Is Humor the Secret to Rhinegeist’s Success?

The Goulding family has used humor to build relationships and success across three generations. Is that sense of fun Rhinegeist’s secret sauce?

Illustration by Ryan Snook

Bryant Goulding often wraps up sales meetings at Rhinegeist, the craft brewery he co-founded, urging all 70 or so sales staffers to form a circle. He leads them in a “Rhinegeist! Rhinegeist!” chant, over and over, until the tap room echoes.

Matt Steinke, vice president of sales, says he knew right away the co-owner was a little different. On one of his first days at Rhinegeist in 2015, Steinke was watching a commercial shoot featuring people in costumes in various locations around the brewery. “Bryant wandered in wearing a horse mask and a business suit, and before long he was dancing by himself at the edge of the room,” says Steinke. “Everyone knew who it was, but he didn’t care. He’s a fun-loving guy. Sometimes he shows up for parties wearing cut-offs and a fake mustache.”

Dana Cummin, Rhinegeist’s first sales rep, says she and Goulding teamed up in the company’s early staff mop-bucket races. She was in the bucket, and he pushed her across the tap room’s vast expanse. She also recalls attending a beer festival with him in those early years before the brand was well known. Goulding is 6-foot-5, she’s 5-foot-1, and he put her on his shoulders and walked around the exhibition hall. People noticed.

Goulding and his father, Tom—who serves as a Rhinegeist tour guide now that he’s retired—are known to dress up in bright red after Reds games and dance in the tap room. Tom is nearly as tall as Bryant, and Cummin says they resemble those attention-getting inflatable waving tube guys outside car dealerships.

Speaking at Rhinegeist’s massive headquarters in Over-the-Rhine, and temporarily not dancing, Bryant says he grew up in a family dedicated to making people’s lives better and who used humor to break down barriers and create strong relationships. After searching for his own path to help others, he ended up in Cincinnati in 2012 to launch a new company.

“Rhinegeist is a serious business,” Goulding says, “but the business is beer. If you’re drinking beer and being serious, you’re doing it wrong. Our whole premise, our whole culture around what we do, is to create a platform to drink beer together, lower your inhibitions, and relax. Beer is an accelerant for bonding.”

The successful growth of Rhinegeist—now the second largest craft brewery in Ohio—helped bond Goulding to his new hometown, and that bond induced his parents to relocate here as well. They’d retired on the East Coast but decided to move to Cincinnati in 2016 to be closer to their son. Tom volunteered to lead group tours at Rhinegeist and is now a walking comedy act. “Meeting him the first time,” Bryant says, “you might think he’s kind of serious, but as he gets comfortable he opens up. He can be the life of the party, really hilarious. He’s really worked hard to get to know beer and our history. He can talk to sophisticated beer nerds or to bachelorette parties.”

The Gouldings are natural storytellers and humorists who have a way of disarming and entertaining everyone around them. It’s not difficult to understand why. Tom’s father was Ray Goulding, half of the famous comedy duo Bob & Ray—national radio and television regulars from the 1950s through the ’80s.

Perhaps a humor gene was passed from father to son to grandson. Maybe it’s just a family that loves to laugh. “Hilarity was our currency,” says Bryant.

Ray Goulding was born in 1922 in Lowell, Massachusetts, the fourth of five kids in Thomas Goulding’s Irish-Catholic family. He showed an early interest in humor: As a teenager, he rigged a microphone to a radio so he could speak through it. In a stern tone conjuring the voice of God he announced, “Will Uncle Walter please go home?” His uncle bolted for the door immediately. Ray’s gag blew out the radio (one of the first in their neighborhood) and caught his father’s wrath. But he knew how to make people laugh.

Straight out of high school, Ray got a gig as a $15-a-week announcer at hometown radio station WLLH, following in the footsteps of his older brother, Phil, a radio announcer in Boston. At first Ray called himself “Dennis Howard” so he wouldn’t be confused with Phil, but before long he landed at another Boston station and started using his own name.

He was drafted into the Army in 1942, served until 1946, and returned to Boston for a job with radio station WHDH. He worked as a newscaster on the morning program Sunny Side Up, which was hosted by disc jockey Bob Elliott, another former GI. Neither of them went to college, but they were smart and quick-witted.

