It’s 8:30 on a cold and rainy February morning and Andy Tveekrem, 49, already is hard at work brewing his next batch of beer at Market Garden Brewery
. Assisting him is Adam Bartles, senior brewer from Victory Brewing
in Downingtown, Penn. The pair is brewing a batch of Kennett Ale, a spiced ale recipe originating from England that is infused with chili peppers, coriander and grains of paradise. The week before, they brewed the same recipe at Victory Brewing, likely the first batch made in the U.S. since the late 1800s. But since that batch is still fermenting, the brewers have no idea how either will turn out.
“You gotta trust that the guy before you got the recipe right,” Tveekrem says.
Tveekrem takes the lead, pouring 25-kilogram bags of malt into a large tank. He cracks open the garage door to let in fresh air and dons a respirator, not unlike a prop from Silence of the Lambs
. The respirator protects the brewer from active bacteria in the malt dust, Tveekrem explains. Last year he chanced milling the grain without wearing one. “I got a bad case of pneumonia,” he says shaking his head. Never again.
Raised in Akron’s Portage Lakes region, Tveekrem graduated from the College of Wooster before going on to study brewing technology at the Siebel Institute in Chicago. He scored his first brewing gig at Great Lakes Brewing Company, where he served as brewmaster for nine years. He later moved on to Frederick Brewing Company (four years) and Dogfish Head (five years). Longing for the familiarity of Northeast Ohio, Tveekrem returned in September of 2009.
Between test sips of fresh-brewed Kennett Ale Tveekrem says, “People respect people who make beer in Cleveland,” he says, highlighting a difference in culture from Delaware. “The people [here] recognize it’s hard work and appreciate it.”
It didn’t take long for Sam McNulty, who was planning Market Garden Brewery at the time, to catch wind of Tveekrem’s return. McNulty had set up Google Alerts on various brewers and learned of the news while on vacation in Thailand. The two met over beer, and Tveekrem soon joined the Market Garden team. During the ramp-up time, he worked 110 days straight. But as any taster of Market Garden’s beer will tell you, it was worth it.
Market Garden's brewhouse is not unlike a mad scientist’s laboratory -- and thanks to his imposing height, large glasses and mischievous grin, Tveekrem looks a bit like Dr. Frankenstein. He shares the workspace with assistant brewers Jon Hill, Jennifer Hermann and Patrick Daniels. In addition to helping with all brewing and cellaring work, the brewers have free reign over the small system at Nano Brew
down the block. “I tell them to make whatever they want, as long as it can be served to the public,” Tveekrem says.
Back at Market Garden, Tveekrem is busy studying the recipe, marking off ingredients, monitoring temperatures, tweaking different knobs, and stirring his concoction. A stranger to brewing might wonder if he’s making beer or bombs. He glances at the clock and wonders aloud why they haven’t sampled any beer yet.
“Shit, it’s after 9! Need to stop screwing around here and taste some beer,” he says with a smile. According to Tveekrem, the best time to taste beer is around 10:30 a.m. “Your taste buds come alive because you’re hungry.”
While it’s usually frowned upon for employees in most lines of work to drink on the clock (much less before noon), things are different for brewers. "It’s work,” Tveekrem clarifies. “We’re not drinking, we’re tasting
,” Bartles chimes in.
Bartles grabs a few samples of last week’s batch of Kennett Ale, which he brought with him. Though it’s only been fermenting for a week, the brew is tasted to see if adjustments need to be made to the current batch. Tveekrem sticks his nose deep into the glass for a sniff before sipping.
“Could add some more chili pepper character,” Tveekrem says. Bartles agrees. “A new recipe is a bit like a shot in the dark,” adds Tveekrem. “You have an image in your mind of what you want to taste,” and then there are adjustments throughout the process. They adjust the recipe by upping the chili pepper.
Brewing, it becomes clear, requires patience. It will take eight hours for this batch of Kennett Ale to brew before Tveekrem can call it a day. After a few more sips of ale, he offers to take Bartles, a first-time visitor to Cleveland, over to the West Side Market.
Heading out the door, Tveekrem points to a mural across the street at Market Square Park. “See the hands pouring malt?” he asks, imitating the image in the mural. “Here’s your model!” True to his word, the brewer was asked by the artist to pose as a reference. We head into the market where Tveekrem is immediately recognized by various vendors, easily so considering his noticeable 6’4” frame. He relates the history of the public market to Bartles, making special mention of the recent fire and cleanup project. Inside Mediterranean Imported Foods, we all sample some cheese before Tveekrem picks out something for his wife Vickie.
Heading back into Market Garden, Tveekrem instructs Bartles to mind his step on the icy ground. Tveekrem pleads aloud for more favorable weather so he can return to bike commuting from his home in Brooklyn Centre. Like McNulty, Tveekrem is an avid supporter of biking, and would love to see a brewery bike trail that would connect Ohio City’s current and future breweries.
Quitting time comes shortly after 5 p.m., just in time for happy hour, Tveekrem's favorite part of the day. “You get to make beer and drink beer,” he says. “But the biggest perk is talking to the customers drinking the beer.”
After checking fermentation charts, he heads back behind the bar to pour a glass of Pearl Street Wheat, a top-selling Bavarian-style hefeweizen known for its banana flavor. He grabs a seat and shares his plans for growing hops at the nearby Ohio City Farm for use in his small-batch Nano brews. Also on the radar is an on-site distillery, which could be operational by summer. “I went to school for it,” he says of distilling. “But I’ve never done it legally.”
Closing in on 6 p.m., Tveekrem finishes his beer and sets off with Bartles and his girlfriend to explore Cleveland. It’s hard to imagine a better city ambassador than a hometown brewmaster.
Photos Bob Perkoski