In 1999, Cleveland was identified as an emerging global city. With the economic tidal wave of the 90’s elevating the whole country, who could have known the next 12 years would bring so much hardship and loss? Population decline, economic depression, government scandal, being dumped on national TV by Lebron Shames – it seems that the second Cleveland gets something to smile about there’s bad news coming down the bend. It almost feels like every step forward in the Forest City leads to two steps back towards the days when the rivers burned.
Despite all the drama of the last decade, could Cleveland’s star finally be on the rise? Recently a little rag you may have heard of called USA today named my favorite neighborhood in our little city on the lake as one of the top 10 bar hopping destinations in the world. That’s right; Ohio City is officially a national nightlife destination. And credit belongs to efforts of the folks at Great Lakes, whose foundation has allowed the neighborhood to grow, and to the vision of one man who set out to make West 25th Street a drinking destination.
That man is Sam McNulty. He’s probably stood next to you on one of those crowded nights at the Bier Markt and you didn’t even know. Sam can easily blend in with the hipster crowd, but this is no PBR swilling slacker. He’s a man with a plan, and that plan is to make Cleveland a player in the world of beer. Well, a fateful email he sent a few short years ago probably did more to fulfill that vision than any other single moment, including his restaurateur roots near Cleveland State and his tremendous success with Bier Markt and Bar Cento. That’s when Sam, backpacking in Thailand, stumbled upon a bar in Bangkok that had Wi-Fi. While checking up on his contacts and industry news, he learned one of the nations best brew masters was available and emailed his business partners right away to say ‘we need that guy’.
‘That guy’ who Sam was referring to happened to be Andy Tveekrem. While Sam looks right at home among the youngsters bar-hopping around Market Square, Andy sticks out in just about any crowd. Maybe it’s his lack of tight vintage T’s or $300 Levis, or the fact that the “Striking Viking” towers above short beer bloggers like me; whatever the reason, Tveekrem has a true presence in just about any room. He is one of North East Ohio’s own, having grown up in Akron and mastered the art of brewing while at Kent State before working at Great Lakes, Fredrick Brewing and Dogfish Head. While at Dogfish, he helped owner and ex reality TV Star Sam Calagione dial in recipes for such innovative, game changing brews as World Wide Stout, 120 minute IPA and Midas Touch. Tveekrem got the call from McNulty and jumped at the chance to come back to Cleveland, and, in 2010, Sam and Andy announced the plan to open the Market Garden Brewery, with a target date of later that summer.
Even though the stars aligned for their partnership, the progression of the construction on the new space was anything but stellar. The old Middle Eastern food processing plant right next to the West Side Market was literally stripped down to the frame – all that remains is the façade. Along the way, sub-structure issues were uncovered and construction crawled and even halted along the way. The bumps in the road were worth it, though, as an absolutely fantastic urban beer space has emerged. The street-level dining area with two great bars is perhaps the coolest room in the city, and the beer garden has a focal-point fireplace just screaming for Cleveland autumn weather. Look for a rooftop deck, a second patio in the way back and a lower level with party rooms and a chef’s kitchen (and chef’s table) too. The space is great and the menu looks delicious, but I’ll leave a proper restaurant review to my buddy Brad at Cleveland Food and Brews. My inner foodie has yet to speak up enough to be heard over his loudmouth beer-swilling brother.
But Bobby, what about the beer? Well, let me tell you the game plan then we’ll talk taste – Market Garden plans to have eleven year-round beers with some seasonal suds augmenting the core lineup (including a forthcoming Centennial IPA to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the West Side Market). The beers are all lower-ABV beer rooted in historical styles, especially compared to the extravagant stuff Tveekrem used to craft for Dogfish. Nine of the eleven year-rounder’s clock in at 5.5% or under and no beer on the current menu is over 7%. That’s some quaffable beer, especially in these days of escalating alcohol percentages and giant, extreme everything. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a 12.5% bourbon barrel aged Vienna Lager on the shelves one of these days…it seems that nothing’s shocking in beer anymore. So, is Market Garden leading a session beer revolution or is this more of a rebellion from the extremes? Either way, the truth is in the pint glass. Here’s how the brews stacked up.
Pearl Street Wheat (5.5% ABV Hefeweizen)
The hazy straw colored beer has some flashes of gold around the edges and a nice white head and lace. The smell has a nice touch of clove and banana, along with some wheat and sweetness from the malt. The smell could be a touch more expressive, but the taste is wonderful. More bubblegum flavors from the Hefeweizen yeast strain esters show up in the taste, which is rounded out by nice wheat, clove and more bananas then a dry finish. The mouthfeel could be a bit more creamy, but the carbonation level is good and the medium weight feels right. When it come to the local competition, I’m more of a fan of Fat Heads Goggle Fogger Hefe, which is an Americanized bubble gum bomb, but people who drink Weihenstephaner or Franziskaner will enjoy this.
Does Bobby Like Market Garden ‘Pearl Street Wheat’?
