“There’s been a steady pace of new breweries opening for the past few years, but this seems like the year we’ll look back on,” says Collision Bend Brewing Co. head brewer Luke Purcell. “Like we’ll be talking about the class of 2017.”
Purcell has perspective; he brewed at Cleveland cornerstone Great Lakes Brewing Co. for more than 20 years before leaving to be a part of Collision Bend, which opened in mid-April. Collision Bend is one of five new breweries to open in Cleveland since the beginning of 2017, with at least three more planned for the coming months.
The intersection of consumers more willing to seek out local beer and the evolution of the region’s breweries to a point where employees are spinning off to start their own ventures explain the uptick in Northeast Ohio openings.
“There was room for growth, and a lot of the breweries that are opening up are [from] people that already have experience,” says Shaun Yasaki of forthcoming Noble Beast Brewing Co., himself a veteran of Fat Head’s Brewery in North Olmsted, Ohio and Cleveland’s Platform Beer Co. “That makes for a lot of really good things opening up this year.”
Here, a look at some of the highlights:
Collision Bend Brewing Co. (OPEN): A group of investors teamed up with longtime Great Lakes brewer Luke Purcell to open this waterfront brewpub in mid-April on the banks of the Cuyahoga River in downtown Cleveland. The historic building dates to the mid-19th century but has been renovated to house a 15-barrel brewing system and expansive, full-service restaurant that focuses on “California street food” like wood-fired pizzas and tacos. “The goal was to do a nice balanced lineup [of beers] out of the gate, not get too crazy but to put out good quality,” says Purcell.Collision Bend hopes to collaborate with other Cleveland breweries in the coming months; for now, they’re giving a nod to others who have helped them open by serving a handful of guest drafts. The current house-brewed lineup includes beers like Sixth City altbier, Saison du Bruell, Watermark Wheat hefeweizen and Lake Erie Sunset, a blood orange American wheat ale that’s become Collision Bend’s best-seller. The perfect place to enjoy it? The 150-seat deck overlooking the river.
Noble Beast Brewing Co. (OPENING BY THE END OF MAY): Shaun Yasaki’s interest in brewing started where many folks’ interest does, with homebrewing, before he leveled up to an assistant brewer role at the much-awarded Fat Head’s brewpub in North Olmsted, Ohio. “That was about the best learning experience I could have asked for. They’re brewing some top notch beers and being a small brewpub like that, you learn a little bit of everything,” Yasaki says. From there, he cofounded and was head brewer at Platform Beer Co. in Cleveland before leaving a year and a half ago and began work on his own project, Noble Beast. Eschewing the distribution model, Noble Beast will focus squarely on taproom sales from its 5,000-square-foot brewpub on the edge of downtown Cleveland. “We have a full kitchen, so we’re technically a brewpub, but it will feel like more a brewery that has a taproom that happens to have a kitchen. It’s counter service, but with a full menu,” Yasaki says. “I just want to make the highest quality beer I possibly could without worrying about distribution, without timelines.” Noble Beast’s 10-barrel brewhouse includes a cereal mash cooker to allow for decoction mashing, a multistep mashing process that Yasaki says is crucial to the technically minded German-style beers he’ll brew; Noble Beast also plans some Belgian styles as well as experimental American beers. “Noble Beast represents the split between the technical process side, the German side and its Noble hops, and Beast is the American side where you can do whatever the fuck you want.”
