Ohio's Craft Beer Boom is Toasted in a New Book
Next week is American Craft Beer Week, a nationwide toast to a new kind of American revolution.
The number of craft breweries in Ohio has been steadily increasing, and both the quality and variety is celebrated in a new book.
If you ever wondered whether Cleveland is a craft beer town, a short stroll down West 25th Street would remove all doubt.
Brew pubs and gastro pubs line both sides of the street near the West Side Market.
“Great Lakes is the influential craft brewer,” according to author Paul Gaston. “And not just for beer, but I think for all of the values that craft brewing has come to represent.”
Setting the standard
Gaston writes in his new book, “Ohio’s Craft Beers” that when it opened in 1988 the Great Lakes Brewing Company established a model.
“Good qualities I think that distinguish this culture from the large mega commercial group.”
And that culture’s expanding in Ohio.
“The number of breweries in Ohio more than doubled from the time I began this project to the time that the book appeared.” In 2013 there were 50. Now there are more than 100.
Better beer boom
Craft beer is booming in Ohio and Gaston’s not at all surprised. “It’s better beer. It’s crafted with purpose and imagination."
After three years of crisscrossing the state sampling good beer, Gaston views Ohio’s brewers as competitive but collaborative, and above all, principled.
“It’s a commitment to the environment, to local sourcing, to architectural restoration. Character traits that run right across the industry.”
Gaston’s admiration for the ethics of craft brewers is one reason for the book. “It is an enthusiasm for the product, but it also an appreciation for the, I think, historical importance of the culture.”
Gaston is the Trustees Professor at Kent State University and normally writes about English literature rather than beer. “I did feel as though I had to publish several good, serious books first.”
Kent State University Press published the book, and he recently got a chance to show it to Marissa DeSantis, Great Lakes Brewing’s spokesperson. “So that’s the actual product, “says Gaston, adding “I think it turned out nicely.”
DeSantis agrees.” Oh, it’s beautiful. Oh, this is fantastic.” She’s a craft beer devotee from way back. “Actually one of my favorite things is walking in every morning and smelling the grain in the air. It’s one of my favorite smells.”
Need to educate
She welcomes Gaston’s book. “With the craft beer exploding in the way that it has, there are a lot more people who are actively trying to educate themselves and try new styles. But there are still some people who have misconceptions about beer or just simply haven’t tried anything in the craft world.”
Newbies might need a recommendation. “I would suggest either the Turntable Pils,” says DeSantis, “or Grandes Lagos Mexican Lager.”
The lager has a pink hue, and the taste is tart, but with a sweet hint of the hibiscus flowers it’s brewed with.
Learning the lingo
Creativity is one of the values Gaston cites in his book. Great Lakes brews more than a hundred varieties.
“I’m interested in the ESB today which is a pub only beer. Extra Special Bitter. It’s an English style, kind of similar to an IPA.”
“Ours has like a nice hop and malt balance to it, “says DeSantis. “We serve it on nitro so it’s got a really nice creamy mouth feel.”
The term Nitro is included in a glossary in Gaston’s book. It means the beer is propelled from keg to tap by nitrogen along with carbon dioxide. Nitro has long been used for ports and stouts, but brewers like Great
Lakes are experimenting with it now for other styles.
Fermentation plus preservation
There’s all kinds of history in the Victorian building where Great Lakes beers are brewed and poured. “Isn’t this the same bar that Elliot Ness would belly up to?” we ask Gaston.
“It is,” he confirms.” Hence the name of their lager.”
Gaston says Akron’s brewers are also bringing buildings and neighborhoods back to life. “Hoppin’ Frog that does these wonderfully creative heavily-hopped beers. They’re in, in effect, an industrial park. Then you’ve got right downtown an old brewery, what was the Burkhardt Brewery that has become a new brewery, Thirsty Dog, restoring it, making it once again what it was back in the 19th century.”
Sawmills and churches
In his book Gaston mentions a 19th century sawmill in Miamisburg that’s been turned into Star City Brewing; a renovated Ford dealership in Columbus that’s now North High Brewing; and a Methodist church in Bryan that’s now Father Johns Brewing Company.
“But I’d also have to mention Fifty West which is out in the suburbs in an old inn, and its surrounded by a lovely forest.”
DeSantis says Fifty West in Cincinnati collaborates with Great Lakes in Cleveland. “This year we did a really cool beer that we used local hickory shag bark in. That was a unique experience having all this bark in the brew house. They came up here and got to brew on our system.”
Lighter beers are trending
DeSantis says IPAs or India Pale Ales with more than 6 percent alcohol by volume have been very popular, but the tide may be turning.
“We released our pilsner this year, and people are really excited to have a lighter body beer that is more sophisticated, and then maybe after that they’ll get back into IPA’s again. We see this happen in waves, people going from these extreme styles to these more classic, approachable styles.”
Gaston suggests some entry-level beers like Fifth Street Wheat from Toxic Brew. Their building used to be a
pawn shop. “They’re on 5th Street in Dayton. It is their entry-level beer to a palate of beers that is remarkably challenging as the name ‘toxic’ might suggest.”
“They’re not going to challenge someone who likes a Bud Light or a Coors Light or a Miller or anything like that. They’re good, and they’re introductions to the world of craft brewing.”
Gaston says he tries very hard not to be a beer snob. He just wants to share his enthusiasm.
“I’ll be talking about the book and they’ll say, ‘Well, I don’t really like beer.’ I always say, ‘You’ve not found the beer that you will love. And you need to try because that will enrich your life.”
Paul Gaston’s book is titled “Ohio’s Craft Beers: Discovering the Variety, enjoying the Quality, Relishing the Experience.”