Somewhere along the way, beer got a bad rap. To many, it’s nothing more than something you imbibe in large quantities for the sake of getting drunk quickly and inexpensively. Often associated with college keg parties and raucous sporting events, beer gets little respect.
While examples of these stereotypes exist at bars throughout the nation (and probably the world), a visit to local microbreweries tells a much different story. Microbreweries produce small batches of craft beers, made using a traditional process of blending malted grains with hop flowers and water. In general, craft beers have more flavor, color and aroma than mass-produced beer, says Chris Verich, co-owner and manager of brewing operations at Ohio Brewing Company in downtown Akron.
The microbrewing process begins with malted barley, which is put in a hopper and conveyed to the brew house where it cooks in hot water and mash/lauter tun, and is converted from starch into a liquid sugar, called wort. The clear wort is then strained and transferred to the brew kettle where it is brought to a boil. Then comes time to add the hops, which give the beer its bitterness and acts as a natural preservative, Verich says. After boiling for a couple hours, the wort is cooled down to room temperature and transferred to a fermenter. This is where the yeast is added to convert the wort to alcohol and carbon dioxide. Fermentation takes about 10-12 days for ales, and three weeks or more for lagers, Verich explains.
When fermentation is complete, the beers are cooled to approximately 33 degrees and transferred to the serving tanks (where carbonation is added), then on to the tap and eventually into your glass. For lighter beers, the yeast is filtered out before it reaches the serving tank.
Each brewery has a head brewer (or brewmaster) who takes great care in overseeing the brewing process, managing day-to-day tasks of brewing and creating new recipes. You’ll find that most microbreweries offer certain beers on tap regularly in addition to a few seasonal or specialty brews. Some breweries also make their beers available for outside distribution or retail purchase, while others are available exclusively in their brewpub.
Unlike your favorite hole-in-the-wall bar, many microbreweries are destinations that offer a chance to watch the brewing process and enjoy high-quality craft beers and a sumptuous meal in a unique environment. Craft beers aren’t meant for you to down thoughtlessly, but rather to savor the complexities and compare, much like you would fine wines.
To get you started on your exploration of craft beers, we’ve compiled a few of our picks for microbreweries in Northeast Ohio and Western Pennsylvania, each offering a completely different experience. So spend an afternoon visiting one or all of the breweries on our list. Just be sure to drink responsibly and have a designated driver for the ride home. Or, find a nearby hotel and make a weekend out of it. Cheers!
Sample Like a Pro
When trying out a brewery for the first time, it’s best to start off by ordering a sampler. With samplers, you’re given small glasses (enough for a few sips) of five or six different varieties of beer. Some breweries select the beers for you, based on their signature flavors, others let you choose the varieties that intrigue you most. Samples are usually offered at about $1 per flavor, and are a great opportunity to break away and try something totally unusual without having to commit to a whole glass or pitcher.
Much like with wine tasting, there is an order to follow when tasting beers. It’s best to start off with the lighter beers and work your way down to the darker ones. Once you know what you like (and what you don’t), you can order a full glass or a growler to take home.
Great Lakes Brewing Company
2516 Market Ave., Cleveland, OH
Great Lakes Brewing Company was the first microbrewery in the state of Ohio, established in 1988 by brothers Patrick and Daniel Conway, and 20 years later it remains one of the most popular brewers in the state. After undergoing considerable renovations in 1998, the brewery now consists of six buildings. Perhaps most notable are the Brewpub and surrounding Taproom, which were created by the merger of two historic buildings —The Market Tavern and MacClean’s Feed & Seed Company. The Market Tavern was a popular watering hole for Eliot Ness, former leader of Chicago’s “Untouchables,” who is said to have left behind a few bullet holes near the bar. The brewery also features a basement Beer Cellar, an eco-friendly Beer Garden with indoor/outdoor dining areas, and the upstairs Market Room and Rockefeller Room facilities.
Always on Tap:
Burning River Pale Ale - An assertively hopped American Pale Ale with citrusy and piney Cascade hops.
Commodore Perry IPA - A medium-bodied and well-hopped India Pale Ale with a dry, fruity aftertaste.
Dortmunder Gold Lager - A smooth lager that strikes a delicate balance between sweet malt and dry hop flavors.
