There are a lot of spaces that are ideal for hosting a brewery. Opening a brewery in a former church continues to be more common. The space is usually quite large, which is ideal for brewing beer. The group behind Urban Artifact initially planned to open its facility in a former brewery. However, the current space allowed the group to open significantly earlier, which led to the change of plans.
Urban Artifact encompasses many things. It includes a brewery, an event space, a music venue, and a radio station. Bret Kollman Baker and Scotty Hunter, who attended Ohio University together and studied engineering, oversee the brewery. Eventually they met Scott Hand, who handles the music side of the venture, and Dominic Marino, who oversees the bar. All four have connections to Cincinnati, but it took time for them to come together. Eventually in 2014, the group came together.
The quartet intended to open the brewery at the former Jackson Brewery site in Over-the-Rhine, but the site of St. Pius X Catholic Church required less renovation and allowed them to open the brewery sooner. The church building was dedicated as St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in 1879. The church drew its name from the large Irish community it served, but closed after decades of decreasing parishioners in the late 1980s. In 1991, the traditionalist Catholic group the Society of Saint Pius X re-dedicated the facility, but it closed barely a decade later.
The former church houses a taproom and music lounge in the basement with an event space in the former sanctuary. The rectory currently houses Wildfire Pizza Kitchen, which opened in September 2018. The former gymnasium is home to the production brewery.
Story behind the name
Unlike most companies that brew beer Urban Artifact is neither a “brewing company” nor a “brewery.” The name “Urban Artifact” applies to everything on site from the beer to the radio station, so using “brewery” or a similar term was barely considered. The owners brainstormed about what made a good name and how they wanted to connect to the community. Eventually the group settled upon “artifact” and added the adjective “urban” to emphasize the community-gathering importance of its venture.
Visiting the brewery
Urban Artifact is near the heart of the Northside neighborhood. It is two blocks from Ludlow Avenue, which has several restaurants, music lounges, coffee shops, and bars.
The taproom has two entrances. One is near the gravel parking lot behind the former rectory. However, the entrance on Turrill Street is the most accessible entry.
Whether guests enter from the parking lot or street-level, one of the first things people see is a seating area and a cooler full of beer for off-premise consumption. There is also a stack of board games for visitors.
The entrances to the taproom are near the end of the building. So visitors only have one way to turn, which is toward the bar and the music lounge in the distance.
The taproom may seem small, but is quite spacious. The lounge can host 35 to 75 people depending on the setup. The primary event space is the reliquary, which is the former church sanctuary. Seating in the sanctuary ranges from 75 to 250 people with standing room for almost 450 people.
Another entertainment space is the courtyard between the rectory and the church.
Urban Artifact uses the tag line “wild culture,” which is reflected in its beers. The brewery focuses exclusively on tart and wild ales, especially Midwest fruit tart ales. Brewmaster Bret Kollman Baker eschews the label “sour” beers because of the connotation that sour beers make a drinker’s mouth pucker.
Finn and Gadget are the brewery’s two everyday beers. Finn is a Berliner pale ale, which is a twist on the Berliner weisse style, but is hoppier than a typical Berliner weisse. Drinking Gadget is like consuming a sour berry bomb according to the brewery. It is a typical Midwest tart ale and each batch is made with 1,280 pounds of blackberries, 1,280 pounds of raspberries, and 30 grams of vanilla beans.
Perhaps the most important thing to know about Urban Artifact beer is the lack of concern about international bittering units (IBUs). Besides ABV (alcohol-by-volume), IBUs are one of the most common beer measurements people know and understand. Instead of focusing on bitterness, the fermentation process at Urban Artifact focuses on an ideal pH, which is a measure of acidity. When brewing tart ales acidity is important to judging the readiness of a beer.
In September 2018, Wildfire Pizza Kitchen opened on the first floor of the former rectory, which gave the taproom an “on-site” restaurant. The wood-fire pizzeria serves appetizers, salads, calzones, and pizzas (see full menu).
Pizza options range from traditional choices like Dad’s Favorite, which has bacon, pepperoni, and sausage, to wild options like The Orchard, which uses olive oil, gorgonzola, bacon, pears, and apples. Additionally, customers can build their own pizza in either a personal or large size. Calzones can also be customized.
Touring the brewery
The production facility, which is incredibly cramped, is in the former church gymnasium. The brewery operates a 30-barrel brewhouse with multiple 30-barrel fermentation tanks. Space limits the brewery’s ability to use larger fermentation tanks. Despite my brief visit to the production facility, Urban Artifact does not offer scheduled tours.
Getting to the brewery
Urban Artifact is in the heart of Northside. It is about six miles from Fountain Square, which is a 10-minute drive. From Government Square people can take the SORTA/Metro #19 bus, which stops right in front of the brewery. It is a 32-minute bus ride from downtown Cincinnati to the brewery.
Address: 1660 Blue Rock Street, Cincinnati, OH 45223
Hours: Monday to Thursday 4 p.m. to Midnight; Friday to Saturday Noon to 1:30 a.m.; Sunday Noon to Midnight.
Accessibility: There are two entrances to the taproom. The one by the gravel parking lot leads to about nine steps into the church basement. The Turrill Street entrance is the most accessible.