There’s something that draws people to the story of craft brewing when they meet someone in the industry. I’m not sure why, but I’m pretty sure that if Jimmy Carter were talking about his Nobel Peace Prize and the audience found out a craft brewer was in the room, the beer person would suddenly get the attention. Is it because making beer has some kind of mysteriousness to it — seemingly some kind of magic that makes beer happen? I’m not sure why, but working in this industry can captivate people in a way that is just plain celebrity. My wife works in education policy. She’s incredibly good at what she does, and she does it for children. She does it to make bureaucratic systems function better. She does it, really, to save the world. And yet when she introduces me to her highly educated colleagues, they’re drawn to my work and to my story.
My story starts with a dear friend from California who is now with Drake’s Brewing Company out of San Francisco. When he heard that we were moving back to Cincinnati and I was interested in the craft brewing industry, he reached out to let me know about Bryant Goulding, an industry friend, who was moving to Cincinnati to open a brewery.
So Bryant and I began flirting with each other over an occasional coffee many months prior to the birth of Rhinegeist. The courtship was lovely — he’d share with me progress on the project, and I’d share with him how I was killing time (waiting for an offer to come aboard, as it turned out), poking around local breweries in town. Near Rhinegeist’s launch, after briefly brewing and cellaring at a couple of breweries, Bob and Bryant invited me to come aboard to help create Rhinegeist’s self distribution network. I’m a big fan of craft beer, and I have my favorites, so what lead me to accept a position with these guys, having never tasted their beer, is tough to explain, but there was just something about them, their vision and their chutzpah that made me want to be a part of it. Culturally and professionally, the appeal was immediate because I was given the keys to the distribution castle, as it were.
What happened with Rhinegeist on day one was monumental. Bob and Bryant had been spreading the word around Cincinnati about their project for over a year, prepping neighborhood establishments for our launch. Then there was a buzz around our operation and the taproom space that would soon become an important cornerstone to Cincinnati’s downtown revival. 2,500 people turned up on a very hot July day to usher us into the neighborhood, which meant we were about to get pretty busy spreading our libation throughout the city.
There’s something emotional about what we’re doing, and this part of the story has very little to do with making beer, but has everything to do with the leadership, the dream, and the trust in the people. There’s not much that’s truly easy about growing a company as fast as we have grown over the past 19 months. What many people know and see peripherally is that our beer is very good, our space is unique, and we must have a blast doing it all. This is all true, but just like most things that look a certain way from the outside, a lot of pieces need to fall together in order to make the thing function the way many people see it — similar to buying a house, or building it, or decorating it. So much thought, planning and help go into what everyone sees from the outside.
Rhinegeist is no different, but what is different is the way it all happens. Rhinegeist has gone through great pains every step of the way to make sure that what we’re up to is as perfect as possible. From finding a one-of-a-kind recipe development guru, to brew slogging masterminds, to top-notch taproom workhorses, to behind the scenes kegging, packaging, cellaring and distribution machines that will do anything necessary without amplifying their hardship in order to be part of the extraordinary.
Right now I am on a plane coming back from a weekend in Denver, Colorado. My daughter was born there, and we lived there for more than 8 years and still have many more reasons to go back for visits. I sat on a deck this weekend overlooking the mountains, in a t-shirt, eating with friends and neighbors. There are no fewer than 50 — FIFTY — breweries in the city and county of Denver now, with a dozen or so within our old neighborhood. It is so good there – the culture, the people, the weather, the energy. Nevertheless, I couldn’t stop thinking about what my friends and colleagues at Rhinegeist were up to; because I knew that our place in Cincinnati, Ohio and our little project is changing lives and has just as much to offer as anything, anywhere on the planet.
Dennis Kramer-Wine is Rhinegeist's Director of Distribution. He's been with Rhinegeist from the very beginning.