Listermann Brewing Co. celebrates a decade of craft beer

CINCINNATI – When Listermann Brewing Company received its license to make beer in June 2008, craft brewing was still a bit of a novelty in Greater Cincinnati.

"It's been fun," said Dan Listermann, the brewery's founder and namesake. "It doesn't seem like it's been that long but we've come along way."

Listermann said he could count the number of craft breweries operating in the region on one hand when he fired up the brewery's original two-barrel brewhouse at 1621 Dana Ave. in Evanston. Mount Carmel Brewing Co. opened in Union Township in 2005 and the chain restaurant and bar, Rockbottom Brewery & Restaurant on Fountain Square were making small-batch beer at the time. Listermann Brewing opened about three months before the original Rivertown Brewery opened in Lockland. 

"A woman from Hamilton offered to sell me a brewhouse, and I took her up on it," Dan Listermann said. "We had a little two-barrel system back there and we got the ball rolling on getting our license. We couldn't sell it like we do now out of our own taproom. We had to sell it to bars in either kegs or bottles. We hand-bottled a lot of things."

As Listermann Brewing prepares to celebrate a decade of making beer with a three-day party this weekend, the Queen City brewing landscape looks significantly different. There are currently more than 50 craft breweries operating in and around the Queen City thanks to major changes in Ohio's beer-making laws. 

A Brief History of Listermann

Dan Listermann's first foray into homebrewing took place when he was an engineering student in 1973 at Miami University in Oxford. 

Listermann recounts how he came across this small brewing kit at a local pharmacy. He took the kit back to his dorm. After brewing two batches of undrinkable beer, he then threw the whole kit out.

"It was a disaster," he said. 

Listermann said he didn't attempt to make his own beer for another fifteen years. Instead, he graduated and landed a full-time engineering job, which was actually fortuitous for future craft beer lovers.

"Then in 1988, my old roommate Brian Johnson called," Listermann said. "He said he wanted to try again and I said, 'Johnson don't do that.' My brother and I then went up to his house and made some beers and that was really good. That was the beginning of the end of my engineering career. I started making my own beer and then I'd find little things that I could improve in equipment and I started the business in 1991 of manufacturing home-brew equipment."

After juggling two careers for two years, Listermann quit his job as a quality engineer at Senco Products to focus on making and distributing homebrewing parts full-time. Dan and his wife Sue Listermann then purchased the building in Evanston where Listermann Brewing is still located in 1995. 

Listermann said he stopped manufacturing original homebrewing parts in 2008 after production became increasingly time-consuming. The brewery though still sells home-brew kits.

"The homebrew shop is still an important part of our business," Listermann said. "If you aren't making your own beer, you're going to have to drink someone else's aren't you?"

Listermann Reflects Law That Fueled Craft Beer Boom

"A lot of people aren't aware of the transformation of this building," said Jason Brewer, general manager for Listermann Brewing. 

Brewer referred to the space Listermann once used for manufacturing. The brewery began turning the area into a place for people to drink beer after an Ohio law took effect in 2012 that allowed craft breweries to operate taprooms in much the same way vineyards were allowed to have tasting rooms.

"That really changed the whole industry," Dan Listermann said.

Five craft breweries opened in Cincinnati that year. Those breweries included Fifty West Brewing Co. and Moerlein Lager House. Even more small breweries opened the next year after Ohio lowered the permit fee to open a brewery in the state.

Dan Listermann installed a small bar modeled after the one he saw in photos from his grandfather Martin Listermann's saloon. The taproom has since expanded into the former homebrewing production area that faces Dana Avenue. Renegade Street Eats added a small kitchen space to serve food from in the taproom in 2017. 

"To begin with, it (Listermann Brewing) was one of the early ones," said Jared Lewinski, who's been Listermann's head brewer for more than two years. "It certainly wasn't the flashiest. It's a no-frills space. We want people to come in and feel part of our community. We want to give back those good feelings that people have given us."

He added, "Every week, three or four customers come in and bring in beers they've brewed to share with people at the store. I think that really speaks to what has done really well here."

Celebrating Ten Years

Listermann's 10th-anniversary weekend will capture that sense of sharing and community, said Kristen Ballinger, marketing and events manager for Listermann.

"Each day we are doing something different, with a lot of great beer," she said.

Friday evening's festivities is the celebration's only ticketed event. Listermann will have beers from more than 20 breweries from across the country on tap starting at 6 p.m.

Brewer said some of those beers have never been served in Ohio. Admission for the evening costs between $50-$60. Saturday and Sunday festivities at the brewery are free.

Saturday's Oktoberfest-themed event will feature beers from multiple local breweries on tap. Then on Sunday, Listermann will transform into a kid-friendly taproom with games and activities, a Cincinnati Zoo Animal Ambassador Encounter from 12:30-1:15 p.m. and face painting.

"It's going to be tailored more toward a family fun day," Ballinger said.

Local Craft Brewing's Future

Dan Listermann said he's looking forward to the weekend, which will be the first festival the brewery has held in nearly two years. He also feels cautiously optimistic about the future of local craft brewing, especially for small neighborhood breweries like his.

"I personally don't think the regional model has much life left in it," Listermann said. "They are getting pressure from the big boys above in the distribution end of it. They're getting pressure from each other. Everybody and their brother thinks they belong in 15 states. And then they are getting pressure from the neighborhood breweries like us. I think there is a lot of room for neighborhood breweries; not nearly as much room for the regional breweries anymore."

Even with increased competition, Listermann added he is amazed at how well the local brewery community gets along.

"It's fascinating because nobody has cannibalized each others business," he said. "I don't hear anyone complaining about their business going down because there is a brewery opening up nearby them. Ours has increased all along, which is fascinating. The other nice thing is there is a lot of camaraderie between the breweries. We all get along very well."

Listermann estimates most local people working in a Greater Cincinnati brewery probably came through his taproom or homebrewing shop over the years. 

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"The balk of them probably started out homebrewing," he said. "And if they started out homebrewing, they probably started out at Listermann's."

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