Is there such a thing as "too big"? Well, when it comes to beer lists, World of Beer is certainly pushing the limits. The recently opened Lakewood saloon – a member of a large and growing national chain – boasts a bewildering 50 taps and 500 or so bottles. Flanking a never-ending string of tap handles are two massive beer coolers, filled to the hilt with every conceivable brand and style of ale and lager.
The menu is so large, in fact, that it requires a table of contents – and this for a joint that serves zero food. Once you flip past the definitions of beer styles, beyond the background info on various breweries, you get to the heart of the matter: pages and pages of suds. The menu reminds me of the one at Cheesecake Factory, which goes on 75 percent longer than it should.
Which begs the question: How many beers are too many?
Like food, beer is a perishable product. If it sits for too long on the shelf – like a loaf of bread – the flavor will deteriorate. Drinking beer on tap at the brewery is a completely different experience than drinking the same beer weeks later out of a bottle at a bar.
"I've detected flavor changes in our beer in as short as a few weeks," says Matt Cole, head brewer for Fat Heads. That's why he is working to add freshness dates to his line of bottled brews.
These are the sorts of thoughts floating through my noggin as I stare at World of Beer's now-famous wall o' brew. What's fresh? What's not? And, more importantly, how the hell can I tell from my barstool?
At least with the beer on tap you can try before you buy. The bartenders here are more than willing to pony up tasters of draft beer to help customers make up their minds. Guests also can order up a flight of multiple selections, a nice way to get to know unfamiliar brands.
I sampled a boozy Belgian-style ale from Colorado-based Oskar Blues, before settling on a tamer pale ale ($5) from the same brewery. My companion stayed closer to home and ordered a Bumble Berry Blueberry Ale ($5) from Cleveland-based Fat Heads. World of Beer does a nice job of featuring plenty of local beers, with most of Ohio's breweries represented on the list.
Once you get past the beer, World of Beer is pretty unexceptional. It's a long and narrow barroom with flat-screen TVs and small raised stage for live music. Huge sliders up front open to unite the outside and inside, but the space is small and quickly filled. That breezy front perch is what first attracted James Flynn, a Lakewood resident, to World of Beer.
"World of Beer, at a drive-by, reminded me of many restaurants I would see in California, with the open frontage," he explains. "I would have preferred the open section to be non-smoking. I'd never make it in Europe."
Flynn and a buddy were sitting at the bar eating hot dogs prepared down the block. World of Beer has no kitchen, you see, meaning that hungry guests must pick up the phone and call either Eddie 'n Eddie, Jimmy Johns, or Dave's Cosmic Subs and have them deliver to the bar.
"They need a kitchen," Flynn added. "The Beer Engine has better food. Melt has better food and a better vibe. Deagan's has better food. Honestly, I hope they do well – they're in my neighborhood – but it's a tough sell to get me back here."
When we were ready to order food, a bartender handed over the menu to Eddie 'n Eddie. We called the number and a friendly staffer there took our order. He then walked into the bar, found us, and grabbed our cash. Later, he returned with our food. It was a smooth and seamless process, but could be awkward if you needed something like extra ketchup or a steak knife.
In 2007, when World of Beer was launched, extensive craft beer lists still were relatively uncommon. These days, most decent restaurants have beer lists that are better even than bars of yore. If the novelty (and questionable freshness) of a zillion beers is what you're after, this place might be for you. If good beer and a great meal are in the cards, you might want to head someplace else.