It’s easy to overlook places close to home. Maryanne’s dad used to lament how many people who grew up just a short bus or train ride from New York City and never visited the Statue of Liberty or the observation deck atop the Empire State Building. The same goes for beer traveling. With the soaring cost of gasoline and travel these days, it’s a perfect time to explore the obvious.
Crowds of locals rarely steer you wrong so we took our cue and followed—just in time to snag a seat at the bar for lunch.
And in that spirit, we recently spent a few days in neighboring Ohio. Although the state line is barely fifty miles from our home, for many years it was someplace we passed through on our way to the East Coast. Now, as the old saying goes, we’ve seen the error of our ways and are happy to report that art of craft brewing is alive, well and thriving in the Buckeye State. So, don your scarlet and gray apparel and buckeye nut necklace, and join us in visiting a few of the wonderful Cleveland establishments that serve fine brew.
Our first stop is the Buckeye Beer Engine in the west-side suburb of Lakewood (15315 Madison Avenue). It’s also the tasting room for the Buckeye Brewing Co., which opened its doors in early 2007. (And yes, many of you remember correctly: there was an iconic Buckeye Brewing Co. with the same name that operated in Toledo until 1972.)
The building has had several previous existences, most recently a white-tablecloth restaurant. With its dark wood paneling, it feels like a cozy neighborhood hangout where you want to join your friends while watching the big game. One look at the breweriana and you know you’re in a place for serious beer lovers. One look at the blackboard and you know you’ve found heaven—or at least a turnpike exit leading to the Pearly Gates.
In addition to the house brews there are 20 guest taps. The menu lists them all with a unique zero-to-five bitterness rating. You can even assemble your own sampler; the price of each glass varies according to the alcohol and hop content. There are also several cask selections and a range of bottled beers—more than a hundred strong, including multiple vintages of J.W. Lees Ale. Most are available at reasonable prices for carry-out, too.
The western suburbs are also home to Rocky River Brewing (21290 Center Ridge Road, Rocky River). A large sign in the front makes it easy to find. As you enter, you get a sense of the dramatic as you’re surrounded by the Century System brewing equipment on either side, proudly on display behind glass.
Once in the door, you’ll be looking straight at a large and majestic dark-wood back bar topped by a clock. The handiwork is something to behold, down to insets where, if you look closely—and we think you should—you’ll see the old-timey “RR” logo. There’s a further reminder that beer is brewed here: the windows behind the bar offer you a bird’s eye view of the serving tanks. Draped from the back bar are pennants marking the awards won by the house beers; and opposite the hostess stand is a display of GABF and WBC medals Rocky River has brought home.
We asked our server if he knew whether the bar had a history. Surely, we figured, it dated back to pre-Prohibitiion days and perhaps had seen service in some historic establishment. Not so. Sounding like a proud papa, the owner of the brewpub told us it was the handiwork of a local craftsman, who clearly had an eye for detail and a keen sense of what a classic bar looked like.
Two blackboards (these must be an “Ohio thing”) high on the back bar list what’s on tap. We ordered the sampler with all seven. The lineup has something to please everyone, from a light golden ale to a roasty porter, a saison-style beer and a blueberry wheat.