The Ghost of Cleveland’s Brewing Past

by Renee on December 13, 2010

At a recent holiday luncheon, I ran into friend and health care marketing colleague, former WJW-TV8 reporter Don Olson. He told me he’s been enjoying my blog (thanks, Don!) and we began talking about beer. (Surprise. This happens to me all the time now.) He mentioned that back in his TV days he had covered the closing of one of Cleveland’s old breweries, Schmidt’s, in the early 1980s. Schmidt’s originated in Philadelphia, but had expanded to Cleveland, into a building that had previously been the home of Carling Brewing Company. Even before that, the building was used to manufacture Peerless Motorcars. Don remembered the beautiful, ornate courtesy tasting room with big taps coming out of huge wooden kegs behind the bar–something out of a proud beer-drinking city’s past.

Now back in 1982 I was still a high school senior in Maryland, and didn’t make my way to the Buckeye State until later that fall when I came to Ohio to go to college. But now that I consider myself a full-fledged Buckeye after 25+ years, his comment piqued my interest in the brewing industry of the metropolitan area I call home today, Cleveland. Good reporter that he still is, Don was even kind enough to do a little research–he sent me a link to a Case Western Reserve University article on the city’s brewing past. Lots of very interesting reading there, including this bit:

There were 2 breweries in Cleveland when the first city directory was published in 1837-38. In 1845-46, 3 breweries employing 13 persons produced 177,000 gallons of beer and ale with an estimated value of $17,000. Thereafter, the directories trace the swift and sustained growth of the industry prior to Prohibition in 1920: in 1860, there were 11 breweries; in 1870, 17; in 1880, 23; in 1890, 19; in 1900, 23; and in 1910, 26. The city’s malt liquor output, valued at $1,249,502 in 1880, increased more than fourfold by 1910, to $5,124,478, and helped boost Ohio to third place, behind Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

This trend of brewery growth came to a halt in Cleveland when Prohibition took effect on January 16, 1920.  Brewery owners started closing up shop, until 1970, when only two remained: Carling and Schmidt, according to the history from CWRU. Carling left town, and Schmidt took over their brewworks. Then Schmidt closed in 1984, and there was no brewery operating in Cleveland until 1988, with the founding of the Great Lakes Brewing Company by brothers Patrick and Daniel Conway.

Today, the brewing industry in Northeast Ohio is seeing a resurgence–from south in Akron where you’ll find Hoppin’ Frog and Thirsty Dog Brewing; to the western suburbs where Rocky River Brewing Company, and Fat Head’s in North Olmsted are doing gangbusters; to Willoughby Brewing Company and Chardon Brewworks out east; and in Cleveland you’ll find the resurrection of the once-shuttered Crooked River Brewing Company, as well as the new Market Garden Brewery due to open in 2011.

After reading about the rich brewing history of Cleveland, I was more than inspired to raise a glass to the 77th anniversary of the end of Prohibition, at the Prohibition Repeal party, recently sponsored by Emerging Chefs, held in the Speakeasy of McNulty’s Bier Market. This event saw Clevelanders celebrating great food and fine spirits–the way men and women who work hard and play hard have earned the right to do today–and into the future!

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Maureen Ogle December 13, 2010 at 6:22 pm

Hey! Some history!!! Thanks.

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Renee December 13, 2010 at 6:40 pm

I thought you might like that!

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Don Olson December 13, 2010 at 6:42 pm

Another great article, Renee! Love the history.

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Renee December 13, 2010 at 6:59 pm

Thanks for the inspiration, Don!

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