When Cleveland Heights residents Brian Benchek and Dave Schubert first landed the space that would ultimately become the BottleHouse Brewery (2050 Lee Rd., 216-214-2120), it had been vacant for a decade. Formerly a cold-storage facility for Zagara's Grocery, the 6,200-square-foot building had a date with a wrecking ball.
"When we first got here, we wouldn't even let our kids in here it was so dangerous," explains Benchek. "Everything you see here now was not here."
That explains the year-long delay in getting open. Everything, from the floors and walls to the bar and brewery, was built by Benchek, Schubert, friends and family. The result is warm-hearted room that feels more like a neighborhood coffeehouse than a city bar.
"Dave and I both lived out west and every little mountain town has a place like this with music, good beer, a little food," says Benchek. "We just wanted something like that in Cleveland Heights."
In the main room, massive hand-built wooden picnic tables can seat a dozen apiece. Off to one side is the bar, assembled from thick metal plates that long kept Zagara's forklifts from falling through the floor. A small stage is ideal for live music, to be sure, but the owners also hope it will be used by poets, speakers and best men during wedding receptions. Televisions are conspicuously and intentionally absent.
In the back warehouse, 10 gleaming copper brew kettles are the meat of the brew-on-premises operation. Home (and away-from-home) brewers come in, select a recipe from a collection of over 70, and brew with assistance from the in-house pros. A few weeks (and approximately $150) later, customers leave with 72 22-ounce bottles (a keg's worth) of their own making.
While it will be some weeks before the BottleHouse boys offer up their own brews, guests will have a choice of eight ever-changing taps and 27 more in bottles. Whiskey and beer flights will be offered, too. Beer fans also can purchase beer – in bottles, growlers, even kegs – to go.
Food will be light, including hot-from-the-skillet pierogies, chips and other local treats. Food trucks will be encouraged to roll on up to the old loading dock to feed the room.
The BottleHouse officially opens its doors on Tuesday, May 1st, but the real fun starts on Saturday. That's when they crack the seal on a firkin of cask-conditioned real ale from Heavy Seas brewery.