The day Boris Music dispenses his very first pint of beer at his forthcoming Ohio City brewery, he already will be the oldest brewing tradition in America, edging out Yuengling by four years. That's because he's officially part of the Laško family, a Slovenian brewery that dates back to 1825.
"Do they have a good beer?" Music muses. "Yes they do. Will our beer here in America be better than what they produce? They are a major brewery; they are not a micro-brewery. We will have better control because of small qualities. We intend to be a craft beer producer."
We're holed up in Music's Ohio City bunker, better known as Hansa House, which has been a part of this neighborhood for the better (and worse) part of four decades. Spread out on the desk before us are blueprints for a multi-million dollar undertaking that will transform the corner of Lorain and W. 28th into a shiny new brewery, restaurant and retail shop.
Last week, Music officially broke ground on the project, but it's been in the works for far longer than that. It's just that his neighborhood – at long last – finally caught up to his dreams.
"My customers were telling my, Why don't you move? Go to Parma, go to Seven Hills," Music says of his early days in the neighborhood. "Even with a fire, being robbed, being beaten, something told me that the neighborhood was improving."
Throughout it all, Music ran his specialty foods shop, selling European meats and cheeses and beers to immigrants who missed the authentic flavors of home. His inventory of some 3,000 items attracted shoppers from as far afield as New York, Pennsylvania and Michigan. And slowly but surely, the prostitutes outside his front door were being edged out by urban pioneers, who coincidentally enough favored the European model of urban living.
"These are the youth who were traveling to Prague, to Berlin, to Rome, that loved European culture and were bringing it back to America," he says. "Looking at the trends in America, you have these 40-, 50-year cycles. I said, maybe in my lifetime this neighborhood will come back. I guess I was right."
When all is said and built, the complex will feature a large 15-barrel brewery, multi-level restaurant, retail shop, beer garden and patio. A bottling line will be used not only to bottle Music's beer, but also that of his colleagues in the neighborhood. A visiting brewmaster from Europe will get the ball rolling, while visiting chefs will keep things fresh and authentic in the kitchen. Music anticipates serving foods from German, Hungary, Slovenia, Italy and France.
"I want to make this totally different from what is today's norm," he says while snacking on thin slices of imported speck.
Music's plans are music to the ears of Eric Wobser, Executive Director of Ohio City Inc. To him, it's just further proof that the neighborhood is doing a great job of moving forward while not abandoning the things from the past that helped lay the foundation for everything that followed.
"You see examples of old-meets-new all over the neighborhood," Wobser says. "The growing bike community feels very European to me. You look at the West Side Market and new shops like Noodlecat opening up alongside butchers. Cleveland's opportunity is finding that balance between what is special about our European history and our evolution towards a more do-it-yourself, urban and authentic place."
Of course, nobody is more thrilled by the news than Sam McNulty, who has been on a single-minded mission to turn Ohio City into Beer City ever since he opened his first bar. Along with Great Lakes Brewing, Market Garden Brewery and Nano Brew, Laško will be the neighborhood's fourth.
"Boris is extremely savvy," McNulty says. "He's been in Ohio City for a quiet 40 years – longer than Great Lakes. He's seen this neighborhood at its darkest days. Everybody else fled to the suburbs, but Boris built a bulwark around himself and said I'm staying."
Savvy, yes. But more than anything, Music is sensible. He cites the oft-quoted statistic that says Cleveland is within 600 miles of 60 percent of the American population. And nobody drinks more beer than Americans.
"Rather than import beer, we can make it right here," he says. "The water is good, the rent is cheap, and there's lots of thirsty people to sell it to."
Look for a late-fall opening.