Every week, Drew Carey and his co-stars victoriously chanted “Cleveland ROCKS,” introducing his eponymously named sitcom. At the time, most people outside of Cleveland were probably unsure as to what it was that rocked about Cleveland. Not much is usually known about the Ohio city; a city often overlooked aside from Rock n Roll and depressing sports teams sadly highlighted by the disastrous ending to Lebron Jame’s time there.. However, The Drew Carey Show should have made us realize that this city was destined to become a great beer town. For those who aren’t fans, Drew Carey opened a small, yet successful, brewery in his backyard called Buzz Beer, a fusion of coffee and beer.
The Cleveland scene has grown much beyond Buzz Beer and such caffeine-infused gimmicks aren’t necessary to sell the beer the locals are producing. Simply put, Cleveland is producing some high-quality beer. And who needs LeBron James when you have great beer?
Much of Cleveland’s success in the craft beer world is due to local pioneers, Dan and Pat Conway. Opening a little brewery in a less than friendly neighborhood referred to as Ohio City, the Conway’s opened the doors to Ohio’s first craft brewery and easily its most famous, Great Lakes Brewing Company. Established in September of 1988, Great Lakes has grown significantly since, with its three story pub taking over most of the block it’s located on, with this hub also housing a small 7-barrel brew system used for pub one-offs. Cleveland rocks! A city famous for Christmas and Rock ‘n Roll, proves it deserves to be famous for beer as well. Across the street they have built their production facility, which is now producing over 125,000 barrels of beer per year.
Not only has Great Lakes opened doors for Ohio brewers, they are also setting the standard for environmentally friendly practices. Everything the Conway’s do at the brewery uses the most sustainable methods possible, which is at the forefront of their business model. From a visual standpoint alone, most of the pub area was built with reclaimed materials and the main bar is a piece of history itself, dating back to 1860. It’s also rumored that Eliot Ness himself sat at that bar and the bullet holes in the wall were of his doing. The sustainability also finds its way into a pub menu which highlights almost entirely locally sourced food items, while the brewery itself
takes every effort possible to conserve water and electricity.
It also cannot go without mention the impact of Great Lakes Christmas Ale in Cleveland. The people of Cleveland LOVE this beer. Release day is a huge event and many people take off work to go to the pub to get their first pour of this seasonal beer and the local media is there to capture every moment. People will form lines outside in the cold to get their fill as all three floors of the pub and the outdoor area remain mostly shoulder to shoulder with festively dressed patrons. Brewing close to 30,000 barrels of this beer each year, there is no shortage of it that would cause one to miss out if they didn’t make it to release day, going to show the loyalty the people of Cleveland have to Christmas Ale.
The beer culture in Cleveland goes well beyond Great Lakes. Located just around the corner from the brewery, local entrepreneur Sam McNulty has helped to make Ohio City home to two breweries of his own, Market Garden Brewery and Nano Brew, to go along with his trio of bars across the street: Bar Cento, McNulty’s Bier Markt, and Speakeasy. Nano Brewery is exactly as it sounds, a tiny brewery featuring a one-barrel brewhouse. Like its sister brewery, Market Garden, it also features a full bar consisting of many guest tap handles, including sought out breweries Fat Head’s and Three Floyds. Big sister, Market Garden, is located just a few doors down and is quite an impressive space. Market Garden boasts three bars to go along with a large outdoor courtyard (mostly heated for the colder months) and a soon to be rooftop bar.
Similarly large and aesthetically creative are the trio of bars across the street which are all uniquely found under one roof, with Speakeasy logically being located down a stairwell in the back corner of the Bier Markt. A visit here isn’t complete without sitting down for meal and Bar Cento kitchen is putting out some of the best pizzas in Cleveland to go along with great homemade pastas and charcuterie.
There’s a lot more to Cleveland than the Ohio City district, though. The Cleveland area is also home to breweries such as Hoppin’ Frog, Thirsty Dog, Fat Head’s, Indigo Imp, and Buckeye Brewing. Hoppin’ Frog and Thirsty Dog are located just six minutes apart in Akron, which is a short and worthwhile trip outside the city. Thirsty Dog, which is currently going through an extensive expansion, is going to be a sight to behold based on the current state of the buildout. And their ever-growing barrel program, now featuring sours, is reason enough to visit. For those who are fans of Hoppin’ Frog, it’s well-known that their beer is not easy to get your hands on, but a trip to the brewery will make over a dozen of their beers available to you on draft. Tours aren’t offered here, but who needs to see another fermenter when you can sit at the bar and enjoy so many great beers you’ll rarely see outside Ohio! Also right outside the city is the much sought-after Fat Head’s Brewery. Home to the infamous Head Hunter IPA and a host of massive sandwiches, this is a must visit brewpub. The great beers flow well beyond Head Hunter and the brewery is at capacity and reaching the Philadelphia market won’t be happening anytime soon, so you’ll need to get your fill while you’re in town. Buckeye Brewing, another Cleveland staple, doesn’t exactly have a brewpub, but they have their Beer Engine Pub in Lakewood where you can sample all their beers along with other guest taps.
Back in Cleveland, Indigo Imp is producing the area’s only open fermentation beers. On their small and quite unique 7-barrel system, they are creating a series of wild ales that are not to be missed. The BottleHouse Brewery is another unique Cleveland brewery, using a small 15-gallon brew-on-premise system; they’re putting out a large variety of creative beers to go along with their own series of meads. The brewery is also home to four pinball machines and live music in a very artistically designed space which features one of the most impressive glass blown chandeliers you’ll find.
Beyond the brewing scene, Cleveland is also home to a number of great bars and a pair of distilleries. Cleveland Whiskey is using custom, top-secret technology to create whiskeys in under three weeks. A visit to the distillery will introduce you to the Cleveland Challenge where you can decide for yourself how it compares to traditionally aged and highly respected bourbon. Portside Distillery, meanwhile, is taking a more traditional stance in their distilling and is more recognized for their rum. Portside is also a brewery, so you can sample Cleveland-made spirits and beers under one roof.
On the bar side of Cleveland, Tremont Tap House is one of the premier gastropubs in the area and a local favorite with an equally good food and beer menu. They’ll also soon be opening the Butcher & the Brewer, which will be a brewpub downtown on East 4th Street. Right across the street from this future brewery is one of Cleveland’s premier dining destinations, Greenhouse Tavern. The beer menu is not to be overlooked here, but the kitchen is putting out some really incredible food which will steal the show. Lastly, no beer trip is complete without a stop at Happy Dog. A simple, almost-dive bar, it is home to what might be the greatest hot dog menu there is. Each seat has a pile of order sheets and pencils so you can create your own hot dogs and tater tots. With 50 optional toppings, you have endless possibilities and will be hard pressed to find the perfect hot dog. You also get around a dozen tater tot topping options. Oh, and yes, they have a great beer list as well.
All in all, it’s hard to visit Cleveland without being impressed by the craft beer options. Even more breweries are in the works and the city seems to be headed towards craft beer greatness. Not bad for a city that already is home to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the infamous A Christmas Story house and museum