Know your local brewery: Rivertown

I’m beginning what will hopefully be a long series of interviews with local area brewers. My goal is to interview the head brewers/owners at all the local area breweries and provide general information about those breweries. Lots of interviews I see with them are just about specific seasonals or events. In this interview and those that follow I intend to get the basics of what the company is about and where it’s headed. So without further delay here is my interview with  Tom Hull the General Manager for Rivertown.

  • What is local/craft beer to you?
    • If you are employing and creating jobs in your local market then you are a local brewing company.
  • What is your brewing process, from brain storm to bottle shelf?
    • Rivertown is a production brewery where the foremost concern is the quality of the product. Any new recipes are thoroughly tested via many small batches. This locks in the flavor where they want it. If they say they’re brewing a style of beer they make sure it’s going to be a good example of that style of beer. Once they’ve decided it’s a great beer that it will actually sell it goes into production.
  • What’s up next for the horsemen and when we can expect to see it?
    • Famine is next up in the series, conceived by Rivertown co-owner Randy Schiltz. The story of Famine is that he rides a black horse through town with a scale handing out barley and wheat, but not enough of either to prevent starvation, thus famine. The beer will be a Bavarian Hefeweizen with a low alcohol content. [Ed. note don’t worry too much about that “low alcohol” action this is no 3.2 beer or anything like that. According to Tom it’ll come in around 4.2% or 4.5%.] The low alcohol  is in order to achieve their goals of representing famine. To make sure this is sitll a good beer they made it with a fuller body. This was achieved with the right yeast and treating the mash in the right way to control the amount of fermentable sugar [which keeps the alcohol low]. Since Famine’s horse is black they added in a roasted wheat to give it a nice black color. You can expect to see this on draft at the end of next week. The bottles will be in a very limited release.
    • Death is last in line and is being headed up by Jason Roeper. The current plan is a 12% stout with ghost chili peppers. This won’t be showing up anywhere till the beginning of December, to keep it in line with the Mayan apocalypse.
  • You’ve done a great job of differentiating yourself from local and national breweries with unique styles like the lambic. Now you’re introducing the Geuze [pronounced gooze], so tell me a bit about that.
    • This is a blend of 2 vintages of their lambic. They combine a young batch with a 3-year old batch. The 3 year old batch brings in lots of barrel flavor and tartness, the young batch is very mellow. It creates a great flavor by the two extremes coming together versus just having a 2-year old lambic. This won’t be on shelves for at least a month, possibly longer. In 3 weeks time they will start opening a bottle once a week and see how it’s coming along. Once they’re satisfied it will get sent out in a very limited release of only 12 or 13 bottles.
  • How is the tap room going?
    • It’s been going incredibly well with last weekend being one of their busiest. It went from small tours and a few people at the bar. It’s now reached the point of 20 – 30 person tours and a full bar all night long.
  • How is the expansion into Tennessee going and what area is next?
    • It’s been good but weird due to their distribution laws. [Ed. note Tennessee’s law is beer above 5% ABW / 6.3% ABV must be sold in liquor stores.] So distributors have subsidiaries to cover the other half which is what Rivertown’s distributor does. Rivertown’s push right now is for the higher gravity and seasonal beers, so the Pumpkin, Roebling, and Hop Baron. Overall it’s been a good success that’s been going really well.
    • There are no current plans for future expansion. They’ll be making sure that they’re really taking care of the markets Rivertown is already in. Maintaining the right size for the markets their in and creating good connections with the community and the distributors.
  • What do you think is the biggest threat to the craft beer industry?
    • [Ed. note this is Tom’s personal opinion] The strength of the craft beer industry is adaptability and versatility, adapting lots of equipment, finding ways to work, and finding interesting beers to make. This is also the biggest weakness in that there are some areas where craft beer is unwilling to adapt and large scale commercial breweries are adapting. The key to success will be for micro brewers to emphasize what they’re doing and supplementing it with lower cost but still quality local beer. An easy drinking beer with lower alcohol content and at a lower price point that will appeal to the mass market beer drinker. If it’s local and at a near price point they (the mass market drinker) will go for it and later go for other beers put out by that local craft brewery. [Again, this was Tom’s personal opinion and Rivertown currently has no plans for this.]
  • Social Media, you’ve been getting better and more active with it lately which I enjoy and appreciate. Overall how do you think it plays into your game plan?
    • This has recently been taken over by someone else and is currently in a transition period but will be improving in the coming weeks.
  • Are any of your ingredients local?
    • Rivertown tries to go local whenever possible. Hops are difficult to get locally, but day-to-day use materials, the shirts are made in Covington. Cinnamon for the Winter Ale from Findlay Market.
    • As info to our readers while this is an important question to me I didn’t pry too much about it because Josh will be covering it in another post, so look forward for that.
  • You. Desert island. Three beers. What do you choose?
    • Wiedemann special lager
    • Brooklyn Lager
    • Tom’s Wee Heavy port barrel aged scotch ale [As tasted at Jungle Jim’s International Beer fest back in June]
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