David and I first discovered Mt. Carmel’s beer in our later years in college. It was the packaging that caught our eye at first. Sold in a 1/2 gallon brown glass growler, we were intrigued by its unique appearance and the fact it was a local brew. When we tried the beer itself, we were hooked. We sought it out in local groceries, enjoyed a lot of pints where we could find it on draft, and even had a “growler party” with fellow U.C. graduates after David endured a particularly brutal quarter of algebraic topology.
Mt. Carmel has since upgraded to 12 ounce six-packs, which allows for wider distribution. The original line up has expanded to include seasonal beers, and more places than ever are featuring Mt. Carmel on tap. We were eager to meet Kathleen and Mike to talk about Mt. Carmel’s beginnings, current state, and what was on the horizon for the brewery. Luckily, they graciously agreed to take a few hours out of a busy brewing day to show us around the brewery.
Jared monitors the boil at Mt. Carmel's Brewery
You could drive by Mt. Carmel brewing every day and not know it—unless maybe you had the windows down, and then the sweet smell of the brewing process would tell you what your eyes had missed. The large white house has been converted into a brewery and office space, and also contains the basement where Mike homebrewed Mt. Carmel’s first batches.
As we entered through what used to be the children’s playroom, Kathleen explained the area will later be converted to a small tasting room. While we were able to take an inside look at the brewery, eventually brewing area will be off-limits to the public, both for production and safety reasons.
How many people are working in production?
“Jared and Mike handle the brewing, Virgil is the packaging manager, and he has a part time assistant as well. The full time employees are putting 50-60 hours in a week, each! We’re in the process of looking to get them some help. We do have some office staff, and an office manager.”
Did you ever think that when you started it would get this big?
“We didn’t! When Mike was brewing in the basement, I remember both of us getting so excited when we got an order in for a whole case of growlers. It caught on so quickly. I would say we had to make the decision within 6 to 9 months to quit our current careers and to go with it, or to shut the distribution down. We would have had to shut it down altogether, we couldn’t maintain just a little bit. At that point we couldn’t stop; there were just so many people that loved the beer. We didn’t want to let them down. And really, the fan base is what fueled us to keep going. It was very motivating, and still is to this day. We get so much wonderful, positive feedback from people in Cincinnati, and even the local government.”
The seven-barrel system that all Mt. Carmel beer is brewed on is surprisingly small for the actual volume of beer that is being produced. The brewery itself is very efficient and compact, and Mike, known fondly as “MikeGyver”, engineered all the plumbing and wiring to make best use of space.
“We outgrew the basement within the first year. For zoning reasons, we actually had to attach the brewery onto the house.” Kathleen says with a laugh. Eventually, they plan to convert the brewing area to a 30 barrel hot house.
How has the switch from growlers to bottles impacted sales?
“It’s definitely increased sales. The growlers were eye catching, but the volume was an issue. We were seeing a lot of sales on weekends, and the feedback we were getting was that people loved our beer, but they couldn’t drink that volume in one sitting. It wasn’t an everyday purchase, it was a commitment. The growler was great, but it was making it very difficult for us to grow. When we switched to the 12 ounce bottle in January 2009, the beer really flew off the shelves.”
We really have enjoyed the collaboration barrel aged beers between Mt. Carmel and the Party Source—we have two Jones IPAs that are aging, and one Tripel Rot from last year—so we asked Kathleen about what’s next for the series. The next available brew is the Quaff Brother’s Figgy Pudding, which is going to be featured at this weekend’s Winter Beer Fest. Figgy Pudding is Mt. Carmel's Winter beer with fig juice added, aged in Four Roses bourbon barrels.
In addition to the Quaff brothers collaboration, Mt. Carmel also brews Dewey’s pizzas seasonal beers.
Nicholson’s was the first place that Mt. Carmel beer was tapped. Kathleen mentioned, showing us the article that followed shortly thereafter in the Post.
Mike, busy brewing up a batch of Amber with Jared's assistance
What’s next for Mt. Carmel?
“Mostly expansion. We’ll be launching in Cleveland and Columbus soon. That’s exciting, but we’re being careful; we don’t want to oversell the product and leave our core area depleted. We’re all about slow, manageable growth. We do have some investment here, another family, so we’re still family owned. We didn’t want just any investment group to partner with. We wanted someone who understood what we were doing here.”
Do you do anything with the spent grain from the brewing process?
“We do. There’s a farmer in Adams county, Hazelbaker Meats. He has a portion of his cows on our grain, and as we expand, he’ll get more. The cows go crazy for the grain. They literally run up to it when it’s dropped off. Eventually we will be selling the meat from his cows in our retail area as well, which is exciting.”
spent grain awaiting pickup
What’s the most popular seller?
“Amber is our #1 seller. The Amber used to be Copper, and before that, used to be called the Celebration. The Nut Brown is #2, and it is very, very close to the amber. The Blonde and the Stout will flip in sales depending on which season it is. Stout picks up during the winter. Though sales are higher in the winter months, we actually brew the Stout year round. We’ve heard people call it the summer stout. It’s light, dry, crisp, clean.”
Amber ale: Slightly sweet with a light fruity aroma from the malt, medium bodied, featuring a hoppy finish with a nice bite to it
The nut brown, a toasty brew with a slight aroma of raisins that reminded us of toasted sourdough
Mike started brewing the big, imperial beers in the basement, but Mount Carmel’s seasonal line up evolved into brewing more subtle session beers with complex flavors. With than in mind, we inquired about seeing some bigger beers from Mt. Carmel in the future.
Will we see any bigger beers from Mt. Carmel soon?
“Some of the stuff we will be coming out in 2011 will be on the extreme side. We’re still developing the concept, but that is in the cards for 2011, after our launch in Cleveland and Columbus.”
Mt. Carmel will be attending the Winter Beerfest this weekend, February 11th and 12th, and, in addition to bringing several of their delicious year round line up, will also be bringing the collaboration beer we spoke of earlier. Make sure to stop by their booth if you’re attending or grab a six pack at your local grocery and toast to Mt. Carmel’s continued success, and the revival of Cincinnati’s brewing history.