Audio: Athens Breweries Prepare for Ohio Brew Week

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  1. Athens Breweries Prepare for Ohio Brew Week Ben Postlethwait 6:58

Next week, local craft brewers from all over the state will descend upon Athens for the 10th annual Ohio Brew Week.

The nine-day long event will bring breweries to Southeast Ohio for a week full with tours, tastings, and shows open to the public. The event is capped off by the Last Call Street Festival next Saturday, when the breweries take to the streets of uptown Athens.

Weston Lombard is the director of Ohio Brew Week. He says the street fest is his favorite part of the week.

“This year we have 35 breweries pouring on the street, five great bands, but really just the end of it last year, I just felt very triumphant that we had made it through the week and that everything was successful. I’m looking forward to that feeling again this year,” Lombard said.

Brew Week has always had its home in Athens. In 2005, Dan Gates got together with the then-owner of The Oak Room bar, Jon Sparhawk, to plan an event that would bring 70 craft brewers to southeast Ohio for a celebration of the craft.

Over the past 10 years, craft and local brewing has exploded as a small business throughout the state and around the country. Athens is no different.

For the first time in many years, the city will offer a full lineup of its own bars to welcome visitors.

On Armitage Road, right outside of town, Jimmy Stockwell and Sean White are hard at work, brewing and building. Little Fish Brewery, Athens’ newest tap house, just opened today. The two co-founders look tired, but excited. They go way back.

They’re hard at work converting a former auto repair shop into a fully functioning brewery. They were trying to open back in the spring, but White says they’re still impressed with how much they’ve accomplished.

“We got in late but we just hit the ground running anad we’ve been able to get the brewery from literally breaking ground to serving beer within 7 months, which we’re both really proud of,” White said.

And just in time. Little Fish’s upcoming beer:

“Saison Du Poissant, which is saison of the fish, that is brewed with local Ohio spelt, we think it’s delicious, it’s a light, easy to drink beer with a lot of character – its a very yeast-driven beer. It has fruity, tropical fruit bubblegum sort of nuance from the yeast itself.”

While businesses like theirs are becoming more and more common, Stockwell and White seem to embrace their identity as a small brewer.

“We really aspire to have quality her regardless of quantity, so we felt that a little fish was sort of where we wanted to be in the pool of breweries, as a reflection of where the brew scene is going. I feel we’re going to see a lot of small, quality breweries popping up,” Stockwell said.

On the other side of town, Cameron Fuller relaxes after a meeting with Brew Week organizers. Fuller opened Devil’s Kettle Brewing a little over a month ago and already has five beers on tap.

He dove headlong into the small brewery business after winning Ohio Brew Week 2013’s homebrew competition.

“That was the year where I really challenged myself to try to make competition-worthy beers and really test my mettle in brewing that year. It was the really pat on the back that to convince me that I should go ahead and do it and that I make good enough beers. “

Fuller says it wasn’t easy though. There’s a significant financial investment, and Fuller says at least he has decades to pay off the debt. He and the guys at Little Fish both say it’s a lot of hard work.

“Lots and lots of hours. There’s many ways to start a brewery. You can throw money at things or you can do it yourself. And a lot of things I just did myself,” Fuller said.

But all over Ohio, aspiring business owners are making that same jump. Brad Clark from Jackie O’s, along with owner Art Oestrike, have been overseeing the brewery’s rapid growth since the early days of Brew Week. He says that when he got started, he never thought Jackie O’s would be at the center of Brew Week.

“It’s been funny to see how things have grown. Over the years, saying – I’m used to say I would never put my beer in cans. But now we put our beer in cans and we love it and it works out great and its something I wouldn’t think twice about now,” Clark said.

Jackie O’s was involved with Brew Week since day one. Ten years ago, they just had a couple beers, but they’ve grown exponentially since. After Brew Week Cofounder John Sparhawk passed away, Clark began brewing a beer named “Sparbock” in his honor.

“What we try to do, year-in and year-out, is put a lot beers on, also put on a lot beers from other breweries on at our brewery. We try to really tighten up all of our operations and make sure everyone has a great time that comes to Athens, comes to Brew Week, has a great time.”

This is the first year that Weston Lombard, the event’s director, had to turn away breweries for the event, saying that they didn’t have enough tap lines to handle everyone. Despite this, he’s not very concerned for the future of Brew Week.

He says they have a few options for handling the future, like only allowing breweries to bring one or two beers or being more selective with who stays in the event.

“But yeah, we’ll see. That can’t continue forever. Maybe someone will have open some more bars in Athens.”

Brad Clark from Jackie O’s sees this growing industry as a challenge for Brew Week.

“As the Ohio Craft Beer Brewery number and culture continues to grow, at some point it might outpace Athens, so it’s going to be interesting and a challenge for Ohio Brew Week to reformulate itself and figure out how to – if we can tailor it to all the breweries in Ohio – probably not – and how we make that happen in a fair and logical manner,” Clark said.

Clark says that starting a brewery is a lot of work. But it’s also rewarding.

“It’s funny how things change, you re-evaluate where you’re at and where things are going and it’s been a wild ride, but – it’s awesome,” Clark said.

For him, and many others around the state, next week is a celebration of that wild ride.

For details on Ohio Brew Week, head over here or check out