Last week was the first annual Beer Week here in Cleveland. While a busy schedule kept me from a lot of the daily tastings and events around the city, we did make it to the closing celebration at the Arcade in downtown Cleveland: BREWZilla!
A beer tasting not to be missed, BREWZilla brought in 120+ breweries and retailers to distribute samples of their beers. After paying an admission fee, attendees were given 20 drink tickets, 3 food tickets, and a commemorative sampling glass. Once in the door tickets were exchanged for 3-4 oz. samples at the 32 rep stations.
Entering from the Euclid Avenue side of the building we worked around the top floor before heading downstairs to the food area and Ohio brewery areas, as well as more beer. Here's what we--Nicole, Morgan, and myself--drank:
Dixie: Blackened Voodoo - a dark lager on par with Negra Modelo or Beck's Dark. Refreshing and crisp like a good lager, but with a lot more flavor thanks to a darker malt. Not bad but not the best of the night.
Rogue: Hazelnut Brown Nectar - Wow! I'm not wild about flavored beers. I feel that if you make a good beer then beer-flavored beer should be good enough. However, this is amazing! Like a delicious combination of New Castle and iced hazelnut coffee. Rich and full flavored, but not heavy. I could easily drink a lot of this.
Unibroue: Raftman - Another offering from this highly lauded Quebecois craft brewery left me wanting more. In the bad way. I hear a lot of talk about these beers but save for their Trois Pistoles, I have yet to be really impressed by any. Raftman reminded me a lot of their flag ship beer, La Fin Du Monde. Morgan tried the Ephemere, an apple-y beverage that tastes about like taking half a swig of GLBC's Grassroots and half a belt of Woodchuck cider. Both were on the disappointing side. This table was also representing Clipper City Brewery, Baltimore, MD. Their offerings were the superlative Heavy Seas Loose Cannon, a triple hopped beer worth seeking out. Nicole sampled their Winter Storm ale, a "winter warmer" that was malty in the mouth and hoppy in the aftertaste, with a great spice hint to ward off winter chills.
Avery: IPA - Avery's IPA is a standard but worthy entry into the IPA category. Bold hops dominate this brew with their signature pine/citrus taste. Tasty but not life changing. Avery also offered up their excellent Hog Heaven Barley Wine. If you ever run across this prime example of a barley wine (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barley_wine) try it! Well, if you like strong, hoppy beers, that is. Hog Heaven is very malty at first, but its extremely hoppy aftertaste is not for the faint of heart (about 104 IBUs http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Bitterness_Units_scale), nor is the 9.2% ABV.
Flying Dog: Gonzo Imperial Porter - Brewed in tribute to gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, this imperial porter is a must for fans of dark beers. Dark, smokey, and bitter, this beer should appeal to fans of strong coffee and dark chocolate. Intense yet delicate, this imperial porter is not the tongue ruining draught that so many dark imperial beers can be.
Erie: Railbender Ale - Erie's flagship is a Scottish style ale, medium in color and balanced in flavor, if verging on the malty side of scale. Unfortunately it's somewhat underwhelming. I found Railbender to have an earthy taste (read as dirty) at first and finish with a metallic/meaty aftertaste. Nicole's Misery Bay IPA was equally unimpressive.
Goose Island: Pere Jacques - After a cheesy pretzel to cleanse the palate, we journeyed on to the Goose Island table. A Chicago based brewery, Goose Island brews a slew of delicious--and wallet friendly--beers. While their "classic" and seasonal brews are definitely worth some investigations, Goose Island brought the big guns to beer week. Their Pere Jacques is a Belgian Abbey Ale, which means it is capital-M malty, and has lots of fruity esters (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Esters). A great recreation of Belgian style brewing. Nicole and Morgan both opted for the Matilda. A Belgian style Pale Ale, the Matilda is less malty and has a wonderful, spicy flavor. Two of the best of the night.
Bell's: Double Cream Stout - The double refers to a doubling of the ingredients, the cream refers to the use of lactose in the brewing process. Doubling the basic ingredients results in a more intense, fuller flavor. Using lactose makes a beer sweeter and richer as the yeast cannot breakdown the lactose. All this means Bell's Double Cream Stout is a big, bold beer. Full flavored and filling, this is a dark beer fan's dream. Resting somewhere between the bitterness of Beamish and the malty-ness of Old Rasputin, this Bell's brew is sure to have a wide appeal. It did for us. Another one of the night's best.
