I won’t spend too much time introducing you to both March First Brewing and Distilling (in Blue Ash) and to FigLeaf Brewing (in Middletown/Monroe) because at this point, I hope that you know who both of these places are. (I mean, if not… just start clicking around here, you’ll get to know them both). We have a lot to unpack, here and I want to paint this picture exactly as I see it – and that’s gonna take a few minutes.

March First just bought FigLeaf.

No, that doesn’t really explain it the right way. They are partnering up? No… that’s not it either. Voltron-ing together? That might be getting a little closer.

Maybe there isn’t an easy to way wrap it up into a headline, so let’s dive in a little deeper and see if we can’t lay this out in a way that helps it all make sense.

Growth And Evolution

Cincinnati is growing and evolving as a beer town – and what that means is still extremely complicated, not to mention a moving target. We’ve already watched breweries expand in very different ways – from multiple locations, to big new taprooms, into new cities or neighborhoods, heck, even to buckling under the pressure of an evolving market and closing their doors. It’s changing extremely fast, and our local breweries are left without a road map of how you‘re supposed to evolve with it.

March First is definitely clearing their own path in this evolution. With a new taproom renovation that just opened up this year, and a second location with more of a focus on their distilling side of the business under construction in Old Milford, things are moving at a rapid and exciting pace for them.

This is a brewery/distillery project that is extremely unique to anything else that we’re seeing in Cincinnati. The March First “umbrella” includes a lot of different brands, and each one of those has it’s own distinct personality. I’m loving that as they grow and expand we’re starting to see each one of those personalities get a chance to shine, and it almost makes expansion seem a little more effortless than it does with other breweries sometimes.

It also makes acquiring a new brand, and a new group of people feel not just completely comfortable, but way more exciting than it can be when we see it happen in other forms in the industry.

Looking A Little Deeper.

It doesn’t come without fears as a craft beer fan, though. I can understand that if you’re a die-hard FigLeaf person, this might sound like something is going to change for your favorite brewery. I won’t go on here and pretend that things won’t change with this, but I 100% believe that you’re going to like the things that do. That goes as much for March First fans too, of course.

The move for March First to buy FigLeaf is a surprise, but when you start to unpack it, It’s also not really that surprising. Starting just with location – FigLeaf is in a brilliant spot… especially if you’re March First who’s juggling an entirely other side of your business (booze) that is growing at an insane pace right now. It’s much easier to look North from Middletown than it is from Blue Ash – let’s put it that way. Getting yourself into a new neighborhood makes a lot more sense when it’s a new neighborhood on the Northern edge of Cincinnati.

And their products? While the beer side of things will look pretty similar to what it already does – other than the fact that you’ll start seeing beers from the FigLeaf brand at March First and the M1 brand at FigLeaf, it enables them one thing that it’s hard to ignore as a beer fan… more freedom. March First will be able to lean on FigLeaf in the spots that they need to. Styles that aren’t common at FigLeaf can be brought in from March First, and styles that March First has been lacking can come on down from FigLeaf to fill the gaps.

Let’s not forget the non-beer side of things on tap, though. FigLeaf and March first have been two of the biggest proponents of the cider game here in Cincinnati, and when they come together, I can only imagine that exciting things will happen in that realm. Blackberry Fizz at Figleaf? When you couple that up with the minds in the production team at March First… things have the potential to get really exciting.

If that’s not enough for you, FigLeaf will be getting into distilling too. You’ll soon see a still moving into their production space means new products, new ideas, new fun for them (and us).

The Brands, The Change

Don’t think that this is just a brewery moving into a new neighborhood and snatching up some new tank space and a taproom, destroying all of the non-tangible stuff that a place like FigLeaf has spent the last few years building. You know at this point that my love for Cincinnati craft beer lies deeper that just what’s in my glass… and if that was the case I would be far from as excited as I am about this.

March First (and FigLeaf) are spending a lot of effort in this change to preserve what makes each of them special to their fans. The FigLeaf brand will remain, the taproom will remain (and actually has improvement plans already being worked out – more in that in just a minute) – In a lot of ways this is more like a partnership between two pieces of the Cincinnati Craft Beer community and less than it is one place “buying another”. It’s a move that really lines both of these breweries up to do something bigger than either one could have done on their own.

The bar staff, the brewing team, they’re all still going to be doing what they do best. When you step into FigLeaf’s taproom all of the things and all of the faces that you know and love will still be there, and the very fact that this was important to both teams should clue you in on how they’re approaching this all.

Let’s talk about that Figleaf taproom, though. While I keep emphasizing that things aren’t changing, that’s not 100% true. The taproom is going through some BIG changes pretty quickly. We’re taking starting on Sunday. 3000 more square feet, a new facade to the building, a new patio with garage doors in the front of the space… it’s gonna be amazing. The old patio is going to become a private event space for you to rent out, enabling a whole new side of spending time at FigLeaf. The bar is getting expanded, a kitchen is being built… seriously – this is gonna get nuts in the best way possible. I mean, they’re expanding production capacity at FigLeaf upwards of 2000bbls a year.

You’re gonna have to be patient through all of this growth, it’s gonna take a little while to get it all done, but my lord… it’s gonna be sweet.

I’m going to be sitting down with the folks from March First and FigLeaf in the near future I’m Cincy Brewcast so we can really dive into all of this, but if you walk away with anything – know that this is a good great thing for both companies… and for Cincinnati beer. Things are about to get really exciting.

What Does It All Mean?

It’s easy to see that things in Cincinnati Beer are not what they were 6 years ago when it started “booming”. It’s better. Quality has improved. Quantity has improved. Our local breweries are more exciting, more innovative, more ready to bring craft beer into the next decade and beyond.

As craft beer grows, it’s nothing short of a thrill to watch how the people that make up this industry grow with it. Looking towards our neighbors, our friends, and leveraging each other’s strengths to improve who we are. Looking towards what might come down the road instead of getting attached to what came before… That is what will make us the beer town that we’ve always been destined to be.

Bring it. Cincinnati is thirsty.

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