The Cleveland Beer Week, err, Christmas Mixed 12 pack

A Christmas tree with the Ohio Craft Brewers pack underneath

Better than a lump of coal in your stocking!

If I were going to Las Vegas, I wouldn’t take the Ohio Craft Brewers Association along with me. I just don’t think they’d make good gambling buddies. You see, the OCBA rolled the dice and crapped out with the “Ohio Craft Brewers Collaboration Sampler” that was supposed to be released back in early October for Cleveland Beer Week, and now beer lovers of our great state may end up with the bill. What started as an ambitious idea has turned into a nightmare of a state packaging approval delays, false-start release dates and a twelve pack composed of 6 beers that may be well on their way downhill.

This package was set to contain “6 extraordinary beers” in 12-12oz bottles from the following kick-ass Ohio breweries:

I’ll be the first to say this was a great idea. But to understand where things went wrong, we have to start at the beginning. Back in April, at an OCBA meeting at the Buckeye Beer Engine, the project was conceived and brewers picked names out of a hat to decide the collaborations. The resulting beers were formulated by those brewers and produced over the next 5 months, all targeting an October release. But the packaging was not approved by the state in time, so the October release date came and went. To add insult to injury, the OCBA did a less-than stellar job communicating the delay and folks lined up outside Heinen’s Supermarkets on October 9th, waiting for the doors to open to claim their 12 pack. Over the next month, the communication didn’t get much better, as it seemed every weekend held a promise of the release and another disappointment. There were even rumors of waiting lists at Heinen’s and a general feeling of disorganization and misinformation surrounding the project (even the hard-working Heinen’s employees I talked to said they are still confused about when the pack is coming out and what happened).

Ohio Craft Brewers Sampler Pack with a hat

The Ohio Craft Brewers Sampler Pack in the Christmas Spirit

During the fiasco, we kept hearing in market-friendly speak about how “this was an extraordinary collaboration – the biggest in the world” and how the Ohio Department of Liquor Control was to blame with their slow processes and draconian rules about what gets approved and what doesn’t. But, let’s be real. Sure there were problems with the State’s unexpected rejection of the term “strong ale” and the blurb about charitable beneficiaries of the sale, but the biggest problem to overcome was time. There just wasn’t enough breathing room to assure this journey into the unknown would be a successful one. The organizers of this 12 pack, despite their good intentions, hold a share of the blame because they did not hedge their bet by having a backup plan, and, most of all, foreseeing the risk associated with such an ambitious and pioneering project. So, many of us thought we would never see the project become a reality. However, last week news broke that the long-overdue package has been approved for a release sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas (no firm release date has been set as of the publishing of this article).

As a beer fan and Ohio resident, I’m ecstatic that there is a desire to do something new, even something so ambitious it had the potential to put us on the national map overnight. However, as an advocate of beer quality over anything (I support measures like freshness dating, cold-shipping, cold storage and canning beer), I’m disappointed by the decision to go ahead and release what I consider to be a compromised product without acknowledging that the beer has suffered or making a statement to the contrary. You see, the beers for this 12 pack were formulated and produced over three months ago and, quite frankly, some of the beers in this 12 pack are past their prime. And I don’t want to buy old beer unless it’s one of the few high-alcohol styles that cellar well. Do you?

Which brings us to the focus of this article: here’s a run-down of what you can expect in the 12 pack, but I need to stress these reviews are almost two months old so your experience may vary. Are these beers going to be bad? Probably not bad as in rancid or undrinkable, but things could have been much better if the 12 pack was indeed released in October. With this in mind, I’m including a 5 mug scale to indicate the “cellaring potential” or, in other words, the likelihood that the beer is still tasting its best.

