On a cold Monday night when most students were celebrating the first Case Western Reserve University snow day of the academic year, a friend and I decided to venture 30 minutes west to Fat Head’s Brewery and Saloon.
With frozen hands and faces, we entered the massive place. But saying the brewery is huge is an understatement. Giant brew kettles welcome you at the door and the bar is large and in charge, spreading across a large amount of the restaurant. On one of the coldest days of the year there was not a single open barstool.
The hostess directed us to our booth in the back of the restaurant. I felt small in the large booth; it was as if it was made for the iconic Fat Head character himself.
Sheri Shupe, our friendly waitress who has worked at Fat Head’s since it opened five years ago, welcomed us and commented that it was actually a very slow night for them. This surprised me, but she soon explained that typically all booths are occupied no matter what day.
Shupe asked what beer would we like this evening. I replied, “All of them.”
Then, after a strange stare, “I mean, we would like a sample of all your house beers.” She again looked at us in disbelief. In minutes she returned with twelve large samples of beer. To be frank, it was a lot. When you ask for a sample at most breweries, you are given enough to have about two sips, no more than a few ounces. Here at Fat Head’s, the samples were quite large and generous.
I decided I would start off with two of the lighter beers so I didn’t ruin my palate by starting off with hoppy IPA’s. I first tried the Starlight Lager, which was German-style lager with a lot of malt like American beers. It was a very light color and the perfect beer to drink on a porch over the summer. With snow swirling outside the window, I felt nostalgic.
Next was the Güdenhoppy Pils. Clearly by its name it was also German and even lighter than the lager, but cloudier since it was unfiltered. Made with German hops, this was an exceptionally flavorful pilsner.
It was now time to dive into two of Fat Head’s staples, the Head Hunter IPA and the Bumble Berry Honey Blueberry Ale. The beer was uncivilized and aggressive. My mouth was filled with hops and bitters and I needed to follow with water. It is a very traditional IPA, but not one you could drink a lot of without needing some water to combat the dryness.
On the flipside, the Blueberry Ale may just be my new favorite fruit beer. There was a powerful blueberry aroma and taste which lingered seconds after sipping. The original malty beer was served with a plump blueberry in the glass.
Taking a break from beer seemed like a real challenge at Fat Head’s. I already had tasted four exceptional beers and there were still eight more to go. My food of choice this evening was the Southside Slopes, a sandwich piled with mouth-watering kielbasa and creamy, gooey, cheese-filled pierogies.
I tried to keep the next four beers within a theme of “ale.” So, I next had the Trail Head Pale Ale. There was a taste of citra hops in it, but overall it was average. A portion of the proceeds of the beer go to the Cleveland Metroparks Trail Fund; that alone would have enticed me to order a pint if I still did not have seven more samples to go.
Scotch, scotch, scotch came next with the heavy scotch-tasting beer, The Great Scot Scotch Ale. The beer tasted very faintly of caramel. Then was one of my favorite beers at Fat Head’s, the Punch Buggy Pale Ale. Brewed with Whole Flower Amarillo hops, this beer was filled with a cacophony of fruit flavors and malts; truly it was one of the best pale ales I have ever had.
My last ale of the four was the Texas Brown Ale. I have not had a good brown ale in a while and most brown ales are usually shrugged off in comparison to IPA’s. This brown ale was truly deserving of love by being brewed with chocolate malt and Cascade hops. It was also remarkable how light brown in color it was compared to most brown ales.
Taking a break from the beer, my friend and I explored the massive game room filled with dart boards and very loud bowling games. We also realized they had even more seating than we had originally thought. Along the back wall was a huge mural of photos with patrons wearing Fat Head’s t-shirts and hats taken from all over the world. Clearly, patrons have a lot of pride and feeling of community with Fat Head’s, which made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
Returning to the beer, I started with the Oompa Loompa Chocolate Cream Stout, which as you one could imagine had a clear chocolate taste. It was just the right amount of chocolate taste, not overbearing. Following was the Prohibition Pauly Porter, which was a classic porter with a mild coffee flavor.
My last two beers were types of beer I have been encountering a lot lately in my reviews. Either these beers are currently in season or they must be the new cool beer to brew. I greatly enjoyed the dunkelweizen named Dunkleosteus, which may be my new favorite beer name, and the altbier, which was simply called the Altbier. Both were actually some of my favorite dunkelweizens and altbiers I have ever had and were by far the best I have sampled so far this year.
We closed out the night getting a tour of the facility by the very friendly and congenial Ted Lipovan, who is the general manager at Fat Head’s. He oddly enough somewhat resembled the logo, but laughed about his supposed resemblance and assured us that the name of the brewery came from an old Pittsburgh bar where the owners used to call each other “fat heads.” Lipovan also pointed out that each of their staple beers has its own variation of the original logo.
The facility had a several barrel system; Lipovan explained to me this allows the brewery can have up to 22 to 23 different house beers on draft. The twelve on tap were more than enough for my friend and me.
Fat Head’s also allows patrons to take growlers of their beer home with them at very affordable prices.
Fat Head’s Brewery and Saloon may be a bit of a distance for CWRU students, but if you have a car, a group of friends and a love of beer and great food it truly is something exceptional and unique to the greater Cleveland area.