Wonder why Athens hosts a brew week? It started with a set of problems.
- Thousands of Ohio University students leave town during the summer.
- Bars and restaurants lose those students as customers.
- Businesses need a way to get people uptown.
Local restaurant owner Jon Sparhawk looked to the growing Ohio beer scene for a solution.
“Craft beer is the way to go,” Jon Sparhawk, then owner of The Oak Room, told Dan Gates in April 2005. “Take this idea and run with it.”
Sparhawk tapped his friend Dan Gates to serve as the first director of OBW, back in the summer of 2005. Early participating breweries included Thirsty Dog, Black Box, Great Lakes and The Brew Kettle. Over 70 Ohio craft brews were available at over 36 venues in Athens that first year.
Changes and Growth
Sparhawk passed away suddenly just before the second Ohio Brew Week. His name and influence are memorialized in the “Sparbock” beer, brewed by Jackie O’s annually for Brew Week. Jon was a beloved Athens resident, highly involved and known by brewers all over the state.
Dan Gates followed through on Sparhawk’s vision, working to establish Ohio Brew Week as an Athens institution.
Ohio Brew Week grew with the Ohio beer industry, attracting national attention, notable visitors, and influential speakers. Some past OBW keynote speakers over the years have included:
- Alan Eames, the late “Indiana Jones of Beer”
- Steve Hindy, president of Brooklyn Brewery (and former Athens Messenger paperboy)
- Joe Tucker, executive director of RateBeer.com
- Pat Conway, co-founder of Great Lakes Brewing Company
Marking the “end of an era,” original executive director Dan Gates and his staff stepped down after eight years, with 2013 marking the last year of their involvement.
Weston Lombard took over in 2014 and served as director for two years. The tenth anniversary Brew Week in 2015 saw record crowds and beer sales.
Current director Brandon Thompson took over in 2016, becoming the third director of Brew Week in its (now) 18 year history. Brandon also helps put on the annual Halloween Block Party on Court Street.
The Ohio beer scene grew quite a bit since the first Ohio Brew Week. You can find craft beer in grocery stores and dive bars. Say “craft beer” to someone, and they’ll definitely know what you’re talking about.
It’s the perfect environment for Ohio Brew Week to continue, after 18 years of innovation, to set the bar higher and higher each summer and with seasonal events, including Fall Fest in Athens.
Ohio Brew Week 2023 included:
- 45+ all-Ohio breweries
- 300+ beers
- Hundreds of events
Stay up to date with Ohio Brew Week events; like our page on Facebook, and follow us on Instagram and Twitter. Don’t forget to check back in on the site for event updates and beer info as it becomes available!
We’ll see you in July in Athens, Ohio for Ohio Brew Week!
Check out a 2008 video made in memory of Jon Sparhawk…featuring a very young-looking Brad Clark of Jackie O’s discussing how the “Sparbock” came to be.