It’s official. The news is hitting everyone very differently, but as Rivertown permanently closes its doors I definitely want to spend a little time breaking it all down. There are people out there who are sad, devastated, even. There are also folks who feel a sense of relief, maybe even satisfaction that justice is finally served to a place that might have done them wrong.

I definitely have some mixed emotions about the whole thing, and I thought it might be best to start getting some of my thoughts down in writing – if not just to help me work through it all, to also help you get a vision of why I feel the way that I do.

Before we really dive into my emotions on the closing, I want to talk about the past. This, to me… is where we can all agree.

Given the Economic climate (Pandemic, Staffing issues, and daily rising food costs) we had to make the unfortunate decision to close our doors permanantly. We appreciate all of your patronage through the years.

The sign on Rivertown’s door this week.

2009, Rivertown Is Born

Things looked incredibly different in town back in 2009. If you were a fan of local breweries, there weren’t a lot of options around here to satisfy you. We had breweries, sure. Mt. Carmel had been around for a few years already cranking out beer in growlers and were just adding their bottling line. Great Crescent over in Aurora had just started brewing the year before, as had Listermann (though… neither of them looked anything like they do today).

Then there was Barrelhouse. You could still get their beer around, though it was a shell of what it used to be. Rock Bottom, Hofbrauhaus… I’m not sure they fall into this discussion too much, even though as a craft beer drinker they were welcome additions to the city. The point here is that well-crafted local beer was not what we’ve now come to love and expect here in Cincinnati. Cincinnati’s craft beer scene was a baby.

Then Rivertown was born.

Actually, to really talk about the birth of Rivertown we have to go back a little more when Randy Schiltz and Jason Roeper met. Jason was fresh off a win from Sam Adams’ Longshot competition for his Lambic – a beer that impressed Jim Koch, even if it wasn’t able to be reproduced by Sam Adams in commercial form.

Both Randy and Jason had the nagging idea that they might be able to open craft breweries in Cincinnati. There wasn’t much of a path laid out to make that happen, though. And banks certainly didn’t understand the business in the way that they do, now.

Randy And Jason came together through a homebrew club and started throwing the idea around that maybe they could start a craft brewery together. While the path still wasn’t easy, it made it a little more possible.

And thus… in late 2009, Rivertown was born. The duo moved into a space in Lockland, in an industrial park. They started their production brewery, cranking out Helles lager, Dunkel lager, Hop Bomber, and Hefeweizen. It was local, it was fresh, it was amazing.

Growth Is The Way

Things started taking off in real ways, quickly. Rivertown was the first local brewery to have six-packs of beer on grocery store shelves since Hudepohl-Schoenling did it. They were opening a new door to what Cincinnati beer could mean.

Rivertown rolled out bottles of a Lambic style beer that to this day, still remains one of my favorite beers I’ve ever tasted… starting a mixed fermentation program in Cincinnati that was almost a decade ahead of anyone else doing so.

They focused hard, and they kept growing.

The brewery itself, the physical space, started growing. The brewery started taking over the industrial units around them to allow space for the brewery to keep expanding. In 2011 they made 3000 barrels, a number that still outpasses most of the breweries in Cincinnati today.

Then… 2012 hits. Taprooms become legal in production breweries (you didn’t have to have food) and things really started to get exciting. Rivertown’s taproom opened on 4/29/12, and while it wasn’t the prettiest (compared to our standards today) it was certainly special.

The space was hand-built by the owners, and it quickly became a hub for beer fans. This makeshift taproom became a place for people to hang out, talk beer, learn, expand their palates… it became a place for people, us, to meet friends.

The taproom did something else, too… it fueled even more growth. The brand started brewing 6000bbls per year in 2013 – they added new 30bbl fermenters, and then in 2014 they hit the big 10,000bbl number (and added their first 60bbl fermenter). They were contract brewing for Kroger and other companies. You could buy Rivertown beer in (I think) around 7 states (and even into the US Virgin Islands). They were absolutely cranking.

If they wanted to keep things up the way they were, they’d need to keep growing – they’d need to spend a ton of money to keep up the pace.

The Split, and the Move.

Amongst the growth and a big decision to either invest heavily in their current location or possibly move to a new spot, the ownership team started to have different visions. To make a very long story short, in 2014 they came to an agreement that saw Jason buying out Randy from his part of the business. (Randy, went on to found Wooden Cask Brewing, located in Newport)

Thus… Rivertown started in a new direction, one heavily focused on sour beer and unique styles. It also was announced in 2015 that they’d be opening up a new location in Monroe, Ohio. This new location would be massive – a huge production brewery that could crank out all the beer that they were struggling with in Lockland with ease.

