Checking in with Matt Kiene of Lager Heads Brewing Co.
Medina County isn’t well-known for its beverage and restaurant scene, but that hasn’t stopped restaurant and brewery owners like Matt and Jon Kiene from making the good stuff while keeping it close to home. I stopped by Lager Heads Brewery to meet up with Matt Kiene and talk barbecue and beer.
Fermenting Ohio: How did Lager Heads get started?
Matt Kiene: My brother Jon and I started Lager Heads Smokehouse in 2004. Quite honestly, my brother and I had a love of craft beer and found ourselves showcasing in it in our restaurant’s bar. We were introducing people to craft beer and helping them discover styles they might like. We had a room in the back of the restaurant that we didn’t use as much, so we took a chance and bought some equipment. We had a great resource helping us named Steve Bagley who was showing us how to brew. Steve had to focus on other obligations, so we brought on Tom Robbins with experience from Thirsty Dog. He’s been with us for six years now. We outgrew that backroom space and came to this new taproom and brewery in 2015.
FO: Why Medina?
MK: We grew up around here, particularly right by the Smokehouse. We both ventured off at some point, but wound up back in this town. It’s home. We love brewing out here in Medina; the people have been supportive and it’s been a great experience. We’ve been brewing since 2010, moved to this brewery in 2015, and this was an old tool and die shop that was abandoned. It had to be gutted, of course, but nice to have a piece of history and serve this community.
FO: Talk to me about your bottling line. When did that happen for your business?
MK: Originally we were draft only and then offered the 22oz bottles. Those are a hard sell so we moved to the 12-ounce bottles around our 2nd year. We distribute to NE Ohio, and one small distributor in Western PA as well.
FO: How do you come up with your recipes?
MK: We all collaborate. We have certain beers that we have year-round, but it’s fun to play around. Like our Dunkelweizen - that’s the first time we’ve offered it and we’re enjoying it on tap.
FO: Do you see yourselves staying in this space for a while?
MK: This size is very manageable. Everyone would like to grow but I think that’s up to the market, which is in a weird place right now. A lot of players and a lot of good beer out there, so we’ll see…
FO: Speaking of, what do you think about the alleged beer bubble and does that have any effect on brewers way out here?
MK: We’re really not on top of anyone out here. Medina County only has two breweries with another one on the way, possibly more in the works. Cleveland’s market doesn’t really affect us on the local level, just on store shelves. For the consumer, it’s really nice to have all this selection.
FO: What’s a favorite beer your brewery has produced?
MK: I’m a big fan of our Oktoberfest. The one that seems to do well with the locals is the Belgian Trippel. That one is a great beer to drink, too; two completely different styles, but I like those the best.
FO: What about your root beer?
MK: We don’t distribute, but we like to brew it to have something on hands for the non-alcohol drinkers or kids that come in.
FO: What was the hardest thing for you guys to get into the craft beer business?
MK: Honestly, money is always a factor. Stainless isn’t cheap. That, and I guess finding out what the consumer wants. So, not relying on what I personally want to drink, but what your patrons will want to buy. We’ve been doing about this for seven years. I imagine for the new guys, a big challenge would be to find a distributor to get your product out there and do a good job with it.
FO: What size system do you have there and what does the brewing schedule look like?
MK: We have a 15-barrel system. We average about 3-4 brew days a week.
FO: What’s your best seller?
MK: Our bestselling bottle is our IPA, and our bestselling draft is our Red. Best beer at the restaurant is the Lager. Those three are offered year-round. It’s interesting to see how one moves better in a different vehicle.
FO: Do you do many events here?
MK: We have an “Apps and Taps” event coming up where we bring in local restaurants to set up their food, and this is free to our customers. We have a yoga class coming up. We have a local ceramics group coming in and we’re doing a Pilsner glass painting class. We try to get local merchants involved and keep it fresh. Every 1st Friday of the month, we do Firkin Friday to experiment. We do 10-gallon batches for that, and if it’s something that goes over well, we take note and might do it on the big system down the line. At this time, we do not have food at the brewery, but we encourage people to bring their own or order in.
FO: Anything coming up on tap that you’re looking forward to?
We have our Belgian Trippel in about a month, and a Rye Pale Ale- first time we’re doing one of those, so that’s exciting for us!
Thanks to Matt for speaking with me about the brewery and giving me a look around. Medina is looking good these days, so take a trip out and see what Lager Heads beer is all about!
Lager Heads Brewery
325 W Smith Rd
Medina, OH 44256