Cheers to 10 years at Yellow Springs Brewery
- Published: April 14, 2023
The cup runneth over at Yellow Springs Brewery.
Nearly every year since the first pint was poured in 2013, the small-town craft brewery has seen record-breaking numbers. More beer is being brewed at Yellow Springs Brewery than ever before — just short of 160,000 gallons in 2022 — and people keep coming to get a taste.
“We’re seeing many tens of thousands of people pass through the taproom each year,” the brewery’s chief operating officer and longtime village resident, Jayson Hartings, told the News.
“Easily,” co-founder Lisa Wolters agreed with a smile. “We often say we’re the biggest little brewery around.”
On Saturday, April 15, that little brewery is throwing a day-long 10th anniversary party at its Millworks location to mark a decade of “crafting truth to power” right here in Yellow Springs.
From noon to 10 p.m., partygoers can take part in the festivities by enjoying limited beer releases — some new, some familiar — in addition to the usual roster of suds. Exclusive merchandise such as anniversary shirts and glassware will be available, and multiple local food trucks will be on site.
While the event will surely revolve around the brewery’s quintessential product — beer, beer and more beer — the celebration aims to keep its patrons at the fore. It will be a day of gratitude for the village that has given so much to the brewery over the years, Wolters said.
“It’s going to be a beautiful day,” she said.
For many attendees — visitors and staff alike — the celebration will be a walk down memory lane, Wolters and Hartings told the News. It will be a day of reflecting on the business’ humble origins and its exciting future, as well as a chance to thank its devoted drinkers and community members who stuck by the brewery through all its challenges and triumphs.
The pièce de résistance of the celebration, though, will be the unveiling of a brand new tap system at the taproom that will feature 20 beers on draft instead of the current 12.
“You can call it an anniversary gift to ourselves,” Hartings said.
As Wolters said, she and her husband, Nate Cornett, never could have imagined all their manifold successes when they founded the business in the spring of 2013. At the time, the idea of starting a brewery was simply a way for Cornett to escalate his homebrewing hobby, and according to Wolters, the couple didn’t know the first thing about running a brewery.
“I had no idea what we were getting into,” Wolters recalled. “Sure, I’ve always been a beer drinker — and if Nate had asked me to start a winery with him, I’d have said no. This just seemed like a fun venture, a New Year’s resolution that we acted on.”
But between Cornett’s “structural way of thinking,” which he inherited from his work as a plumber and IT contractor, Wolters’ background in marketing and design, and their combined love for the village they had lived in for 20 years, they figured they could pull it off. Plus, they had the help of master brewer and their first employee, Jeffrey McElfresh.
After securing a 6,700-square-foot space in the Millworks industrial park on Walnut Street, and brewing four flagship beers — a dry Irish stout, brown ale, saison and English pale ale — Cornett and Wolters were ready to open.
“Initially, I was wondering how we’d even pull eight customers into the bar,” Wolters said. “But at our grand opening, people just kept coming and coming. It was kind of freaky, actually.”
Owing to their blockbuster initial weeks, the Yellow Springs Brewery had to close for 10 days after their first six weeks of business.
“Everyone was thirstier than we thought,” Wolters said with a laugh. “We ordered three more fermentation tanks right then and there. So we hit a major milestone right off the bat.”
But as Hartings — who was soon hired in the fall of 2013 — noted, Yellow Springs Brewey’s immediate success wasn’t all luck; it was a confluence of factors. The craft beer wave was just beginning to wash across the country, and people were getting bored of watered-down domestics. Further, the village itself was growing into a brand, a “destination” of sorts.
“The timing, the location, everything,” he said. “It all aligned perfectly.”
Over the next several years, Yellow Springs Brewery would continue down that path of growth. From that first lineup of four beers, the brewery now boasts 148 beers of different names and flavor profiles registered with the Ohio Department of Liquor Control. Hartings said his team of brewers creates an average of 15 to 20 new beers per year, with countless more variations in smaller batches, usually as cask ales served on Thursdays.
The reigning sultan of all the suds the brewery makes, though, continues to be Boat Show, a juicy American IPA with notes of tropical fruits and citrus. According to Hartings, of all the beers the production team makes, Boat Show accounts for nearly 75% .
“I like to call it a gateway IPA,” Hartings said. “Because it’s sometimes the first IPA people around here will try; it can become the gold standard for many.”
“But for me, my favorite beer is the one in my hand,” he added.