Great Lakes and Cellar Rats ‘Berlot’

Merlot barrels

Beer + merlot barrels = Berlot barrels

Berlot pours a cloudy orange color with white head that sticks around for a while. A touch of brown and yellow are noted in the stew of colors – it just looks a touch muddy. No noticeable lace is visible, and this is nowhere near as dark as what I envision any of the 4 styles of American Strong Ale to resemble. I have to give the appearance an average score (at best). The smell, however, is interesting. It’s composed of some strong red wine notes, not really a lush red wine but you certainly get some grape from the barrel. A bit of booze and rather bland malt and hops lurk underneath. No prominent oak qualities are observed shining through in the nose, just wine. A touch of yeast makes its appearance as well, giving this an earthy note. It’s by no means unpleasant but is certainly lacking depth from the beer and barrel.

The taste of Berlot is composed of some sweet malt that gives a decent backbone for the merlot to express itself. Wet barrel tastes come across strongly as red wine and black Langon grapes. There is some oak showing up in the finish, with hints of vanilla and some clean yeast. Low tannins and relatively well-hidden alcohol compose the taste at first. I’m thrown a bit aback as I guess I expected this to be a bit more “ballsy” but it’s actually quite dainty which probably made it harder to hide the booze. Some mild booze and more berries and wine are present in the finish and emerge more and more as it warms. Mild bitterness surfaces as well. This never really comes together for me. The beer has a medium body with some creamy carbonation. The finish is sweet then boozy with hints of wood and wine. This is not a terribly drinkable beer but it is an unique American Strong ale. I personally think an old ale would have paired better with the wine barrel – by the time the bottles come out, maybe this will be considered an old ale. This is good but nothing exceptional at all, sorry guys, this was the collaboration I was most looking forward to and it fell a bit short for me. Maybe a more devout wine drinker would love it.

Does Bobby Like Great Lakes and Cellar Rats ‘Berlot’?

Berlot is an interesting beer. The high alcohol isn’t masked, so it is a big, uncompromising beer. Perhaps a cross-over beer for the wine lovers out there!Appearance: 3/5Smell: 3.5/5Taste: 3.5/5Mouthfeel: 4/5Drinkability: 3.5/5Score: 3.45
Potential for similar taste in the Ohio Craft Brewers 12 pack:

Hoppin’ Frog and Rocky River ‘Imperial American Porter’

Imperial American Porter

The Imperial American Porter bringing the flavor!

The Porter looks great in the snifter. It’s pitch black with a two-finger cappuccino colored head. When held up to the light, I notice just a hint of red at the bottom of the snifter. Wonderful lace is left behind. We’re off to a great start here. The smell is composed of some strong roasted malt, which gives deep impressions of chocolate and coffee. The beer also has just a bit of sweetness, likely a caramelized malt base, but it comes across almost like a hazelnut or some sort of creamy sweet liquor. The porter could be focused on just the roaster side and leave the sweetness out of the nose. It almost has a touch of brown sugar and vanilla as well, adding a bit of spice. But overall, while pleasant, the nose lacks the expression I’d like, and there’s little to no expressive hoppiness.

The beer tastes moderately bitter and doesn’t hide its alcohol bite as well as the premier examples of the style. But, on the positive side, there is some nice milk chocolate and coffee roast. A touch of brown sugar and caramel make an appearance, plus some earthiness reminiscent of licorice root. There may be a hint of vanilla as well. The reason the beer doesn’t score higher is I noticed a touch of DMS “cooked veggie” notes as it warmed, which threw me for a loop. When the roasted and sweet malt flavors subside, some booze is noted in the aftertaste. This porter is very creamy with a medium body and low carbonation. That makes the mouthfeel up there with the appearance for the most desirable, well-scoring aspect of this collaboration. Overall, this is very drinkable but the touches of booze when the roast drops off make this difficult to throw down. But it’s still a nice beer and one of the better in the 12 pack.

Does Bobby Like Hoppin’ Frog and Rocky River ‘Imperial American Porter’?

