Fifty West Brewing Company: Take your taste buds on a trip down Fifty West

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This story is part of a special beer month series celebrating the
Queen City's beer heritage and bright future as a booming brewery
town. Check every Tuesday and Thursday for a new profile
of one of the 12 local breweries in the Cincinnati area.

CINCINNATI -- It’s time to take your taste buds on a trip and the
highway to get them there is Fifty West. And as the Mariemont beer
makers might say, it’s about the journey AND the destination.

The brewery and tapas restaurant is the brainchild of brewmaster Blake
Horsburgh, general manager Whit Hesser and distribution/expansion
manager Bobby Slattery.

The journey began in 2008 when his family bought the building that now
houses the brewery. As the family debated what to do with the
property, Slattery was working at Hahana Beach when Hesser came in and
started talking about opening a microbrewery.

Slattery said that while working in the restaurant and bar industry,
he had heard people come in and talk about opening such venues often
so he initially laughed off the idea. It wasn’t until Hesser sat him
down and laid out a business plan that Slattery said he got serious.


“You know what, when you hear about all the people who have been
having success, it’s all about how many tap handles you have. And
everybody wants to hear the word ‘local.’ You want to know that your
ingredients are coming out of garden down the road, that your beer is
being brewed locally. Local is the hot word,” Slattery said.

It’s that attachment to local that really sealed the deal and the pair
spent the next two years fine-tuning a plan. During that time,
Slattery took Hesser and Horsburgh’s beer to local experts to see if
their brew had the mojo needed to sustain the business and the tasters
seemed to be convinced.

Slattery said the name Fifty West came from a chance encounter he had
years earlier when a motorcycle rider came in from the road. The rider
said he was in last place in a cross-country cycle race from
Sacramento to DC and he just wanted a beer. That’s what spurred
Slattery to remember that Highway 50 was a coast-to-coast roadway and
had a rich history in Americana.

“They used to call Route 50 the ‘Main Street of America,’” Slattery

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While restoring the property during the building phase, the trio said
they learned more and more about that history and how the property
tied into it. Slattery said people actually came in and donated items
related to US 50 that will be incorporated the look of the brewpub and
will help tell the story of Fifty West. He said part of the fun has
been talking with people about the trinkets and souvenirs and hearing
everyone’s story about their experiences on US 50.

“We think of this business as one big road trip. So it’s like we’re on
a road trip on 50, so every beer that we brew would be a different
trip on 50,” Slattery said.

The brewpub officially opened for business in November 2012. It’s
currently set to produce about 1,000 barrels per year and they are
waiting on equipment to double that capacity to 2,000 barrels per
year. The brewers said that equipment is being shipped from overseas
and they hope to be brewing on the new system sometime in September.

Slattery said right now they have to be selective on how many bars and
other venues they send their beer too because they have to produce
enough to keep their own taps filled. The expansion will help them get
to a goal of selling the beer to 50 percent of the bars currently
demanding the beer.

“Once we expand, you will start to see us at bars around the city.
Bottling or canning is the next step and requires us to move into a
production-oriented facility.  I don't have a set time frame for when
this will occur but it is definitely on our radar.  When this happens
you'll see us everywhere,” Slattery said. “We've identified a few
potential locations for a production facility, but making quality beer
is the most important thing to us.  The first step is prove to
ourselves we can execute doubling our current production and keeping
the quality where it needs to be.  Once we've done that we'll get real
serious about taking the next step into a large-scale production
facility with bottling and canning capabilities.”

The way the Fifty West team tells it, finding a demand for their beer
won’t be a problem. When they opened, they thought the crowd would
mostly be a mix of locals and craft beer fans. Their customers have
proven to be more than just the stereotypical beer lover.

“I would have never predicted the crowds that come in here. It’s not
just a local crowd or a young crowd or an old crowd. It’s just this
interesting mix of people. It’s experienced craft drinkers and
inexperienced craft drinkers that are just interested in what’s going
on,” Slattery said.

All that success isn’t coming without some growing pains though.
Slattery said there have been weekends where people will have to wait
sometimes three hours to get food and the brewpub is filled to the
brim with customers.


Slattery credits much of that success to the beer and the man behind
the beer: Horsburgh. Fifty West’s brewmaster said he got his start in
brewing while working at restaurant in college.

After graduation, he decided to study brewing at the Siebel Institute
of Technology in Chicago and worked at the Rivertown Brewery in
Lockland before starting Fifty West.

Horsburgh said the vestiges of his philosophy degree can be found in
the virtues he posted as directional markers in the brewery. He said
dedication to tradition, innovation, craftsmanship and patience guide
his beer-making process.

“It’s more like alchemy, it’s like science and art at the same time,”
Hosburgh said.

In addition to an impressive array of beers on tap, Fifty West also
has an ever-expanding barrel-aging program. Hosburgh said they have
some barrels from Buffalo Trace and from some vineyards but they’re
always on the hunt for more. The team said they want to have the
ultimate beer experience and barrel aging is part of that.

The food is another distinct aspect at Fifty West. While many of the
brewers in town have food partners that come in while the tap room is
open, Slattery said they made the choice early on to have a restaurant
on-site as well.

To that end, they hired Chef John Tomain, who aims to be Cincinnati’s
premiere “beer chef.” Slattery said they try to only serve foods that
are in season and that the menu will constantly rotate and to pair the
food with beer that will compliment each other.


The team said they are proud to be part of Cincinnati’s resurgent beer
culture and have enjoyed the relationships all the local brewers have.

“The brewing industry is very unique. It’s more camaraderie than it is
competition,” Horsburgh said. “I’ve always advocated for more
breweries around the city. They would only help share the knowledge,
experience and wealth of information there is not only for each other
but also for their customer base.”

The team said more collaborations, such as they’ve done with MadTree
Brewing, could happen in the future and that all the breweries
routinely share ingredients and knowledge when the need arises.

Horsburgh also has some tips for homebrewers hoping to expand their

“Go to your local brewery and talk to the brewers and learn as much as
you can,” Horsburgh said.

“Just because we’re brewing professionals doesn’t mean we necessarily
have more knowledge than a homebrewer might. It’s all about sharing
knowledge and learning from each other. Besides that, it’s all about
experimentation. … You can make great beer at home and I advocate to
just keep trying things and learn how to tweak your recipes and make
things more specific.”

                   Fifty West grows their own hop vines on the back
patio of the brewhouse.

This story is part of a special beer month series celebrating the
Queen City's beer heritage and bright future as a booming brewery
town. Check every Tuesday and Thursday for a new profile
of one of the 12 local breweries in the Cincinnati area.


Fifty West is located at 7668 Wooster Pike in Cincinnati.

It can be found online at:



Tap room hours:

Wednesday:  4pm - 12am
Thursday:  4pm – 12am
Friday:  4pm – 2am
Saturday:  12pm – 2am
Sunday:  11am – 12am

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