Edmund Fitzgerald Porter - A complex, roasty porter with a bittersweet, chocolate-coffee taste and bold hop presence.
Eliot Ness Amber Lager - An amber lager with rich, fragrant malt flavors balanced by crisp, noble hops.
Holy Moses White Ale - A Belgian Wit Ale spiced with orange peel, chamomile and coriander.
Top 3 Food Picks:
Bread Pudding with Bourbon Butter Sauce
Distance from Akron: About 45 minutes
North Country Brewing Company
141 S. Main St., Slippery Rock, PA
After traveling the east coast and mid-Atlantic as a crew chief and field director running archeology crews for a Pittsburgh company, Bob McCafferty decided to put down roots in Slippery Rock, not far from where he was raised. In 1998, he and his wife, Jodi, purchased an abandoned building, once home to Uber and Sons Furniture and Undertakers, and spent the next four years renovating and reframing the structure to create the North Country Brewing Company. In addition to serving beers from the on-site brewpub, North Country also features a full-service restaurant and wines from Pennsylvania vineyards. But perhaps what makes the brewery destination most unique are the detailed woodwork and the ecological mindset of the owners. During his travels, McCafferty saved trees from being burned at various archeological sites, and had them recycled into planks at the local mill. The wood was then stick-dried and later used for friend Gregg Kristophel’s intricate carvings that can be seen throughout the brewery, including on the front bar, interior shelves, bathroom fixtures and other areas. Ingredients for the restaurant and brewery come from local growers and from the McCafferty family’s garden. Waste from the restaurant is manually composted daily, and each week the leftover fry oil is converted into biodiesel — cutting the business’s landfill impact in half. In addition, spent brewer’s grains go to a local farmer’s cattle; the restaurant utilizes reusable pint glasses, growlers and napkins; and all takeout containers, straws and cups are biodegradable.
Always on Tap:
Cremation Ale - This style of beer is light to medium in body (mouth feel) with very little hop character.
Breakfast Blend Mild - This English-style dark mild has a light caramel character with coffee-like undertones and a toasty finish. A good beer to start or finish the day off because of the low alcohol content.
McCafferty’s Ale - This is a true Celtic Red ale that’s as faithful as its namesake. With a smooth balance between malt and hops, it’s sure to become a pubhouse favorite.
Station 33 Firehouse Red - This red is a rich, malty, ruby-colored ale with a smooth finish.
Dunk Ale - The brewmaster has taken his old Dunkel recipe, which is typically a lager, and has created a dark amber ale. This well-balanced malty beer has a wonderful toffee character. A must try.
Jodi’s E.S.B. - Extra Special Bitter beer — but don’t let the name fool you. This English-style beer has a malty beginning with a hoppy, dry finish and is not at all bitter.
Mid-Summer’s Nite Gold - Another beer for the hop heads! Light-bodied ale that is hoppy enough in the mouthfeel, not malty, but has a nice dry finish.
Stinky Hippie - Do I smell patchouli or is it hops? Bob thought this was a good name for a pale ale, so Sean created this beer with different, very pungent hops.
Paleo I.P.A. - The discovery of the true I.P.A. (India Pale Ale) made right in Slippery Rock. The British added hops to oak barrels to help preserve the beer for its long voyage to British-controlled India. Brewed in this same English tradition, this ale is dry-hopped, giving the beer a very aromatic quality as it travels to your mug.
Stone House Stout - This robust, hearty stout is as sturdy as its namesake. Roasted barley is the trademark of stout, a bittersweet separation from its cousin Porter. The deep character of roasted barley is further enhanced by the addition of oatmeal for a superior silky finish.
Friar’s Porter - Every good dog deserves a great beer! This robust porter has a lot of caramel and chocolate flavor balanced with the flavor and aroma of fuggle hops. Porters were named after the working class in England, and were the bridge between brown ales and stouts.
Fruit Bowl - The brewmaster adds fresh fruit to a simple ale base to create a roller coaster of flavors and sensations. Ask your server which style fruit beer is currently tapped.
Cask - This English-style ale is served at 55 degrees cellar temperature, poured through our old fashioned hand-pump. Ask your server for today’s selection.
