Bad Tom Smith’s New Brewery And Restaurant Redemption?
Written By: The Gnarly Gnome
Bad Tom Smith is expanding with a new location. They’ve got plans for a massive new space that wraps a full restaurant into a new taproom and all of that into bourbon and tequila tasting experiences that will showcase precisely who the brewery wants to be as they head into the future.
I think all of this expansion needs a little backstory first.
Bad Tom Smith, How’d They Get Here
Few drinkers around Cincinnati seem to know that Bad Tom Smith is one of the older breweries currently operating in Cincinnati. Back in early 2013, when they opened their brewery, things were a little different around town than they might be today.
Just a year previously, Ohio made it so that breweries could open taprooms. It was fresh off the lifting of an 11% abv limit on beer, and the permit to operate a brewery called the A1C license was brand new. Ohio beer, let alone Cincinnati beer, was ready to thrive – and Bad Tom Smith was one of the new wave of breweries to jump in on the game.
They weren’t called Bad Tom Smith at the beginning, though. Double Barrel Brewing Company started brewing beer in January of that year before opening their taproom in March (yes… that’s even before MadTree and Rhinegeist were open, let alone household names). They were the project of a few friends who bonded over beer and thought it might be a fun idea to take their hobby to the next level. The brewery got its first major hiccup in December of 2013 when it received a cease and desist letter from Firestone Walker (who had a beer called Double Barrel) and was forced to rethink its identity.
This forced branding change was what gave us Bad Tom, which quickly became Bad Tom Smith Brewing – Sean Smith (one of the original owners and current head brewer), by happenstance, discovered that his family history could be traced back to Hazard County, Kentucky and a notorious outlaw named “Bad” Tom Smith – Bad Tom’s story which to a lot of people ends in redemption was the perfect story to wrap the brewery around – and they’d found their new name.
New Owners And Big Plans
The story of Bad Tom Smith has had plenty of speed bumps along the way. The brewery struggled with consistency problems brewing on repurposed flavor tanks and a Frankenstein’d system that really wasn’t made for brewing beer. It didn’t help them that the beer scene around them had exploded with places like MadTree, Rhinegeist, Blank Slate, and Ei8ht Ball around them, now open and cranking out incredible stuff.
Business had taken a huge hit, and the brewery was on its last breath when new ownership came in. John and Sheryl Vojtush purchased the majority share of the brewery and immediately got to work revamping the experience in the taproom. It didn’t take long before the entrepreneurial spirit of the new ownership started to take hold, and not only did they decide to get a new, proper brewhouse in place…, but they also thought it would make sense to scale things up a bit, with a bigger brewhouse that could enable them to start thinking about multiple taprooms.
They started out with a new taproom in Cleveland’s Ohio City, while plans for their flagship taproom started coming together back home. They had a vision for Bad Tom Smith taprooms all over, bringing their story into small neighborhood spaces in several different cities over the next few years.
It looked like Bad Tom Smith was lining everything up to take things to a new level.
The Struggle To Find Footing
The new taproom in Cleveland quickly struggled to find its audience in a new city. There were more complaints that the beer quality wasn’t where it was supposed to be, and delays slowed down progress on their new taproom in Madisonville. They were stretched thinner than anyone wants to be, and started to struggle.
While Madisonville finally opened its doors, the Cleveland taproom couldn’t find its footing and was forced to close in 2021. Around this time, the brewery started to explore a spirits line and looked for fun ways to keep modernizing the brand to find solid footing in an ever-changing industry. The ownership group, in the midst of some personal issues, decided that they needed to let go of the brand and get someone involved who was better able to bring it into the next phase of its life.
Fernando Cruz bought the brand in 2022 and, after getting his feet under him, quietly announced late last year that the brewery had BIG plans for the future.
That gets us to where we are today…
Growing Into The Future
Gone are plans (as far as I can tell) for multiple small taprooms around selling Bad Tom Smith beer – now, they have plans for one BIG flagship spot. The details for this new location are still being whispered instead of shouted out loud, but what we currently know is worth talking about.
The plans currently call for a new 10,000-square-foot brewery and restaurant that will showcase Bad Tom Smith with a two-story, open taproom concept that features 20 taps of their own beer alongside a Bourbon and Tequila tasting room. They are saying that this will be a “destination to remember off the Little Miami River,” and from the looks of the renderings and the blueprints… It certainly looks like it’s going to be pretty awesome.
They’re being quiet about where exactly this new space will be located – but it certainly looks like it’s going to shake things up for the brand.
Is It Too Late?
I need to be crystal clear with my desires for Bad Tom Smith to see success. They’ve struggled over the years for many different reasons, and yes, some were brought on by themselves.
I’ve had plenty of discussions over many beers with folks (whose thoughts and opinions I trust and value) who seem to think that the brand itself has outlived its value in Cincinnati, an opinion I don’t share. The fact of the matter is very simple, though – it doesn’t matter what I think. Can Bad Tom Smith overcome a stigma that some folks clearly hold as the truth?
This new move from the brewery will be a massive test, and we’ll certainly see if they can move into a new phase that sees them at the top of discussions about Cincinnati beer or fizzling out with the ever-changing industry around them.
For now – make sure you’re following along with Bad Tom Smith’s social media accounts as they make more announcements – and as always – I’ll do my best to keep you up to date right here on the blog, too.