Local brewery survives by joining Northeast Ohio's craft beer craze

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AKRON -- Akron's Thirsty Dog Brewing Company has been around for nearly 20 years, but it only became a full-fledged brewery when its owners witnessed Northeast Ohio's craft beer movement and decided to tap the market.

Now the company is making some of our region's favorite brews and has become a "regular" at many area bars.

"There is that state of mind of buying local... and people appreciate that," says Head of Operations Tim Rastetter, explaining the brand's appeal.

The Thirsty Dog name began in the 1990s as a small chain of brewpubs, until the company closed them to go into distribution.

But in 2007, co-owner John Najeway realized what Ohioans were thirsty for.

"We're all about having choice and regional and local selections," Najeway says.

So the company began making it's own brews, and Thirsty Dog has quickly become a household name.

Passion is certainly part of the recipe for their success.

"Everyone that work here on our core team is here – they're here first to make great beer," Najeway says. "I think that's the first and foremost thing, if you asked any of them – they love to make beer."

And the loyalty of that core team has kept the product consistent.

Rastetter has been with the company since brewing production began.

"In fact, I designed the brewhouse that we have here today," Rastetter proudly says.

The small original brewhouse has morphed into a multi-building brewing facility on Grant Street in Akron.

Along with the space, the staff has grown as well.

"When we started here, there were only four of us downstairs in the brewery," remembers Najeway. "That was in August of 2007. Here in April of 2014, we've got 30+ employees, 20+ full time employees."

Two of those employees are biologists, working in an onsite lab.

"At the start of brewing, our laboratory is set up so that we can propagate all of our yeast strains," Najeway explains. "Once the brewing process is done... the biologist kicks in again, because we start pulling samples from the fermenters."

Najeway continues," When the beer is done and packaged, again the lab grab samples of every batch, and we keep them on hand. We have a sensory evaluation every Friday, where we're tasting the beers, we're tasting it compared to the batch that's coming out this week, compared to the batch that came out last week, and the batch that came out three months ago and six months ago."

Every Friday, Thirsty Dog has a tasting panel, made up of biologists and brewmasters, who make sure all of the beers are spot on.

For the public, the brewery offers their tasting room, with 18 of their beers on draught, as well as tours of the brewery.

Those 18 drafts show how much the company's beer offerings have expanded too.

They started with four original brews - Raspberry Ale, Hoppus Maximus, Old Leghumper and Siberian Night.

Rastetter has worked hard to develop the extensive and much-loved array of beers the company now makes.

"We started brewing additional beers to that line up of four beer that we have, which we are now up to 37 different brews," according to Rastetter. "Most of which were my recipes."

By recognizing trends and switching up their strategy, Thirsty Dog has managed to survive and grow.

In just a few years, the "alpha male" of their beers has become a seasonal favorite.

"12 dogs of Christmas Ale - that's our most popular one," says Rastetter. "When we first started, we made six batches of it the first year. Last year we made, 294 batches of it."

As for their own favorite beers?

"The one I'm going to have," laughs Rastetter.

"The answer is usually the one in my hand," admits Najeway.

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