Ohio Today logo in green

Spring 2024 Edition
Alumni & Friends Magazine

Will Travel for Beer

Ohio’s breweries are OHIO’s breweries.

Jill Moorhead, BSVC ’01 | April 11, 2024


When Ali (Araps) Hovan, BFA ’07, co-founder of HiHO Brewing Co. in Cuyahoga Falls, taught art in Denver, she and her partner dedicated nights, weekends and breaks to exploring Colorado, discovering breweries along the way.

And after Bobby Slattery, BSC ’04, graduated, his promotional marketing job allowed him to visit Michigan’s Bell’s Brewery and others, inspiring him to open Fifty West Brewing Co. in Chillicothe.

“People travel for craft beer. They explore breweries,” says Combustion Brewery & Taproom co-owner Keith Jackson, BS, BSVC ’05. “I figured that if we were [in Pickerington, east of Columbus], maybe we’d be the first stop.”

Travel leads to beer; beer leads to travel. And as Laura Sowers, BSED ’07, recently discovered with the 2023 launch of the Bobcat Brew Trail, many roads lead to OHIO.

Looking for alumni-owned businesses is paramount to Sowers’ work as the senior associate director of alumni relations and campus partnerships with the Ohio University Alumni Association (OUAA). When she learned that many of Ohio’s craft breweries were owned by OHIO alumni, the Trail—a collective of 27 alumni-owned breweries—was born.

Using thru-hiking terminology and iconography, the Trail rewards participants with branded stickers, steins and T-shirts for visiting those breweries. To check in, the hops-seeking trekkers scan a QR code on a “Trail Blaze” sign at a participating brewery. As of December 2023, five months after the Trail launched, more than 500 constituents were taking part. “Our goal was 100,” says Sowers.

A natural progression

Ohio University alumni’s love for craft beer is no surprise. But owning a brewery goes beyond a predilection for IPAs. For many Trail proprietors, an OHIO education made brewing a natural next step in their careers.

Jackson, who founded Combustion with his wife, Sarah (Breedlove) Jackson, BA ’04, leaned on both his cartography and publication design degrees when launching their business. “I used the training I got in [the School of Visual Communication] to provide input on our logo design and graphics for Combustion Brewing. And understanding that language helps with ongoing graphics,” he says.

His cartography education also aided in location selection, considering demographics, average household incomes and physical sense of place to make the call. “At the time, there were 20,000 people in the city of Pickerington. And we’re at the center of that. We had a lot of people within 3 or 4 miles of us, which was important,” Jackson says.

The lessons learned outside the classroom—specifically in Sorority and Fraternity Life—aided Slattery in founding Fifty West. The organizational communications major was the social chair of his fraternity, responsible for organizing people around activities. That easily equates to his role running Fifty West. “I come up with creative brands and beers to attract new clientele,” he says. “[During rush], I was selling my fraternity, and now I’m selling Fifty West. It’s all those things I’ve done in college—it hasn’t changed. It’s just under a different brand.”

Slattery likes that the Trail connects him to fellow alumni. “People see the [Trail Blaze] sign and are proud to tell you that they were part of the same experience you’ve had in your life,” he says.

“I grew up with an interest in craft beer and was in Colorado during Denver’s craft beer boom,” says Hovan, who co-founded HiHO in January 2017. “I was an art teacher by day and a craft beer connoisseur by night.” She credits her education with developing her creative problem-solving skills. “Some of my favorite classes were coming up with new ideas and interpreting things in different ways,” she says, “and that’s kind of what running a business is.”

Hovan values the connections and collaboration the Trail facilitates and feels that many of her fellow Trail proprietors have a similar ethos. “I feel like we’re a part of a community,” she says. “And if I had a question, I could call anyone on that brewery trail, and they’d pick up the phone and give me their honest opinion.”

People see the [Trail Blaze] sign and are proud to tell you that they were part of the same experience you’ve had in your life.

Bobby Slattery, owner of Fifty West Brewing Co.

Collaboration & education

Many of the Trail brewers have called upon a person who could be considered the “OG” of craft brewing in Athens and Ohio at large: Andrew Arthur Oestrike, BSED, BA ’01, MA ’08, better known as Art and the owner of Jackie O’s (formerly O’Hooley’s Irish Pub, Athens’ first craft brewery, which originally opened in the late ’90s). Slattery of Fifty West is one such example; he called Oestrike and Brad Clark, BA ’06, the former head brewer at Jackie O’s, for help with his launch. (Clark moved to Santa Cruz, California, in early 2019 and now runs the club-based Private Press Brewing.)

Oestrike is all in for Trail participation. “Bobcats are all over the state and in every industry,” he says. “It’s wild how many different [OHIO alumni] operate or work in breweries around the state. And anything we can do to tie together Bobcats, we tend to do. It’s a win-win situation.”

Oestrike purchased O’Hooley’s in 2005 and relaunched it as Jackie O’s in honor of his mother, Jackie Oestrike, in 2007. His vast experience and growing brewery footprint make him a natural and prolific source of information about brewing. Today, Oestrike also teaches the Art of Craft Brewing course as part of OHIO’s Craft Brewing Certificate program. (See “From Lab to Lager,” below.) His class teaches students about his business model in a hands-on, place-based learning environment.

With several storefronts in Athens, Oestrike turned to downtown Columbus for his newest venture, which opened last spring. “There are more OHIO alumni living in Greater Columbus than there are humans of drinking age in Athens,” he jokes.

Jackie O’s on Fourth, named for the street where it’s located, is also the fourth location for the brand (Uptown Brewpub and Public House Restaurant on Union Street and Taproom and Brewery on Campbell Street, all in Athens), making it the largest brewery operation on the Trail.

Three others tie for second place: Little Fish Brewing Co. (Athens and Dayton), Combustion (Pickerington and Columbus) and Fifty West (Chillicothe and Cincinnati). But with a supportive network of fellow alumni proprietors on the Bobcat Brew Trail, future brewers completing the Craft Brewing Certificate each year, and a plethora of OHIO alumni connoisseurs across the state and beyond, the sky might just be the limit for craft beer enthusiasts.

Learn more about the Bobcat Brew Trail.



From Lab to Lager

In 2011, Michael Held, BS ’98, PHD ’04, an active homebrewer and associate professor in chemistry and biochemistry at OHIO, wondered how he could bring science to a broader audience. His answer? Beer.

Held developed a set of core brewing courses that are now part of OHIO’s Craft Brewing Certificate, which uses a hybrid lab and lecture curriculum to teach the science behind the suds.

For their capstone project, students design a beer recipe that is analyzed from a technical standpoint. The winning recipe is then small-batch brewed by Jackie O’s for Ohio Brew Week, an annual event in Athens since 2005. The most recent winner, “Honey Sunrise” by chemistry major Dylan Geisen, was selected by Jackie O’s for the official 2023 Keg Tapping Ceremony to kick off the week of celebration for Ohio craft beers.

The College of Arts and Sciences certificate, available at both undergraduate and graduate levels, offers two pathways: the science of brewing and the entrepreneurial aspects of running a brewery. A brewery internship is required for completion. With more than 350 breweries in Ohio, according to the Ohio Craft Brewers Association, that shouldn’t be difficult to find.

Learn more about the Craft Brewing Certificate.