Eli Smart wants to be part of the ongoing craft beer boom in Ohio. The homebrewer and former restaurant manager plans to open the Trailhead Brewery in Akron’s Merriman Valley this summer.
"I just want to make some beer and have some fun," Smart said. "I just love making beer, you know."
He’s transforming a plaza storefront at 1674 Merriman Road into a small production brewery and tasting room, and waiting for state and federal approvals.
The taproom will feature draft beer, a small custom-made cedar bar and wooden picnic tables for seating.
The Trailhead name and picnic tables are perfect for the setting because the brewery sits at the edge of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
Trailhead should fit in well in the neighborhood. The Merriman Valley is filled with bars and nightclubs. It also was home to the former Liberty Street brewpub, which closed in 2001.
Smart’s custom-made brewhouse will be able to make a maximum of three barrels of beer at a time — a tiny amount compared to other operations. For comparison, Thirsty Dog Brewing Co. in Akron can produce 18 barrels in one batch.
Smart, who lives in Stow with his wife and infant son, plans to have four beers on tap at first and then add a fifth and sixth. Those will include an India pale ale, Belgian-style dark strong ale, imperial pilsner, stout and wheat beer.
"I like a lot of flavor in my beer," he said, adding that his brews will not be filtered.
He also would like to offer firkins — limited-edition cask-conditioned ales — on Thursdays.
There are no plans right now to distribute or bottle Trailhead beers, meaning the only way you’ll be able to taste them is by visiting the brewery. There also will be no food service, other than snacks.
The beer culture in Ohio is exploding and it’s the perfect time to start a brewery, Smart said. He and his wife — who are both Ohio State University graduates — moved to Stow last year for work after five years living in Colorado, where he managed a restaurant.
That state is beer heaven for those who love craft beer. There’s a brewery and taproom on every corner. Well, maybe not every corner, but Colorado is filled with more than 130 breweries.
Ohio has more than 70 craft brewers now with many more operations planning to open later this year.
Trailhead will be the fourth brewery in the city, joining Thirsty Dog, Hoppin’ Frog and Ohio. The new Nauti Vine on South Main Street also is seeking a state license to brew under the name Mucky Duck.
Thirsty Dog co-owner John Najeway welcomed Trailhead, noting that beer drinkers who travel to Akron want to visit other breweries.
"It’ll be nice to have another brewery because it will give you another option if you’re a craft beer fan," he said.