If it seems like a new craft brewery is opening its doors every other week, you're not that far off the mark. Currently, Cleveland boasts a dozen breweries that include BottleHouse, Brew Kettle, Buckeye Brewing, Great Lakes, Fat Head's, Indigo Imp, Market Garden, Nano Brew, Portside Brewery, Rocky River Brewing and Willoughby Brewing. If we push the boundary out a few miles, that quantity nearly doubles.
But wait, there's more!
In the coming weeks and months, Cleveland craft beer drinkers will be able to sample the suds at Platform Beer, Hansa Haus, Hofbrauhaus, Cleveland Brewery and Butcher and the Brewer, as well as others currently in the planning phase.
Platform Beer is about two months shy of opening on the western edge of Ohio City. The two-story brick building, built a century ago as a Czech social hall, will house both a 10-barrel brew system plus a 3-barrel pilot system for guest brewers, making it unique to the region.
When it opens in late spring, Hansa Haus will be Ohio City's fifth brewery, making, serving and selling Laško beer, a Slovenian brewery dating back to 1825. The multi-million dollar project will feature a beefy 15-barrel brewhouse, multi-level restaurant, retail shop and beer garden.
You probably haven't heard of Cleveland Brewery yet, but this nano brewery on E. 185th Street should begin brewing beer on its two-barrel system by summer. The goal is to launch with four or five beers to sell onsite and distribute to neighborhood bars and restaurants.
Dwarfing all of those projects is Hofbräuhaus, an $8 million, 20,000-square-foot, 1,700-seat restaurant and brewery slated to open later this year in PlayhouseSquare. The destination will feature world famous Hofbrau beer, which will be brewed on premises using the original recipes and manufacturing processes.
"It's an awesome time for people who make craft beer, who like to drink craft beer or who are involved in the craft beer industry because it is really strong right now and it's growing," says Mary MacDonald, Executive Director of the Ohio Craft Brewers Association, a nonprofit tasked with advancing the industry state-wide.
Despite what you might have heard about Ohio's backwater liquor laws, the state has been friendly to small brewers. Recent legislation, however, has turned that warm hug into a wet kiss. The creation of the A1C permit allows for the manufacture, sale and distribution of up to 31 million gallons of beer for the low, low price of just $1,000 per year. Before the changes, breweries had to pay $3,900 per year to brew and another $3,900 per year to sell on premises.
"Even before these legislative changes, Ohio was one of the most craft beer-friendly states," adds MacDonald. "In Michigan, for example, breweries have no self-distribution at all right now. So, if you are a tiny brewery, you have to convince a distributor to carry your stuff."
Not only is the right to self-distribute a necessity for the little guy; it can be a huge advantage as well. Brewers can expect a higher price for their product while acting as the face of their product to retail customers. Cut out the middleman and good things happen. "When you have the ability to create your own distribution system it saves them money, which they can then reinvest into their equipment and facilities," says MacDonald.
Cleveland is on the receiving end of a trend that is at once local, regional and national. In 2012, Ohio had 58 licensed breweries. This year, we're up to 100. That number is expected to continue its upward trajectory for the foreseeable future as consumers shift their preference for imported bottled beer to fresh beer brewed down the block.
"This goes along with the whole local movement of the last decade, where people get a great sense of pride in making something local while others enjoy supporting it," MacDonald says.
Craft beer is big business in Ohio, contributing $1.2 billion to state coffers in 2013. Breweries support the local economy not only by employing workers, but also supporting the architects who design new breweries, the lawyers who file the paperwork, and the construction crews who build them. Then there's the brewery tour companies, draft system installers, tap handle makers and the folks who make and sell the T-shirts emblazoned with the brewery logo.
Next up to benefit will be the local agricultural community. As the relentless demand for hops continues to cause shortages all over the nation, Ohio farmers will step in to plug the gaps. High quality barley grain and the facilities needed to malt them also represent huge opportunities to fill the increasing demand for beer-brewing materials.
To that good news, we say "Cheers!"