Goulding and Elliott began to banter on the air and quickly recognized that their senses of humor converged. Eventually a 15-minute segment of their efforts was picked up by the National Biscuit Company. Before long they were doing a 20-minute pregame show before WHDH aired Red Sox games; they created parodies using funny voices, odd dialects, and intentionally amateurish sound effects.

Ray Goulding (left) and Bob Elliott perform at Carnegie Hall.

The duo excelled at poking fun at the medium of radio, crafting mock commercials for make-believe sponsors, or pushing mundane topics to ridiculous extremes. Their comedy wasn’t based on jokes but on characters, most of whom were boneheaded and/or bloated. Goulding, whose natural baritone voice was quite elastic, created falsettos and gruff blowhards—from the daffy cooking expert Mary McGoon, who delivered recipes for such delicacies as “imitation grape drink” and “fried rice popsicles,” to sportscaster Steve Bosco, who signed off with, “This is Steve Bosco, rounding third and being thrown out at home,” a parody of Cincinnati Reds announcer Joe Nuxhall’s signature phrase. Elliott specialized in adenoidal milquetoasts and silly pseudo-experts as well as the blundering reporter Wally Ballou, who interviewed a vast array of Goulding’s characters.

They soon hosted a weekday half-hour radio program, Matinee with Bob & Ray, which they largely ad-libbed their way through. Full-page newspaper ads in Boston urged listeners to tune in for a “date with daffiness.”

As their fame spread along the East Coast, Bob & Ray were picked up by NBC radio in New York City in 1951. Their deadpan, irreverent satire was quickly noticed, and they won a Peabody Award for entertainment in radio in their first year on the network. After adding a TV series featuring actresses Audrey Meadows and Cloris Leachman, they won another Peabody Award for broadcast excellence. These were the years when they developed their famous nonsensical signoffs: “This is Bob Elliott, reminding you to hang by your thumbs” and “This is Ray Goulding, reminding you to write if you get work.”

Tom was the second of Ray’s six kids, and he jokes that his birth in 1949 was perhaps the catalyst for Bob & Ray’s quick elevation to broadcast stardom. Once the duo landed in New York City, Ray moved his family to Manhasset on Long Island. Elliott, meanwhile, became completely comfortable living in New York City.

Nine-year-old Tom traveled with his parents to Hawaii, where Bob & Ray were performing. After a bout with the mumps, he came down with viral encephalitis and ended up in the hospital on an IV. That’s where he saw a commercial for Andersen’s Pea Soup featuring Bob & Ray, which he’d never seen in New York. He remembers saying, “Hey, wait a minute! That’s my dad!” A nearby nurse said, “Yeah, sure, kid.”

In the late 1950s Bob & Ray voiced animated TV commercials for Piels Brothers Beer, a regional brewery based in Brooklyn and Staten Island. It was an innovative campaign, veering wildly from the day’s traditional straightforward TV pitches. Elliott played mild-mannered Harry, while Goulding was Bert, a loudmouth who repeatedly extolled the beer that “always aims for dryness,” showing a target whose bull’s-eyes were riddled with gunshots or arrows. The ads became enormously popular, a real milestone in the duo’s career while Tom was growing up, and their air times were listed in New York newspapers.

Tom says he and his siblings were aware of their father’s broadcasting success and became class cut-ups at school. Tom went to a military high school in New York City in the mid-1960s, and he and his friends would occasionally drop by the WOR radio studios on 44th Street after school to watch Bob & Ray tapings. Ray would sometimes use one of those friends’ names in a routine as a fanciful character, and the rest of the group provided an impromptu laugh track.


“You just liked being in his circle,” says Tom, who deeply admired his father. “There was good energy. It was fun being around him. He had that Irish blarney and could tell a story.”

As an adult, Tom took on the role of the family’s “funny uncle” who kept the cousins laughing, a skill he picked up from his father. “I always liked to have fun and find a way to put a twist on things,” he says. “But all my siblings were wild and crazy—the class clowns, class wits. They were always up for fun. Joking was how we conducted our lives with one another.”