Sierra Nevada: Chico Estate Ale - Sierra Nevada is one of my favorite breweries. Their Pale Ale is one of the best widely available pale ales on the market and a great stepping stone into the world of hoppy beers. For Cleveland Beer Week the Californian brewers rolled out their delicious flagship beer, but it came with company: Chico Estate Ale. This amazing beer is one of the few estate beers in the states, meaning it's one of the only beers made here in the states that is produced entirely on the Sierra Nevada estate. They grow all the hops and barley exactly where they brew it. The result is indescribable. Chico Estate Ale perfectly captures and balances the elements of a truly great beer. It's malt and hops a in perfect harmony from sip to finish. I would have gladly turned in all 20 of my tickets for 20 samples of this.
Victory: V-Twelve - If you check the tasting stations list given to guests at the door and find the Victory table you'll see that it doesn't offer V-Twelve as an option. I just happened to wander by their station when the rep asked me if I liked "sticky-sweet." I double-took, but responded in the affirmative. My nod netted me a few swallows of this sweet Belgian style brew. Malty and fruity, the affable nature of this brew belies is strength: 12% ABV. Thanks Victory!
Indigo Imp: Winter Solstice - One of the newest entries in the Cleveland Brewing scene, Indigo Imp has already made a splash by winning several awards in Cleveland Scene's annual best of Cleveland issue. Having already tried their Jester ale, a strong and sturdy standard ale, I opted for their seasonal brew, Winter Solstice. An amber ale with great hoppy aftertaste, Winter Solstice ups the flavor ante with orange zest and cinnamon. A playful, tasty winter warmer.
Great Lakes Brewing Co.: Edmund Fitzgerald - Any/all Cleveland beer fans attending BREWZilla were likely hoping for one thing: a preview of GLBC's superlative Christmas Ale. Guests who showed up early or shelled out for the pre-party got a sample of that elusive nectar, but we were disappointed. So it goes. I had a mini-draught of one of my favorite GLBC standards: Edmund Fitzgerald (Eddy Fitz as I calls it). A smokey, full bodied porter, the Fitzgerald has great coffee and chocolate flavors and a hoppy-ness not usually as pronounced in porters. GLBC CHRISTMAS ALE GOES ON SALE TODAY, OCTOBER 27, 2009!!!
Fat Head's Brewery: Shock the Monkey Stout - Another more recent addition to the Cleveland beer scene, Fat Head's is a beer fan's dream. Boasting a number of house brews, Fat Head's also showcases a variety of national craft brews and keeps two beers on a traditional hand-pulled cask system. For beer week they rolled out 4 of their signature brews but the buzz was all for Shock the Monkey. As bold as Peter Gabriel's stage presence with a silky-smooth finish, Monkey is a stout drinker's stout. Maybe the Beamish void won't feel so big now. Morgan, and later Nicole, grabbed a glass of their Bumble Berry beer, made with honey and blue berries, this is a delicious and refreshing lighter beer, but surprisingly light and easy, unlike most berry beers (I'm looking and you Leinenkugel Berry Weiss).
The Brew Kettle: Old 21 - The Brew Kettle is beer heaven-on-Earth. Offering a handful of house brews, the brew kettle also offers up some of the best regional and national craft brews on the market. If that weren't enough they also have a full service restaurant. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Brew Kettle's operation, though, is that the brew-your-own operation. While home brewing has become quite the cottage industry in the last decade or so, the Brew Kettle offers a helping hand. They will help you create your own signature beer, then monitor and bottle it for you when the time comes. It's not totally home brewing, but it's not wholly store bought either. Oh, and their beer? Amazing! Their Old 21 is an amazing bitter, hoppy ale (90 IBUs) and is neck and neck with Sierra Nevada's Estate Ale for best of the night. Nicole opted for their Red Eye PA, a crisp and delicious ruddy pale ale reminiscent of Sierra Nevada's flagship brew. Super big win for Ohio, I hope everyone at BREWZilla grabbed a glass or two from the Brew Kettle.
Buckeye Beer Engine: Commemorative Brown Ale - Nestled in Lakewood, the Buckeye Beer Engine is another brew Mecca in Cleveland. With a menu crammed full of meaty burgers (I suggest the Cyclops) and other bar food standards, and beer list longer than your arm it's difficult to not enjoy a night at the Beer Engine. For Beer Week the Beer Engine crafted the limited run brown IPA. A delectable marriage between a malty brown ale (Newcastle) and hoppy IPA (Sierra Nevada), the Beer Engine struck gold with this tawny brew.
BREWZilla was a super success! The crowd at the arcade was large and enthusiastic, the breweries were plentiful and varied (you could, if you wanted, grab a Stella or a Blue Moon). Let's raise one to this valiant effort and another to a Second Annual Cleveland Beer Week!