By Rich Warren
Southern Tier Brewing Company’s new Cleveland taproom is introducing more Ohioans to the brewery’s big, punchy, and sometimes downright unusual beer flavors.
Southern Tier’s beers have been distributed in northeast Ohio for the past decade, but the new taproom that opened in September 2018 at 811 Prospect Avenue in the downtown “Discovery District” will certainly allow northeast Ohio beer enthusiasts a much more up-close-and-personal experience with the Lakewood, New York-based brewery’s roster of beers, which includes Crème Brûlée Stout, Cherry Cordial and Imperial Cinnamon Roll Ale.
Located a stone’s throw from Progressive Field and Quickens Loans Arena, the spacious two-level establishment has room for 130 patrons on each floor, with the downstairs area sporting a laid-back “speakeasy” feel with sofas and stuffed chairs.
The sampling experience from the taproom’s 30 taps is enhanced by the brewery’s tasting notes, which include such memorable phrases as “Wild and funky,” “A hint of a ‘Fruit Loop’ character,” and, “A rich marriage of hops and barley to cast light upon the evening and melt your mind.”
The brewery also offers an “upscale pub grub” menu that incorporates beer into its offerings, from beer-enhanced barbecue sauce to beer cheese to pickles brined in beer. There’s even a “Beeramisu” dessert.
In addition to offering its flagship beers that are available year-round, the Southern Tier taproom pours limited-release brews and seasonal favorites, such as its wildly popular Pumpking that uses pumpkin puree and pumpkin-pie spices. Developing new beer flavors and variants is clearly a priority at Southern Tier: 14 new flavors were released in both 2017 and 2018.
Founded in 2002, Southern Tier produces more than 100,000 barrels of beer per year and ships to 33 states – and it is expanding rapidly. Sister company Southern Tier Distillery opened in 2016 with unusual gins, vodkas, bourbons, and whiskeys. On the beer side, Southern Tier’s first satellite brewery and taproom launched in Pittsburgh in 2017, with a second opening in the summer of 2018 in Charlotte, North Carolina, in tandem with Downington, Pennsylvania-based Victory Brewing Company.
The new Cleveland taproom boasts two brewhouses where brewmaster Jason Comeaux uses a German-designed system to produce “Cleveland Brew’d” beers. Those brews may remain local-only or, in some cases, could “graduate” to full production at the New York headquarters brewery if Cleveland drinkers give the new flavors a particularly enthusiastic thumbs-up.
According to Jim Stillwagon, general manager at the Cleveland taproom, local production will focus primarily on sours and barrel-aged beers. Expect the Cleveland-produced flavors to be as bold as Southern Tier beers in general. “We want to be innovative and push the envelope,” Stillwagon says.
Where does Southern Tier get ideas for new and unusual beers? According to Nathan Arnone, brand manager at the New York headquarters, suggestions come from the general public and from employees. A limited-release pale ale called “These Boots Are Made for Hopping,” for example, came from female employees at the plant who were members of the Pink Boot Society, an organization supporting women working in the brewing profession.
Experimental batches of proposed new flavors are prepared, with many discarded rather than being advanced for production. Southern Tier has five microbiologists in its research and development department to analyze every step in the process, Arnone said, and tasting panels ensure that new beers in development meet brewery standards.
What’s coming soon? In the spring, expect a Mango Crush Sour and a S’more Stout.
“Like our other beers, they’ll have an exceptional flavor profile,” Arnone said. “We work to make each of our beers unique.”