Cleveland can boast about being home to 13 breweries. Expand a little farther out by adding in the adjacent counties and the number jumps to 27 — with several more hoping to open within the next year.
So how many breweries can Cleveland support?
I posed that question Saturday to a panel of brewers at the International Beer Fest at the I-X Center in Cleveland.
There is room for more, but they likely will have to be small brewpubs or nanobreweries, said Garin Wright, owner and brewer at Buckeye Brewing in Cleveland and the Buckeye Beer Engine in Lakewood. He isn’t sure another production brewery would be able to make it.
There is, after all, only so much shelf space at the grocery stores and specialty beer shops. And there are only so many tap handles available at bars and restaurants. When one new brand shows up, there's likely another brand disappearing to make room for it.
Matt Cole, the award-winning brewer with Fat Head’s in North Olmsted and Middleburg Heights, said more breweries are welcome in the Cleveland area and there’s always room for another brewpub making great beer.
The panel featured Wright, Cole, Portside’s Dan Malz, The Brew Kettle’s Jack Kephart and Cornerstone’s Jay Cox. They took on a heap of questions from the audience.
Here’s a quick look at some of the more interesting questions and answers:
Q: What’s your favorite beer?
Malz: “I like Colt 45. It’s real cheap.” He was kidding. He went on to say Vienna lager.
Wright: “The fresher the beer is ... the happier you will be.”
Cox: He said he’s gravitating toward low-alcohol session beers.
Q: Will Buckeye bring back Liquid Foodie Truck Stop?
Wright: “I am going to make that again.” The beer is an imperial stout
Q: What’s the most important ingredient in beer?
Cox: “Water would be the first.”
Kephart: “The water is the foundation.”
Q: What’s the next beer trend?
Kephart: “Everybody is chasing the next hop.”
Q: Why don’t more local breweries make smoke beer?
Cole, who won a silver medal at the Great American Beer Festival for a smoke beer in 2009: “They don’t sell well.”
Malz: “I had somebody come in and order a smoke beer and they complained that it was smoky.”
Q: Will Ohio ever allow beers with higher than 12 percent alcohol by volume?
Wright: “I think 12 is enough.”
Cole: “The trend is going back to more session beers.”
Q: Ohio is looking at bringing back hop production to the state. Is that viable?
Cole: He pooh-poohed the idea. The Pacific Northwest has that market cornered now and it would be too costly to launch a hop processing plant here, he said.
Q: What's the worst beer you've ever brewed?
Kephart: He said he once tried to make a tripel that went awry and ended up tasting like "extremely alcohol fuel-sly bitter rubbing alcohol."
Cole: "If we have a beer that's not up to standards, we sent it right down the drain."