Municipal Brew Works restores beer tradition to Hamilton
Andy Foltz, WCPO Contributor
12:15 PM, Jun 7, 2016
1:31 PM, Jun 8, 2016
HAMILTON, Ohio -- The Frederick G. Mueller Building in Hamilton once served as the epicenter of the city, sitting on the banks of the Great Miami River.
The owners of the new Municipal Brew Works, located in the Mueller Building, hope it will again once they open at 4 p.m. Wednesday.
“It’s just a very cool building,” said co-founder Jim Goodman. “This was the center of activity in the city of Hamilton for years. When you look at the transoms and the marble from quarries that no longer exist – you’re never going to get this marble again. We’re trying to bring some life back to it.”
Tours, whenever possible, will include not just the brewery but other parts of the historic building, which feature art by Robert McCloskey, a native Hamiltonian famous for his children’s books. Goodman and his fellow co-founders, Aaron Holtz, Mark Jackson, Dave Frey and head brewer Sean Willingham, are bringing beer back to Hamilton for the first time since Prohibition.
Goodman points out that the community had a strong brewing tradition prior to that.
“Butler County was consistently No. 2 in the state in barley production up through the Prohibition,” he said. “There were six malt houses in Hamilton. Cincinnati Brewing Co. used to be in Hamilton. Peter Schwab’s Pure Gold was a regional brewer pre-Prohibition, but Prohibition kind of killed brewing in the city.”
While Pure Gold’s reach extended from Washington, D.C., to St. Louis, Municipal is concentrating on capturing the Hamilton market with its location and quality brews. The beer part of the equation starts off well, with top-rated drinking water. The location is also a boon, given the historical building and proximity to Hamilton’s festivals, bike trails and pavilion.
“Having the best tasting water in the world is a damn good place to start,” Goodman said. “That’s just Hamilton infrastructure. I can’t imagine a better location. Working with the city has been amazing – everything that’s been done has been to make it easier.”
"This project is close to two years in the making," said Anthony Seppi, the operations director of Hamilton Mill, the small business incubator that helped bring about Municipal Brew Works. "We had a lot of inquiries about microbreweries and said there are enough people out there we can pull them together. The guys who took us up on that became the founders of Municipal Brew Works."
Seppi and the Mill, also located in the Mueller Building, didn't stop there. They helped the group with securing their location, developing business plans and arranging financing.
"It's a piece in the puzzle of the transformation of Hamilton," Seppi said. "The response from the community has been tremendous, from people wanting to assist them to historical groups bringing in photographs of the old breweries they want to display there. This is going to be a community gathering place."
Municipal is working with a 15-barrel brewhouse and has four 30-barrel fermenters. The beers Municipal has planned to start are: Courageous Ruth, a wheat IPA that drinks smoothly; Approachable Blonde, a blonde ale; Station 2, a rye pale ale; 1791, a Belgian stout; Dark Shell, a black IPA; and 10-66, a double IPA.
Station 2 is so named because the portion of the building now occupied by Municipal Brew Works was previously home to Hamilton Fire Department’s Station 2. A portion of the proceeds of that beer will go toward the HFD honor guard.
The blonde ale is a “nice, light beer,” Goodman said, that lends well to having flavors added to it. He said watermelon and blood orange are two possibilities for variants.
Other names are a tip of the hat to Hamilton, as well. For example, 10-66 is the Hamilton police code for a drunk and disorderly conduct. The city was founded in 1791, hence the name of that brew. Dark Shell stems from a comment made by contractor during the building process, that what the crew had was a “dark shell.”
All of the founders have other jobs and varied backgrounds, which Goodman said is a strength. Frey and Holtz are from Wapakoneta, and they joined the Hamilton-based Willingham and Goodman because they liked the location. Jackson, Goodman’s brother-in-law, is from West Chester.
“Sean brewed at Cellar Dweller, so he has the experience to scale up brewing,” Goodman said. “I have a background in risk management. Mark has started three companies, and Aaron has an IT background, which has been good for our brewing software.”
The taproom contains a 48-inch bar, which seats about 15 people, and high-top tables. Two garage doors open to a 2,000-square-foot patio, which will host food trucks and cornhole. Builders used reclaimed pallets that were used to deliver equipment to the brewery to create fencing for the patio area.
“We want to be a destination, like MadTree,” Goodman said. “Making it fun makes it a destination.”
The community aspect is important to the folks behind Municipal. Future plans include finishing the second story of the building to include rooms that could be used for meeting space, rented out by the community, and forming a homebrewers club. Goodman and Holtz each have more 16 years of home brewing experience.
“The gap was in the beer community in Hamilton. Hamilton is definitely on a comeback, and I think people will be surprised when they come to visit,” Goodman said. “You get passionate about it, you get excited about it, providing something to the community they can be proud of and enjoy.”