Cloven Hoof? For Ryan Sposito, it’s more than just the name of the brewery that he opened in October.
It’s a tribute to his late brother, Jake Sposito, who passed away from brain cancer in 2013. Cloven Hoof served as the name of a band that the two started together when Ryan Sposito was just 15.
It’s fitting that Cloven Hoof Brewing Co. is a new addition to Ashtabula’s Historic Harbor District, which is just a quick 45-minute drive from Erie. In the past 10 years, the area has grown considerably and is home to a trendy coffee house, chocolate shop, seafood and meat markets along with several nice restaurants and retail shops.
Jake Sposito played a key part in the in the region’s revitalization as the former owner of Harbor Perk Coffeehouse and Roasting Co., where Ryan Sposito still works as roast master. His experience brewing coffee is also what partially led him to start brewing beer.
“I roasted coffee for five or six years at my brother’s shop, but I wanted to come up with a way to live an independent life, and I had always been a craft beer fan,” Ryan Sposito said.
He started to think of craft beer as a career once he noticed its rise in popularity, especially within the Harbor District. Several of the restaurants began carrying craft beer on tap.
With the only nearby brewery being GOTL Brewing Co. in Geneva-on-the-Lake, it appeared as if there was an opportunity to capitalize on a void in the local market. That’s one of the reasons Ryan Sposito started homebrewing six years ago.
Over the past few years, Sposito has worked to perfect his recipes and create a business plan. Then, through the help of loans, including seed funding from Ashtabula County’s New Entrepreneur Opportunity Fund, he was able to purchase equipment to make his goal a reality. He even purchased a one-barrel brewing system from Forest City Brewery, located in Cleveland’s Ohio City neighborhood.
With the paperwork and legal requirements complete, Cloven Hoof Brewing Co. officially opened its doors Oct. 5. Calling that night a success might be an understatement; the brewery sold out of all its beer before the night was out and had to close for the remainder of the weekend.
“I only had about a month to prepare before everything was finalized, so I had made 10 half-barrels kegs, which is about 120 to 220 pours per keg. Every hour, I sold out of a keg. I had to kick everybody out because I had no product,” Sposito said. “I just didn’t realize how popular it was going to be.”
Since then, popularity has continued to grow. Sposito estimates that the brewery has made just over $80,000 in the three months since it opened. Also, he continues to speak regularly with folks from the Erie area who have made the trek to visit the space. Members of the Erie Better Beer Bureau Facebook group have been regular visitors.
Sposito said he plans to expand, perhaps to a five- or seven-barrel system, and he plans to reinvest in the business. That said, he does not want to lose sight of what makes it what it is.
He does not plan to do any canning or bottling. Also, on the rare occasion that kegs are distributed, it will only be to nearby restaurants and bars.
“If anything, I will get one of those Crowler machines,” Sposito said. “The overhead is really low for my building, and the in-house retail is so much better. There are so many things that can go wrong with putting beer into cans and bottles. Sometimes when a brewery tries to go too big too quick, they fail. I just want to put a really good glass of beer on the table and go from there.”
Thus far, that’s exactly what he’s done. As of now, Cloven Hoof Brewing Co. boasts an impressive 3.9 out of 5 average score on the Untappd Drink Socially app. The brewery’s best seller happens to be Sailing Goat, a milk stout that uses Harbor Perk coffee and chocolate from Marianne’s Chocolates, also located in the Harbor District.
For Sposito, it’s the Harbor District, which his brother started to revitalize years ago, that makes his brewery so special.
“We do have a really awesome space with ping-pong tables and everything, and I definitely think my brewery alone is worth a visit,” Sposito said. “But there’s also so much to do on the street in the Harbor District as well. There’s coffee, chocolate, restaurants, shops, and just so much to do that really makes for a great trip.”