Boss Amber Lager (5.0% Vienna Lager)
This Vienna lager is a bit lighter in color than other amber lagers, but the clear complexion and nice active stream of bubbles is inviting. The white head dies out quickly but leaves good lace. The smell is a bit light on the toast, which I would like to see more of, but a bit of sweet malt and noble hops make it pretty alluring. The taste does have more toast, and the overall flavor profile is clean and packed with taste. The toast, kiss of sweet malt, and noble hop snap make this very drinkable, and the mouthfeel is light and refreshing. It may be a bit overcabonated, but this is certainly a good gateway beer for a macro drinker. Personally, I like Great Lakes Elliott Ness just a bit more because it packs in more toasty flavor, but this was probably more sessionable and refreshing.
Does Bobby Like Market Garden ‘Boss Amber Lager’?
Old-School American Lager (4.5% American Lager)
This American Lager looks the part with a slightly dirty straw color and mostly clear (not cloudy) beer with some nice active carbonation. There’s a nice white head and lace. The noble hops in the smell are present but subdued, along with some basic 2 row malt. The beer is simple overall, with nothing too sweet, flowery, or unique. It’s just a touch more bitter than I would have thought, but is pretty much a standard craft lager. The body and carbonation are light and very drinkable. If you’re just getting into craft beers or you’re out for a night on the town with your macro drinking father-in-law, this will hit the spot quite well.
Does Bobby Like Market Garden ‘Old-School American Lager’?
Wallace Tavern Scotch Ale (6.5% Scotch Ale)
Scotch Ales are quickly becoming a forgotten link to the history of beer in my opinion, and I was thrilled when I heard Andy would be featuring one as a signature beer here at Market Garden. The beer is a dark brown color, with a nice white head and some lace left behind. The smell is a touch light, and lacks the touch of smoke I like in a Scottish Ale, but there are some great depths of caramel and toffee. The taste is rather bland, even for a 60 shilling, but there is some redemption in the drinkability. I’d like to see more depth of flavor here. The ABV is well concealed and the beer is balanced with caramel malt and herbal crisp hops. The mouthfeel is just a touch thinner than I’d like, but that makes this very drinkable, even if the beer is lacking that typical Scottish personality. I’d take an Odell 90 Shilling over this any day, but that isn’t in Ohio and this is.
Does Bobby Like Market Garden ‘Wallace Tavern Scotch Ale’?
Forest City Brown Ale (5.5% Brown Ale)
This dark chocolate brown colored beer has just a hint of red around the edges and wears its white crown quite regally. The smell is really good – there’s a touch of sweet malt followed by nice milk chocolate and roasted malt hint. Just a touch of hops are present, showing up more in the taste than nose. The beer has a great balance between sweet and roast. I remarked that this was my favorite, with the nice flavor lingering on and on despite the high levels of carbonation constantly trying to wash it away. The mouthfeel was light to medium but really worked. This reminds me a lot of Sierra Nevada’s Tumbler. While it can’t hold a candle to Surly’s excellent Bender (not to mention Moe’s Bender or Coffee Bender), this is one of the best brown ales this side of Minnesota.
Does Bobby Like Market Garden ‘Forest City Brown Ale’?
Test Market Ale (5.0% Amber Ale)
The color is a bit more copper and gold than amber, and, coupled with pretty unremarkable head retention, this is the worst looking beer in the bunch. In fact, for me, this was my least favorite beer in the whole lineup. There’s something underneath the caramel malt and medium hoppy bitterness that doesn’t work for me here. I’ve tasted a few other beers along the way that I’ve had the same reaction to, but the smell and taste just don’t come together for me and I’m sorry that I can’t describe it better than to say I get notes reminiscent of caramel corn. Let’s put it this way – everyone’s tastes vary, but if you’re a fan of Bells Amber, Deschutes Cinder Cone, or even Great Lakes excellent Independence Ale, you may agree with me. If you’ve enjoyed this beer, leave me a comment below and let me know your thoughts!
Does Bobby Like Market Garden ‘Test Market Ale’?
Viking Pale Ale (5.5% Pale Ale)
The glass is filled with a liquid that is gold around the edges, with a copper color making up most of the color disposition. A nice head and lace make this a pretty attractive pale. The smell has hints of grapefruit and orange, a touch of sweet malt and mild pine. The smell is pretty expressive and really alluring. The taste starts off with bitterness, oranges, grapefruit and pine while a sweet kiss of malt begins to develop in the background. This is a nice pale, but lacks a true identity in the current landscape of APA’s. It’s not my favorite hop bill either but nice overall flavor makes this work. The outstanding Victory Headwaters and Great Lakes Burning River may be better beers, but this shows promise and should be a nice cornerstone beer for Market Garden.
Does Bobby Like Market Garden ‘Viking Pale Ale’?
