Jon Newberry raises a glass of Wiedemann’s Oktoberfest beer to his lips. He takes a mouthful of the reddish-brown liquid and swallows. His hazel eyes close. A smile quickly spreads across his face. It’s a satisfying smile.

He’s satisfied because it’s the beer he created. 

He’s satisfied because the beer has the famous Wiedemann’s name that he resurrected. 

And he’s satisfied because—if you don’t mind him saying so—it’s the best Oktoberfest beer he’s ever tasted.

It’s a momentary satisfaction, though. Soon the trials and tribulations of starting a business from scratch bubble back into the conversation at a booth at Pompilios restaurant in Newport.

It’s been a wild entrepreneurial ride for Jon and his wife, Betsy Newberry. Only three years after tapping the first keg of their new Wiedemann’s beer, in this same restaurant, the business of craft brewing has been turned on its head. And it’s left the Newberrys scratching their own collective head.

The plan when they started brewing Wiedemann’s beer in 2012 was to see how well the product was received and then eventually build a brewery in the city where it was originally brewed—Newport.

Of course there were only a handful of people in the area brewing craft beer in 2012. Now, nearly 20 breweries dot the landscape in the Northern Kentucky/Greater Cincinnati region.

But the big shift for craft breweries were new laws in Ohio and Kentucky that allowed customers to buy and drink beer in a brewery’s taproom. “When Rhinegeist and MadTree opened up they opened up the concept of drinking at the brewery,” says Betsy. “Having a taproom just took off and it really just turned everything completely around.”

That led to a completely new and different business model. Successful craft breweries now have to build the brewery and taproom first to drive sales. “Sales have gone through the roof at places that have their own taproom,” says Betsy. 

Jon agrees. “From a business perspective the taproom sales pay for the brewery,” he says.

So the Newberrys are now focused on finding a location for a brewery and taproom. They have their hearts and sights set on Newport because that’s where George Wiedemann started brewing his Bohemian Special beer in 1870.

The George Wiedemann Brewing Co. became the largest brewery in the state in 1890, with a capacity of more than 100,000 barrels a year. By the turn of the century the brewery was the largest in the Southeast, and by 1967 the brewery was pumping out nearly a million barrels of beer per year. 

Shortly thereafter, however, the brewery was sold to the G. Heileman Brewing Co. of LaCrosse, Wis., and in 1983 the brewery in Newport was closed. The rights to sell beer under the Wiedemann’s brand eventually were acquired by the Pittsburgh Brewing Co., but that company filed for bankruptcy reorganization in 2006.

Soon after that Jon noticed that Wiedemann’s beer was disappearing from store shelves. “I started looking into it and I found out that Pittsburgh Brewing Company had stopped making it months earlier,” says Jon.

Then, in 2011, Jon was conducting a phone interview with an attorney on how to conduct searches for patents and trademarks as part of his job as a business reporter for the Cincinnati Enquirer. When he hung up the phone Jon did a web search for the Wiedemann brand.

He quickly learned that the Pittsburgh Brewing Co. had cancelled its trademark registration for the Wiedemann brand.

Jon says, “So I called this lawyer back up and I said, ‘Hey, they haven’t made this beer in a few years and they cancelled their trademark.’ I said, ‘What would it take to pick that up?’” 

The lawyer told him all he’d have to do would be to put an application in and then get some beer on the market. “So that’s what I did,” says Jon. 

He quickly corrects himself. “Well, I went home and talked to Betsy.”

Betsy, however, doesn’t remember any back-and-forth conversation. “It was just, ‘I’m going to go for this,’” she says. “And I was like, ‘Eh, OK, whatever.’”

Four years later the Newberrys now believe they are close to inking a deal for a place to locate their brewery and taproom. Financing for the $1 million project is also in the works. 

How important is it for the Newberrys to bring the Wiedemann brewery back to Newport? “Wiedemann has always been known as Newport,” says Jon. “It was Newport’s largest employer for decades. You can’t walk down the street without running into people who used to work at Wiedemann.”

Former brewer, beer aficionado and historian Dave Gausepohl, who manages specialty beer in the Kentucky market for Heidelberg Distributing, agrees that bringing Wiedemann and Newport back together is important.

“That would really help the brand immensely,” he says. “They’re back in their hometown kind of stuff and that would truly be a nice little sock in the arm to the brand at that point.”

In the meantime, the majority of Wiedemann’s beer is now brewed at the Stevens Point Brewery in Wisconsin. The brand’s signature Special Lager beer is a Bohemian pilsner, the same style as the original Wiedemann’s. 

It’s the type of beer the Newberrys came to appreciate 24 years while on their honeymoon in Europe. “We ended up going through Prague and I ended up getting a job there,” says Jon. “I fell in love with Bohemian beer, which Wiedemann was always a Bohemian special beer. So that was the start of it all, really.”

If the start of bringing the Wiedemann’s brand of beer back to life is clear, where this craft brewing business venture ends is not. But the Newberrys plan to enjoy the ride.

“It’s funny, I can’t wait to see what it’s like three years from now,” says Jon, as he tilts his glass and savors the last mouthful of his Wiedemann’s beer. “Because I guarantee you it’ll change.”