Christmas comes early in Cleveland. However, the ceremonial tapping of the season's first keg of Great Lakes Christmas Ale is just one of more than 350 events lined up for Cleveland Beer Week (CBW) 2013.
Now in its fifth year, the North Coast's nine-day celebration of craft beer has become one of the most celebrated in the country. From October 18 to 26, hundreds of area bars, restaurants and grocers will feature special events, sought-after beers and delicious beer/food pairings. Brewery representatives will converge on Cuyahoga County like craft beer Magi, complete with gifts in the form of libations. Fanatics and novices alike will celebrate the most wonderful time of the year to be a Cleveland craft beer drinker.
Ed Thompkins has been instrumental in Cleveland's craft beer love affair. As wine and beer purchaser for Heinen's Fine Foods, Thompkins propelled the local grocer's craft beer selection and championed the installation of draft stations in every store. In 2009, Thompkins partnered with Winking Lizard partner John Lane to create Cleveland Beer Week. The pair not only focused on the immediate goal of promoting awareness, but also had the foresight to build a foundation for growth and sustainability.
"When we started our event, we recognized that 'beer week saturation' would soon follow nationally," explains Thompkins. "So from the beginning, we looked to ensure that, when other cities followed, breweries would not want to miss Cleveland Beer Week. The support in the city has always been great, and now it's really evolved into a source of civic pride."
While Lane's title is Vice President of Operations at Winking Lizard Tavern, his role as beermeister is equally important. Lane championed better beer before Ohio microbreweries ever existed, creating the Winking Lizard World Tour in 1986. He also is a Belgian Beer Knight, having been knighted by the Belgian Brewers Guild in a 2012 ceremony in Brussels.
According to Sir Lane, solid partnerships and charity are the keys to CBW's success. "The week gets great support from brewery representatives who are in town for supplier meetings. This allows them to bring goodies that aren't normally available. Additionally, CBW is non-profit, with all proceeds going to the Jimmy Malone Scholarship Fund. So, while you are drinking a great beer, you can think of the profit going to a great cause."
Lane says new and improved events will make CBW 2013 the best yet. "We added events like Lebowski Bowling and Belgian Saturday Social as well as some really cheeky beers for VIPs at Brewzilla," he says. "I think we may also have a record number of retailers involved this year, which makes for more creativity and fun!"
Popular returning flagship events include Culture Yourself, a beer and cheese pairing, and Ales on Rails, a beer tasting aboard the historic Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. In addition, foodie functions like the Greenhouse Tavern's Metal As F$%#k dinner, Oak Barrel's Hoppin' Frog pairing, and Southside's Food Truck Fandango allow chefs to pair culinary creations with world-class beer. The week culminates on Saturday, Oct. 26, with Brewzilla at the Galleria. The monstrous beer list for this grand tasting is indeed "cheeky."
Thompkins thinks unique beers set CBW 2013 apart. "The popular Collaboration Beers are back and even better," he says. "There aren't many cities where you could have seven one-of-a-kind beers made for Beer Week by 16 local breweries." Heinen's will be the only retailer to sell all seven beers on draft. In addition to locally crafted specialties, New York's Southern Tier and Belgium's De Proef created celebratory beers specifically for CBW.
Unique offerings will be flowing everywhere. Bell's 36-tap takeover at the Tremont Taphouse will offer something for every taste. Ithaca Beer Company is debuting three IPAs around town, while Tröegs has sent five rare Scratch beers to select Cleveland accounts. Other rarities include Revolution Deth's Tar Imperial Stout, Ballast Point Habanero Sculpin IPA and Lagunitas Fusion 16. To make the holiday complete, Great Lakes will debut 2013's Christmas Ale on Thursday, Oct. 24.
While Cleveland is celebrating, Thompkins and Lane are looking toward the future. "We are only scratching the surface of what Beer Week (and Cleveland) can become," Thompkins believes. "Sam McNulty [of Market Garden Brewery] once told me that his vision was to help make Cleveland 'like Portland's beer scene.' Not only are we there, we are developing our own culture that events like CBW support and grow!"
Lane agrees. "CBW will continue to grow as long as craft beer continues to grow. Ten years ago we couldn't have dreamed of pulling off an entire week of events, but now maybe a week isn't enough."
A complete list of events is available at clevelandbeerweek.org.