When Dean Ponchak took up home brewing five years ago, he saw it as a retirement hobby. This year, he made it his new business. Old Bridge Brewing Company in McConnelsville is now open to the public after “two long years” of renovations and a whole lot of beer making. On the corner of West Main Street and North 3rd Street, and within clear view of the aforementioned old bridge, Ponchak’s new brewery opened just in time to kick off the summer patio season. The soft opening June 19 went well, according to the owner.

“It’s been pretty good,” Ponchak said the afternoon of the soft opening. “We’ve had a few hiccups, but everybody was prepared to deal with it.”

Old Bridge Brewing Company, located across from its namesake in McConnelsville, OH

Ponchak retired from the Ohio EPA in 2014 and began brewing beer shortly after, while also working at his wife Jennifer’s construction company. After becoming more and more accomplished at brewing, he and Jennifer, along with two sons of theirs, purchased the building on West Main Street: A two-story structure originally built in 1919, with two distinct sections — all of which combined served as a former auto repair shop. Today, one section houses the bar with the brewery and kettles in back, and the other is a carefully designed event venue that can house up to 94 people.

Naturally, the pandemic put a damper on some of the Ponchaks’ plans, but not all of them.

Inside the bar, featuring the former automotive repair shop garage door

“We already have events scheduled for the fall for bridal showers and receptions,” said Mark Ponchak, Dean’s brother, and the brewery’s events and social media manager. “It’s right on this corner, full of windows. You can see the bridge right outside.”

The system was a lot bigger than what I was used to, obviously.

Originally from McConnelsville, Dean grew up on a farm halfway between McConnelsville and Beverly. He purchased his brewery’s systems from a beer maker in Michigan, Fourth Street Brewing. Before taking the leap, he spoke with the brewer who used to be there, Doug Beedy. 

Doug Beedy and Dean Ponchak

“The system was a lot bigger than what I was used to, obviously,” said Ponchak. “Doug said, hey, if you end up buying the system, I’ll come down and help set it up and get started brewing. Doug and I talked while we were renovating the building and then when we got it ready to go he came down and he’s been coming and going for the last few weeks.”

The draft list on the day of the soft opening featured 11 beers, ranging from a red ale and a paw paw saison to a coffee stout and even a hard raspberry seltzer. While the brewery does not yet have a flagship style of beer, they intend to test a wide range to see what the public asks for again. 

Flight of beers featured during the soft opening

Because Old Bridge Brewing has both a 15-barrel system, which can make 465 gallons, but also a much smaller half-barrel system, which makes only 15 gallons, the brewers can try small-batch beers with less risk.

“We did that to try to gauge what people like,” said Ponchak of the two brew systems model. “When we find something that people gotta have, we’ll make that on the big system.”

A lot of people have asked me what I like best and, I’m not kidding, I like them all.

The two brewing systems have allowed the brewery room to experiment. Indirectly, the pandemic gave them the time. “With the virus slow down, we had more time to brew,” said Ponchak. “So we just started brewing some small batches so we’d have them on reserve.”

Just don’t ask him to pick a favorite. “A lot of people have asked me what I like best and, I’m not kidding, I like them all,” said Ponchak. “I really do. I don’t have a favorite.”

Customers sample at the custom-built bar

One special offering Ponchak has that many breweries do not is a non-alcoholic beer.

“I have several friends and family that don’t drink and I want to be able to have something for them when they come and enjoy the space, and relax,” said Ponchak. As a result, the Vienna lager is available on draft as an alcoholic and non-alcoholic version. 

Ponchak, who was greeted by many passers-by on the day of the soft opening, seemed enthusiastic about his family’s new business. “I’m excited,” he said. “It seems like there is a lot of excitement in the community as well.”

Customers enjoying the newly renovated event space

His brother has been impressed with the process through which Dean and his family have achieved their current reality.

“They’ve had this vision and just kept going,” said Mark Ponchak.