Matt Cole had a definite image in his head when designing the new tasting room at the Fat Head’s production brewery in Middleburg Heights.
He wanted people to be immersed in the brewery.
To see it. To hear it. To smell it.
So there’s no glass separating visitors sipping a beer from the working brewery, just a waist high wall. While sitting at the bar, people can see the brewhouse, the tank farm, the empty bottle storage, the bottling line and, well, everything.
“The idea was to just have the consumer feel like they are almost part of the process,” said Cole, a passionate and award-winning brewer who has received eight medals at the Great American Beer Festival since 2009 and that’s not even counting those he picked up when he brewed at Rocky River Brewing Co. He won three this year, including a gold for Hop JuJu Imperial IPA in the ultra competitive imperial IPA category.
“I wanted them to be able to see it. Smell it. Smelling it is a big part to me. Walk right in. Smell it. See the mechanical stuff working. Watch the brewer doing his thing. Sometimes you go to tasting rooms and you can hardly see any of the process. I wanted to entrench the consumer into a working brewery.”
Fat Head’s fans will get their first taste of The Tap House at Fat Head's Brewery today (Oct. 18) when it opens to the public at 4 p.m. The opening coincides with the launch of Cleveland Beer Week. There was a special sneak peek Thursday for family and friends.
The tasting room — which is open limited hours Wednesday through Sunday — is offering eight beers on draft right now: Head Hunter, Shakedown Stout, Holly Jolly Christmas, Spooky Tooth Imperial Pumpkin, Wango Tango Mango IPA, Bumbleberry, Trail Head and Liquid Courage Barleywine.
Those who want the full Fat Head’s line-up can still get that at the brewery’s brewpub in North Olmsted. Fat Head’s also has a restaurant in Pittsburgh and has announced it’s opening a brewpub in Portland, Ore., next year.
In addition to the tasting room at the production brewery, there’s a retail shop with Fat Head’s swag and beer for sale.
The brewery and tasting room are located in the rear of what can best be described as a cookie-cutter suburban industrial park. Fat Head’s takes up a cavernous 22,000 square feet, with 2,100 of that devoted to the tasting room.
One of the first things you’ll notice is that it’s partly sunny inside.
Blue skies and fluffy white clouds are painted on the top portion of the concrete block walls, engulfing about half the brewery in the tranquil scene. Cole wants to see that sky eventually wrap around the entire interior.
Right above the tasting room, there’s another massive, colorful rendering — that of the brewery’s namesake beer, Head Hunter sitting in that blue sky with rays of sunshine shooting out of it. The Head Hunter logo is sandwiched between African masks and spears sticking out from a growth of hops.
The bright colors are quite a shock, at least to any one who has toured many breweries. The only colors usually associated with production breweries are stainless steel and copper.
Here are a few other tidbits offered up by Cole during a tour:
• The plan to put Fat Head’s in a can is permanently on hold. Cole, who has never been the biggest fan of canned beers, continues to worry about oxygen sneaking into the can before it’s sealed when using smaller canning lines. As most everyone knows, oxygen, along with sunlight, are among beer’s mortal enemies.
Cole also questioned whether craft cans will catch on.
“I’m not 100 percent sure that’s going to be the next thing,” he said.
• Cole is a major fan of BrauKon, the German company that manufactured his brewhouse. He bought the equipment from Troegs Brewing and noted that such revered brewers as Allagash, Troegs and Three Floyds use BrauKon systems.
“You can’t polish a turd,” he said. “You’re only as good as you’re equipment.”
• Fat Head’s is moving more toward using leaf hops at the end of the boil as opposed to pellets.
• The brewery, as set up now, is capable of pumping out about 15,000 barrels a year. With additional space for fermenters available, Cole guessed that he could squeeze out another 7,000 barrels within its current footprint.