In the early 1970s, Elliott and Goulding spent a year and a half on Broadway in Bob and Ray: The Two and Only. Although they were initially nervous about performing live before theater audiences, they were a hit. Clive Barnes of The New York Times called their act “outrageous,” terming it “one of the zaniest shows to hit town in many a season. It is also first-rate theater.” The show ran for 158 performances, and neither of them missed an evening.

Their fame led to other opportunities, including a four-hour afternoon show on New York City radio and Bob & Ray Public Radio Show on NPR. Tom recalls being dazzled when he watched Bob or Ray throw each other a curve ball, “something outrageous,” and wait for his partner to handle it. “Somehow they’d pick it up and make it work. When they’d start over-voicing and almost tripping over each other, it was hysterical.”

Ray Goulding and Bob Elliott perform at Carnegie Hall.

Ray Goulding died in 1990 at age 68. He liked to say his career was that of a “pomposity puncturer,” a phrase the duo used on their stationery.

Tom toyed with the idea of following his father into a career in broadcasting. He worked summers as an NBC tour guide at Rockefeller Center when he was home from Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio, where he earned a B.A. in history. He escorted nervous guests to the green room before they appeared onstage with Johnny Carson. “Most of the guides were wannabe showbiz guys, but Carson never called to offer me a job,” he says. “Meeting Carson was like meeting the Pope: Don’t make eye contact.”

Following his Wittenberg graduation in 1971, Tom worked for NBC in New York City, where he researched health topics. He became intrigued by the human body and pursued a degree at the Los Angeles College of Chiropractic, and then he and his wife Beth, another Wittenberg grad and a chiropractor herself, came back east to set up practices in Connecticut. He’d later earn an M.S. in human nutrition from the University of Bridgeport.

“We really embraced the natural health care model and went against the tide,” says Tom. “Medical people looked at us like we were weirdos, but I liked working for myself and making a difference in people’s lives.” They both had four-decade practices with devoted patients. Sons Bryant and Kevin were born in 1981 and 1983, respectively.

Bryant was just 9 when Ray Goulding died, but he has vivid memories of the man he called “Gramps.” He visited his grandparents’ Cape Cod home on a regular basis. “I would sit on his lap, and he would tell me stories about silly things, like my first time having pancakes,” says Bryant. “He said you have to keep your fork or your thumb on them because they will float off your plate, because they’re made with a magic ingredient, club soda. To a 4-year-old kid, pancakes are amazing, period. But the concept that they could float away, well, I was just captivated.”

Ray introduced the youngster to a favorite dessert, lemon meringue pie, knowing full well its flavor probably wouldn’t sit well with a preschooler. “I made a face at how sour it was,” says Bryant. “Gramps thought it was hilarious, and everyone laughed.”

Future Cincinnati beer baron Bryant Goulding sits on his grandfather Ray’s lap.

For one of Bryant’s early birthday parties, his mother, a serious nutritionist, baked a cake using whole wheat flower. Everyone had a slice, followed by dead silence. Tom quipped, “Anyone else enjoying this brick?” Everyone just piled on to the joke. “We’d sit around cracking jokes left and right, sarcasm and wit and puns,” says Bryant. “Everyone was performing. My cousins and I were rolling around my grandparents’ living room. It was combustible.”

At age 3, Bryant attended Bob & Ray’s performance at Carnegie Hall, A Night of Two Stars. In 1987 Tom took Bryant, then 6, to Minnesota to see Bob & Ray on Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion. “It was amazing to see Gramps at venues like that,” Bryant says, also recalling listening to audio cassettes of Bob & Ray in the car on family vacations. “They would take three or four normal, mundane elements and put them into preposterous circumstances.”

Bryant learned more about humor from his own father. “My dad and his brothers were all intense people,” he says. “They had this constant electric, infectious currency.” Tom used humor as the family glue, creating outings he billed as “adventures,” whether they were a Red Sox game or a museum that the kids didn’t really want to visit. “But he made it fun with history and maps that made it feel more like an adventure.”