Top 3 Food Picks:
Half-Pound Elk Burger
Fish and Chips
Distance from Akron: About 1 1/2 hours
Taste & Tour
Though you won’t get a sit-down meal and brewpub experience, these breweries do offer on-site tours and an opportunity to sample a few beers.
Thirsty Dog Brewing Company
529 Grant St., Akron, OH
Thirsty Dog Brewing Company has been locally producing beers since 1997, and in 2007 the company opened its new production facility on Grant Street. The brewery is open for tours the first and third Saturday of every month, from 10 am.-3 p.m., no reservation required. While touring the facility, you’ll learn firsthand how all the beers are brewed and discover what ingredients are used to bring out special characteristics in each beer. Later this fall, Thirsty Dog hopes to open a tasting room where the public can hang out and sample some of their favorite brews. Thirsty Dog currently has nine beers available in 10 states, as well as on-tap at many local pubs, and the company also offers direct sales at the brewery five days a week.
Orthus Belgian Dubbel - Brown in color, seven grains, three hops, trappist high-gravity yeast.
Hoppus Maximus - The complex character of American hops and amber-colored caramel malts make this beer very crisp and refreshing.
Old Leghumper - A robust porter, dark brown in color and full bodied with a malty sweet taste. Deep roasted, yet silky smooth. Two types of roasted malts, including deep-roasted chocolate malt, are used to give this porter a rich, chocolaty taste.
Siberian Night - Imperial stouts are by far the “Grand Daddy” of all stouts. For those who demand flavor, this is the perfect libation.
Cerebrus 10 Dog Ale - This beer is made with one grain and four Belgian yeasts, a deceptive golden color, and a malty palate lend complexity to this Belgian Trippel Ale.
Labrador Lager - A Traditional German Lager brewed with all German grain and yeast. Very drinkable.
Raspberry Ale - The inviting flavor and aroma of freshly picked raspberries is naturally infused in this unique, refreshing fruit beer. Raspberry Ale is brewed in the typical Thirsty Dog fashion, full of flavor and uninhibited.
Stud Service Stout - A traditional dry Irish Stout. Very flavorful while low in calories and alcohol. An easy drinking “session beer” that has a nice caramel flavor an smooth finish.
Airship Light - A blonde ale that is very light in color and body with no bitterness. A thirst quenching, American light-bodied blonde ale.
Twisted Kilt - Caramelized sugars lend a unique flavor and aroma to this lightly hopped, malty smooth, Scottish Export Ale.
Sprague Farm & Brew Works
22113 US HWY 6 & 19, Venango, PA
Located on a 65-acre farm growing switchgrass hops, Sprague Farm & Brew Works creates full-flavored beers utilizing as many of the farm’s own ingredients and local products as possible. Although the family brews various styles of beer, rather than sticking with a strict interpretation of farmhouse ales, they use the same techniques to handcraft their beers with an emphasis on high-quality ingredients. In addition to the Brew Works and farm, the site also features a farmhouse that is available to rent in its entirety, for beer lovers who want to sit back and relax rather than worry about how to get home. Sprague beers are available on draft in certain areas of Pennsylvania, but are not currently licensed for sale in Ohio. The brewery always features several beers on tap, but not all varieties are available at all times.
Rustbelt - This American Amber Ale is well hopped with Cascade and Simcoe hops. It is Sprague’s flagship beer, appropriately named for the area in which it is brewed.
Hellbender - This robust farm-brewed Porter is named for the giant salamander native to French Creek, near the farm.
Ale Mary - This American wheat is lightly spiced and named for Mary “Minnie” Sprague.
Fighting Scotchtoberfest - A sweet, malty scotch ale often referred to as liquid LSD.
Kick Bock - A fine, dark German Bock style beer, it is actually a double Bock.
Lightning Rod - Belgian double farmhouse ale. This beer is made with maple syrup and amber rock candy, and is smooth on the palate.
Effin’ - A German dunkle weizen dark wheat made with a hefe weizen yeast, banana and clove with roasty coffee undertones.
Bliss Berry 26 - This wheat-based fruit beer has 100 pounds of raspberries in the recipe, all of which were grown in the metropolis of Venango, Penn.
French and Indian Corn Ale - Made with genuine Indian corn, pie pumpkin, chestnuts and homegrown hops, this is a harvest ale with some spice and special yeast .
Distance from Akron: About 2 hours