Ever wonder what you specifically like about your favorite beer? It may be the hops, the malt, the barley or – heaven forbid – the marketing. Craft beer is a movement. It is an exodus from fermentation mass production to the local hearts of communities. As an avid beer fan, I’ve been to many beer-related events. Most recently, I attended Pittsburgh’s ZooBrew event where local distributor Fuhrer Wholesale hosted beer tasting amongst the animals. There were many highlights of my night, but the beer was not one of them.
After speaking with Christine Montague, the event director of Cleveland Beer Week, I get the feeling that Cleveland is doing it right…the beer movement, that is. What is the beer movement? The beer movement is the creation of a community around a product that previously was ignored in favor for macrobrews. When marketing moved faster than information, people could be snookered into believing they were drinking the best beer. Craft beer is an experiment in both individuality and localization, and Cleveland is a city that I admire for being ahead of the curve in this growing movement.
Cleveland Beer Week is not about pushing a specific brand or brew; it is about understanding the value of individual creation of a superior product. Craft beer is a form of artwork (a delicious form of artwork). Cleveland has a rich history of brewing, and Ohio currently boasts a whopping 50 local breweries. Keeping up with that sort of artwork can be difficult. In response to the growing beer community in Cleveland, a few visionaries got together (over a beer, I might add) and decided that Cleveland could benefit from an organized collaboration of breweries, distributors, retailers, establishments and grocers.
What is a better way to bond but over beer and food? John Lane (Vice President of Operations for The Winking Lizard, a magnificent beer bar chain local to Cleveland) sat down with his friends, Ed Thompson (beer and wine buyer of Heinens grocery stores, a high-end grocery chain—again, local to Cleveland) and Sean Hice (Vice President of Sales for Heidelberg Distributing).
They recruited former event director of Akron’s already successful Brews and Blues Event, Christine Montague, and they decided (cheers!) they would put together a committee for a not for profit event in 2009.
The first year, Christine and team organized over 500 events in a seven day period. That seems like a lot of work for a team, but the beauty of Cleveland Beer Week is that all of the events are lead by smaller groups. For example, one of this week’s events is the Heinen’s North Coast (of Lake Erie) vs. West Coast Challenge, where Cleveland beers are put up against some of the West Coast magnates. The event is in a Rocky River Heinens, and the cost is $10. Another example is Wilbert’s free live music and $2 craft beer pints—featuring a mix of local Cleveland beers and some additional craft breweries.
All over Cleveland, microevents under the umbrella of the Cleveland Beer Week encourage people to get out and taste beers. With just a little bit of common ground, the citizens of Cleveland have more to talk about, more to be hopeful about and in the process support local small businesses.
In addition to the individual events of Cleveland Beer Week, the organization has six of their own events. Cleveland Beer Week opened with Grains vs. Grapes: The Ultimate Match-Up. This event focused on food pairings with food and wine. The overall goal is education—the event featured Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery and Marianne Frantz of the American Wine School. This and the other five flagship events all sold out well in advance. All of the events’ proceeds benefit the Malone Scholarship Fund.
Since 2009, Christine and her team have focused on creating activities and events that focus on collaboration and cooperation in the local beer scene. This year is no exception. The highlight of the week is yet to come. BREWzilla: a monster of beer tasting has a special challenge for local brewers. The Cleveland Beer Week group gave out a simple pale ale recipe to fourteen local breweries. The challenge is for each brewery to brew the beer with a different hop. Cleveland Beer Week partnered with Hop Union to supply the hops. A few examples of the hops these breweries will be using are simcoe, herkules and cascade. Local breweries like The Brew Kettle, Thirsty Dog, Great Lakes, Fatheads and Willoughby Brewing Company will be unveiling their creations at the BREWzilla event on Saturday.
After speaking with Christine, I was impressed by the level of cooperation and collaboration she and her team were able to foster between traditional competitors. I asked her why she thought she was so successful and she said that Cleveland citizens like to lend a helping hand in success. As opposed to other events, like Pittsburgh’s ZooBrew, the beauty of the week is that distributors, retailers and brewers work together for the same goal, a community activity that everyone can enjoy and be proud of. Ever wonder why you like your favorite beer? Cleveland Beer Week may help you discover the answer to this question, or even possibly, introduce you to your new favorite beer.
I will be attending the BREWzilla event on Saturday. Look out for further coverage of Cleveland’s gem of event.
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