Note: This story was originally published in Issue #74 of BeerAdvocate Magazine. Some parts have been edited, as there were errors in the original version.
There was a time when the city of Cleveland was a vibrant and bustling beer town. The neighborhood of Ohio City was the heart of the brewing district then, and it is emerging as a must-visit for beer drinkers once again.
Part of that revival includes Market Garden Brewery, which opened in 2011 by a group of business partners looking to expand from beer bars to brewing.
In The Blood
Founder Sam McNulty started his first restaurant when he was 21, an eatery and beer bar on the Cleveland State campus – where he was a student. Since then, he has taken over a small stretch of West 25th street in Cleveland’s Ohio City neighborhood—just across the river south of downtown Cleveland.
It started in 2005 with the opening of McNulty’s Bier Markt, a Belgian beer bar, but continued to grow with Bar Centro, an Italian restaurant and beer bar; Speakeasy, a pre-prohibition style cocktail lounge opened in 2009; and Market Garden in 2011. Along the way McNulty has added to the ownership group to include Foran, Mark Priemer, and brewmaster Andy Tveekrem.
“I always wanted to have a career in beer, which is why at 21 years old I opened up my first restaurant and beer bar on Cleveland State campus,” McNulty said. “That was 17 years ago. It’s always kind of been in my blood, literally and figuratively. All jokes aside about enjoying drinking, I see beer as part of the social fabric of civilization. That sounds all grandiose and crazy, but I think beer plays an extremely important role in the cultural life of cities and neighborhoods. If you look at pub culture and all the great things that have transpired and conversations and ideas that have grown out of people enjoying beer together and entering into this melting pot, it seems like wow all these places and at last count we’ve got over 200 taps just on this street alone.”
Following the opening of Market Garden, McNulty’s group introduced Nano Brew—a former biker bar turned into a bicycle bar, complete with a covered bike corral out front and tools for bike repair behind the bar, where Tveekrem and his brewing team can experiment on a 20-gallon system.
“When the firsts several places opened up, people asked ‘why are you doing this? You’re just going to cannibalize your own business,’” McNulty said. “After the fourth place opened up people stopped saying that. Every time a good place opens up on this street, and not just our place we’ve had a lot of other restaurants and bars open up in Ohio City in the seven years since we’ve been here, every time a new place comes the rising tide lifts all ships.”
In The Garden
There are two things that set Market Garden Brewery apart from your typical brew pub. The first, and most important, is Tveekrem. Tveekrem started his career at Great Lakes and eventually made a name for himself as the brewmaster for Dogfish Head.
“Anybody going into the restaurant or brewpub business, 90% of the time they have problems it’s beer quality or beer consistency,” co-owner Mike Foran said. “To bring a guy like Andy in we just knew from Day 1 that the beer was going to be great, so it allowed us to focus on other elements of the brewpub to make it successful.”
Around the time McNulty and Moran were looking to open a brew pub, Tveekrem was back in town looking to open up a brewery of his own. The two took Tveekrem out to dinner at their Bar Centro location, and convinced him to join forces with them instead.
“We were looking around for places to start a brewpub and out of the blue I get a call from Sam and his partner Mark,” Tveekrem said. “They were thinking about this project, they had the land already purchased. It was across the street from their Italian restaurant. We met and had dinner and kind of hit it off, which was the main thing.
“I could just see the potential for letting it grow. It started a brewpub, but it could go beyond that and that’s always intriguing to me. It didn’t take me too long to figure out maybe I should put my money in with these guys and see where it gets us.”
With Tveekrem at the helm, Market Garden’s beer was all set. The next step was creating the write atmosphere to drink said beer. That’s where the second defining characteristic comes into play, as Market Garden proudly claims to own Cleveland’s first American-style beer garden.
“We do a few things that are different than the European tradition,” McNulty said. “We embrace communal tables, which of course they also do in Europe, but ours are cocktail height. And on the surface that seems like a minor distinction, but if you think about the difference of the reality of standing or leaning on a bar as opposed to hunkering down on a bench at a picnic table – the American version allows for a little more mingling. You’re more likely to meet more people.”
Playing Within Limits
Even with the playground/laboratory of Nano Brew at his disposal, Tveekrem doesn’t produce radical ales. Instead of exploring odd ingredients or techniques, something that his previous employer is known for, Tveekrem’s focus is more customer-oriented.
“Usually my focus is on drinkability,” he says. “How can I construct it so that it’s actually going to be all the flavors I want in there, but they’re actually going to be something I want to have another pint of or maybe two. It’s not just about packing as much stuff in a glass of beer as possible, but it’s about finding a way to round it out and have it all work together.
“I’m an old-school beer geek I guess. I went through the Beer Judge Certification Program and all that so I’m always kind of looking at styles and what makes a beer correct for a certain style and how to play within that range.”
With an emphasis on approachability in the forefront, beers like Pearl Street Wheat, a traditional Bavarian-style Hefeweizen with plenty of banana and clove notes, are among the brewery’s most popular. So is the aptly named Cluster Fuggle IPA, an English-style IPA brewed with, what else, Cluster and Fuggles hops.
“It’s not a west-coast hop bomb,” Tveekrem says. “It’s got a good malt backbone and there’s Fuggle hops in the end.”
That’s not to say that Tveekrem is averse to hops, as Viking Pale Ale is every bit an American Pale Ale designed to showcase the Cascade hops.
With its focus on drinkability and creating a communal atmosphere, Market Garden Brewery is an example of what a brewpub can accomplish when it keeps its customers at the heart of its decision-making process. The end result is one more step toward revitalizing a neighborhood that is becoming known once again for its high-quality beer.