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A Brief History of Blimp City Brewing
The Life and Times of Akron’s Only Microbrewery
November 11, 2004
Written by Dogbrick
Blimp City began business in the Akron area in 1998. It was founded by Tim Kuss who ran the company, along with his wife Nancy and brother Mike. Since Akron is known synonymously with Goodyear and the blimp, the name was a natural fit. The labelling ran with the idea, employing a striking syle reminiscent of the 1940’s of a blimp overflying some buildings. Tim and Mark’s love of craft beer began at home. Their father had brewed and bottled his own homemade beer, whose quality was not quite on the same level Blimp City’s would become. "It was gross," according to Tim. "It was dark, and he brewed it in Coke bottles, and sometimes they’d burst. It was like a science experiment."
Luckily for Akron-area beer lovers, Tim and Mark improved on their father’s homebrewing attempts after he had opened their eyes to "beers that were off the wall", to use the brothers’ term. Later, in 1994, Tim’s brother-in-law introduced him to basement brewing. After doing some travelling and being introduced to richer and darker beers, the brothers decided to begin brewing their own beers and eventually entered a local homebrew contest and were heartened by how well they placed. This was the spark that made Tim and Mark realize they could make a living out of doing something they enjoyed. According to Mark, "Tim and I would sit down and we’d go, ’Man, it’d be so cool if we did this on our own’ ". Tim seconded the opinion: "I was questioning where my life’s going, where I’m headed. Somehow, beer became the right answer for me."
Keeping the business family-oriented was important to Tim. "I wanted to do something we could do together. We wanted to create some kind of lasting entity that would even outlast us. We wanted to do something we could put our creative signature on." To make sure things were done right, Tim and Mark visited over 100 brewpubs and microbreweries and attented craft beer-making schools and small business seminars. In doing this homework, the Kuss’ decided to opt for a microbrewery instead of a brewpub because even then the craft beer market in OH was tight.
Blimp City’s line initially included the All American Blonde (aka K-Ship) Kolsch, and the excellent Akron/Macon Ale, which was an Alt. The Akron/Macon Ale was named after the 2 blimps created for the US Navy by Goodyear Zeppelin Co. Eventually Blimp City Black (Schawrzbier) was added to the roster. At first the beers were only available on tap in pubs and restaurants in the Akron area, but bottling began around 2001 and the fledgeling brewery scored a victory by getting their beer stocked at area grocery stores. By then they were producing around 265 barrels per year. Getting the beer onto store shelves was a milestone for the Kuss brothers. "It’s kind of a breakthrough year for us. After a while, you have to start making money, or it becomes a really expensive hobby to keep your friends in beer."
Other one-off beers were made periodically, such as Blue Devil Blonde House Beer that was made to commemmorate the end of Prohibition in Tallmadge, OH in July of 2002 and served at Delanie’s Neighborhood Grille. Blimp City Black was the house beer for the Geisen Haus in Canton. The brewer also participated in industry events such as Cleveland’s Midwest Brew Fest.
Toward the end of 2002 when it was announced that Ohio lawmakers were going to allow higher-ABV beers after 82 years of a 6% limit, Tim Kuss was interviewed by the Akron Beacon Journal and had the following to say:
”It costs a lot of money to brew big beers,’’ said Kuss. ``To give you an idea, when Samuel Adams was brewing its triple bock in Boston, I went there and bought a bottle. An 11-ounce bottle was like $13. Now imagine your average Ohio guy paying $13 for a beer that tastes more like cognac.’’ Obviously at the time Blimp City had no plans to capitalize on the new law, but considering the fact that the end was near it probably would not have made much of a difference. Kuss continued: ``People may think, `Oh, boy! Twelve percent alcohol! I’m going to party.’ But if you taste these beers, they’re literally like liquid bread. They’re substantial, filling beer. It’s not a beer you’re going to pound a bunch of in one night.’’
Would producing a world-class Imperial Stout or Double IPA have prolonged Blimp City’s existence? We will never know, because by early the following year the brewery was gone for good. After opening only 5 years before and having beers featured in the Akron/Canton area on tap and in bottled form in over 40 grocery stores, Blimp City closed forever in March of 2003. The economy and inability to keep up with overhead costs were blamed. Lovers of Blimp City beers scrambled to area stores to buy up the remaining stock, and that was that. Blimp City was Akron’s only microbrewery and is another casualty in the highly competitive craft beer marketplace. The fact that their beers were exceptionally well-made and the business was run well only makes the loss harder to take. One can only hope that the recipes survive somewhere and can be produced again somewhere down the road.
**Sources: (all italicized) The Akron Beacon Journal - January 26, 1999; March 17, 2002; October 19, 2002
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Tim and I would sit down and we’d go, ’Man, it’d be so cool if we did this on our own ’.
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