Golden amber pours delicately from the handle. It begins to fill the glass as it quickly bubbles and froths with a nice head. Coaster down; glass follows. Smells of hops and malt invade your nose. You take a quick, small sip so you don’t spill any of the precious nectar. Laughter and chatter fill the air around you as others enjoy the brews. You smirk after the first cold mouthful. Time to relax and enjoy the bliss of being at a brewery.
I’ve had the pleasure of visiting several breweries across this fine country, trying exotic microbrews and meeting some very interesting characters. Every brewery I have ever gone to has a certain wit and happiness about it. Who can be unhappy when you work on perfecting brews all day?
The one thing I’ve learned from my travels is no two breweries are the same. Whether it’s the process, the atmosphere or the people, every brewery is always exciting and new.
My goal is simple; bring brewery awareness to Case Western Reserve University.
My first brewery stop is one of my personal favorite local breweries: the Indigo Imp Brewery, which is only open every Friday from noon to 7 p.m. I first learned about this hidden brewery from my fellow brewery explorer, Laine Seliga, about a year ago.
The brewery is on the corner of Superior Ave. East and East 36th St. It’s a difficult find: First, drive behind the large factory, which provides a classic Cleveland rust belt scene. Behind the building is an enormous parking lot, which provides plenty of parking for thirsty patrons. There is a bright orange door on the back of the building and a small sign with a blue imp on it. Enter only if you want to achieve a delicious buzz.
Factory workers are busy clocking in and out. The sounds of twisting gears and forklifts fill the building. As you stroll through this symphony of industry you cannot help but ask yourself, “Where is the brewery?” Keep walking and you soon see a beautiful mural around the entrance.
The mural leads to a new world surrounded by barrels and metal casks, and straight ahead is the bar made of recycled wood and lined with classic wood, bar stools and seats from a minivan, an upcycling project that owner and brewmaster, Matt Chappel, built.
Indigo Imp Brewery hides nothing about the process. Patrons sit and drink with Chappel at the bar, who will occasionally leave and go back to brewing up more batches of beer.
But this is not just any brewery serving any old beer you can find at grocery stores (although Indigo Imp does distribute through many local grocers). This brewery only pours real ale. Real ale, or cask, is unfiltered and unpasteurized ale that is kept in a wooden or metal barrel and does not have any additional nitrogen or carbon dioxide pressure. This is the traditional beer that you would probably have if you went on a brewery tour of Europe.
As Chappel pumps the beer into a glass (there are no taps like most bars or breweries), those seeking a salty companion to the beer can enjoy some pretzels free of charge. Beer from the cask is $5 and any of their bottles are $4 and served in a goblet. Yes, a goblet. I feel like the king of beer every time I order a bottle.
My first beer was the Tallboy, a collaboration with Market Garden Brewery and Rocky River Brewery for Cleveland Beer Week. Yes, sometime breweries team up for the greater good of mankind and make a beer together. This dunkel weizen had a strong hazelnut flavor, which really caught me off guard. The hint of cocoa underneath was subtle yet still flavorful.
My second beer was one of Indigo’s staple beers, the Firebrand IPA. I had enjoyed the Firebrand several times before in bottle, but nothing beats having it out of a cask. The beer is not as hoppy as many IPAs, but is rather smooth while keeping a hop and IPA taste. The beer was run through what is referred to as a “Sparkler,” which forces the beer through tiny holes to give more carbonation at the top of the beer while contributing a heightened taste of hop to the beer, similar to if the beer was served on a Nitro tap.
Chappel’s passion project is currently celebrating its five year anniversary. A long time beer fanatic, Chappel made brews at home for years before taking the next big step and starting a brewery. All the details of the brewery are personal to Chappel; the little blue imp is taken from his high school logo.
The brewery itself is a seven-barrel system and uses open fermentation, where the beer sits in open fermenters, which makes every batch completely new.
One of the signature trademarks of the Indigo Imp lies in the brightly colored wax that covers some of its bottles, similar to Maker’s Mark. No other local brewery does this, and it adds an extra uniqueness to this exceptionally original brewery.
Occasionally on Saturday evenings they are open and have live music with bands predominantly comprised of CWRU students and alumni. With a mysterious location, exotic and flavorful beer and a simply fun atmosphere, Indigo Imp Brewery is truly one of Cleveland’s best-kept secrets.