This porter has all the classic notes of roasted malt and adds some sweet characteristics that will have many non-dark beer fans loving it!Appearance: 4.5/5Smell: 3.5/5Taste: 4/5Mouthfeel: 4.5/5Drinkability: 4/5Score: 4.05
Potential for similar taste in the Ohio Craft Brewers 12 pack:

Indigo Imp and Thirsty Dog ‘Indigo Dog’ Black Lager

A blue dog

Indigo Dog has the blues!

The Black Lager looks nice in the glass – it is certainly a black beer, with a decent white film of a head and spotty lace. When held up to the light, notes of brown and red are witnessed. The beer is roasty and expressive in the nose, but that slightly diminishes the clean, lager aspect of it. There’s a ton of chocolate from the roast along with just a touch of smoke. Also, just a touch of vegetable husk which adds to the confusion. However, when examined holistically, the roast dominates for the most part, and that’s good!

The taste is interesting. The roasty chocolate and coffee flavors from the malt are exceptionally smooth and inviting. There’s also a slight acrid note reminiscent of stale coffee. To offset that minor off-taste, some pleasant lingering flavors of roast and slight bitterness round out the flavor. The weird thing to me is just that this is a lager beer but the powerful flavors make it difficult to tell how the lagering process did anything for this. But Indigo Dog is pleasant nonetheless. The mouthfeel is medium-bodied with creamy carbonation and just a touch of bite. The finish is characterized by roasted malt and some lingering mild bitterness. It’s a good beer for sure, but a bit of an anomaly. If handed this blindly, I would have assumed it was an American Porter or American Black Ale. Smoked lager? Where’s the smoke? This just has roast. If you want some smoke, go to Bamberg.

Does Bobby Like Indigo Imp and Thirsty Dog ‘Indigo Dog’ Black Lager?

The strong roasted malt flavors make this more of a lager version of a porter. An interesting take on the black lager style.Appearance: 4/5Smell: 3.5/5Taste: 3.5/5Mouthfeel: 4/5Drinkability: 4/5Score: 3.7
Potential for similar taste in the Ohio Craft Brewers 12 pack:

The Brew Kettle and Willoughby ‘Rye Kölsch’

Fields of Rye

35 percent of the Collaboration Kolsch started off as rye!

The Rye Kölsch looks nice in the glass. The beer is a golden, clear color with some nice yellow edges and a 1/4 finger white head that leaves some good lace. Overall, this is a very nice looking Kölsch. The smell is more of a normal Kölsch smell (mild but cracker flavored malt with some mild hoppiness) with just an extra hint of rye spice. The beer is just a touch grainy with some sweetness and noble hops emerging as it sits. I don’t know if I expected the rye to jump out more – I don’t have a ton of experience with rye Kölsch (but who does? Seriously, who is the world’s expert on this style?). All kidding aside, it’s pleasant and fragrant but could be a touch more flowery and expressive.

The taste is good, although it is a bit bitterer than expected from the noble hops. I think the addition of the rye also added a bit of spice to the end, whereas some other Kölsch beers finish sweet and grainy. There is some sweetness from the malt, which manifests itself as a kiss of caramel, followed by graininess and hints of crackers. The beer finishes with spicy rye and a touch of lingering bitterness. Little to no fruitiness is noted, but I enjoy those notes that some European examples feature (like Reissdorf Kölsch). The mouthfeel is also quite good on this beer; it showcases a nice medium body with the rye making this a touch weightier than others in the genre. The carbonation is lively (as it should be). The finish is very brash at first but starts to grow on me. Overall, this is a nicely drinkable beer with little offensive flavors and a whole lot of goodness. It serves as a great break from the traditional Kölsch, but I was missing the sweetness in the finish as provided by the excellent COAST Kölsch that I constantly import to my home in the summer. Still a good beer in the mixed 12 pack and one that I hope still resembles the beer I sampled weeks ago. I fear for the worst but hope for the best.

Does Bobby Like The Brew Kettle and Willoughby ‘Rye Kölsch’?

