On a sunny, cheerful Monday afternoon I ventured out to Madison, Ohio in search of beer. Madison, a solid 40 to 50 minutes east of Cleveland, is filled with farmland and rural Americana.
Madison and neighboring towns are also known for their beautiful wineries. I had the fortune of checking out Madison’s Debonne Vineyards, home to Cellar Rats Brewery.
After a mile of vineyards, a large barn-like house awaited me, its interior decoration consisting of grapevines, a few deer heads and some stuffed turkeys. Old school country music played subtly in the background as I asked for a flight a beer, which I enjoyed with a friend and a couple of retired folks enjoying some wine.
I was excited to try the first beer on the list, the Pride of Cleveland (P.O.C.) Pilsner, which used to be a popular beer in Cleveland. Once brewed by the famous Pilsener Brewing Company, which is long gone, this light pilsner was brought back by Cellar Rats. With more flavors than most American domestic beers, I dreamed of drinking this summer beer at the old Cleveland Municipal Stadium.
Next I tried the Field Rat Wheat and the Rat Trap Lager. The Wheat’s fantastic aroma gave away its fruity tastes, contrasted with the malty Lager, which had a buttery, flavorful taste to it.
The Rat Tail Ale and the Piper India Pale Ale were not as enjoyable. The Ale was dry, bland and lacked flavor. The Pale Ale, also dry and bland, was unusually bitter and hoppy.
The following two beers were my favorites.
At an Alcohol by Volume (ABV) of 6.2 percent, the Re-Gifted Winter Ale was a winter beer with a warming effect. This English Pale Ale was brewed with a combination of cloves, cinnamon and oranges.
The McRatty’s Smoked Scottish Ale was a genius take on scottish ale, using a smoky flavor to mask the drink’s clear taste of alcohol. It was like the drinkable version of being at a campfire.
The White IPA was light and smooth, but hoppy. The Rampage IPA was strong (hence the name) but not too dry—pretty impressive, considering this beer is continuously hopped for 60 minutes. To finish things up, I had the milky, coffee-flavored Black Rat Imperial Stout. Needless to say, at an ABV of 9.2 percent, it was rather strong, tasting a lot like an Irish Coffee.
The bar food was cheap and not particularly impressive. The spinach and artichoke dip was rather average. However, they also had impressive looking cheese boards, which would have been perfect for wine tasting.
Less than 10 minutes away from Cellar Rats was my second destination in Madison, the Cornerstone Brewing Company. In 2005, Roy Blalock created Cornerstone in Berea, and after much success he expanded to downtown Madison in 2009.
Cornerstone is reminiscent of a post-prohibition bar, with old prohibition photos adorning the walls, and granite countertops that could easily appear in any large metropolis. I became teary-eyed as I saw gallons of beer poured out on the street.
I first tried the Grindstone Gold, a smooth beer made of Pilsner malt and U.S. hops. Next I had the Eirinn Rosanna, an average red ale that had a bread-like taste to it due to the high usage of malt. The Seven was a dry and bitter IPA that had an impressive 82 International Bittering Units (IBUs) and 7.3 percent ABV. The beer had a clear pine and citrus taste.
My two favorite beers from Cornerstone were the Berea Brown and the Rusty Pheasant Rye Ale. The Brown was brewed with Chinook hops and had caramel, nuts and cocoa flavors. It almost tasted like root beer, which was refreshing and enjoyable because usually, most brown ales lack flavor. The Rye Ale was traditional, with its strong rye taste which overpowered any malt or hops and ultimately made the beer even more enjoyable.
The food at Cornerstone is simply incredible. I had the pretzel breaded chicken entrée, where pretzel crumbs covered the chicken, creating a coat of salty crisp which combined with a perfect mustard sauce. Along with the chicken were roasted potatoes and a warm vegetable medley of carrots, cauliflower and peppers. My plate was overflowing with food; the portions were unbelievable.
With a full belly, I sampled the remaining beers. Even for a fruit beer, the Erie Blu was impressively strong in its clear taste of red raspberries and blackberries in every sip.
The 60 Shilling was a smoky scotch ale. The Poor Man’s Porter was an English style porter with a robust flavor and intensity. Lastly, I tried the Onooley’s Dark Stout, a malty and strong stout. This beer, to no surprise, was released on St. Patrick’s Day and had tastes of chocolate, toffee and coffee, but still was not as flavorful as I would have liked it seeing that it was brewed with so many different ingredients.
In all, I certainly enjoyed my time in Madison, Ohio. Both breweries were unique and had several impressive beers and affordable prices. If you live on the east side of Cleveland or somehow find yourself driving through Madison (possibly if you are traveling from Pennsylvania or New York), either of these breweries would be a perfect stop for lunch or dinner.