The Cleveland Craft Beer Report

The Brewer's Association recently released their annual run-down of the biggest breweries in the United States. Congratulations are due to Great Lakes Brewing Company, which once again earned a respectable spot the list. However, despite brewing more beer in 2012 than ever before, Cleveland's favorite brewery dropped ever so slightly in the rankings. According to the BA's press release, the brewery closed the year as the 19th biggest U.S.-based craft brewer (down from 18th in 2011). While there was only minor volatility among the top operations on this year›s list, a production increase at Wisconsin's New Glarus brewery was just enough to push them ahead of Great Lakes and account for the small slip.

Great Lakes is the only Ohio brewery on the Top 50 craft breweries list. While Boston Beer Company (brewers of Samuel Adams) brew and package much of their beer in a Cincinnati facility, the company›s headquarters are located in Massachusetts. For a bit of perspective, Great Lakes produced 120,000 barrels (or 29,760,000 pints) of beer in 2012. The next biggest Northeast Ohio brewery is Thirsty Dog at 25,000 barrels, followed by up-and-comer Fat Heads. Fat Heads has the capacity to brew around 15,000 barrels in 2013 at its new production brewery, while Hoppin' Frog brewed around 6,000 barrels and The Brew Kettle topped out at 2,500 barrels in 2012. What about local brewpubs? Market Garden Brewery maxed out capacity in their W. 25th Street pub at 2,000 barrels last year while Willoughby crafted roughly 1,100 barrels.

What can Cleveland craft beer fans expect in 2013 and beyond? Great Lakes has promised to do whatever it takes to expand to meet future demand; Owner Pat Conway has even hinted at opening a second production facility in the relatively near future. Other Northeast Ohio breweries will continue to grow aggressively and production numbers will double and, in some cases, triple. Another certainty is that more breweries will enter Ohio for distribution. The Buckeye State currently is included in the distribution footprint of three of the top five craft breweries in the United States. Boston Beer Company, Sierra Nevada Brewing and The Gambrinus Group (brewers of the Shiner brand) all send their liquid lineups into Ohio. What about the two absent top-five breweries? Colorado's New Belgium and Oregon›s Deschutes currently aren›t distributed to Ohio, but that will change soon. Deschutes expects to enter Nebraska and Iowa in 2013, followed by Ohio in 2014. The brewery has been talking to local distributors but no official agreement has yet been announced. New Belgium – brewer of the uber-popular Fat Tire Amber Ale – has been rumored to be expanding to Ohio for years. The brewery expressed some interest in 2010 but ended up skipping us for Southern states with less demand. The latest word is that Ohio entry is tentatively slated for early 2015, once New Belgium's Asheville, North Carolina, facility is up and running.

In the meantime, there is no shortage of new brews on Ohio shelves. Several breweries have arrived in the last month alone. Asheville-based Highland Brewing entered the Cincinnati market in early April, and statewide distribution will soon follow. California's Cismontane recently surfaced on Ohio shelves with several offerings, including the delicious Black's Dawn Imperial Stout. Indiana's New Albanian and Triton both have several diverse styles available for every Ohioan's drinking pleasure. From the East, Pennsylvania's Full Pint has a solid lineup available on local shelves and in taprooms. Between the influx of new breweries and the promise of many more to come, there's never been a better time for Ohio craft beer drinkers to raise a glass and shout 'Skål'!

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