The expansion took two years to come to life, but in 2017 they moved the brewing operations to Monroe, announcing that Lockland would be remodeled and opened back up as a taproom (spoiler alert… it never did).

Monroe Brings Changes

Around the same time that Rivertown was moving to Monroe, they also “stopped” contracting for the large brands that had been filling a lot of tanks. I anticipate that this huge hit to their production was the first of many issues that started to weaken what had been built for the last 8 years.

We also started to get a peek into some of the disfunction of Rivertown around that time. Employees, former and current were getting vocal about some of the problems with the company (and its ownership). Employees were claiming mismanagement, neglect, cutting corners, and some real problems that certainly didn’t help the impression of folks looking at the brewery.

People got paid late, others didn’t get paid at all. Vendors, Suppliers, and employees alike were starting to bear the problems of the business. It got messy at times.

Problems Get Loud

It started to really get hard for fans of Rivertown to ignore. Starting in 2016, the brewery started to be the focus of several lawsuits, with Rivertown often filing counterclaims in each case. Their problems started to become very public, and the public perception of the brewery started to shift.

In 2019 the Business Courier was very vocal about the state of things – writing an article that started to get even more folks questioning if the brewery might be in trouble. Around the same time, they laid off their entire staff and ran into some trouble with paying their city taxes to Monroe. Things were not looking great. The brewery explained it off as them running into some “imbalance in overhead during a quiet time in production” as they were waiting on a new canning line to be delivered.

They laid off nearly every single employee.

The brewery fought hard to change things around. They got the rights to be able to self-distribute their own beer back from their distributor. New suppliers took the roles of the ones that they were “having issues with”. They even finally got their own canning line installed in the brewery to make the jump away from bottles.

They fought, over and over to keep the ship righted as the world around them seemed to be burning.

My Thoughts

I’m not going to defend some of the stuff that happened around Rivertown. There were problems from early on, and these problems piled up until they couldn’t be managed anymore. But that’s not why Rivertown failed.

The reason that this all failed, in my humble opinion, was an absolute fundamental misunderstanding of what people wanted from them. We didn’t care that there wasn’t air conditioning in Lockland, or that the bar was a little wonky. That wasn’t what we fell in love with. When the move to Monroe happened, it never brought with it the experience that we needed – even though it could have.

The brand alone couldn’t keep people engaged in an ever-growing, ever-evolving craft beer marketplace. There were a lot of us out here that wanted to support Rivertown as they grew and evolved. We wanted to, but just after a certain point couldn’t. It was almost like Rivertown was actively fighting their past.

It hurts the soul a little bit when you lose a place like Rivertown that had such an important role in the growth of Cincinnati beer. In 2010 they were making a “Lambic” beer that was unlike anything else I had tried before… and that didn’t make sense to exist in Cincinnati, Ohio. They were ahead of the curve, and I’m sad that they couldn’t stay there.

I hold some of the memories around Rivertown closely as some of my fondest beer memories. There are incredible people that I have met in that taproom. I had beers that challenged my palate, started conversations, and provided the backdrop to experiences that can’t be replicated.

What Happens Now?

I don’t know all of the details behind Rivertown’s closing. I know that the building was for sale for a long time, but I’m not sure if there is a chance that the brand will be revived by someone.

What I will say for certain is this – if Rivertown ever wants to live on somehow, it has to get back to its roots, or else it becomes a joke.

As for the space itself? There is no word, yet on what’s going to happen (if anything is happening at all right now). I’m not certain if the building has sold – or if it has, who bought it. There is a high likelihood that you’ll never see beer being made in there again.

So… for now, I choose to remember Rivertown for what it was. The great parts of what they added to this beer scene, the memories that they facilitated. The incredible friends I’ve made through their taproom. Rivertown might be closed, but they certainly aren’t forgotten.

22 thoughts on “Rivertown Permanently Closes…”

  1. Man I’m glad I didn’t have to write this one. Wouldn’t have done it better, though. You ought to get an award from Amnesty International for clearing all those minefields.

    We need to get a beer somewhere sometime.

