Brew coup

Wright State history alumnus Dan Lauro works as the lead brewer at Carillon Brewing Co.

He got in trouble for checking out history books from the sixth-grade section of Farmer Elementary School because he was just a kindergartner.

Dan Lauro was told by school officials that “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo” and “The Flying Tigers” were books about war that were “too much for him” and that he wouldn’t understand.

But he convinced them otherwise. It was an early sign of Lauro’s passion for history that led him to two history degrees at Wright State University. And the Wright State alumnus also found a way to marry his love of history with brewing.

Today, Lauro is lead brewer at the Carillon Brewing Co., a brewery and museum that provides a glimpse into 1850s-era Dayton and is the only U.S. brewery that replicates the historic brewing process. He is also a sought-after expert on the history of beer, recently recognized by the Smithsonian Institution as a field of study.

“It’s not just about beer,” he said. “There is a cultural aspect. There is a social aspect. There is a food aspect. Beer interlaces with religion and art. It tells us something.”

Lauro finds it difficult to put his finger on just why he loves history so much.

“It just fascinates me,” he said, “how the world works, how people used to do things, how things developed, how we got here from there, where are we going?”

Lauro grew up on a farm in northwest Ohio, between Defiance and Bryan. His father had a degree in chemical engineering but worked as a mechanical engineer at a company that made universal joints for large construction vehicles.

“He was a homebrewer in the ’70s when homebrewing first started,” said Lauro. “That’s the reason I’m here right now. My dad taught me how to homebrew when I went to college.”

Lauro’s mother had a nursing degree, ran a hospice and a county health department, and later earned a criminal justice degree, finishing her career as a juvenile probation officer.

Dan Lauro married his love of history with brewing as the lead brewer at the Carillon Brewing Co. (Video by Kris Sproles / photos by Erin Pence)

For the young Lauro, history was king. On family vacations, he would buy history books and stroll through museums. When he was in middle school, his uncle bought him an extensive collection of letters from the Civil War.

Lauro was also “huge” into computers. “I grew up during the age of computers,” he said. “I was building computers when I was in high school versus buying them.”

After graduating from Defiance High School in 1997, Lauro received an associate degree in electrical and computer engineering technology from Sinclair Community College in 2001 and then worked at Sinclair for several years. Lauro returned to Sinclair in 2012 and earned an associate degree in history.

He then transferred to Wright State, where in 2015 he obtained a bachelor’s degree in history with a minor in political science and in 2018 a master’s degree in history, which he earned on a full-ride scholarship. He carried a 4.0 grade point average during his entire time at Wright State.

Laura said Wright State’s Department of History was incredibly supportive.

“I wouldn’t be here doing what I’m doing and I wouldn’t have the academic cred that I have if it weren’t for the people in that department,” he said. “They took a chance on me as a nontraditional student.”

Lauro said the highlight of his time at Wright State was realizing that he was truly good at history.

After graduation, he had his sights set on doing intelligence work, possibly working for the CIA. But government hiring had slowed to a crawl, and Lauro decided to keep his job at Carillon Brewing, which he had started in 2017.

The brewery operates as a nonprofit living history museum and exhibit at Carillon Park in Dayton. The smoky smell of burning walnut and ash hits visitors the moment they walk in the door. A brick furnace rises 14 feet inside the 6,000-square-foot brick-and-timber-framed building comprised of American white oak. A spiderweb of ropes and pulleys creates a block-and-tackle system used to hoist barrels. There is a lot of mashing, roasting and fermenting going on.

Dan Lauro develops recipes for Carillon Brewing’s beers, how long the beer is aged in kegs and when the beer gets served.

“Carillon Brewing Co. is the only brewery in North America that brews like we do, which is a gravity-fed, wood-fired system. It’s all open. It’s all by hand,” said Lauro. “It is designed for the museum experience.”

Lauro develops recipes for the beers, determines what kegs go where, how long the beer is aged in them and when the beer gets served. A recent beer menu featured a porter, a coriander ale, an Irish red and other selections.

“This is as close as you’re going to get to what beer would have been like in Dayton in 1850,” said Lauro. “I’m going back into the history books. I’m looking at what was being done by German and British immigrants that came here to start brewing.”

In September, Carillon Brewery won a gold medal in the U.S. Open Beer Championship for its Ginger Pale Ale and a silver medal for its “Beet” of my Heart. Last year, the brewery won a silver medal in the Ohio Craft Brewers Cup competition for its porter.

Three years ago, Lauro participated in a panel discussion on reviving old recipes and old methods at the first Beer History and Culture Summit in Chicago, convened by the Chicago Field Museum, the Chicago Brewseum and the Smithsonian.

“I’m part of something,” he said. “I’m on the ground floor. I have a contribution to make.”

Lauro said he is lucky to have one foot in the craft beer world and the other in the history and education world.

“I finally hit that job that I want,” he said. “I’ve landed in a place where I’m doing the thing I enjoy as a hobby and I get to use my history degree.”

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