John Najeway is co-owner of Thirsty Dog Brewing Co. in Akron. Thirsty Dog started out as a brewpub chain and later bottled its beer. After the brewpubs disappeared, Najeway continued to have the beer bottled on contract. He opened the Thirsty Dog production brewery in Akron in the former Burkhardt Brewing Co. building. Najeway also for years has headed the Ohio Craft Brewers Association. He hands over the reins to the group this year to Eric Bean at Columbus Brewing Co.
Question: Why did you get into the brewing industry?
Answer: I got into the brewing business because I had been working at a law firm as a comptroller and engineering work with expert witnesses and had a client take me to a beer camp at Oldenberg in Ft. Mitchell, Ky., in 1993 which was still early in the craft movement.
They had about 400 beers to taste at the three-day camp most of which were imports. In 1988, I was a seinor in high school and Great Lakes had just opened in Ohio City. In February that year, we visited the pub for my father's birthday and I thought it was the coolest place as they made the beer right in front of you. In 1996, that same client had become a friend and called saying he was going to open a brewpub, did I want to come work for him and I joined him after the first location on Dressler Road (in Canton) had opened in February 1997. Fifteen years later, three brewpubs, a switch to production brewing, different owners than we started with, we continue to grow.
Q: Thirsty Dog is now available in 14 different states. Are there any differences between beer drinkers in Ohio and beer drinkers in other states?
A: With distribution in many states, our biggest fans are obviously in Ohio and the beer culture in Ohio continues to improve. The biggest fans of local beer are the locals.
Q: With so many breweries planning to open in Ohio this year, what advice can you give future brewery owners?
A: My advice to new breweries opening is: Make sure first and foremost that you are making the best beer you can and are consistent with what you are doing. Do not get into this business thinking you are going to make a fast buck. It is a passion to make great beer and you will enjoy what you are doing. I can't think of a better industry with great people to call your peers.
Q: What's your best-selling beer and why do you think it's so popular?
A: Thirsty Dog's best-selling beer is Old Leghumper Robust Porter. It was also the first we ever bottled. The name and packaging gets everyone's attention with the tagline, "So many legs so little time." You can't help but grab a six-pack to share with friends and then discover it is a great beer not just the gimmick name. It has won two World Beer Cup medals, a bronze in 2000 and gold in 2002.
Q: Which beer -- any beer in the world -- do you wish you created/invented/brewed and why?
A: I wish I had created Guinness as it is so complex with flavors and served all over the world. Although I think it tastes best at St James Gate in Ireland. It has been brewed continuously and consistently for over a century. When served properly, it is perfect and the advertising that has gone with it over the decades is great and enticing as well that it is a lovely day for a Guinness. I have a thoroughbred horse -- actually my wife's horse but I had influence on naming it -- and he is named Guinness and his stallmate is Ashford, which is the name of the castle the Guinness family owned in Ireland that we visited on our honeymoon in Ireland a decade ago. Guinness is an all-around pleasing beer.