Beer in Cleveland: An Entrepreneurial Rebirth of a Longtime Local Industry

Photo courtesy of Great Lakes Brewing Company.

This post is part of a regular series where we’ll spotlight reasons Why Cleveland is the best retirement option you’ve never thought of. From its rich arts and culture and vibrant restaurant scene, to its multiple recreational opportunities and world-class health care, learn Why Cleveland is both an exciting and surprisingly affordable choice for retirement!

Cleveland’s small-batch, entrepreneurial brewers are raising the bar for flavor and igniting a beer renaissance in a local industry that’s been boom-and-bust over the years.

Boom & Bust: A Brief Cleveland Beer History

In the late 1800s, Cleveland’s breweries were thriving. This economic boon continued until Prohibition in 1919, which shut down all brewing operations. Then, in 1933, when the country came out of its “dry spell” and the beer industry started hopping again, Cleveland’s brewing businesses came back on the scene.

“Some rebounded to a degree, but there were large brewers across the country that started to gain momentum, and, coupled with the advertising age, that changed the landscape a lot,” says Peter Chakerian, co-author of Cleveland Beer: History & Revival in the Rust Belt.

Consolidation washed out smaller breweries, which were bought up or closed. In 1984, the last Cleveland brewer closed and the city was without a true beer business until 1988, when brothers Patrick and Daniel Conway opened Great Lakes Brewing Company.

“The Conways are a good part of the reason why we are a beer town again,” Chakerian says, crediting their product quality, business model and multi-state success for sparking other local breweries. “They are really the God fathers of the modern brewing scene..”

Tapping a Rebirth: Cleveland Beer Today

That local scene has made national headlines, including recognition as the Best Beer City by international publisher and travel aficionado Conde Naste. Local brew-entrepreneurs are staging a comeback and taking home national awards, including Platform Beer Co. and Fat Head’s receiving awards at the 2015 Great American Beer Festival.

“People who really have a passion for beer and an interest in doing everything they can to push the envelope are making amazing products here in Cleveland,” Chakerian says. He also points out that the beer-curious can take guided tours of local craft brewing locations on the Cleveland Brew Bus, coordinated by owners Leslie Basalla and Brian McCafferty.

At Judson’s South Franklin Circle, Radius Restaurant gives a nod to the original comeback kid, Great Lakes Brewing Company, by serving a fan favorite: Dortmunder Gold.

“Cleveland is definitely ahead of the game,” says Rob Walk, Maître D at Radius, about the local beer scene. Walk previously worked at Cleveland Chop House and Brewery, a renowned restaurant and local favorite in downtown Cleveland.

Not far from Judson’s, in and around University Circle, you can sample and experience Cleveland’s thriving craft beer scene. Here are five hot spots to try.

Market Garden Brewery
1947 W. 25th Street, Cleveland
Sam McNulty’s flagship brewery located next door to West Side Market is part of the Bar Cento, Bier Markt, Speakeasy and Nano Brew family. Try the award-winning Progress Pilsner or Prosperity, a Belgium-style Hefeweizen.

Nano Brew Cleveland
1859 W. 25th Street, Cleveland
This brew “laboratory” is a testing ground, in a sense, for beers that eventually end up on tap at Market Garden Brewery. “They tend to play with different beer styles and explore what they can do with different varieties of beer,” Chakerian says.

Great Lakes Brewing Co.
2516 Market Ave., Cleveland
The Cleveland beer renaissance started here with brothers Patrick and Daniel Conway opening Great Lakes Brewing Co. in 1988. Try one of their seasonal brews, such as Christmas Ale (available now) or Conways Irish Ale (closer to St. Patrick’s Day). You’ll always find their deep, golden lager, Dortmunder Gold, which is a bestseller at South Franklin Circle’s Radius, Walk says.

Platform Beer Co.
4125 Lorain Ave., Cleveland
Platform Beer Co. has a double agenda: To brew tasty beers, and to provide opportunities for budding brewers to turn their craft into a business. Platform Beer Co. is a brewery, tasting room and small business incubator, supporting home brewers who want to escalate their efforts. Now, try Platform’s holiday ale called Esther, a Belgium-style brew that’s quite different from leading Christmas beers on the market. “It’s much darker and has a more toasty, robust flavor,” Chakerian says.

Fat Head’s Brewery & Saloon
24581 Lorain Road, North Olmsted
Fat Head’s swept up a number of gold awards at the 2015 Great American Beer Festival, including its Head Hunter IPA. The deep golden American ale has notes of pine, citrus, pineapple and grapefruit—and it packs a punch. Another beer to try is Bumble Berry Honey Blueberry Ale. “Float some blueberries in it and it’s just outstanding—the perfect summer beer,” Chakerian says.

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