St. Emeric’s Stout (5.0% American Stout)
This stout stands out in the lineup as the only real dark beer in the brewery. It has a nice look; the body is black and very dense looking. An off white head leaves great lace behind. We’re off to a great start, especially with the nose. The smell is nice roasted malt with a kiss of caramel, cream, chocolate and coffee. The overall impression is clean and not too chocolaty or coffee based, with a nice showcase for the roast. Unfortunately, the taste falls flat. This is just way too light for a stout. The taste starts off with sweetness and caramel that fades when the roasted malt kicks in. There’s a gap in the flavor where things fall apart, but the overall taste is actually pretty decent. Why skimp on the flavors, gravity and ABV for a stout? Dark beer drinkers want a substantial beer but the mouthfeel is one of the lightest stouts I’ve ever had. Seriously, this is not even in porter territory – I’ve had Schwarzbiers that would beat this beer up and take its lunch money. Finishes dry. A good amount of flavor, but a diet stout at best.
Does Bobby Like Market Garden ‘St. Emeric’s Stout’?
Cluster Fuggle IPA (7.0% India Pale Ale)
This is the biggest beer currently on the Market Garden tap list. It pours a nice copper color with the slightest touches of gold around the edges. Active carbonation gives this beer life and makes my mouth water just looking at it. The smell is nice – lots of hops with nice citrus and flowery notes. There is also a good malt presence, probably more than I expected. The taste throws a bit of a curve ball, though – the hops are there and provide good bitterness but the taste is way too sweet. Luckily, the sweetness peaks with the bitterness so there is some balance. The mouthfeel is crisp and medium to light bodied. The beer is very drinkable. Those who read this blog know I like West Coast IPA’s. This just can’t hang with that style, and I’ll reach for a Fat Heads Head Hunter over this any day. That being said, the Cluster Fuggle should give hopheads their fix at the Market Garden, but its just not an adventurous beer.
Does Bobby Like Market Garden ‘Cluster Fuggle IPA’?
Year rounder’s Progress Pilsner and OHC ESB were not quite ready for sampling at this time, but look for those, the aforementioned Centennial IPA as well as a Summer Ale, Gordian Belgian Pale Ale and Urban Garden Saison before the summer starts to fade away. Growlers are available for a kind price of $8, and they will fill other brewery growlers. Fills range from $15 to $17. One other cool thing to mention is you can upgrade your pint to a mason jar for many of the styles. Finally, there are several guest taps, including some locals like Fat Heads and Lagerheads, and a large format bottle list especially for beer geeks.
Overall, there wasn’t a poorly crafted beer in the bunch. But that’s what I expected – I mean, no foodie expects to be served a burned grilled cheese sandwich from Wolfgang Puck or, more appropriately, Chef Mike Nowak of Bar Cento fame. The biggest challenge I see for Market Garden (aside from the slightly high carbonation levels of the beers making me belch even more than normal) is that the beer itself doesn’t really have a ton of personality. That’s surprising considering the business itself is practically busting at the seams with charisma. It almost comes off as the “anti-Dogfish Head” approach to beer. For me, I think any lines are bad lines and I hope one day no brewer needs to decide to point their compass in the direction of extreme or session. I hope we get to a point where beer is beer and the boundaries fade away. I’m not sure if the direction for Market Garden will allow for inclusion of both tradition and experimentation (in interviews the kinds of experimentation Tveekrem has hinted at seemed more about mixing beers and adding syrups and purees than inventing styles or introducing bigger beers). I just really hope there are no boundaries boxing in the potential progression of the product. I’d hate to think that Tveekrem has placed any sort of handcuffs on himself, and I bet that’s not the case, but the first round of offerings didn’t exactly make my palate stand up and testify. I heard similar comments from my craft beer consuming colleagues. That being said, the general response was positive and optimistic. Maybe the plan is to get the basics dialed in, and then grow in the organic directions the brand, clientele and atmosphere lead. Whatever happens down the road, the atmosphere in Market Garden is second to none – this truly is a beautiful space to raise a pint or mason jar – and the beer certainly hits the spot.
There’s always room for another brewery, especially one with great visibility in the rebounding center of the hip, urban universe that is Ohio City. But is Market Garden redefining the Cleveland Beer scene or is it just another pretty place to grab a pint? Only time will tell, hopefully the beer remains at center stage and a bit of evolution and identity emerges from the product in the glass and not just the brand. Given McNulty and Tveekrem’s records, I have no doubt that Market Garden will be in Ohio City for years to come and I wish them many years of success. Let’s hope the momentum on West 25th Street carries us forward, with no retreat in sight. After all, Cleveland is a city whose star is on the rise. And that star leads the way to Ohio City, one of the ten best places to grab a pint in the world and the only place (for now) to sample suds from Cleveland’s newest brewery.
Market Garden Brewery opens to the public on Monday June 27th. A distillery license has also been obtained; look for a review on Bobby Likes Booze shortly! (No, there is no Bobby Likes Booze, but maybe, just maybe, someday…)
If You Enjoyed this Post, Let Me Suggest:
- Web Poll: What New Brewery Should Enter the Ohio Market in 2011? Vote in my poll and let's see what brewery craftbeer fans would most like to see enter the Ohio Market in 2011....
- The Cleveland Beer Week, err, Christmas Mixed 12 pack Here’s a run-down of what you can expect in the 12 pack that was supposed to be released for Cleveland Beer Week back in October. I got to preview all the beers on tap, so I give some background, raise some concerns about freshness, review the beers, and give a final recommendation. Please read this before you buy your 12 pack!...