And to think that I would have never found Thirsty Dog Brewing Co without looking up the word “Breweries” on the Yelp app on my phone. We spent the majority of our time in Ohio right outside of Akron, which I naturally researched for breweries. Several breweries came up in my initial searches, but one stuck out in my mind as a must visit. Perhaps it was a combination of the 4.5-5.0 star ratings on yelp and the amazingly cute dog pictures/beer names that drew me in, but one thing is for certain: going to Thirsty Dog Brewing Co. was the right thing to do.
Travis, Jon, Katie, and I pulled up to a humble brick building in a semi industrial district of Akron in the early afternoon. The building was easy enough to find with the mini grain silo complete with Thirsty Dog logo out in front. I had called ahead of time to make sure we would be able to get a tasting and had snagged a 1pm appointment. Because it’s a manufacturing brewery we couldn’t just walk in. We had to ring the doorbell buzzer to be let in.
We were led into the tasting room by a lady named Sue, who works on the logistics side of the brewery. She gave us a brief history of the building, which was owned by the Burkhardt Family. They housed their brewery, Burkhardt Brewery, there in the 1860-70’s. Back then, the building was made of wood. Only after it burned down was it rebuilt with brick.
The neighboring building was actually a decommissioned horse barn where they housed the wagon-pulling horses for keg shipments. Apparently the Burkhardt family and brewery survived prohibition by making root beer. The building itself is located in what used to be little Germany, or where most of the German immigrants lived at the time.
During Sue’s history lesson there was a loud hydraulic buzzing sound, and we all turned our attention to the old, and recently restored, 1929 elevator in the back of the room. The elevator door slammed open and John Najeway, owner and co-founder of the Ohio Craft Brewer’s Association, stepped out. What an entrance. Then the tour and tasting started. We stepped up to the bar adorned with dog bone tap handles, and each of us picked our starting beer that we would take on the tour; I chose Cerebus Belgian Tripel. John walked us through the manufacturing arm of the brewery, explaining that they had just recently expanded 140% (WOW!). The building that they use is three floors. The first floor is the brewery, the second is where they house their offices, and the third floor is a brewer’s loft where some of the brewers live. Live – Work Loft anyone?
In addition to the manufacturing and building expansion, Thirsty Dog recently incorporated bourbon, wine, and oak barrels for aging beers. We tried one of their bourbon barrel aged imperial stouts, Siberian Night, and it was delicious. It was clear that John was passionate about the craft as well as the business side, as he was very well seasoned in the space. Thirsty Dog had gone from being a chain of brewpubs from 1997-2005 to contracting their beer out from 2005-2007, and in April 2007 they acquired their current facilities. John is happy with how things are now as a manufacturing brewery, and judging by the incredible quality of beer that they are putting out, I’m pretty sure the craft brew community will stay happy too.
After some more history and business talk, John took us over to the kettles to meet one of the Brewers, Mitch, who took us through their brew process on their 15 BBL system. A wonderful spicy aroma emanated from kettles as Mitch explained that he was currently brewing their Christmas Ale. With Honey, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and some secret ingredients, 12 Dogs of Christmas Ale sounds like a real holiday treat.
Mitch himself has been working at Thirsty Dog for about three and a half years and actually graduated from the University of Akron with a History Major. He later worked at Three Brothers Brewing and then found himself at Thirsty Dog a few years later. Mitch had a very humble demeanor, but you could also tell he was really excited about what he was doing at Thirsty Dog. He talked about a internal collaboration ale they were working on – yes I said internal. Apparently each brewer works on his own set of beers at Thirsty Dog, and I’m guessing this is to promote innovation and creative competition. That being said, the internal collaboration recipe was a Saison, and it was created by all the brewers at Thirsty Dog putting their heads together. This beer hadn’t yet been released while we were at the Brewery, but we did get to try it, and I can tell you that it was very classic and delicious. I’m guessing they shied away from charging the beer up with spices and have relied a lot on the yeast to impart its signature flavors into the beer. It reminded me a bit of Saison Dupont, but the freshness, overall flavor and dryness of the Thirsty Dog saison was more enjoyable.
Tim, who used to be the head of Liberty Street Brewing and is currently the operations manager and brew equipment designer, joined us with John for the saison tasting. This is where John mentioned his other seasonal beer, Pumpkin Ale. Strangely enough this beer didn’t have a dog themed title to it. Again you really felt the eat/drink local emphasis here as John explained that all the pumpkins that go into the beer are from his very own farm. Yes, John has a farm and is obsessed with dogs. He currently has two six month old black and yellow labs named Barley & Hops and another older yellow lab, Molly, who is one of the 12 Dogs of Christmas.
If you are a dog lover you’ll probably love John, and you’ll definitely love Thirsty Dog’s beer names. I’ll rattle off a few for you: Labrador Lager, Old Leghumper – Porter, Red Rocket – Flanders Red, Irish Setter Red, Whippet Wheat, Maibark, and Barktoberfest to name a few. If I’m remembering correctly, most of the beers on tap and in production are actually named after dogs John and Co have had.
So the tour and history lessons were at an end, and we parked ourselves at the tasting bar with bartender, Ben, to sample some of the amazing beers that Thirsty Dog Brewing Co. has to offer. Mitch even brought out one of his personal experiments, a Berliner Weiss, that he had been working on for some time. It was little over a year old and still has some time to go, according to Mitch, but it was tart, refreshing, grainy, and had pleasant grapefruit notes. Berliner Weiss is a really fun style, but it takes some serious patience to brew a good one. Mitch’s will do great, and I really wish there was a way to get some of it over to So Cal.
So there you have it: Thirsty Dog Brewing Co. is an amazing brewing in Akron, OH. They are putting out exceptional beers, and I’m sure they will continue to do great things. Unfortunately, you’ll probably never get their beer if you live on the West Coast unless you are really lucky. If you find yourself in Cleveland or Akron, definitely make the trip to Thirsty Dog. You’ll need to make an appointment, but you’ll find that it’s well worth it. Cheers!
Thirsty Dog Brewing Co
529 Grant St
Akron, OH 44311
P.S. John Najeway also mention Hopin’ Frog Brewery as a good place to start if you are looking for good beer.
P.P.S Check out more pictures on the Fotoz Page