This is probably the strangest take on a Kölsch I’ve had this year. The brewers get points for experimentation, but the result isn’t ground-breaking.Appearance: 4/5Smell: 3.5/5Taste: 3.5/5Mouthfeel: 3.5/5Drinkability: 4/5Score: 3.65
Potential for similar taste in the Ohio Craft Brewers 12 pack:

Buckeye Brewing and Cornerstone ‘Altbier’

The Buckeye/Cornerstone Collaboration Altbier

The Buckeye/Cornerstone Collaboration Altbier

This Altbier is a fiery amber colored beer with some caramel and autumn red. There’s minimal head and the lace isn’t great but is soapy and spotty. This is a good-looking Alt because of the color, but could score better if it had a bit more retention. The smell is really nice but just doesn’t pop like the best beers in the style. There’s some caramel and sweet malt and a really nice toasted note. I love the fact this has that earthy depth from the toast and the noble hops. Unfortunately, as good as it is, it just doesn’t come off with the “pop” that authentic Alts like the excellent Uerige Altbier do.

The taste is more than good though, in fact, it’s excellent. I’ve been drinking enough German ale lately to really hone in on what I like, and this is a great example of the style. It’s got a nice toasted malt character reminiscent of toasted biscuits and has some caramel sweetness as well. Some mild fruitiness that hasn’t been conditioned out exists as well, and a touch of earthy noble hop spice adds depth. However, I’m thrilled that the toast and smooth flavor are the stars of the show. Some needed sweetness emerges as it warms, and the beer becomes truly enjoyable. In my mouth, a crisp, lighter body is pleasant and not sticky or syrupy at all. A touch of bitterness and lingering toast finish the beer well; it has got perfect dryness in the finish. This is a really good Alt. The balance, depth, and pleasant toast make this stand out. This was a great beer on tap back in October, although I’ve heard concerns that it is not holding up well. This, like any German style beer, has a limited shelf life and is best when first released.

Does Bobby Like Buckeye Brewing and Cornerstone ‘Altbier’?

A German style beer brewed in Cleveland that will give the traditional old-world breweries a run for their money. Let’s hope it held up!Appearance: 4/5Smell: 3.5/5Taste: 4.5/5Mouthfeel: 4.5/5Drinkability: 4/5Score: 4.15
Potential for similar taste in the Ohio Craft Brewers 12 pack:

Fat Heads and Black Box ‘Hop-a-Long Cascady’

Hopalong Cascadey

Lets hope Hopalong Cascady tastes better than whats in the lunchbox!

I’m afraid that no one buying the 12 packs will get to try the wonder that this beer was fresh. ‘Cascady’ is a bright orange color and looks pretty clear in the glass; however, it has just a bit less visual “punch” than Head Hunter, the flagship and award-winning IPA from Fat Heads. The beer has a decent head considering the less than ideal pour, and some lace sticks to the side of the glass. We are off to a good start! The smell is full of hops – green, sticky icky hops. There’s a ton of cascade hop in the aroma, lending citrus and some pine notes to the minimal sweet malt base. In particular, some orange, grapefruit, and pineapple strike my nose with authority. There’s an herbal leaf note too and just a touch of pine resin. This is a great smelling beer!

The taste continues the experience with a nice sweet kiss of malt, providing some caramel and a touch of toast, setting the stage for the fresh hops to tap dance all over my taste buds. The medium-bitter taste becomes an afterthought as more hops blast my tongue and mouth. Lemon, grapefruit, pine, and peach are all there. Have no doubt about it – Fat Heads and Black Box have produced a great tasting harvest beer! The beer is light to medium in terms of body. The carbonation is crisp and clean, and the only poor part of the experience is the slightly watery taste once the hops stop doing their business. Some medium bitterness lingers, but the malt dissipates and leaves me just wanting a touch more substance. This reminded me a lot of the excellent Founders Harvest Ale with just a slightly different hop bill. While the biggest flaw of this beer is the drop-off of flavor in the finish, the huge hop taste more than makes up for it. But Harvest ales are at their freshest for the first few weeks they reach the market, and beers like Founders Harvest have plunged down the mountain already. I only hope this beer in bottles does some justice in representing the fresh product. This is the beer I fear has gone downhill the most while the 12 pack was delayed.

