portside distillery and brewery opens tasting room in warehouse district

This week, Portside Distillery and Brewery officially opened the doors to its new tasting room, a spot that boasts inspiring views of freewheeling gulls circling an ice-covered Lake Erie and the Port of Cleveland. Portside has the honor of being among the very first new distilleries in Ohio since Prohibition. Brewmaster Dan Malz has created some the most interesting, unique beers in Cleveland, adding to the area's growing scene.

"There was a day in Cleveland when breweries were everywhere," offers Portside's Keith Sutton, who owns the company along with Malz, Matt Zappernick and John Marek. "Cleveland was known as brewery town; they were all over the place. We’re kind of becoming a beer town again, which is great."

In addition to flagship beers like the 216, a very drinkable, dry hopped pale ale with 5.7 percent alcohol, Portside has also won awards for its silver rum. When the venue's liquor license is delivered later this month, Portside will be able to start serving liquor in its tasting room. But for now, it's mostly just beer and light, tasty snacks, which are served up through a partnership with Willeyville.

Oh, but what beer it is ... from the Rusalka Vanilla Stout, which promises "a kiss of vanilla with a clean finish" and surely delivers, to the Pop Smoke Rauchbier, a smoked beer nicknamed "The Bacon Beer" for good reason, these fine brews are some of the most interesting in town. They certainly add to the brew mecca that has sprung up in the area, including newcomers Brick and Barrel and Platform.

The venue itself is worth checking out. The spacious interior feels like a secret basement bar where you could happily while away a Saturday afternoon. It has wide-planked hardwood floors, a beautiful square bar in the middle, and two private rooms available for a cozy drink and rentals. Photographs of historic Cleveland scenes burned onto planks of wood by local artist Jim Lanza adorn the walls, and pretty soon, the owners plan to install Portside barrel tops, too.

Although Portside's owners once planned to open a restaurant, they nixed that plan when retail sales rose faster than production and the Flats East project took longer than anticipated. So last year, they purchased a full bottling line and have now begun selling six-packs of the 216 and other beers to local establishments, with plans in the works to introduce several of their beers in Heinen's by March.

Some fun facts about Portside: the distillery used to create the rum was designed and fabricated by Sutton with the aid of a metal shop in Tremont. Several of the beers you can quaff at the tasting room are served directly from giant metal tanks in the brewhouse (now that's fresh). The building itself dates back to 1870, having done stints as a brass foundry and a place where church pipe organs were made.

Portside, which is located on Front Street just up the hill from Flats East, will be open from approximately 4-8 pm Tuesday through Thursday, and will open at 1 pm on Saturdays. The plans are to stay open until at least 11 pm on weekends. GM Matt Zappernick says as long as there are customers, they won't close.

In addition to the unique flavors and styles that can be found on the draft beer list, Zappernick says that Portside customers can count on the fact that nothing is more than three weeks old. "That's unbelievably fresh beer," he says.

Read more articles by Lee Chilcote.

Lee Chilcote is the author of the poetry chapbooks The Shape of Home and How to Live in Ruins. His writing has been published by Vanity Fair, Next City, Belt and many literary journals as well as in The Cleveland Neighborhood Guidebook, The Cleveland Anthology and A Race Anthology: Dispatches and Artifacts from a Segregated City. He is a founder and former executive director of Literary Cleveland. He lives in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood of Cleveland with his family.
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