On a sunny, winter afternoon I decided to check out Willoughby Brewing Company, located in Willoughby, Ohio. This brewery is near and dear to my heart as the very first brewery I visited. My grandpa used to pick me up from school and take me to the rejuvenated 115-year-old trolley car repair building where I would take very small sips of his after-work beer.
Upon parking you cannot help but stare at the old industrial building the brewery is housed in, where the phantom sounds of clanging hammers emit.
The entrance door’s handles are two large beer taps. You grab these handles to open the door and it feels like you are already pouring yourself a drink. Patrons immediately feel like they are part of the most important part of the beer making process—drinking it.
Travelling the small tracks above the bar and seating area, a small toy train engine greeted me as I entered with a small whistle.
The bar is large and wooden and surrounds the copper brew kettles. Sitting down in a large wooden chair I glanced at the giant chalkboard above, which displayed the six beers on tap and one collaboration-brew with Brew Kettle.
A bartender with a big smile handed me an extensive beer menu, which elaborately described their beers. Accompanying this was an equally elaborate food menu with some rather exotic items, such as building your own Mac + Cheese with tons of different toppings and cheese to choose from.
I couldn’t decide on one beer so I decided to get all of them (as a flight of course). I followed the beer with a fried green tomato melt.
The first beer I sampled is the only beer they continue to serve since their opening in 1998, the Railway Razz. Sipping this brought back plenty oaf wonderful memories with my grandfather. The Railway Razz is truly an excellent fruit beer with a clear raspberry taste that is not overpowering or too sweet, but just right. The beer is a stunning ruby red color and resembles wine in both taste and color.
I followed this with Willoughby’s staple beer and Cleveland favorite, the Peanut Butter Cup Coffee Porter. Quite possibly one of the best porters I have ever had, the beer has rich coffee and peanut butter flavors that shock your taste buds with every sip. The brew definitely tastes like beer, but the coffee flavor is so present you sometimes question what you are actually drinking.
The next beer on the flight was the Gutterpup; a traditional non-coffee flavored porter. (The Peanut Butter Cup Coffee Porter is actually made by combining the Gutterpup with local coffee beans.) The Gutterpup was a very flavorful dark porter, but disappointing after drinking the Peanut Butter Cup Coffee Porter. I decided it would be fun to go back and forth sipping both porters and tasting the difference between the two. That game ended rather quickly due to the extreme amount of deliciousness.
The Peanut Butter Cup Coffee Porter can be found at several other bars around Cleveland and is the only beer the brewery exports. I personally had this gem at Town Hall in Ohio City and the infamous Happy Dog in Gordon Square.
I took a break from the beer and enjoyed my mouth-watering fried green tomato melt. The tomatoes were cooked just right and the cheese dripped from the bread. This traditional, southern dish was made just right up in the good ole Midwest.
Returning back to beer, I decided to sample the Kaiserhof Kolsch. I personally am not a huge fan of light beers, but this was incredibly drinkable and smooth and would be a perfect summer beer to drink on the porch. It was a gorgeous yellow color and I drank my sample in seconds.
Following the Kolsch I had an American Pale Ale, the Perfidia and an IPA, the Cosmic. Both were rather hoppy and were not as exceptional as the other beers I had tasted. They were great ales; just not as impressive as the other beers I had that evening.
I finished the night strong with the Collaborator (a collaboration with Brew Kettle) that was a huge slap in the face. This strong doppelbock clocks in at a nine percent ABV with an equally strong flavor. I was not expecting this rush of hops to the head so I immediately downed some water.
Speaking with Don Trivisonno, brewmaster, he revealed that the brewery is a 20 barrel system where they can brew 31 gallons per barrel and on average brew 500 gallons of beer a year. Trivisonno mentioned to me that the brewery has live music every Friday and Saturday and has a ladies night and a nightclub feel on Thursdays.
This of course surprised me because I was at a brewery and not at a bar in downtown Cleveland. Trivisonno explained that the brewery strives to have “a touch of downtown, but away from downtown.”
I went back on a weekend night and was amazed by how many people were there. The brewery feel was not as present, but did offer a bar feel to patrons and was quite packed.
Every brewery is different, but what truly amazes me is the diversity of Willoughby Brewery. From afternoon to evening it can transform itself from a quiet brewery filled with train whistles to a hopping bar filled with laughter and music.