By Vince Guerrieri
Ohio has seen a virtual explosion of craft brewing in the past decade. “Craft beer has really gained a critical mass,” says Leslie Basalla of the Cleveland Brew Bus, a tour company offering bus trips to breweries. “I think it’s a local reflection of a national trend.”
Craft beer consumption has risen from 3 percent of market share a decade ago to more than 12 percent nationally. And in the Cleveland area, that number soars to 29 percent, Basalla adds. Ground zero for the Cleveland brewing scene has to be Ohio City, home to the iconic brewpub Great Lakes Brewing Company and neighboring Market Garden Brewery and Platform Beer Co., which also hosts a business incubator for aspiring brewers. Down the hill in Cleveland’s Flats, the nano-brewery Brick and Barrel harkens to the district’s gritty, industrial heritage – and with a wine list and plans for its own winery, also caters to non-beer drinkers out on the town. On the Flats’ East Bank, Portside Distillery & Brewery likewise draws crossover imbibers with both craft beers and its own rum drinks.
But the opportunities for craft beer stretch beyond Cleveland; you can find plenty of places to have a pint across Northeast Ohio. Up in wine country, Debonné Vineyards joined the craft beer movement by opening its own micro-brewery, Cellar Rats Brewery. Rust Belt Brewing Company brews in Youngstown’s historic B&O station; its tap house sits in another restored train station, formerly used by the Erie & Lackawanna.
Farther south in Hartville, another destination for wine lovers and their beer-drinking friends: Maize Valley Winery & Craft Brewery, offering beers by the sample, glass or growler.
Among the tours offered by the Brew Bus is one through Akron, including a stop at Hoppin’ Frog Brewery, with weekday “Hoppy Hours” and “New Arrival Saturdays” in the tasting room. And Basalla says new breweries might be included on future tours. “There are plenty in Akron I’m eager to check out,” she says.