Similarly, Wolters couldn’t say which of her brewery’s beers she liked best, saying it was like asking her to pick a favorite child.
Time went on and production increased — largely thanks to massive upgrades to the business’ canning line in 2015, then again in 2021 — and so too did the ambitions of Wolters, Cornett, Hartings and the rest of the staff.
In summer of 2016, the Brewery acquired the former bowling alley on U.S. 68, in the southern reaches of the village. Initially dubbed the “South House” among staff and locals, that 9,000-square-foot space was soon refurbished into a warehouse distribution center and storage space. But other visions for the space quickly began to brew.
“We really wanted to turn it into rental space,” Wolters said. “That was what we wanted to design it for from the get-go.”
Over the next few years, and with the help of some locals — chief among them architect Ted Donnell, who designed the imagined rental space, and Tomaso Gregor, who built it — the Brewery team created the Barrel Room, a satellite of the main taproom at Millworks that could accommodate parties seeking to rent it out.
Additionally, the Barrel Room gave some of the brewers the added space to experiment more with their craft — to branch out into more experimental styles of beer by aging some of their batches in large wooden foeders, thus making more complex, often sour and tart drinks.
But when the pandemic came to town in spring 2020, plans for the Barrel Room changed.
“Suddenly an event space didn’t make sense, so we pivoted and opened it as a second tap room,” Hartings explained. “During the height of the pandemic, business was the last thing we were worried about. We were concerned about taking care of our people — the staff and the customers — and the Barrel Room was a key component for that. Because of all the space, people were just more comfortable there.”
During COVID, the whole of the Yellow Springs Brewery operations — that is, both the Barrel Room and the main taproom, as well as their wholesale business — suffered greatly. It was a year of constant pandemic-related challenges and, on top of that, a worldwide aluminum shortage.
Ultimately, the brewery pulled through despite shutting down for some time in early 2020. Drivers delivered beer to homes, customers wore masks, plexiglass partitions were set up, surfaces were constantly sanitized, employees were laid off and rehired.
“We had to change our whole model,” Wolters said. “It was scary and stressful, and now, we don’t take anything for granted.”
Now, with much of the village having reverted back to the conduct and conditions of a pre-pandemic world, and with supply chain issues leveling out, Hartings and Wolters said life is once again good for Yellow Springs Brewery. The Barrel Room has reverted to its original purpose of an event space and, they said, business at the taproom has never been better. As Hartings put it, the team is still focused on the brewery’s paramount goal: “Thinking about how to make more beer for more people.”
Wolters and Cornett have stepped back from day-to-day operations a great deal — having the ultimate goal of spending more time at Kelleys Island, the couple’s “home away from home,” as Wolters put it.
“As for the rest of us, it’s our job to keep her and Nate up there [at the island],” Hartings said.
According to him, the 32-member staff is now in a good rhythm and is being led by a new taproom manager, Danny Beal.
“I’m just here to empower every employee to be the best they can be,” Beal told the News. “It’s a beautiful culture we have here in our little brewery, and I want to help build and maintain that.”
Although the numbers for the Yellow Springs Brewery keep growing — that is, both the volume of beer brewed and the customers enjoying said beer — Hartings said the team is keen to avoid expanding too much, too quickly.
“We want to take a measured approach to growth,” he said. “We know what fits us and what’s comfortable. When things started in 2013, it was a rocketship. But now, the market is different and anything could happen. COVID taught us that.”
“However we grow, it has to be organic,” Beal added.
For the time being, the brewery’s market won’t likely expand beyond the cozy confines of Southwest Ohio — not going further north than Columbus, nor further south beyond Mason. And the focus will remain right here, in the brewery’s hometown village.
“But still, we’re going to keep crafting our truth to more power,” Hartings said. “And you’ll see that for yourself this Saturday.”
To learn more about the Yellow Springs Brewery’s 10th anniversary event Saturday, April 15, go online to yellowspringsbrewery.com, or simply go to the main taproom that day, noon–10 p.m., at 305 Walnut St.
4 Responses to “Cheers to 10 years at Yellow Springs Brewery”
Anniversary 10 is complex!. Overwhelming with flavor!
Beautiful tribute article to an impressive
team of dedicated and talented people.
Congratulations and keep the excitement going!
I wish them continued success! I’ve never been there ~ since I have longer sobriety then they have been in business! However, beer WAS my drink of choice, so I’d have made a dandy customer–your loss, my gain 🙂 Cheers! with a cup of tea! <14
The owners are good people who hired good people.