn the Moerlein operations by beginning his tour at the Lager House. Baumann said one of his first goals was to restart a strong brewing program there and he enjoyed getting to physically brew after years of managing.
“I’ve had several jobs in the industry and they’ve all taken me further from actually brewing,” Baumann said. “So it was really fun to get down there and work hands on; and to get back into recipe development.”
Once of his first decisions was to have the Lager House once again function as more of a test batch facility to get immediate market feedback as they refined recipes.
Once he got a handle on things at the Lager House, Baumann moved up to the Over-the-Rhine production facility. Baumann learned the processes there and helped streamline some operations.
After that, Baumann turned his attention to get more equipment to the production facility and to find ways to have the Lager House and the production facility function as a single unit.
While the core Moerlein beers -- Barbarossa, Northern Liberties, etc. – will still also be produced at the Lager House, fans will see more and more creative new beers from that location. Baumann hopes to eventually see as many as three new beers come out of the Lager House each month.
“The more creative, fun stuff we can make, the more we can sell and the more we can make; it all feeds back into the cycle,” Baumann said.
Fine tuning the brand
Meanwhile, Moerlein is looking at expanding its portfolio at the production facility. That would include beers such as their Chai spice Porter.
Baumann plans on bringing much of his experience at more hop-forward breweries to augment the traditional Moerlein beers.
In the short term, Baumann said he has worked on the production facility’s processes to increase efficiency and quality of production. In particular, he said he has improved their dry hopping process to increase aroma quality and taste in the beer.
As to what beers fans might be able to expect, Baumann played coy and gamely said that people will have to wait and see.
Baumann is also helping tweak and reformulate both the beer and the packaging at Moerlein. The most recent case of this is Moerlein’s reintroduction of the Hudepohl Amber lager as the Hudepohl Pure Lager.
“We took the old recipe and kind of looked at it to give it a fresher face,” Baumann said. “I don’t know last time the Amber went through a makeover, but we just felt it was time to bring it back in house and relaunch it.”
Part of the brand refocus was to emphasize Moerlein’s status as a Reinheitsgebot (German beer purity law) certified brewery. Hence, the “Pure” part of the title that is highlighted.
“I think people will notice that the beer is fresher, and it’s unique to what we do at Moerlein,” Baumann said. “Here we are, competing at on the domestic shelf with Budweiser and Miller. For us, it’s a since of pride since this was all made in Cincinnati.”
While the goal is to bring many if not all of the legacy brands such as Hude 14K and others, Baumann said they do not have an immediate time frame on when that might happen. Fans of the older brews shouldn’t get too worried though; any tweaks to the beers will not be transformative.
“This is very similar to my job at Oskar Blues when I went from Colorado to North Carolina,” Baumann said. “One of my jobs was to match flavor profiles. … We’re trying to match those flavor profiles as best as possible.”
The same can be said for the Moerlein brands as well. Even as the brewers try to make new recipes, Baumann said any tweaks to the current recipes will be to get the beers to their “best possible presentation” and will simply be to make a better, fresher beer.
“I think we have one of the most unique portfolios in the country. We’re one of the only breweries in the country to save an iconic, retro-American heritage and bring it back to a city,” Baumann said. “But we can also play on several different levels. While we can provide those traditional lagers or malty-beers; we can almost move aggressively into the popular hop-forward beers.”
The veteran brewer said that while it’s important to respect tradition, he feels it’s the American way to take that tradition, evolve it and make it your own.
Baumann said, “We want to be a really great regional brewery and to continue to focus on the quality of the beer and making great beer.”
Moerlein is hosting a homecoming and launch party for Hudepohl Pure Lager at The Transept in OTR on Thursday night. The part starts at 7 p.m. at Transept’s location at 1205 Elm St.
Hudepohl Pure Lager will be featured, along with select Moerlein brews such as the new T-Bird Hop Harvest Ale. That beer was made using fresh, Ohio-grown hops.
The party will also include pint glasses, T-shirts and other swag items that feature the new design and logo for Hudepohl Pure Lager. The new look is a throwback to the original logo used in the 1930s.
The party will feature live music from Young Heirlooms, a photo booth, T-shirt giveaways, food and more.
While the event is free to attend, the brewers as they people RSVP via an Eventbrite page.
For more information, click here for the event’s Facebook page.