With the recent hiring of a brewmaster, the final pieces of the Platform Beer Co. are coming together. Shawn Yasaki, a brewer for two and a half years at Fat Head's Brewery, has joined up with partners Paul Benner and Justin Carson to provide the professional brewing experience the ambitious project demands.
When it opens in May, Platform will be unlike any other brewery in the region, if not the state. In addition to the microbrewery and taproom, the venture will focus on education and outreach, both to homebrewers and the local hospitality industry.
Carson, founder of JC BeerTech, a successful company that designs, installs and maintains draft beer systems at restaurants all over the country, already has moved his company's headquarters into the second floor of the Ohio City building. Located at W. 41st and Lorain, the two-story brick building recently was home to an antiques mall, but was built a century ago as a Czech social hall.
Already the building has received a new brick façade, which will feature large windows that open up onto Lorain. Work currently is underway on the 5,000-square-foot main floor, which will house both a 10-barrel brewing system for Yasaki as well as a 3-barrel pilot system for guest brewers. The 99-seat taproom will be smack dab in the middle of it all.
"The idea for us is to have the customer really experience the brewing process," explains Benner, who also owns the Cleveland Brew Shop, a homebrew supply store in Tremont. "Most breweries segregate the brewing area from the drinking area, other than maybe a little window."
At Platform, guests seated at the lengthy bar will be staring directly at the brewing platform, a line up of 10 beefy fermentation tanks. All that separates the brew and bar areas is a low concrete curb with railing. Bartop and table surfaces are being fabricated from the original wood floors, which date all the way back to the days when the building housed manual bowling alleys. An overhead garage door will open onto a secluded side patio.
Platform will sell no food, choosing instead to focus solely on beer. Guests are welcome to bring in food or order in from nearby restaurants. An onsite catering kitchen will be used by guest chefs for pop-up events like late-night breakfast at the brewery.
"We're going after that West Coast taproom feel, which for some reason doesn't really exist around here," notes Benner. "In Colorado or Portland, tasting rooms are just the place where beer is made and people drink. It's all about brewing and pouring beer, not serving $12 meals."
Yasaki says he's aiming for an opening day roster of half a dozen beers, but will eventually fill out the 24-tap system with up to 15 different offerings. As for the selection… well, you'll just have to pop in to see for yourself.
"I'm not really big on flagship beers," he says. "I don't want people to come in and expect certain beers. I would like people to come in with the expectation that there's going to be a completely new lineup of beers and that's why they want to go there."
Sure, there will be classic styles, brewed and poured seasonally, but also experimentals and one-offs. (How does an applejack barrel-aged sour strike you?) At first, Platform will only offer its beers onsite, but has plans to ramp up production for wholesale to area bars and restaurants.
In addition to getting us all buzzed on great beer, Yasaki will help train the next generation of professional brewers. Platform's unique pilot system is geared toward experienced homebrewers who are eager to take the next step but don't know how to begin.
"I talk to people every day at the homebrew shop who get hooked on homebrewing and say, 'I want to do this for a living somehow, but I have no idea where to begin,'" Benner explains.
Every 12 weeks, a new guest brewer will begin the program that includes brewing with the brewmaster, but also lessons on branding and marketing, business and finance, and even negotiating the vexing web of state and federal regulations. The guest brewer's brews will be sold in the taproom.
"There's a lot more that goes into brewing beer than brewing," Benner says. "The idea is that after 12 weeks, you should have all the tools necessary to help you launch. We want them to be successful."
To some that might sound like arming one's future competition, but not to these guys.
"I believe that if you give someone an opportunity, there's a certain level of respect that goes along with it," says Carson. And, adds Benner, "the brewing community is very unique and collaborative — there's a lot of room out there for all of us."