One thing we've learned as we have visited more and breweries across this region and around the country is that you can set one up in just about any style of building, Some buildings are truly modern affairs (two that come to mind for us is Odell's in Fort Collins, CO, and Firestone Walker in Buellton, CA), while others lie at the opposite end of the spectrum (the small business park spaces of Columbus-area locals Sideswipe Brewing and Zaftig Brewing, though for the latter that is soon to change with a soon-to-be-completed expansion.) But no matter the building, great tasting beer is where you can find it.
A subset of the breweries we have visited are places that may give people pause to those who aware of their history, especially if they have a tendency toward the supernatural. As we learned on Columbus Brew Adventures' annual Haunted Brew Tour, the underground section of downtown's Barley's Brewing once held a graveyard. Unfortunately, the relocation of said graveyard succeeded in moving all the gravestones but not so much those buried along with them.
On another trip into Michigan, we found out that the building that houses Grand Rapids, MI, Brewery Vivant was the chapel for a former funeral home. And in a similar vein, our recent trip up to visit Mansfield, Ohio (most famously known for The Ohio State Reformatory, the filming location that continually draws fans of the film The Shawshank Redemption to this day) found us at The Phoenix Brewing Company, which resides in the former home of the Charles Schroer Mortuary. Even more creep-inducing, Schroer committed suicide on the first floor chapel level back in 1932.
The visitor to Phoenix Brewing, which opened on the outskirts of Mansfield's downtown area in 2014, will currently find a neatly attired and restored taproom space (recycling of existing materials was a primary goal) where the chapel once resided. In some ways, it reminded me of a miniature version of JAFB Wooster's brewery space, located some 30 miles off to the east. This smaller space is a welcoming one, providing an atmosphere that seemed to be conducive to hanging out for a couple hours. Indeed, the space has become a local gathering spot, with an outdoor patio available during the warmer months, and regularly scheduled events ranging from weekend TV sports broadcasts, firkin tappings, and live comedy and music shows.
Phoenix doesn't quite go over-the-top with the mortuary theme, but leaves plenty of hints about the building's former history scattered throughout. As you come through the front door, a seated skeleton "guards" the upstairs area of this multi-story building. Next, the visitor can soak in the novelty of casket-shaped tap handles and flight paddles up at the bar area. Beer names such as the Ferryman (an oatmeal stout that ranked as a favorite for both of us along with their basic 5 Guinea ESB), the Santa Muerte (an imperial milk stout with nice chocolate and spice notes) and the Embalming Fluid DIPA playfully riff on this theme, while the Phoenix name itself is firmly rooted in Greek myth. This legendary avian creature cycles back to life, rising from the ashes of its predecessor.
In addition to their Phoenix's brews, outside taps from mainly Ohio-based breweries (beer from Columbus' Actual Brewing, Athens' Jackie O's, and Cincinnati's Rivertown was available, as well as cider from Lakewood-based Griffin Ciderworks) as well as a small selection of wines from area winery Cypress Hill, beer-based cocktails, and an intriguing-looking sangria. On the food side of things, the brewery has paired with Mansfield eateries Doc's Deli, Two Cousins Pizza and Blackbird Bakery for some in-house eats; additional restaurants that will deliver to the taproom are also listed on the menu.
While head brewer Duncan Macfarlane wasn't there during our visit, his understudy Ian was there to provide some engaging banter as well as some Midwest friendliness when he offered to take us for a tour of the brewery's downstairs facilities. This space was a real fascinating blend of modern brewing equipment laced with hints of the mechanics behind the more sordid portion of the mortuary business (embalming prep area, the casket elevator, and so forth.)
Ian mentioned that business has gone very well for the brewery, and that bigger things are on the way, with a tripling in production capacity to a 15-barrel system as well as bottle releases. Their first such event is scheduled for later this month on March 26th with release of the previously mentioned Santa Muerte Imperial Milk Stout in 22-oz. bottles.
The Phoenix Brewing Company is a worthy stopover if you happen to be in the Mansfield Ohio area, with a fairly solid collection of brews and a building steeped with a rather unique past.
The Phoenix Brewing Company
131 North Diamond St.
Mansfield, OH 44902