Father John’s and the Drunken Monk will be a first for the Ohio brewing industry when it opens in Bryan this year — a jaw-dropping, heavenly first. The brewery is being incorporated into the footprint of a former Methodist church built in the 1890s.
“I think it’s perfect,” owner Dr. John Trippy said during a tour last month. “Praise the Lord and pass the brew.”
A retired maxillofacial surgeon, Trippy is investing more than $2 million to restore the church, which had sat vacant just off the town square for about a decade. He also is adding the brewery, constructing a serene beer garden and building an upscale restaurant in the church basement.
It’s a massive undertaking that seems more likely to be done in a major metro city than in Bryan, a town of about 8,400 people tucked in the northwest corner of Ohio. But Father John’s and the Drunken Monk is also part of a growing trend in the state, where breweries are popping up in smaller communities such as Holgate, Bidwell, Morrow and Granville.
“John was so moved by the church and the grace of the building,” friend and project manager Scott Lirot said about why Trippy bought the church about 10 years ago. “He couldn’t see the building being demolished.”
For years, the red brick church sat. It was only recently that Trippy, a fan of craft beer, thought about launching his own brewery and restaurant.
He wants the site to become a tourist destination, similar to the Church Brew Works, a brewery and restaurant in a former Catholic church in Pittsburgh. Unlike Church Brew Works, though, the actual brewery won’t be inside the sanctuary. It’s in a separate building constructed onto the back of the church.
It also will be a brew-on-premise operation. While Father John’s will make its own beer — 15 to 20 house beers will be available — it also will offer people an opportunity to come in and brew their own on professional equipment.
It’s a business formula that has worked well for The Brew Kettle, a combined brewpub and brew-on-premise business in Strongsville in suburban Cleveland. (The Brew Kettle, founded in 1995, grew so popular it even opened a separate production facility.)
Several Ohio breweries are now trying to replicate The Brew Kettle model, including Bru in Columbus, Little Mountain Brewing in Kirtland and the yet-to-open Eudora Brewing in Dayton.
Trippy, who said he’s always enjoyed craft beer, purchased his six-kettle system from The Brew Kettle. He said the brewery will start by offering draft beer only and then “way down the line” consider bottling.
The church and brewing facility are eye-popping. “You have to do it spectacular,” Trippy said about his investment.
The sanctuary has been restored to its former glory and is available for weddings and other functions. It features a massive working pipe organ, balcony and spectacular leaded stained glass windows. Even the bells in the bell tower peel again.
The beer garden is surrounded by a high stone wall and is complete with paths and peaceful sitting areas. The stone wall also extends across the entrance to the brewery.
On one wall is a tombstone found at the site for a 9-year-old girl who died in 1903. It’s just one of many interesting nuggets discovered at the site. They also found a crypt inside the church basement and opted to put a glass cover over it so people can view the coffin. (The “Crypt Room,” as it’s called, will have seating for the restaurant.)
There’s also a four-bedroom parsonage.
Both the brewery and restaurant will feature plenty of religious icons from all faiths.
“On the top of the mountain, I bet there’s one big guy up there,” Trippy said.
The restaurant is located in the church basement. It will feature an ever-changing, seasonal menu of locally grown food — and plenty of bison. Trippy owns the Wild Winds Buffalo Preserve in Fremont, Ind.
Trippy expects the brewery and restaurant to open within a few months. In the meantime, he’s loving the experience of renovating and building.
“I almost hate to see it open,” he said. “I’m enjoying the dreaming and the construction so much.”
Bryan Mayor Douglas Johnson said he expected some complaints about marrying a former church and brewery, but he hasn’t heard any. Neighbors are happy that the building is being restored. And Trippy has a good reputation in the area, as he once ran a successful downtown smoke-free restaurant, he said.
The mayor added that he’s encouraged that the brewery could become another tourist attraction for the community, which already boasts about the Spangler Candy company, which makes Dum Dums, and the nearby historic Sauder Village. (It also was the original home of Etch A Sketch.)