In the spring of 1973, I was an engineering student at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio and walked into a drug store noticing a beer making kit on a shelf. Beer making was still illegal then. The kit had a pound of crushed malt, a one ounce bag of leaf hops and instructions, which told me to boil the malt, hops and 5 pounds of sugar in five gallons of water for an hour. I was then to remove the solids and cool the liquid and pour it into a new plastic garbage can with a packet of bread yeast.
The covered garbage can was to be put into a cool place for at least a week to ferment. I bought a “bottling hydrometer” which had a big red “B” on it at a certain point that told you it was time to bottle. The time came and I bottled it all in quart beer bottles adding some sugar in each before capping with my great grandfather’s capper. After a week I opened one which proceeded to squirt about half of it around the room. It tasted bad, real bad, not at all like any beer I had ever had. A friend, known to be able to ingest anything, actually choked down a whole quart. Thinking that I had made a beginners mistake, I did it again with worse results. Then I switched to extract (Pabst Blue Ribbon Extract – only meant for cooking, you know), with equally bad results. Two more times and then I quit. Most of the “beer” went into the frat’s fire extinguishers. It foamed wonderfully and smelled really bad. Fast forward to 1988, my college roommate Brian Johnson called me and suggested we try to make beer again. I said “Johnson . . . .” but he assured me that things had gotten better.
So one weekend my brother and I went to his house and we made a batch of Williams Brewing’s “American Ale.” Two weeks later it was bottled and in another two weeks, we had wonderful beer! I never looked back, it was home brew for me! I joined the local home brew club, the Bloatarian Brewing League and started having a ball! After a while, I found that I didn’t like some of the equipment on the market for home brewing. Bottle fillers sucked in about 2” of raw air when the filler was withdrawn. One night sitting at a bar thinking about this issue, a method occurred to me to be able to prevent this problem. I went home and sketched up the idea, bought the parts the next day and made one. It worked and I thought that was not so hard to do, “Phil’s Philler” was born, named after our oldest son. Many more were made to refine the process, and given to friends for samples. I suggested we start a little business in the basement and my wife, Sue, was all over it. We invested about $1000 in material and I spent my evenings in the basement making fillers. Ray Spangler, of the Bloatarians, drew up an ad that we placed in Zymurgy, the national home brewing magazine. After a short bit, we were selling them all over the world. I attended the 1989 home brew conference, which happened to be near by. I heard Greg Noonan say that the home brew world needed an inexpensive lauter tun. In a short while, “Phils Lauter Tun” was born with a convex plastic false bottom and a brass spinning sparge arm. Many other products followed. We incorporated in January 1991 as “Listermann Mfg. Co, Inc.” I still held my day job as an engineer.
An article in the local paper was about the Hamilton County Business Development Center and how it would rent space to young businesses. They also provided office services and general business advice. It was within walking distance of our house in Norwood, Ohio. My wife went there and rented about 200 square feet of space. Originally intended as storage space, the business was growing at such a pace, that it quickly became production space. Eventually we occupied 1100 square feet for three and a half years.
I found that both my day job and my business were both suffering for my attention. Getting another engineering job would have been fairly easy, but founding another business would be much more difficult. My mother’s father, Val Kordenbrock, founded a Tool and Die company in 1953. I asked her about why he did that. She said it was because he thought he could. I was always very proud of my grandfather’s accomplishment.
On March 23, 1993, I quit my job as a Quality Engineer at Senco products and never looked back. I am very proud to say that, as always, my wife Sue, was very supportive. One of the most stressful tasks I found necessary to do was to hire an employee. I had always done everything myself. Letting go was very difficult. Gerald Wilson came on board and was a huge help. His only problem was that he was left handed and all my tooling was built for right handers. He was used to adapting to right handed things so it worked out. Cincinnati was very poorly served from a home brew and wine making perspective. The best shop in town was in a guy’s basement. The other shop’s owner wasn’t a beer guy and had some severe personality issues.
The business center is an incubator. You are supposed to get your business off the ground and move on. After three and a half years, we were ready to expand. A retail operation in the business center would not be very practical. With some help from the business center, we found a building (actually within sight of the business center) that would function as both a retail store and manufacturing operation. The business center was a huge help in getting funding for the project. I can’t say enough about their help. On August 2, 1995, we moved into our 12800 square foot, present location, that came with almost an acre of land that would eventually become a parking lot. “Listermann’s Brewery Supply” was born.
The store had a slow start, but progress was steady. Eventually it overshadowed the manufacturing to the point that the manufacturing was holding it back. Around the same time, I got a call from someone about how to sell her brewery. The money she wanted for the two barrel brewery seemed workable and so we bought it. We messed with it here and there, but by June of 2008, we got our brewing license. We became “Listermann Brewing Co.!” The manufacturing operation was shut down. We didn’t get very far with brewing and at a certain point my wife bulked at the then $4000 license fee. Thankfully we had $14,000 worth of beer aging in the back that we could not sell without a license. She did the higher math and this saved the brewery. My great grandfather, Louis Listermann, sold beer for Cincinnati’s “Felsenbrau Brewery.” Evidently the trait of selling beer is not carried on the “Y” chromosome. I needed some marketing help. A local homebrewer, who had been trying to run a brewery deal for a long time and had worked for Christian Moerlein in sales, asked about renting some space for his pilot brewery. I asked him why not brew for me? So we made a batch to together and it seemed fine. I gave Kevin Moreland a brewery and he gave me his marketing knowledge. We did very well together.
I wanted to make some very special high end beers and give them a distinct identity. “Triple Digit Brewing” was registered with the state. The name means that the original gravity of the beer was 1.100 or higher making the beer about 10.5% alcohol by volume or more. Ohio changed their beer laws to allow breweries, as wineries always had long had, serve samples on premises. And not merely samples, but any size including growlers. This was revolutionary and completely changed the brewery business model.
The tasting room model was born. Breweries no longer had to be either restaurants or distribution only operations. Eventually the deal that Kevin had been working on for so long, bore fruit and he left us to found Taft’s Ale House. He left us with a solid foundation for expansion. We moved the homebrew shop into the middle of he building to free up the street side space for tripling the tasting room’s size. This winter we hope to have our longtime food truck vendor, “Renegade Street Eats,” will have a physical presence inside the building. The front part of the room is being remodeled as a pub, or as the Germans say, “Eine Kneipe.” The upper area will be an indoor “Biergarten.”