Masthead Brewing Co. (OPEN): The four-month-old brewery wasn’t named Masthead just to impress journalists (alas), but instead refers to how the town of Cleveland came to be spelled the way it is. Prior to the 19830s, the town was spelled Cleaveland, named for General Moses Cleaveland, who had founded it in 1796. In the 1830s, publishers started up The Cleaveland Advertiser newspaper, but the name was one typed letter too long to fit across the paper. So, the group dropped the first ‘a’ in Cleaveland for their masthead. Cleveland, obviously, stuck. Fast forward to 2017, and Masthead pays homage to that story as a 20-barrel brewery in downtown Cleveland, within walking distance of where the Cavaliers, Browns and Indians play. Frank Luther and Mike Pelechaty, former Ohio State roommates, founded Masthead along with business partner Matt Slife, brewing a range of styles from the traditional to the creative. “One of the great things about craft beer is that you get to play in a lot of different styles,” says Pelechaty. “We can be on the novelty side of the craft beer drinkers’ palate but also do our mainstays really consistently.” Masthead currently offers a dozen beers including an IPA, a rye pale ale, a doppelbock, a German pilsner, a poblano chili stout and a wit, with more fermenters coming soon to allow for Belgian-style beers; more than 50 bourbon and rye barrels are already filled in anticipation of barrel-aged releases down the road. Canning and bottling are also planned for a later date.
The Jolly Scholar (OPEN): For 12 years, Case Western Reserve University students have toasted the end of finals at The Jolly Scholar pub inside the student union; this year, they’ll be able to raise a glass of brewed-on-site beer. The restaurant added a 7-barrel brewery in its basement nine months ago, and after clearing hurdles with the university, it’s finally up and running alongside a 1.5-barrel pilot system. The first batch in production is a blonde ale, but after that, according to owner Matt Vann, it’ll be a pale ale, IPA and double IPA–”all these kids are hop heads.” The location on a college campus presents unique opportunities going forward, says Vann, who envisions hands-on brewing/chemistry demonstrations, a collaborative project to grow hops on the university’s farm and maybe even the creation of a minor in fermentation science down the road. “We’re coming at it from a bit more of an experimental level. We’ll have some flagship beers but we love the idea of using some of the resources we have here at the university for collaboration efforts,” he says. “It’s about combining what universities are here for with having a brewery on campus.”
Terrestrial Brewing Co. (OPEN): Ralph Sgro met brewing enthusiast Ryan Bennett when Sgro worked as the general manager of Platform Brewing; the two hatched a business plan (over beers, naturally) which finally came to fruition on April 28 as Terrestrial Brewing Co. “We noticed that a lot of the Cleveland breweries were focused on distribution but my idea of brewing was small batches and become a better brewer in that process,” says Sgro. “So our focus shifted to being a small neighborhood brewpub. We spent some time out in Portland [Oregon] where I bought my [brewing] system and there’s a brewery on every street corner. The neighborhood brewery is alive. That was a huge inspiration for us.” Though he refers to Terrestrial a brewpub, Sgro says they don’t serve food, instead inviting guests to bring their own or order delivery from nearby restaurants. What is culinary-minded, though, is the brewery’s focus on food flavors. Past brews have included a stout brewed with ras el hanout, a North African spice mix; the brewery also plans to introduce a Thai-spiced saison. None of these are designed to become flagship beers, Sgro says, instead he’ll be “cranking out new beers every week until someone tells us they can’t live without one.” The dog-friendly (inside and out) taproom can be found on the West Side in a former Eveready battery factory that overlooks Lake Erie.
Working Class Brewery (OPENING BY THE END OF MAY): Rick Skains was named American Homebrew Association’s Homebrewery of the Year in 2007 … Ten years later, he’s finally realizing his dream of opening a brewery. He and business partner Carmen Russoniello have set up a 10-barrel brewhouse with a small taproom on the West Side of Cleveland and are currently “cooking beer” though it still needs a bit more time to ferment before the grand opening. “We are actually in a strip mall, which was not my original intention but I thought to myself ‘Russian River started in a strip mall,'” Skains jokes. His plans are to brew a variety of styles named for historic occupations: Tinner’s, a West Coast-style red ale named for a term for a roofer, and Jagger IPA, named for an old term for a tattoo artist. “Cleveland’s a working town and it’s something that our customers can identify with in terms of what we’re about,” Skain says. “That’s important to us, that people identify with us.”
OTHERS ON OUR RADAR: Birdtown Brewing (coming soon), Saucy Brew Works (coming soon), Breaking Point Brewery in Cleveland Heights (this LLC has been licensed as a brewery but no details are yet available)