Running a successful bar concept is difficult in any sized city. But “to have a brewery in a town of 15,000 [people] is unheard of,” says Tony Ferch, general manager of The Marietta Brewing Co. in Marietta, Ohio. And to have that brewpub packed on weekend nights and doing a steady business through the week is truly impressive.
Located in the heart of downtown Marietta, a riverboat town on the Ohio-West Virginia border, The Marietta Brewing Co. enjoys a hardcore fan base in the area, and its brews are popular among legal-drinking-age students from Marietta College as well as Ohio University in Athens, just 45 miles down the road.
Being in close proximity to these two colleges attracts a steady stream of new clientele to the brewpub, but the key to its success, Ferch says, is being an active local business that supports the town. “Because we’re in such a small area, we have to be tied to as many different community events as possible because we all rely so much on each other,” he explains. “We need to support the people who are supporting us.”
The local support extends right down to the brewing ingredients: the Coffee Stout uses Athens Own Fair Trade Coffee Beans, while the Organic Golden Ale is made with 100 percent organic grains and fresh hops from Master Brewer Kelly Sauber’s garden in nearby Meigs County. But the real local gem is the best-selling seasonal Pawpaw Wheat, which uses locally harvested pawpaw fruit, a large edible berry with flavors similar to mangos or bananas, depending on the region in which it’s grown. The 6.4 percent ABV beer is smooth with a light hop taste and an underlying tropical flavor of the pawpaw. This is one of the eight beers currently available on tap, but it’s such a hit that it won’t last long — Ferch anticipates the first batch will last just one month. Lucky for pawpaw lovers, this is a special batch of the brew: The pawpaw actually ripens in September, so they’ll have another fresh batch in early fall. To make this out-of-season batch, MBC purchased frozen mashed pawpaws from an area farmer so patrons could get their early summer fix.
Guests inside the exposed-brick, 6,000-square-foot space, which boasts 110 seats, can taste the different brews by enjoying a sampler of six of the eight beers on tap; the sampler includes five MBC originals and one guest tap, all selected by the bartender. The six 3-ounce pours (a steal at $6) arrive at the table on a long, skinny paddle, and servers give descriptions gleaned from Sauber’s brewing lessons as to the flavors of each beer — but not before passing by thirsty patrons eyeing up the tray and dying to get a taste of the English Mild or the London Style Brown Ale. On my visit, after ordering the sampler, no fewer than three other guests in our five-table radius ordered up the flight of delicious brews. How’s that for word-of-mouth (or would that be eye) marketing? Ferch says this drink envy is generally always the case with the sampler flights: “If you can get one or two out on the floor, then everybody kind of looks around and says, ‘What do they have? I want that! Give me one of those!’”
To keep guests entertained in between sips, Marietta Brewing Co. features live music on weekends, mostly area bands with a large following. Sacra Via, a hometown indie/alt rock band, drew a crowd on the evening of my visit, and a younger one at that. But that doesn’t mean the more mature crowds are alienated, which was the case under the previous ownership when a young demographic dominated the bar. Since enforcing tighter restrictions, such as becoming a 21-and-over venue after 10 p.m. on weekends, and refurbishing the venue after new ownership took control in March, the clientele “doesn’t lean to one end or the other too much, so everybody feels comfortable, and ultimately that’s the goal,” Ferch says.
A locally focused brewpub that makes everybody feel welcome — it’s a homegrown approach that’s breathing new life into Marietta Brewing Co. NCB