I love Cincinnati’s craft beer scene, and when I first wrote about what was happening at Woodburn last year, it wasn’t to give people a base for hatred towards a brewery. It was for a very clear purpose (in my mind at least), a purpose of clarity.
In an industry that is as unique as craft beer, we become more than customers at the places we frequent. We become fans, regulars, family even. It’s not just about beer, it’s about a much bigger picture that is extremely hard to capture into words, but it’s also what makes a post like last year’s so important to craft beer drinkers across this city. We want to know what’s going on when there is a massive shake-up like there was (or is) at Woodburn. When you couple that with the fact that the people involved can’t or won’t talk about things from their own experience – it makes clarity difficult to come by.
When everything happened at Woodburn we were left with a pile of rumors, speculations, and assumptions that we were forced to wade through trying to get the real story of what was going on at many people’s favorite brewery. I pieced together many of these rumors, stories, and speculations to get as accurate of a timeline of events as I could do – and I’m confident that the picture I painted was as accurate as could have been done at the time.
But we’re not done, yet. We have to keep clarifying – especially since it now looks like Woodburn is for sale. When I stared writing this post about two weeks ago – that wasn’t the case… the last day has been full of me feveriously rewriting and re-editing this post to make the whole thing make a little more sense now.
Clearing Up Some Rumors.
In a mutual quest for clarity, I was recently contacted by a current employee of Woodburn who was also present during last years… uhh… situation. While they wanted to remain as anonymous as possible, they also wanted to clear up and clarify as much about what went down as possible.
The conversation revolves mostly around the rumor of Chris (the former Woodburn head brewer) training his own replacement, unbeknownst to him.
We will address a few of the talking points, or rumors one by one in the words of this unnamed employee to hopefully give a little bit better of a picture about the whole situation. After that, we’ll talk about the latest news, this supposed sale of Woodburn.
Training Your Own Replacement
The original rumors were that while Chris was still employed at Woodburn a brewer came in to check out their system, in order to help a new brewery, who had a similar system, get started. The rumor continues in that after being fired that same person started on as Woodburn’s new brewer two days later.
We now know that David Pierce is working as Woodburn’s head brewer, and was also present observing the brewery in operation during a brew day (and a canning day) shortly before everything went down. In the words of someone who was present:
As David has installed countless breweries, he was there the week prior to Chris being fired to inspect our system for a client of his in Lousiville that was also starting a brewery. We were brewing the first day and the second day we were canning. My account of Chris helping David learn the system was David asking questions and Chris answering the questions. There was no one-on-one time that I would have considered training. Chris was busy doing one of multiple things that day, one of which was preparing for canning the next day. David just walked around observing us and the system. He was up on the deck a few times and basically tried to stay out of our way. David was there the next day to observe canning for a few hours and then left for home.
Chris was fired on Sunday and David was on site Tuesday.
*Note – I have changed a couple words in the quote to try to keep things a little more anonymous for the source.
Dennis and A Group Of Friends Changed The Locks
The rumor here was that upon heading into work on Sunday – Chris discovered that the locks had been changed. Upon heading to the parking lot to make a couple phone calls to see what was going on, he was met by Dennis, who giving him some paperwork fired him – and reinterred the building, locking the doors behind him.
Chris went to a wedding and left mid-day Friday. An employee got a phone call early Sunday evening asking if their key worked because his did not. Then all of a sudden he had to call them back. Chris called them back to tell them that he had just been fired. I don’t know anything about a folder or Dennis rushing back inside. That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen just that I wasn’t a witness.
I suppose that the locks were changed sometime during the weekend while Chris was away and I was not at work. There’s only 5 outside locks that needed to be changed so it could have easily been done by the one person that I know works with locks. I doubt it was a ‘group’ and that Dennis even helped but again I didn’t witness it.
*Again, note that I have changed the wording of some of the quote to keep it as anonymous as possible for the source.
Woodburn Has Been Brewing Chris’ Recipes
This is a big one with a lot of people. They say that Woodburn is still brewing up his recipes to this day. Salt on the wound of firing him, I suppose.
For the initial period after firing we did brew modifications of his beer to go through Chris’ inventory (to make his recipes more commercially sensible in terms of cost and quantities of malts and number of yeast strains) and to ease the transition into David’s beers. There are only a few holdovers (Han Solo is an example of a holdover, but not on of his recipes – this one is Nate Lovett’s). The Chocolate Cherry Stout and Mint and their bourbon versions were from inventory. As is the Berlinerweisse. But many of the current beers are David’s, some of which he won medals for. None of the beers we sell currently, including the first batch we brewed with David are identical to Chris’ beers.
*One more time… quotes have been edited to anonymize them a little better.
Without letting my own opinions about how anyone was treated color anything – I do think that this clarifies the situation a little bit better. I also don’t know that it changes the overall picture that was painted a year ago. If the anger you have for Woodburn is because he trained someone, or because someone was brewing his recipes without him – It might be misplaced anger.
If you’re angry about something else? You still might be justified.
This brings us to the latest – the sale, or supposed sale of the brewery.
Is Woodburn For Sale?
Before we dig into this – there is no official comment that I’ve been able to get from Woodburn on the matter. If we want to look at the ad that was posted online about the “One of a kind Cincinnati Brewery” that is for sale there are a couple big points that in my opinion show pretty clearly that it’s them for sale. Let’s look at the details of the brewery:
- 4,000 Square Foot Brewery with space for 127 people, and a patio for another 34.
- 10 Employees.
- 36 Tap Handles behind the bar.
- 20bbl, two vessel brewhouse
- 3bbl pilot system
- 8 Fermenters
- 5 Bright Tanks
It seems pretty clear to me. Again… I reached out to my contact at Woodburn to get some kind of an idea of what has been going on there.
I was aware that Dennis was trying to sell the brewery but quietly. I’m not surprised, and I don’t think others here were surprised, either. I think we were just surprised that the listing was so specific.
*For the last time… quotes… changed. Anonymous.
So, it while it doesn’t look like anyone told the employees that the brewery was for sale, no one was shocked to see that it was either.
What Does It Mean?
Why does anyone care, other than some sort of twisted karma in the form of a piece of our local beer scene possibly dying? This is what I really want to talk about. While I’m sure you can get a pretty good sense about how I feel about how everything went down at Woodburn – I’m not mad at the brewery itself. I’m not mad at all the employees for working there. I’m mad at the people who have treated others wrongly.
I don’t want Woodburn to fail. I want Woodburn to grow, change and become something great. A new owner could be exactly what this brewery needs to revamp and regain some of the love from this community that it lost. I also hope that the way everything has transpired becomes a wake-up call, and a showcase to other breweries old and new that beer drinkers care not just about the liquid you make and serve – we care about how, why and with who you do it.
Be Gnarly – Be Nice – Do What’s Right To Each Other.