You’re never quite sure what you’re going to discover when you open a Brewpub File. Craft Brewing Business’s series of brewpub case studies investigating the strategies and philosophies behind some of the most successful brewpubs in the country is as unique as the brewpubs we write about. And this Brewpub File is no different. While most every brewpub owner takes pride in the beer they brew, the food they serve and the atmosphere they create, this brewpub file’s pride is steeped in tradition and heritage. It continues a long lineage of brewing tradition and has been adopted by its city as a shining example of entrepreneurial courage.
Subject: Moerlein Lager House (Christian Moerlein Brewing Co.)
Established: 2012 (1853)
Brewery/Size: 5,000 bbls
Brewpub best seller: Moerlein Lager House, a Munich-style helles, which is the house lager.
Mantra: “Celebrate the past. Taste the future.”
Brewpub representative: Richard Dubé, brewmaster, Moerlein Lager House; vice president of brewing and quality, Christian Moerlein Brewing Co.
The original Christian Moerlein Brewing Co. was founded in 1853 in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood and closed during Prohibition. In 1981, the Christian Moerlein brand was reintroduced to Cincinnati as a craft beer, and, in 2004, Christian Moerlein Brewing was purchased by Greater Cincinnati resident and beer industry veteran Gregory Hardman, who follows the same guidelines of true quality and great taste set by the brewery’s founder.
“The Moerlein Lager House is a working microbrewery producing a full line of Moerlein craft brews and a gastropub with delicious meals, featuring spent-grain breads, hand-carved sandwiches and smoked rotisserie meats … foods reminiscent of those served in Cincinnati’s celebrated 19th century beer gardens,” Dubé explained.
The Moerlein Lager House restaurant and brewery opened in 2012. The expansive location can accommodate nearly 1,400 guests (800 seated and 600 in its two beer gardens) between the first floor bar and dining area, the Bier Garden (open year-round), the second floor bar and dining area and two private dining rooms (Beer Baron Hall, Hauck Room). The Moerlein Lager House brewery produces a variety of fresh craft beers on site. This is the only Christian Moerlein brewpub, and it is ideally situated in Smale Riverfront Park, along the Ohio River, between Paul Brown Stadium (NFL, Bengals) and the Great American Ball Park (MLB, Reds).
While Christian Moerlein pays homage to its roots, Dubé was quick to point out that the brewery is firmly planted in today’s craft beer movement, and one of its primary missions is to expand its customer’s horizons.
“Our mission is to educate people on what beer can be,” he said. “We realize that a lot of people want to get on the ‘craft beer band wagon,’ with all the excitement that is being generated, but selecting a beer from so many choices can be overwhelming for many people. We want to expand people’s horizons on beer and introduce them to something new that they can appreciate. We say, ‘Give us 10 minutes of your time, with an open mind, and we guarantee that we will find a beer that you will enjoy.’”
In terms of running a successful brewpub, food also plays a large role in the Moerlein Lager House experience. The brewpub has a lineup of pub offerings, including gourmet burgers and flatbreads, as well as a guest beer list that contains 24 guest taps and up to 150 different bottle styles, in addition to the fresh beers brewed on site, including Lager House Helles (the house Lager), Zeppelin Bavarian Pale Ale, Northern Liberties IPA, Over-the-Rhine Ale, and Seven Hefeweizen, all under the Christian Moerlein banner. Pairing its beers with its progressive menu is a major way Christian Moerlein serves up its success.
“There are no strict guidelines for pairing,” Dubé said. “You can either compare and contrast, complement, balance or emphasize. Some great examples from our menu are: Tampico shrimp with Exposition Vienna Lager; squash wellington with Northern Liberties IPA; and caramel streusel cake with Barbarossa Munich Dunkel. Not only is our staff well prepared to offer suggestions on beer pairings, but we also have special beer dinners that feature guest breweries, as well as Christian Moerlein beers. For our bi-monthly beer dinners, our chefs design a unique five-course menu for each dinner, incorporating beers in the preparation of the various courses, and the brewers talk to guests about the beers selected for the event.”
Christian Moerlein’s dedication to both its culinary and beer craft is a clear catalyst in its popularity. When asked what brings more customers through the door, the food or the beer, Dubé highlighted the brewpub’s quality combination.
“If you asked a brewer at the Moerlein Lager House, they would say we largely draw customers who want fresh craft beer and a wide selection of beer choices, but if you ask the chef, he would say we have a very talented culinary team that offers a great, diversified food menu as the reason customers come,” he said. “Truth is, it’s both; the main motivator is because we have great fresh food and great fresh beer.”
Although there’s been much talk about the food, the brewpub’s beers are still front and center. The working brewery at the Moerlein Lager House is front and center when you walk in. Rightfully so, since the brewery at the Moerlein Lager House does not rack or bottle its beers — every drop is consumed onsite. One of the biggest challenges Christian Moerlein faces is keeping up with demand and trying to avoid depletion of popular in-house beers.
“We love that there is such a high demand for our beer, and we do our best to keep up with it. We need to anticipate fluctuations in demand, work within space constraints and maintain our variety,” Dubé said. “Beer plays a significant role in our overall sales, but because we have great food, that still represents the majority of the brewpub’s sales.”
To grow its customer base, Christian Moerlein focuses on its community. The brewery promotes Cincinnati’s brewing heritage and the brewpub through weekend tours of the restaurant and brewery. It invites craft beer aficionados to attend its beer dinners and join its two beer clubs — Hogshead Union and Old Jug Society. The brewery also holds monthly tappings of special cask-conditioned brews, and it hosts two huge parties every year: the annual Reds baseball Opening Day party and UberDrome Oktoberfest celebration.
“We’re excited that Cincinnati has not only embraced the recent craft beer renaissance, but has been a historical hub of brewing in America,” Dubé said with a smile. “The Christian Moerlein Lager House is proud to invite people to celebrate the past and taste the future.”