Blank Slate Brewery: Local brewer crafts beer his own way with delicious results

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CINCINNATI -- You can sum up Blank Slate Brewery in one phrase: One
man army.

Up until recently, owner/brewer Scott LaFollette was running the
entire show just by himself.

That meant he had to operate the brewhouse, transfer the beer to his
four fermenters and keg the beer all by himself, all day, every week.
And that’s when that independent streak goes even deeper.

LaFollette didn’t just start and operate the brewery on his own; it’s
also entirely funded by himself, his wife and a small bank loan. There
are no partners or investors.

While it means many long days and hard nights, LaFollette is free to
make his beer his way and no one can tell him otherwise.

                             Scott LaFollette, owner and operator of
Blank Slate Brewery.
“When you have a huge bank loan or investors, sometimes the business
of keeping them happy becomes more your business than trying to do
what you set out to do. So I’ve tried to do this in a way that I’m
pretty much beholden to no one but myself. The flip side of that is
that if something goes wrong, I’ve got no one but myself to blame,”
LaFollette said.

The brewer has been making beer for almost 15 years now but until
opening his brewery was a homebrewer with big dreams. He got his start
in brewing as a chemistry student in college.

“Even before I got out of college, I had these dreams of doing it for
a living somehow. I even started trying to figure out how I could make
a small business out of my basement to brew beer, but I quickly
figured out that most of my ideas were all illegal. So I decided I
should try and finish my college degree and work for a little while,”
he said.

While working, LaFollette kept learning about beer, the brewing
industry and he perfected his recipes. LaFollette said he finally got
to a place about 10 years into his career that he either needed to
make a go of it or give up on his dream.

“I’m basically starting my life over with a blank slate,” LaFollette
said. “I could sit here and plan forever and still never think that I
was ready. I could be studying and studying because you’re never done
learning but the rest we’re just going to have to learn on the fly.”

It was really Lafollette’s wife that helped spur him to action.

“My wife is a saint. She’s been very, very supportive,” he said. “She
was the one who in the end said, ‘You either need to do this or give
it up because I’m tired of listening to you talk about it for the last
12 years.’ [laughs]”

Lafollette got support for his business plan, then took the leap and
found his current space on the East Side. He had been buying equipment
over the previous decade and was able to rehab his 2,000 square foot
brewery and move the equipment in.

        LaFollette has named his three fermenting tanks Larry, Curley
and Moe after the Three Stooges.  

LaFollette bought his original three fermenting tanks from Mt. Carmel
Brewing to get started and his family and friends helped him get the
space ready for brewing.

He upgraded his brewing capacity in August by purchasing some larger
fermentation tanks from Rivertown Brewery which they had replaced with
larger tanks of their own. LaFollette’s tanks were sold to a small
start-up located between Cincinnati and Columbus.

“It’s sort of a ‘circle of life’ thing, which is pretty neat,”
LaFollette said.

The brewer said it will increase his capacity from 28 barrels to 52
barrels and the switch should be done by the end of September,
allowing him to keep up with demand better.

He said he hopes to expand to the rest of the building eventually,
which would add 3,000 more square feet and the opportunity to add a
tap room and bottling line.

Just like his brewery was a blank slate before he brought life to it,
so goes LaFollette’s process for making beer.

He said he doesn’t brew in traditional styles and is always looking
for new takes on the old classics.

“I like to look at the original styles, and then when I design recipes
I like to start over from scratch with a blank slate,” LaFollette

He said while homebrewing, he spent almost five years learning the
classic styles through and through to figure out exactly how they
worked and then how to use new ingredients and processes to make
exciting new beers.

“We don’t really brew to traditional styles. I like to take existing
styles or maybe lesser-known styles and twist them up a little bit --
do things a little bit different to them. I like to use the analogy,
‘If you like pale ales, I can take you to the store and there will be
10 of them on the shelf so there’s no reason to make No. 11.’ So we
try to do things a little bit different,” LaFollette said.


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