New brew in town: Party Source expansion taps into region's passion for beer

Make way for even more at the Party Source. A 30,000-square-foot expansion is underway that aims to create a Party Source Campus with an on-site brewery, beer bar, distillery and event center.

Ground has already broken for the $13 million project. The separate, three-story distillery complex sits adjacent to the original main building on the west side of the parking lot. Along with the distillery, the new building includes a 150-person capacity event center with a catering kitchen and rooftop patio. Completion is expected in spring 2014.  

Expansion of the original building, however, is scheduled to finish by the end of the year, and the brewery could begin operation as early as this summer. The building extension connects in front of the beer cave cooler and spans the entire westward wall of the current structure. The expansion is technically in Newport, while Bellevue claims the original building.  

The new space has its own entrance that faces the front parking lot, and is designed to feel less “retail” than the rest of the store. A new, larger cigar shop and a grab-n-go convenience store will greet guests at the new entrance. The brewery, with its adjoining beer bar, occupies the rear space across the wall from the beer cave. There are also plans to include an educational library bar with more than 400 bourbons and ryes.  

“The whole idea is to make a campus of activity,” says Party Source President Ken Lewis. “The future of retailing is experiential. We want to have a one-on-one, or one-on-three dialogue, teaching about American artisanal spirits. It’s a much more sophisticated way of retailing than just who has the cheapest bottle of Jack Daniels.”

In addition to new facilities, space is allotted for each department to grow. For beer department head Danny Gold, that means an opportunity to add 1,000 new beers to the Party Source's current 2,000 bottle stock. The extra space will also allow greater label-facing, which will make for a more organized, navigable department.  

“I was asked to create the best beer department in the world,” Gold says. “Now we can get even rarer, more excellent beers.”

Apart from bringing in the best brews from around the globe, the Party Source has big plans to brew on-site. The small production brewery is outfitted with a 15-barrel system. One barrel is 31 gallons, and with four 15-barrel tanks and one 30-barrel tank, head brewer Mitchell Dougherty is set to produce a lot of Party Source exclusives for the new beer bar. In time, some of his brews may even roll out in small distribution to local bars and restaurants that support the craft industry.

Dougherty learned his craft over the course of his 10-year stint working for Rock Bottom Brewery, six of which were spent as head brewer at the Cincinnati branch. He’ll now be brewing under the moniker Ei8ht Ball Brewing—a play on the image of the I-471 exit for Route 8 in Northern Kentucky, the “eight-ball exit.”

“It was an offer that was just too good to turn down,” Dougherty says. “Free reign to build a brewery and write the recipes. It’s every brewer’s dream, the golden ticket.”

Vendome Copper & Brass Works, the company that is building copper stills for the distillery, is also custom building the brewery and beer bar. “Mitch has it built around his wants and needs, right down to the knobs and vessels,” Gold says.  

Dougherty adds: “Party Source hired me to be the consultant, to help bring their ideas to life. It’s definitely been a team effort.”

The beer bar looks directly into the brewery through a wide picture window. With more than 40 tap handles and a guest capacity of 65, the emphasis of the bar will be sampling beer and buying growlers, which are the half-gallon glass jugs that are especially for filling take-home brews from the tap.

“It’s an education bar, not a hangout place to lean on the counter and watch sports,” Dougherty says. The beer bar will also follow Party Source's hours rather than the traditional bar hours. But that’s not to say it’s an uninviting place—exposed brick, concrete floors pressed and stained to look like wood, and beer menus on faux-blackboard digital screens are all there to give the room a familiar pub feel.  

“It’s meant to be a beer community,” Lewis says. “It will cast a halo over our beer department and the overall experience of the place in general. We don’t want to be snobby, but we’re also not pandering.”

Pints and flights will also be available. Just outside the bar, food trucks will be able to pull up around a patio with picnic tables and chairs. A 60-inch TV will be installed opposite the bar and is wired to facilitate tastings and interviews with brewers around the world via Skype.  

“Say Sam Calagione [of Dogfish Head] didn’t want to leave Delaware; he could promote a new beer with us and do a tasting via computer,” Dougherty says.  

Another unique feature of the bar will be the Pegas CrafTap. The tall machine will sit at the end of the bar and “looks like the flux capacitor,” Dougherty says. It’s a growler-filling device that uses a counter-pressure filling system to remove oxygen from bottles and replace it with carbon dioxide. It’s the same principle that bottling factories use to preserve the life of their beer.

“The idea is to have the city’s best growler program,” Dougherty says. Ordinarily, growlers of beer must be consumed within 24 hours of being filled, otherwise the beer oxidizes and loses much of its flavor. With the Pegas system, growlers filled at the Party Source beer bar will keep in a refrigerator for up to a month.  

“If you’re investing in a special, high alcohol beer, you want it for the right occasion, not to have to force an occasion around the beer," he says.

Beer veterans like Dougherty and Gold know that the new emphasis on growlers is going to mean a lot of extra glass containers knocking around. For this reason, they’ve invested in a $10,000 specialized growler cleaner as part of a recycling program.  

“Growlers are technically worth cash at the Party Source,” Dougherty says. Once a growler is empty, customers can return it to the store for a small reimbursement, whether they’re buying a new growler or not.  

“It’s easy to get a house full of the things, and of course you never have them in the car when you’re in the mood for a refill,” he says.

Along with an immense specialty and craft beer selection, Dougherty intends to occupy as many of the bar’s taps with his own beer as brewery production allows. In addition to rotating seasonal and specialty beers, he plans to keep a lightly dry-hopped golden ale on tap full-time.  

“It’s introductory without being too introductory," he says. "I love session beers—beers that you don’t get tired of the flavor of. I plan on brewing clean, fresh beer with layers of flavor.”

The beauty of craft beer, and of having an on-site brewery, is that the sky’s the limit, Gold says. “If you can create it in your mind, you can brew it. There are no limitations.”

Dougherty agrees. With a brand new brewery built exactly to his specifications, he’s looking forward to making as many different, unique styles of beer as he can.  

“I’m just happy to be a part of what’s going on in Cincinnati. Between all the new breweries, there’s plenty of liquid that needs to go around. But the more the better—we’ll push each other to make a better product.”

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