  2. It’s too bad the differences between the two original owners couldn’t be resolved. If they had, maybe Rivertown could have survived. Sometimes trying to get too big too fast isn’t a good idea. But Rivertown will always have a place in Greater Cincinnati beer history as a forerunner in many ways. And we still have Wooden Cask, IMO one of the better breweries in the area, started by the original owner that left.

  3. I helped open Monroe. I worked in the area and wanted something to do in my off time. Jason ended up asking me to help do things that he should have contracted out. Lets put it this way. The electrical in the patio area is not to code. Not even close. Interior fixtures installed in the weather. He cut corners and didnt care at all about the resturant attached to monroe. He was rude and didnt pay me my last paycheck. Good Riddance

    1. I wish this was the first story I heard like this, and that I was shocked to hear it. It does make me sad, though.

    2. I can vouch for this. I worked in Lockland and Monroe. He had me and another guy hanging the splatter guards behind the brew deck, then got pissed when it wasn’t right. Offered nothing to me when I cut my finger wide open helping to hang said boards; only a dirt rag to stop the blood spewing out of my fingertip. He had a couple of us running and finishing wiring. Offered ZERO guidance on what was happening and when during the move and would be fuming when we didn’t know tank X was being picked up on such and such date and it was nowhere near ready to go; in fact often still contained liquid. The reason RTB failed was Jason Roeper. Period.

      1. I’ve heard plenty of stories just like yours. I hope you’re still in the industry, and I hope at a better place.

  4. Former employee that helped open Monroe. Back in 2017 when the brewing staff no longer existed, it wasn’t because of them laying anyone off. The head brewer, assistants, cellar guys and warehouse lead all walked out due to dirty deeds wanted by Jason. We came together and wouldn’t do it. He suffered from his own actions. I’m surprised they lasted this long. I feel for the employees who didn’t know his dirty ways.

  5. Then there was the time that the entire brewery staff walked out. We all went in on a Monday morning and turned in our keys after a weekend spend discussing it with each other. A particularly crooked dealing has occurred the week prior and we all agreed to stay in our industry with no stains on ourselves, we must all walk away from Jason.

  6. Rivertown will always have a special place in my heart for a beer called “Death” I loved the hell out of that, and am sad I will never have the chance to have another.

    Time to look for more hot pepper stouts.

  7. Good memories of the Lockland location. My wife and I would spend many weekends there enjoying great beer, meeting with friends and eating dinner from whatever food truck was there. Sunday brunch was also a treat. We never made it out to the Monroe location and evidently we weren’t missing much. Sad to see the path it went, but glad to have the memories of it’s early days.

  8. I live right down the street from the Monroe location. Met with some former co-workers there a few times. It really ticks you off when you think about what might have been because it had the potential to be a go-to place. I really hate to see things like this fail, yet I’m almost never surprised when they do.

  9. He.closed the doors via a text message to his GM and AGM while he was on vacation. No notice in advance. Left 22.employees with no jobs and frankly no F’s given. Left staff with no means to continue supporting there families. Sad an owner gave no shit about his employees. He was only concerned about what the public would think!!!!

    1. There were some people over the years that really, really gave a lot of their heart and soul into making it what it was.

  10. SmokedPorterGal

    Did anyone ever try their “Soulless” brew? I bought a 6-pack in 2019 from a beer store in Largo, Florida. The label was so provocative that I just couldn’t pass it up (in fact I saved the seductive narrative from the carton and still have it). But, the guy at the counter actually asked me if I was “sure” I wanted to buy it, which was the strangest question I’ve ever been asked when I was about to purchase something. Let’s just say that I should have been more inquisitive. It was only the second time I’ve ever ended up taking a sip and then pouring the rest of a 6-pack down the drain. I have to admit that I had never tried a Flanders red ale before so maybe it just isn’t my thing or maybe it was a bad batch, but I found it undrinkable. Still, I was intrigued enough that after all this time it brought me to this page. It’s sad to read about a small business failing, especially when it had so many loyal followers and started out with such potential. Sounds like maybe the owner was indeed soulless and didn’t deserve you all.

    1. Oh boy… I enjoyed that beer, actually – but that’s not a defense of a lot of aspects of that brewery or it’s ownership. They had a “storied” history. It’s a shame how things ended, but no one will ever take away my memories.

  11. Tthis is very sad. I was a fairly regular customer at Lockland and absolutely loved their blueberry beer. I was always a fan of Rivertown and always thought Jason was a nice guy. Very sad to hear about the failure. I think Rivertown definitely had a lot of potential and some great beers. Just overall, a heartbreaking story…..

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