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The Cleveland Craft Beer Report

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The more beer the merrier — that we know. And lucky for us, the number of Cleveland breweries is on the rise. The good folks behind Tremont Tap House have announced plans to open The Butcher and the Brewer on East Fourth Street by next spring. It will take over the space previously occupied by Dredgers Union clothing store. Tap House beverage director Eric Anderson will handle the brewing duties. He most recently brewed at Buckeye Brewing Co., where he produced some unique beers, including barrel-aged sours. He can't wait to fire up the custom designed 10-barrel brewhouse. "I couldn't be more ready to get back into my boots," he says. "The guys that I'm working with on this project have essentially left me with a blank canvas and control over all things beer."

The unique set up will spread the brewery across two stories, with the brewhouse on street level and the fermenting and serving tanks on the lower level. "I've designed the brewhouse to be primarily gravity-fed as it would have been before the use of pumps," Anderson explains. "I've had the lauter tun raised so that the runoff can be done by gravity. Also, I'm hoping to be able to gravity-feed my finished wort downstairs." The brewery should produce between 1,000 and 1,400 barrels of beer the first year of operation.

So, what styles can Cleveland craft beer fans look forward to? "I have a fancy for Belgians, so you'll see things like a French Pale Ale, Bière de Garde and Saison," he shares. "Lower ABV beers have their place and you can be sure we'll have a Hefeweizen and Kölsch on tap to lube up the gears before you get into the bigger brews." What about some bigger brews? "I enjoy making beers that I can't find or I don't see examples of in the Cleveland market." Those might include a dry-hopped Imperial Porter, a session Barleywine, and a smattering of smoked beers and barrel-aged specialties. "Sour beers have long been a friend of mine and I know the masses are thirsty for them," he adds. "I can't promise a slew of wild beers from the get-go, but rest assured they are souring. Come next spring, I'll be back in my element and ready to make my mark on the already stellar Cleveland beer scene."

In addition to a growing number of local options, craft beer fans living in Northeast Ohio have access to some of the best national brands as well. Yet, some breweries leapfrog the Buckeye State, only to sell their suds to our neighboring states. Why do some major breweries skip over Ohio?

There are various strategic reasons, but one primary factor is volume; thirsty Ohioans drink enough beer to rank seventh in the nation in overall consumption. Facing said supply challenge, New Belgium Brewing of Fort Collins, Colorado – brewer of the ever-popular Fat Tire, and presently the nation's third largest craft brewer – elected to focus their expansion efforts on Michigan. Ohio distribution won't occur until a new brewery in Asheville, N.C., is online and rolling out barrels, and groundbreaking delays there have pushed back the rollout.

However, things have changed very recently. Industry sources say that New Belgium has accelerated Ohio entry and will be in the state by the end of the year. The brewery first needs to select a distribution partner, but an announcement could come as early as September. Why the sudden hurry? One theory is that New Belgium wants to reach increasingly crowded Ohio store shelves and tap handles before Oregon's Deschutes Brewery enters in early 2014. Deschutes is the nation's fifth largest craft brewery, but brews only about one third the annual volume of New Belgium. Regardless, the number of craft beer choices in Ohio continues to grow.

Cheers to an even better selection of world-class beer!

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