Does Bobby Like Fat Heads and Black Box ‘Hop-a-Long Cascady’?

While this was easily the best beer in the 12 pack months ago, it is also the most fragile. I fear that the fresh hop flavors may have left the building.Appearance: 4/5Smell: 4.5/5Taste: 4.5/5Mouthfeel: 4/5Drinkability: 4.5/5Score: 4.35
Potential for similar taste in the Ohio Craft Brewers 12 pack:
A Christmas tree with the Ohio Craft Brewers pack underneath

Does this mean I was naughty or nice?

So, what is my final recommendation? I believe that craft beer fans in Ohio should buy this as it’s a nice way to show your support for Ohio breweries and, hopefully, help to build up a stronger foundation for the association to continue to promote craft beer in Ohio. I’ll be picking up a twelve pack to share with some friends across the country over the holidays. But, the choice is yours and now you’re more informed than most of the public about the potential preservation pitfalls in the pack. Just please do one thing for me and for all the other people trying to make Ohio the best beer state in the country: if you decide to pass because of the potential freshness issues, visit one of the breweries involved and spend that $20 on beer and food to show your support. Whatever path you pick, one thing is a very safe bet – Ohio has some of the best brewers in the world!

Finally, I’d like to offer one last word of advice to the Ohio Craft Brewers Association. I hope your luck changes and any future collaborations go smoothly. Remember, the quality of the beer has to be the first priority, more than great ideas or nifty packaging. And, please, start a website to inform the public about these kinds of projects so that there’s less confusion next time. One famous and successful Ohioan said it best:

“Next to doing the right thing, the most important thing is to let people know you are doing the right thing”

-John D Rockefeller


If You Enjoyed this Post, Let Me Suggest:

  • Brewzilla Attacks Cleveland Beer Week Normally things don’t work out well when a monster invades a city. But on Saturday October 23rd, Brewzilla attacked the beer lovers of Cleveland with a wonderful event that featured over 80 breweries and hundreds of kinds of beer. No, he didn’t come out of Lake Erie. Instead, Brewzilla assaulted us in the form of an overabundance of ale and lager. ...
  • Cleveland Beer Week Preview It's time for a cold brew - the second annual Cleveland Beer Week starts today! , I've compiled a shorter list of the events I think are the best of the bunch. Hundreds of events are happening all around the area, so check out to see what's going on in your neighborhood. Consider this the first annual 'Bobby's Picks' for Cleveland Beer Week!...

Join the Discussion

  • Jeff Brigden

    Well done Bobby. Concise & pointed. I support your suggestion to spend the $ locally also.
    Keep up the good work!

  • Dave

    I couldn’t agree more – virtually NO info from the Craft Brewers Association during the past few months! For many weeks, I was stopping at Heinen’s every single night after work.

  • Merry Christmas to All and to All a Good Laugh – Bobby Likes Beer

    [...] last article on the mixed 12 pack was spread far and wide and got some people talking about the project and whether the beer would [...]

  • Ohio Craft Beer Sampler Hits Area Stores … Limited Supplies | Cork and Kegs

    [...] Also, Patrick found a review of the beers a while back …  REVIEW [...]

  • Cleveland Brewers Team Up for More Collaboration Brews – Bobby Likes Beer

    [...] craziness surrounding the “Cleveland Beer Week, err, Ohio Craft Brewers Association” Mixed 12 Pack a few years back. This well-intentioned project was met at every corner by more red tape courtesy [...]

Follow Me on Twitter

Raise a Pint on Untappd

I spilled my Untappd feed. Let me clean it up - Check back soon!