The Cleveland Craft Beer Report

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A new year means new opportunities. No matter what personal goals have been set for 2014, every craft beer drinker should make a "New Beer Resolution" to ensure that the next 12 months include as many tasty new brews as possible. Whether one strives to sample more brands or styles of beer, support local breweries or simply to drink "better" beer, here are a few ideas to get 2014 started off on the right foot.

Want to support Ohio breweries in 2014? The Ohio Craft Brewers Association (OCBA) is now offering Enthusiast memberships to individuals. Membership dues run just $30 per year and include a "Think Globally, Drink Locally" T-shirt and a membership card. Enthusiasts will be given the chance to buy advance tickets and gain early entry into OCBA events, including the Winter Warmer Fest on Saturday, March 1, at Windows on the River in downtown Cleveland. Other perks include access to enthusiast-exclusive brewery tours around the state, a quarterly newsletter and an invitation to the association's annual meeting. To join, visit the Ohio Craft Brewers website or contact Director Mary Martineau via email at [email protected].

Aspire to drink the best local beers in 2014? Now is the time to stock up! Great Lakes Brewing Co. is releasing its critically acclaimed Barrel Aged Blackout Stout, a beer that will warm up even the coldest of winter nights. Blackout Stout, the brewery's winter seasonal Russian-style Imperial Stout, is aged for months in oak barrels that previously contained bourbon. This process imparts nuanced flavors of whiskey and vanilla while preserving the smooth chocolate and roasted malt notes of the base beer. Great Lakes first released 400 22-ounce bottles of Barrel Aged Blackout Stout in 2005; recent vintages have seen increased production and a switch to a 12-ounce format.

Even with more bottles to go around, Barrel Aged Blackout Stout is only available for a limited time and is not distributed to any local store shelves. Great Lakes is celebrating with a ticketed release party on Monday, Jan. 20, in the tasting room above the Carroll Avenue brewery. Tickets are available on the Great Lakes website. Admission is $40 and includes a barbecue-themed tasting menu, samples of Barrel Aged Blackout Stout and Rackhouse Ale, entertainment and the chance to purchase bottles before they are made available to the public. The remaining beer goes on sale in the GLBC gift shop on Tuesday, Jan. 21. Bottles cost $8 each or $30 per four-pack with a limit of two cases per person per day.

Need to try something new in 2014? Now that Santa has come and gone, Deschutes Brewery of Bend, Ore., will be coming to town. The nation's fifth-largest craft brewery launches in the Buckeye State this month. Northeast Ohio celebrations for the rollout kickoff on Friday, Jan. 24, and continue through Monday, Jan. 27. Events include meet-and-greets, a pub-crawl in Ohio City, food and beer pairings and even a brewer's brunch.

What beers will Deschutes send to Ohio? Initially, Mirror Pond Pale Ale, Black Butte Porter (the nation's bestselling craft porter), Inversion IPA and Red Chair Northwest Pale Ale will be available in six-packs and draft. Specialty beers like Hop Henge Experimental IPA and 25th Anniversary Smoked Porter (brewed in collaboration with Great Lakes Brewing Co.) will also be available later this month. Other sought-after seasonal beers like Abyss American Double Stout, Dissident Flanders Oud Bruin and Black Butte XXVI Barrel-Aged Anniversary Porter will reach Ohio as they're released throughout the year.

Regardless which aspiration looks the tastiest to pursue, 2014 is going to be a great year for all Cleveland craft beer connoisseurs.

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