Ohio Brewer Spotlight: Karl Spiesman of Brick and Barrel
Happy September, my boozy friends!
Travel with me back to Cleveland to stop by Brick and Barrel, which is now in its third year of making great beer for a great city. I sat down with part-owner/brewer Karl Spiesman to talk beer, wine, bourbon and urban hooch making. Cheers!
Fermenting Ohio: Bring us up to speed on how you got to Brick and Barrel Brewing.
Karl Spiesman: For my personal journey, I started in the wine industry 15 years ago and worked around the globe, from Ohio, California, Oregon, all the way to to New Zealand. Locally, I’ve spent time at Debonne and M Cellars out in Geneva. For brewing, I worked a cellar job at Harpoon Brewery and worked my way up on the brewing side of things. My second brewing gig was at Full Sail, but it was really wine that got me to where I am.
For the start of Brick and Barrel, it also starts with wine. I started with two partners selling grapes from California to home winemakers. I had contacts at a couple good vineyards to get really good grapes and juice. We wanted to sell crush day experiences, so the day of transport, crushing on site and just having fun. I lived in Portland, OR at the time and urban wineries were popping up. If you think about it, any major city is at least an hour away from any prominent grape growing regions (here, for instance, from Cleveland to Geneva is a 45 minute- hour haul) so we wanted to be able to bring the process to people who weren’t out in the country but still want to appreciate winemaking. When I was working on Long Island, people would come out in vans, buses and limos, and they loved seeing the crush and being part of it. There’s an excitement that adds to their glass of wine when you realize you only get that one shot, that one harvest to make the wine work. When I got back to Ohio, I knew I wanted to do that, but if you want to do it right and not skimp and have good quality, you’re looking at a time line from 1 to 3+ years depending on what wine you’re making and the cost effectiveness for that is dreary. It’s especially dreary when you’re just starting out, so we thought what about craft beers? We can do that and get started and then ease into the wine plan easier. However, our craft beers business has done very well for itself, we’re going on three years later and we ran out of space and haven’t even had a chance to look at the urban winery. We still have it on the radar pending more space, but for right now the brewery is going great and we do well at it, so this is fun. I guess it’s a winery driven brewery.
FO: What size system are you brewing on?
KS: We have a 3 ½ barrel brew system (direct fire) with three kettles: HLT, MT and BK – each capable of 120 gallons. Each beer comes out a little different yield-wise. We have four 7-barrel fermenters, and a 3 ½ barrel fermenter and one 7 barrel brite tank (we’re carbing and kegging from there).
FO: Where do you see your business going?
KS: I want to see this taproom filled to capacity, doing our flagships well with a few other beers, some food options, 5 menu type things, more advertising, and HVAC to improve the summers here. I think we can grow into this and also reach out to other locations. I’d rather do that than get into bottling/distributing. Having several breweries in different locations that focus on different styles would be ideal. Maybe having one that specializes in Lagers, the other in Ales, I just think that’s more interesting and seems way more effective than fighting for retail space.
FO: What is a favorite beer you’ve brewed?
KS: I like multi beers, so the McTavish Wee Heavy. I’m a little bit constricted with our size so I can’t do lagers like I’d like to. We only do ales here, but I love to do casks. I get excited when we put the wee heavy into Maple bourbon barrels from Bissel Maple Farms that held bourbon style whiskey from Red Eagle Distillery out in Geneva . It’s so much fun and so much carmely, mapley goodness, it’s not a stout so it doesn’t get the chocolate notes, so that’s a fun one. People like the Bitter Chief, it’s an IPA (that style is dominating the market right now). My wife’s cousin designed the logo and it’s been our best seller.
FO: What’s coming up for Brick and Barrel?
KS: We’re working on a Noble Blonde or Noble Saison (pending ingredients), right now made with Riesling wine must. We always have our main 4-5 beers on tap but can play around with seasonal options. We have a maple bourbon in October, and a hefeweizen right now due to Oktoberfest. Every month we’ll have something, we don’t have a structured portfolio like some, we can do what we want to do here and experiment a little.
FO: How long did it take you to find this location?
KS: It took us a year year and a half to nail down the location, it was difficult to find affordable areas, much less get in touch with a real estate agent…we looked all over from Rocky River boarder to where we are now. In 2013, I was driving by our current spot and saw this was up for lease and thought we could make it work. We opened December, 2014.
FO: What’s been the biggest challenge opening up a brewery?
KS: Just evolving, being small like we are we don’t have everything at our fingertips, like having the exact equipment we need on demand, etc. Everything changes every few months in the market, so keeping up with that and the space limitations of our current facility keep us on our toes.
Thanks to Karl and Erik for letting me interrupt a busy day and talk shop. Brick and Barrel is a great location worthy of your visit, so do check them out!
Brick and Barrel
1844 Columbus Rd
Cleveland, OH 44113