cleveland's breweries are primed for delicious growth

Prior to Prohibition, Northeast Ohio was home to some 30 breweries and boasted a reputation for producing several fine frothy malts. In fact, brewing was some of the earliest and most robust industry Cleveland had going for it. Prohibition, of course, managed to dry up all but a precious few pints.

The good news? The brewing industry in Northeast Ohio is not only alive and well -- it's growing.

Take Great Lakes Brewing, for example. Since Patrick and Dan Conway opened the brewery in 1988, Ohio's first microbrewery has been on an upward trajectory. Thanks to this year's $6 million expansion, which saw the addition of four new storage and fermentation tanks, the Ohio City brewery will increase production by 25 percent over last year. And there's room still to grow; while the brewhouse currently produces 100,000 barrels per year, it has the capacity to up that to 150,000, an amount equal to 4.65 million delicious gallons.

"In addition to Great Lakes Brewing Co.'s production growth," explains spokesperson Lauren Boveington, "the company added 10 new full-time positions in the past year. While the craft beer market segment has experienced steady growth in recent years, Great Lakes consistently has outpaced the industry percentage by double-digit figures."

Housed in an enormous brick warehouse around the corner from its eponymous pub, Great Lakes Brewing has blossomed to become one of largest breweries in the entire country, ranking 23rd on the Brewers Association most recent report. Fortunately, that growth hasn't affected the brewery's eco-friendly approach to doing business, which includes water- and energy-reduction systems and grain-composting programs.

Buckeye Brewing, located on Cleveland's west side, has also experienced growth, albeit on a more modest scale. Since moving into a new warehouse two years ago, says brewmaster and owner Garin Wright, the brewery can now produce about 2,500 barrels a year. It's a tiny number compared to Great Lakes, to be sure, but it's a sizeable amount for a brewery that mainly services local restaurants, including Buckeye Beer Engine, also owned by Wright. In addition to the Beer Engine, Cleveland diners can order the company's suds at Edison's Pub, Happy Dog, and Greenhouse Tavern, among others.

"To make a long story short, we have the tools to have a lot of fun and make a lot of money," says Wright, who employs 30 at the brewery and restaurant. "There's lots of room for expansion at the brewery. We can add some tanks and won't have to move."

Since opening last year, Fat Head's Brewery & Saloon has become the watering hole of choice for many craft beer fans. And though it shares a brand and name with its Pittsburgh sibling, the N. Olmsted restaurant is unique in that it brews beer -- for both locations. Brewmaster and partner Matt Cole offers guests an average of 10 house-brewed beers, including the national award-winner Head Hunter IPA. The brewery and saloon currently employs 90, but that number could soon rise, says owner Ted Lipovan, when a recently acquired bottling machine is placed into action. The technology will allow the brewery to reach a wider audience through a distributor.

You wouldn't know it by looking at it, but the Brew Kettle restaurant, located in a Strongsville strip mall storefront, is also a thriving little brewery producing 3,000 barrels per year. Opened in 1995 by Chris McKim, the brewery also has the distinction of being Ohio's first brew-on-premises, which allows folks to craft their own beer on site. A recent expansion into an adjacent property bumps up the square footage to around 18,000, giving McKim room to expand all aspects of his business. And that's good news because things have never been busier.

"We recently started selling our beer through a statewide distributor," explains McKim, "and our sales this year are up 700 percent." In the 15 years since it started, Brew Kettle has grown from just two employees to 60. McKim expects that number to rise to 75 following the expansion.

Indigo Imp Brewery is a relative newcomer in the Cleveland beer scene, but that hasn't hampered its success -- or growth. Owner and brewer Matt Chappel has managed to land his Belgian-style brews on shelves at area grocers and in the coolers of bars and restaurants. Located in the Tyler Village complex, a warren of red-brick warehouses now populated with start-up ventures, Indigo produces about 250 barrels per year.

While still under construction, the Market Garden Brewery should compliment nearby Great Lakes nicely. Located in a former Middle Eastern grocery next door to the West Side Market, the new brewery will start with a very modest 10-barrel system, says owner Sam McNulty. That small brewhouse, sited in an old poultry shop, will be run by Andy Tveekrem, a brewmaster who started his career at Great Lakes before ascending to prominence at Delaware's Dogfish Head Craft Brewery.

"A lot of the concept [of Market Garden] is built around the idea of a New American beer garden," says McNulty, who currently employs 45 at his other Ohio City shops, Bier Markt, Speakeasy and Bar Cento. He expects to hire another 60 at the brewpub. As for the beer? "I want to take the talents of Andy Tveekrem and turn him loose." Down the road, McNulty envisions packaging the beer in cans for wider distribution, which, he explains, "leave the smallest carbon footprint."

One of the simplest (and most delicious) ways to gauge the popularity of the Cleveland craft beer scene is by the success of Beer Week, an annual assortment of beer-themed events that culminates on October 23 with Brewzilla, "a monster beer tasting" held at the Galleria.

"The Cleveland beer scene is just awesome," says Buckeye Brewing's Garin Wright, putting the punctuation mark on what's been for beer a very good year. 

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Photography by  
Bob Perkoski
Sam McNulty & Andy Tveekrem of Market Garden Brewery
Andy TveekremSam McNulty &  of Market Garden Brewery
Beir Market
Buckeye Brewing
Robert Wright of Buckeye Brewing
Buckeye Brewing beers
Pat Conway of Great Lakes Brewing Co
Great Lakes Brewing Co patio
Great Lakes Brewing Co

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