Meet the team of entrepreneurs living their dream with Urban Artifact, a new brewery and event space in Northside.
Finding a job you love is an ambition that many identify with. Indeed, Confucius’ inspirational words, “choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life,” have been reiterated throughout history and driven countless individuals to pursue their dreams. Northside is home to many dreamers who resonate with this philosophy. I recently sat down with a dynamic team of dreamers, who are doing what they love in a multifaceted way right here in Northside with their creative enterprise Urban Artifact, a brewery, taproom, lounge, gallery, beer garden and event space slated to open in late April.
Urban Artifact Rundown
In July 2014, Urban Artifact purchased the Historic St. Pius X/ St. Patrick’s Church complex, formerly owned by Queen City Cookies, located at 1662 Blue Rock St. in Northside. The team, comprised of Scott Hand, Dominic Marino, Scott Hunter and Bret Kollmann Baker, is currently in phase one of renovating and transforming this incredible complex.
The grounds include three buildings and an outdoor green space—The old church building will house a taproom and lounge on the bottom floor and a large performance space in the former sanctuary for concerts and performing arts events; The gymnasium behind the church is home to the brewery operations; The former rectory will be transformed into a restaurant space for a future tenant on the first floor, and the second floor currently serves as offices for Queen City Bike and Ground Works Cincinnati, with room for more offices on the 3rd floor; lastly, the green space between the rectory and the Church will become an outdoor beer garden.
In taking over the historic buildings and as part of their overall vision, Marino detailed they are trying to keep as much of the history alive and “keep the character.” In the new space they are saving and re-purposing as many of the architectural details they can.
Urban Artifact is unique to the Cincinnati brewery scene in that they are the first local brewery to focus exclusively on tart and wild beer styles, inspired by sour brewing traditions.
Brewing commenced at Urban Artifact in early March. The beer names “pay homage to things that were part of our culture” according to Hunter, “the naming convention is names that are artifacts in today’s age… they are not necessarily something that is extinct.” For this first phase of operations there are three flagship beers:
Finn – A Berliner Pale Ale (5.4 percent ABV)
Named after Finn, a legendary Frisian King. Frisia or Friesland is a coastal region along the southeastern corner of the North Sea, a region that is now part of Germany. The Berliner style is an old German style of beer production.
Maize – A Kentucky Common (5.3 percent ABV)
Named because true maize is hard to find. This style of beer is also hard to find. Traditionally it was made with approximately 25 to 30 percent corn.
Harrow – A Gose style beer (4.3 percent ABV),
Named after harrow, which is a farming implement- for tilling the soil. The name is a direct correlation to the wheat that is the backbone of a Gose style beer.
Aside from focusing on how awesome it is that Northside will now be home to this unique brewery and epic event space, I was curious about the people behind the curtain and how the business came to fruition. What I discovered was a serendipitous collaboration borne from two independent partnerships with similar aims.
Before Urban Artifact, there was Grayscale Cincinnati, the business plan of Scott Hand and Dominic Marino to develop the Historic Jackson Brewery (Elm & McMicken) in Over the Rhine from a vacant structure into a music & recording venue, creative live theater, and craft brewery. While the plans have since shifted to the new site, under a new name, their intentions remain the same. Understanding their vision requires understanding the men behind the plan. Friends since childhood, Hand and Marino, both grew up in Fairfield, Ohio and attended the same high school. After high school they went separate paths outside Ohio to pursue different careers before ultimately ending up business partners.
The Event Side
Prior to moving back to Cincinnati, Marino and Hand reunited in Chicago coincidentally. “He had moved to Chicago and I had moved to Chicago and we ended up living a mile apart,” stated Marino.
Upon re-connecting Hand and Marino began brainstorming their original concept in 2006. Recognizing there was the opportunity for Cincinnati to have a collaborative performance art space, they started meeting and researching what business models were in Chicago that weren’t in Cincinnati. Ultimately they landed on the idea for a brewery with multiple live performance spaces, with the intention of drawing people to the site. According to Hand “we designed this model from the ground up as a place that has events and activities almost non-stop, with two performance spaces, a tap room, plus an outdoor space, all programmed with events and activities. The brewery concept was a given because we love beer.”
Hand spent 2013-2014 writing a business plan, conducting research, and meeting with financial and legal advisers. The original business plan was based on the Jackson Brewery in Over the Rhine. However, after securing the financing they realized the timeline of the re-development was not going to fit the financial restrictions. This change led them to their eventual purchase of St. Patrick’s Church complex in Northside.
The Brew Side
Kollman Baker and Hunter met while attending Ohio University and forged a relationship when they began a homebrew club together in 2007. It started out as a hobby, love and interest, but after brewing beer together for several years, they both began to imagine making their hobby a career. As Hunter recalls, “it kind of grew to ‘how cool would it be to make a living brewing beer?’ Most people who brew beer or have hobbies have that thought.”
After graduation they started work on a business plan and focusing on how they could make their dream a reality. They also went back and forth on different ideas for beer until finally landing where they are today with the tart and wild beers. Once that was decided, knowing their desire to live in Cincinnati, they reviewed neighborhoods and by 2014 they had decided on starting their brewery in Northside.
The Merger of Ambitious Minds
In the summer of 2014, after one brewer business partner fell through days before closing, Hand and Marino received a short extension from the bank and sought out brewers to fill the gap. Marino and Hand put out a Facebook post asking for people who were interested in partnering. A friend of Hunter and Kollmann Baker saw the post and within days they were in contact. For Kollman Baker it was a no brainer to merge Hand and Marino’s skills with his and Hunter’s, “they know running tap rooms and bars and music distribution and performance. It was a match made in a really good chemical reaction.” For Hand, the Hunter/Kollman Baker team fit perfectly, “we had several offers, but Hunter and Kollman Baker were already making homebrew in the style we wanted, and they already had a business plan. We basically had 3 weeks to shake hands and say it’s going to work.” Kollman Baker remarked, “through our situation we were forced to build a level of trust that normally takes a lot longer.”
Fast-forward nine months, they have already converted the old bakery/gymnasium into a brewery, they are near completion of transforming the church basement into a tap room and music venue, they have new tenants in the rectory, beer is brewing, distribution plans are in place and events are already scheduled. For those of us still trying to figure out how to do what we love, this team serves as a source of inspiration.
The tap room is tentatively scheduled to open April 24th. The tap room hours will be 4 p.m.-midnight Monday-Thursday; 4 p.m.-1:30 a.m. Friday; noon-1:30 a.m. Saturday; noon-midnight Sunday. Cavalier Distributing will begin distributing draft versions of their flagship beers beginning April 27th. Also, check out Urban Artifacts website for info on their exclusive beer clubs: The Sovereign Club ($1000, gets you beer for a year); The Stein Club (A collaboration with Face the Day Studio and Funke Fired Arts to receive 1 of 150 limited edition handmade steins) and the $50 Explorer Club.
Check out this month’s People of Northside for more in-depth interviews with the Urban Artifact Team.