It seems that every day I hear about a new renovation project down in Over the Rhine or a new brewery popping up somewhere. This new plan is all of that plus a tap room, multiple concert spaces (192-seat live theater space and a 300-person music venue) AND there is enough space for a restaurant.
I had heard about the ambitious project to renovate and rebuild the historic “Metal Blast” building, AKA the old Jackson Brewery, a few weeks back. Then, last week I got an email from Scott Hand, one of the brains behind this new project, to see if I might be interested in learning more and spreading the word. Due to my extreme curiosity I agreed to meet Scott at the building and snap a few photos.
You can immediately tell from looking at the outside of the building that this project is in it’s infancy. The brick building facade is crumbling and needs to be completely re-built. After a few days of torrential rain, the “lobby” had massive puddles and needed some serious clean up. Not to mention the ongoing roof work which has left debris, well, everywhere.
The building sits perched on a hill in OTR in an area the kids are calling “NoLi” (North of Liberty). Scott was busy pitching bits of debris and trash into a giant dumpster when I arrived. He was on a mission to clean up the space for the art show which took place there last weekend. Scott must have seen my concerned face when he mentioned their plans, assuring me that the space would be ready for a night of music, art and fun. Based on the Facebook photo album, it actually looked like a really good time, so bravo Scott.
Scott is overseeing the architectural renovation of the space, and plans on keeping as much of the original style of brickwork and historical accuracy of the structure as possible. He says once the financials are in order, the project can be completed in less than a year.
Of course, the main question on my mind and what brought me to Grayscale is, what is going on with the beer? Who, what, when, how? Scott is being pretty tight lipped about their brewer, who is supposedly a sure bet once the project is in full swing. For now, I was able to find out a few things about the mystery brewer and his grand plans: He, is a long time homebrewer with some commercial experience who lives locally. He is planning for a brewhouse capacity of 15 barrels, with most beer produced for the location and some distributed off site.
When asked about what styles of beer the brewery would produce, Scott says that the brewer plans to create a series of tasty, yet standard (nothing too outside the box) beer offerings in a very traditional way: using the multi-level brew house as a tiered, gravity fed system. The brewer also plans on using the lagering tunnels which were used to ferment the cold temperature loving yeasts of lager beer before prohibition. The tunnels go deep beneath the building and are a stop on the much loved OTR Brewery Tours. The brewer has a real interest in producing authentic ales and lagers, which makes him a great fit for Scott and his business partner, Dominic Marino, who love the traditional use of the space.
As with much of the NoLi neighborhood, the area around Grayscale is in need of some serious TLC. Another just opened brewery, Rhinegeist, has bravely opened on Elm Street, a couple blocks from Findlay Market, a known stop for prostitution. Rhinegeist has responded to this issue with balls – talking to local street walkers about moving their trolling spots, explaining that there is a movement happening in the neighborhood, that things are changing. I had a chance to stop in just after their grand opening and they have done some great things with their space and beer so far – my favorite being the West coast style IPA they call “Truth.”
Grayscale, which is several blocks North of Rhinegeist is perhaps positioned in an even worse area because of its isolation from the rest of the streets. When you turn onto Stonewall from McMicken, passed the old Clyffside Brewery, you are definitely not in Kansas anymore. It’s not something that can’t be overcome, but the neighborhood is rough with a capital R.
I asked Scott about the neighbors reaction to the revitalization of the old building and he said that the neighbors are happy that the building is no longer going to be such a visible blight. Also, since they started work on the space, there have been no issues with trespassers or vagrants hanging around. With the street car planning stops just a few blocks away and other renovations in the area, Grayscale is hoping to be a part of the revitalization of the neighborhood. They even hope to create a pedestrian stair case for easy access from McMicken.
Despite the growing onslaught of craft breweries, Scott doesn’t seem worried about their plans, pointing out that he sees the brewing industry in Cincinnati much like the performing arts, where having many options actually helps to support the industry. I sure hope he is right about that, as at least two or three more breweries are in the planning stages (Ei8ht Ball Brewing and Eden Park pump station’s equally ambitious Brewery X come to mind).
Despite the hurdles, Scott is extremely confident in the completion and success of the project. Maybe it’s just my general sense of optimism, but if the stars align, I agree that this project could be a real win for the city of Cincinnati.
Plus, with that kind of a view, I’m not sure who wouldn’t want to hang out for a beer and a show.
If you want to be a part of Grayscale’s success, consider donating to their crowdsourcing campaign which you can find here. Cheers!