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Micro-Brewing Boom Helps Dayton’s Economic Recovery

Jason Reynolds

A request for a Captain Stardust and a Wobbly Wheel may sound unusual, but it's actually the sound of drinks being ordered at the Yellow Springs Brewery, just outside of Dayton, Ohio. It’s a scene that’s become common as micro-breweries pop-up across the Miami Valley. It's also the sound of money being made. That's become more common, too.

Craft and micro-brewing have become cottage industries in Ohio, putting $1.3 billion into the state economy last year, and Dayton is perhaps the best example of how the micro-brewing movement can help small cities. In January of 2011, there were no small breweries in Dayton. Today, there are ten operating and three more slated to open this year.

But why Dayton? And why now?

"What it is I think that’s special about Dayton is everyone that I’m talking to is really thinking locally and regionally about a lot of things, and beer in particular,” says Brian Housh, part owner of The Brew News, a weekly publication dedicated to beer drinking in Dayton. In addition to think local/drink local movement, he believes that craft beer is the next natural step for the American palate.

"It’s kind of following trends like what we’ve seen with wine or with coffee. And I think it’s kind of logical that beer came in that progression. You know, we had wine, and people started to develop their tastes. Coffee? People are very sophisticated. And now the craft brew thing.”

On a Sunday afternoon visit to the Yellow Springs Brewery, there was a line stretching from the bar to the door. Jen Erickson and Nick Boutis described why they became regulars.

"I mean the art, everything about it, the atmosphere, the location—right off the bike path. It’s a welcome addition to the neighborhood,” said Erickson.

“There’s something to be said also for the fact that this is a locally made product,” said Boutis. “When you come here, not only are you having fun with a group of people that are enjoying themselves, but the idea that this is something that was made right here in Yellow Springs, in Greene County, in the Dayton area. And by partaking in it, you’re supporting the region.”

It’s not just consumers who are supporting local breweries, it’s the state government, too. In 2011, Ohio microbreweries that operated taprooms had to pay $8,000 in licensing fees.

Today, the same licensing costs only $1,000, and small breweries can now sell directly to bars and restaurants, effectively cutting out the middle man and maximizing profits.

These incentives are important, both to small brewers and to the city.

Phil Hite has been working with Bonbright Beer Distributors for seven years now, and he sees Dayton’s beer boom sparking new pride in the city’s neighborhoods.

They've created a lot of good buzz because they make good beer. They run their businesses in a socially responsible way, in a locally and environmentally responsible way.

"For so long, things have just been leaving,” says Hite. “It’s just been an exodus of jobs and companies and everybody from—oh, god—from NCR to General Motors to Delphi, and everybody else. Well, now it seems that 'Hey, these people actually thought enough to actually start a business here... with us!' And they’ve created a lot of good buzz because they make good beer. They run their businesses in a socially responsible way, in a locally and environmentally responsible way. So, it makes it real visible and people can see it instantly. And it connects because how long has it been since somebody said, 'Hey, Dayton, Ohio, rocks! And I want to be part of Dayton, Ohio. And we want to start a business right here in Dayton, for Dayton.' So, you don’t get that a whole lot. So, when people see that, they get kind of charged up and 'Yeah, you know, that’s us... that could be us!'”

That pride extends from brewery to brewery. Dayton taprooms often stock their competitors’ beer, and there’s even talk of collaborative brewing.

Lisa Wolters and Nate Cornett, owners of the Yellow Springs Brewery, noted that the beer community is overwhelmingly friendly, which leads to some interesting business decisions.

"I’m actually seeing a lot of bars slash restaurants. They’re creating these tours to take people out of their own bars and restaurants and to the breweries to educate their customers. Which I think is fascinating. I mean, it’s kind of slightly risky in a way, I guess. They’re taking their customers to other places, but in turn, they are getting information, and they’re having a great time,” says Wolters.

How long can the number of breweries grow exponentially before the market gets crowded and friends turn into foes? That day may be coming, but no time soon.

Nate Cornett of The Yellow Springs Brewery explained how busy he’s been.

"We ran out of beer after our first, six weeks of being open. So, we had to expand. We doubled our capacity then. And we’re about to double our capacity, hopefully, in the next couple weeks. So, it’s a hungry beast that has to be fed, and so you just keep trying to keep up with demand.”

That demand is almost unrealistically high at the moment. When Cornett says he ran out of beer, he means that literary. The brewery had to close for a brief period and play catch-up.

The Yellow Springs Brewery invited me to their first anniversary. But to my surprise, Wolters noted that they haven’t publicized their birthday party. They’re afraid they might run out of beer. Again.

If you’re looking to drink beer, or to open a brewery, now is the time. And Dayton may well be the place.

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DAYTON BREWERIES (a short list):



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