Bryant Goulding did not want to follow his parents and become a chiropractor. He attended Elon College, enrolled briefly at New York University, and ended up at the University of Connecticut, where he earned economics degrees. His master’s thesis was “The Economics and Evolution of the Craft Beer Industry.”

Goulding started his career as an analyst at Accenture, serving national clients, but quickly concluded that he didn’t feel fulfilled by the work. A part-time passion for home brewing led to a three-year sales stint with Dogfish Head Brewery, covering five western states. Living in San Francisco, he met Bob Bonder, who was pursuing a passion for home coffee roasting that eventually led him to Cincinnati in 2007 to launch a chain of coffee roasteries, Tazza Mia.

Bonder fell in love with his new hometown, particularly with Over-the-Rhine, and stayed in touch with Goulding, pitching him on the idea of establishing a craft brewery in a neighborhood with such a brewing legacy. Bonder invited his friend to come to Cincinnati in 2011 and introduced him to the local scene. “We went to The Lackman and Neon’s Unplugged, and I saw Over-the-Rhine’s awesome architecture and energy,” says Goulding. “I left really impressed.”

Tom came to Ohio the same year for his 40th Wittenberg reunion, but his real goal was to meet “this Bob guy.” Bryant moved to Cincinnati a year later, and he and Bonder officially launched Rhinegeist in 2013. They took on a 250,000-square-foot Over-the-Rhine building on Elm Street that once served as the Christian Moerlein Brewery’s packaging hall, immediately establishing ties to local brewing history. Moerlein had been a German immigrant whose brewery flourished from 1853 to 1934.

The entrepreneurs named their new company for the neighborhood it called home (Rhine) and as a ghostly nod (geist) to the area’s German heritage and a signifier that brewing life was making a comeback in Cincinnati.

In less than a decade, Rhinegeist has become the 25th largest craft brewery in the U.S. and the second largest in Ohio. Today, its 300 employees are brewing 100,000 barrels of beer annually and distributing it throughout Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, and five other states.

Bonder and Goulding decided to bring on a CEO, Mike Parks, in August to introduce a new sense of professionalism in the company; Parks has prior experience with distilleries (Brown-Forman, Diageo) and packaged food businesses (Heinz, American Sugar Refining). And the cofounders announced an employee stock ownership program, or ESOP, to eventually transfer ownership of Rhinegeist to their employees by issuing them company shares over the next 15 to 20 years.

Just as important as that business success, says Goulding, is the opportunity to share it now with his parents. “There’s nothing like having your father live in the same town and work in the same place,” he says. “It gives you a sense of how much you share in common. A lot of people who work here know who my father is because he makes jokes and loves connecting with people. It’s awesome to see him take off the mantle of being a doctor and shift into being an entertainer. He really can bring information alive with his humor and his perspective.”

Tom once gave a bachelor party tour for one of Bryant’s cousins, a group of 18 happy guys. “He pointed to the brew kettle and the whirlpool,” Bryant recalls, “and said, ‘Most of this now is just for show.’ He pulled out some tablets, like some Alka Seltzers, and said they were made in China. He mixed them in a glass of water and said, ‘We just plop these in, and it makes beer in 12 hours.’ Most of the guys were groaning and rolling their eyes. But one guy totally bit on it. ‘Wait a minute, really?’ That’s the little kid in him. If there’s an opportunity to make somebody laugh, there’s no greater reward.”

Bryant claims he isn’t a good joke teller himself. “But I feel like I’m funny,” he says. “That’s how I see the world.”

Like his father and his grandfather, he’s quick to turn everyday things into unexpected, humor-inducing moments. “As a kid I was often getting into trouble for cutting up—laughter and humor were a priority to me. That’s what happens now at Rhinegeist. We all have fun. We do serious work and put in hard, long hours, but at the end of the day it’s beer. We’re not doing surgery. If we’re not having fun, there’s something wrong.”

Goulding says he’s consciously made humor a key part of the company’s culture. He wants the Rhinegeist taproom to be a fun destination where people can come together, play ping-pong or cross-pollinate at a group lunch, and get to know each other. “Beer is fun, and it’s funny,” he says. “Stuff happens when you’re drinking beer.”

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