Ohio tourists flock each year to Amish country to visit furniture stores, antiques shops, cheesemakers and restaurants.
Soon, they’ll be able to sip a locally made craft beer, too.
Businessman William Baker is launching the Millersburg Brewing Co. in downtown Millersburg in Holmes County.
Baker, who co-owns two Bags Sports Pubs and has a background in the oil and gas industry, hopes the small production brewery will be making beer in February or March.
“We thought our own beer would be a very spicy item for the tourists,” Baker said. “I like microbreweries and micro-beers and I thought let’s make our own and see how we do.”
Amish country — which runs from Wooster to Coshocton and Mansfield to Dover — is a big tourist draw in Ohio, attracting 4 million visitors a year with many of those stopping in Holmes County.
Bonnie Coblentz, marketing coordinator for the Holmes County Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau, said the community hopes the brewery turns into another attraction.
“We’re really looking forward to it,” she said.
Baker hopes it’s more than just tourists craving a sip of Millersburg beer.
The small village, which has a population of 3,065, is surrounded by dry communities, meaning it’s where local folks head if they’ve got a taste for beer, wine or liquor. Those tastes tend to gravitate toward big national brewers like Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors.
Baker knows he’ll have to educate local beer drinkers about the craft industry. Millersburg will make a blonde, wheat, India pale ale and other basic styles, and watch at first “to not get too crazy” and scare away some people, he said.
Millersburg ultimately would like to offer eight to 10 beers. Those brews will be available at Bags and at the brewery tasting room, which will be set up with a 1920s feel. The brewery is located between Bags and another of Baker’s businesses, the Jackson Street Gallery, commonly called Millersburg Furniture.
The 10-barrel brewhouse, purchased from the Mount St. Helena Brewery in California, is in the basement. They had to cut a hole in the building and barely squeezed the equipment through.
Windows will allow visitors to peek down at the brewer at work. It’s a set-up similar to the Barley’s Brewing Co. brewpub on North High Street in Columbus.
The beer will be available at first on draft and in growlers. Baker wants to start offering bottled or canned beer down the road.
Brandon Ney, who co-owns and oversees the brewing at the Quarter Barrel Brewery & Pub in Oxford, Ohio, will do the brewing at Millersburg.
He will commute from Southwest Ohio, living for a few days in an apartment supplied by Baker whenever he’s brewing. (Ney joked that the furniture in the apartment is better than at his home because Baker owns a furniture store.)
“I just love brewing and playing on the tanks,” Ney said.
The brewhouse at Millersburg is much larger than at Quarter Barrel, which has a system that produces about a barrel at a time. Ney said the 10-barrel system will be the largest he’s brewed on.
He admitted he was a bit skeptical when he heard about a brewery opening in Amish country. But that skepticism dissipated as he learned more about the community’s reputation for tourism, and he was impressed with Baker’s interest in making the operation a success.
The craft beer industry likely is reaching a saturation point for regional craft breweries, Ney said. He predicted that more small towns like Millersburg will see breweries open to serve local communities, harkening back to the days before Prohibition when nearly every town had its own brewery.
Breweries can be expensive to launch, but Baker said money isn’t a problem.
“The issue is quality of taste and that’s what I’m after,” he said.
“We want Millersburg to be the target center for something and we think this could be a whole lot of fun for people to come here and visit Amish country, instead of coming to Amish country and visiting us.”