Photo Caption: Assistant Brewmaster Brian Cornelius poses for a portrait at Jackie O's Brewery and Pub on Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2011.
Jackie O's Pub and Brewery received a variance Tuesday night they had been seeking from the Athens Board of Zoning Appeals to locate their brewing facility at the old "cheese barn" building off of Stimson Avenue in Athens.
The zoning board was unanimous in granting the variance to owner Art Oestrike. Athens' only microbrewery was required to seek the variance because city code requires a 100-foot setback from a residential zone for any "bottleworks" facility. The cheese barn building, most recently the home of Athens Glass Service, is located 70 feet from a residential zone.
Oestrike said Tuesday that while bottling might be something the business will look to do several years from now, the location will be used primarily for the brewing process and kegging.
"We are really into our high-end products," Oestrike told the board. "We don't brew lagers or things along those levels. We're looking for a more full-flavored product, and in order to do that you need to be very clean and orderly with everything going on there."
Among longtime residents, the building at 25 Campbell St., off of Stimson Avenue, is sometimes referred to as the "cheese-barn" due to its barn-like appearance and previous housing of a cheese-making operation in the mid '80s.
During the zoning meeting, several members of the board pointed out that the building was constructed with cheese manufacturing in mind, which uses a lot of water and requires good drainage. Both of those things are also important at a brewing facility, making the location a good fit.
Oestrike said that he's been running Jackie O's for six years and would like to expand its production facility. Oestrike also recently purchased a farm south of Athens where various produce is being grown to use in the brewing process as well as at the Jackie O's restaurant.
Considering that the "bottleworks" part of city code is what necessitated the variance, Oestrike said that the business isn't seeking to bottle its craft beers in the near future.
"While bottling is a key element to what we want to do, we wouldn't bottle for probably two years," he said. "That investment in that bottling line is not something we want to do just yet."
As the business looks toward distribution around Ohio, he said, it's more economical to focus initially on kegging the beer instead of bottling it.
"(The location) is ideally situated for transportation purposes," he said. "It's already situated next to commercial enterprises, and we're just asking for that 30 feet."
Considering that the business will not be bottling initially, some board members questioned whether Oestrike would need to come back in the future once a bottling operation gets going. However, the language of the variance that the board unanimously approved did say it was being granted for a "bottleworks" at the location. The fact that the term "bottleworks" is being used and that's the word used to define the restriction in city code suggests that a further variance may not in fact be necessary. Oestrike said he will be in close communication with the appropriate city entities as he moves forward with any plans.
Oestrike said that he intends for his business to continue to be community-oriented.
"Obviously, we'll do everything we can to continue supporting the community that supports us," he said. "When Prohibition happened, we started dropping breweries left and right in the U.S. We were down to 20 in 1980. We know in Athens we need to support our local community. We are very good about supporting local farms, products, restaurants, what-have-you."
He said that this local emphasis has been expanding across the country to include breweries, with more than 100,000 jobs in the U.S. being created by brew-pubs.
While 90 percent of the beer market is still controlled by large companies such as Anheuser-Busch, he said, small breweries are expanding rapidly.
In Ohio, this can most readily be witnessed during Athens' own Ohio Brew Week, which celebrates craft beers throughout the state during a given week every July.
Oestrike cited the tourism advantage of the micro-brewery, saying that his facility has been featured in several publications and that he gets a lot of visitors eager to check out his operation and taste the Jackie O's brand.
Oestrike said that initially there will be three jobs at the facility and two or three more full-time jobs once the bottling aspect comes online. He said eight to 10 jobs could be created in five to 10 years if things continue for the business as they have been.