Former firefighter sparks new life into old Williamsburg firehouse with new craft brewery

WILLIAMSBURG, Ohio -- An old firehouse is about to get new life in Williamsburg as a pair of nascent brewers prepares to open up shop.

Williamsburg resident Adam Cowan will open up the Old Firehouse Brewery at 237 W. Main St. on Sept. 12. The team may hold a soft opening the week before depending on beer production and permit inspections.

“I’ve had people come in every day asking when we’re going to be open,” Cowan said with enthusiasm.

Old Firehouse Brewery will have plenty of kegs to sate demand.

Cowan said he got the idea to start a brewery while on vacation with his wife in Asheville, N.C. He spent more than a year just researching beer and the beer industry before getting the business plan up and running.

His original intention was to open in Mt. Orab, but the old firehouse came open and he closed on it in January 2014. He ordered the equipment in January as well.

Cowan and his team have been hard at work since then getting the 59-year-old building ready. They’ve completely overhauled the building with a new sprinkler system, boiler, and drainage system for the brew house.

RELATED: Former firefighter plans to open brewery in Williamsburg
PHOTOS: Take a look inside the new Old Firehouse Brewery

It has cost Cowan about $700,000 to get started. He said they are a little over-budget but have been very fortunate. The building didn’t need too much work done to it and they’ve been able to source most of their contractors and labor within the Williamsburg community.

Cowan bought a brew house and several fermenters from Diversified Metal Engineering in Canada. Much of the work they had done on the brewery had to be custom built to fit the location.

The Old Firehouse Brewery will start out with a 15 bbl brewhouse with a 30bbl fermenter, several 15 bbl fermenters and a bright tank. Cowan said the system is capable of producing 3,600 bbls annually.

Old Firehouse Brewery Owner Adam Cowan (L) and Head Brewery Ben Ramsey (R)

Cowan said they hope to produce 2,000 barrels in the first year, but plan on at least 1,000 barrels. That said, both Cowan and Head Brewer Ben Ramsey said they will control the growth if needed and focus entirely on the craft.

“I’m not afraid to dump a batch down the drain if it’s not up to our standards,” Cowan said.

Ramsey said they plan to launch with five or six beers on tap. They’ve already done several test batches to iron out the kinks in the new system.

The mainstay beers will include the "Pin-Up Girl" blonde and the "Code 3" Scottish Red. The other signature beers include the "Backdraft" IPA and "Probie" Porter. They also plan on brewing a gose to start. They hope to have 12 beers on tap by Thanksgiving.

Though the brewery hasn’t opened yet, they are already looking at buying another 15-barrel fermenter and a brite tank.

“It’s just so we can play,” Cowan said. “It’ll be there so that if we get a wild idea, or something off the wall … we’ll have the space.”

The brewery has an impressive brew house, but they are already planning for an expansion.

The brewers said they plan on rotating a lot of different beers in and out in addition to their mainstay selection. They also have collaborations in the works with Blank Slate and Country Boy brewing.

“Reception even among the local brewers has been phenomenal,” Cowan said. “We’re here to be part of the team.”

One of Cowan’s future goals is to move into canning if production and demand allows. He said they have looked at smaller canning lines that would fit their space and allow for more flexibility in their production.

Cowan said they have already had 37 bars and restaurants come in and ask for beer even without a taste. The owner said distribution is planned but they will wait to see what’s available after demand at the taproom.

OFB plans to self-distribute its beers to greater Cincinnati area restaurants, bars, golf courses and other venues. The brewery will also sell 64 oz. glass growlers for fans to take home.

They hope to employ 10 to 12 people by Christmas. Cowan said they already have two employees who will help in the tap room when the brewery officially opens and they are looking for an assistant brewer.

An interesting aspect to Old Firehouse Brewery is that patrons will be able to get up close and personal with the brew house itself. Unlike other brewers that are required to have a partition between the taproom and brewery; Old Firehouse Brewery has a new sprinkler system installed that allows them to bypass that requirement.

In staying with the firehouse theme, all the coat hooks along the wall have the nameplates of the last fire crew that worked at the firehouse.

OFB will have plenty of firefighter memorabilia helping patrons get that firehouse feel.

Patrons will also find a plethora of firefighter memorabilia. Cowan said they will use authentic firefighter uniforms, lights and artwork to help people feel like they are truly inside a working fire station.

Cowan is no stranger to the business world either. In addition to his career as a firefighter, he has held a variety of management positions.

Currently he works as a purchasing/equipment manager for Arch Materials, a limestone company. He also worked at Wine Cellar Innovations as a safety manager and for his father’s construction company.

Cowan’s wife is also pitching in to run the books while the brewery grows.

Ramsey comes to the brewing industry from a different direction. He got into it as a home brewer while in college. After tinkering with kits and building up his gear, his wife finally intervened.

“My wife said, ‘Well, why don’t you try to do it for a living?’ Well, it’s really not that easy,” Ramsey said.

Eventually Ramsey started to work at the Lexington Beer Store. The business included a home brew shop in addition to a craft beer bar. He also taught home brewing classes there.

During that time, Ramsey volunteered at Country Boy Brewing and learned how to brew on a production system. Toward the end of his time at the beer store, Ramsey was offered a position at Alltech (Lexington Brewing & Distilling Co.). He worked there for about three years moving between a variety of positions including brewing, cellaring and packaging.

Head brewer Ben Ramsey is already hard at work making the first few batches.

Ramsey and Cowan were brought together through a mutual friend and once they met, they quickly sat down to talk seriously about launching the brewery.

“We all have the same idea. It’s all about the beer,” Ramsey said. “We don’t want to sacrifice and cut corners anywhere. It’s fun. It’s hard work but I love it.”

Ramsey said he plans on making as many beers as he can. That includes producing many one-offs and collaboration beers in addition to their mainstay fleet.

The brewery won’t offer food but Cowan plans to partner with local restaurants to provide food options. Patrons are also welcome to bring their own grub.

Once it's open, the brewery will have taproom hours Wednesday through Sunday. It will have seating for 12 people at the bar and 100 at the four-top tables.

More information on the brewery is available at www.oldfirehousebrewery.com; and at www.Facebook.com/OldFirehouseBrewery.

For the latest Cincinnati beer news and entertainment, go to wcpo.com/beer or follow Jesse on Twitter at @wcpojesse .

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