Luke Brevoort of Bookhouse Brewing
I can definitely relate to Luke Brevoort and his business partner Vaughn Stewart of Bookhouse Brewing, because I, too, always have to be working on a new project. Unfortunately, I’ve yet to start a brewery ;) This week I chatted with Luke about starting a brewery in Cleveland, the history of Bookhouse’s location, and exactly why the books on their shelves are color-coded. If you, too, want to learn more about Bookhouse - keep reading this week’s Small Business Sunday feature!
Haley Mills: How did Bookhouse come about?
Luke Brevoort: My partner Vaughn and I were college roommates at Ohio University in Athens. We were both in the music recording program, of all things, and we were always friends through projects. We actually met working at the college radio station, but we felt compelled to do our own thing, so we started a separate website that was music podcasts. It didn’t really accomplish anything but we always felt the need to be working on something together. Towards the end of college, he fell in love with craft beer, and I followed. He introduced my wife and I to it, and we all got excited about it at the same time. After graduation, he jumped right into it, he worked for a homebrew supply company and then eventually worked his way into brewing professionally. Meanwhile, I had married a Cleveland girl and moved to Cleveland, and I ended up buying and selling books for a long time. Vaughn had also married a Cleveland girl, so they wanted to get back here, too. They were trying to figure out how to do that and he was itching to break out and do his own thing on the brewing side. So, naturally, we came up with another project which was, ‘maybe we start a brewery’. He landed a gig at Portside (which is now closed), which got them here to Cleveland. When that closed it was kind of like ‘oh I guess now is when we do the brewery’. We had been working on it casually for a few years, but it got real serious real fast. We got the support of friends and family, and we started looking at buildings. This was the third building we looked at, we found it really quickly. We fell in love with it right away because the story of it is so great.
HM: That was my next question! Tell me more about the history of the building.
LB: You can imagine our jaws hitting the floor as the landlords told us this as we walked through the first time. The building was built in 1866 as a brewery by Jacob and Magdelena Baehr, who were german Mennonite immigrants from Heidelberg. There is not a lot about them in Cleveland brewing histories, it's not a very well documented brewery - part of that might of been because they were straight-laced, they would only serve and hire church-going men and they wouldn’t serve anyone who was known to drink intemperately. They were the moralists of the group. Despite that harshness, they did succeed. Seven years after they opened, Jacob died, leaving Magdelena with 8 children to raise and a brewery to run. She was known as Cleveland’s widow brewer, and she ran the place for 25 years and sold it for a big profit in 1901, so she was a badass. We named a beer after her, and we recently named a beer after Jacob as well. All that happened in this building. Our taproom is where the original tavern was. The family lived upstairs, and the apartment upstairs is beautiful with a marble fireplace. They made the beer below us and behind us (we were sitting in the taproom), and we actually have 5,000 sqt of basement that we’d love to dress up and utilize it in the future. It has original sloped wooden flooring from when brewing production happened down there. In the meantime, we have some great bones up here.
Part of what we thought was, if we’re going to bother to open yet another brewery, rather than just duplicating what's out there, what can we do that's a little bit different while adding to what's available. We saw coziness as something that was lacking a little bit. Some of our favorite haunts throughout the years, especially in Athens, were the kinds of places where you can tuck into a corner with a group of friends and live there for 6 hours. This place spoke to us in that way. As much as we wanted to do something different, we didn’t want to exclude anybody, so what's great about our space is that people can be having different kinds of fun happening in different corners. Variety is the spice of life!
HM: I have to know! How and/or why are the books colored-coded on the shelves?
LB: It’s a combination of things, when I left the bookstore I was working at prior to opening Bookhouse, I bought every encyclopedia set we had in stock that day. We put out a call to friends and family for any books they wanted to get rid of and people started dumping them on us. We had a big day where we had our families hanging out and we got all of the books out and were trying to decide what to do with them. When we started sorting them, eventually we landed on here are the ones that are interesting to read, and here are the ones that are not. How do we do something with the not-interesting ones? We started taking the dust jackets off, and anyone who's worked in a bookstore will know this, the color of the actual cover of the book tends to be a limited amount of colors. In doing that we found most of them are greenish-blue, reddish-orange, and a little bit of yellow, and then we realized our logo has red, blue and yellow - so I guess we should do that! It’s kind of like a fun decorative element but my goal is to continue to fill the place with books over time.
HM: You do book exchanges correct?
LB: Yeah, the first Tuesday of every month we do our monthly book swap where we invite people to just dump books on the table and take as many as they want. All of the books you see in the taproom are always free to take, much like the little libraries you see in people’s yards. The book swap is when the good books show up. You can always grab the 1966 world book encyclopedia, but, if you want some recent fiction, first Tuesdays are when to show up for that. When we have excess we give them to Seeds of Literacy.
HM: Three-part question - What is your favorite beer currently on tap? What is your all-time favorite Bookhouse beer and what is your all-time favorite beer in general?
LB: The answer to the first two questions is the same, my favorite is and always will be Magdalena, our pilsner, which is a mainstay. It’s a pre-prohibition style pilsner, which is an attempt to make a beer similar in style to what they may have made here in the past. Germans had been making pilsners and lagers in Germany for a long time. They come over here and the landscape is completely different so the ingredients have to be different. They kind of had to figure out a new way to make it. Our Pils has a fair amount of corn in it; we use a type of barley better suited to the warm American climate, and we use hops that are reminiscent of old-world hops but are an American variety, so it’s this old-new world mashup. What really matters is that it’s a really tasty beer and compared to other pilsners it has a more assertive bitterness. It’s the kind of beer where as soon as you finish one, you want another. It's always my first beer here. Outside of Bookhouse, Saison Du Pont is the best beer in the world. It’s $10 and you can get it at any grocery store but no one talks about it.
HM: What’s your best-selling beer?
LB: Our juicy IPA has been our best seller all summer. It actually started out as another batch of Celestial Map, our mainstay IPA, but it turned out not quite to Vaughn’s liking so he was trying to figure out how to salvage it or push it in another direction. Towards the end of the process, he just chucked a ton of hops into it - which is how you make a hazy IPA. He committed to the bit there and called it Whoops! Too Juicy. That was our first juicy IPA and we sold out of it in two and a half weeks. So then he made, Whoops! Even Juicier, and he keeps making jokes about it with the name like that. We’re on the third one. It might just be a summer thing, but everyone loves that. We serve it in a hip angular wine glass type of glass so it's one of those where someone orders it and everyone looks around like, ‘Oh what is that?’
HM: Is there anything else you want people to know about Bookhouse?
LB: We’re doing our first can release on the 31st. We're dipping our toes in the water! We’re doing our house IPA, Celestial Map, and then Vaughn got his hands on some extremely hard to get New Zealand Hops, so he’s doing a Double IPA featuring those, called Island Gigantism. For hop heads, or just people interested in trying our beer in cans, August 31st at 12pm here in our taproom is the place to grab a pack or two! They’ll also be hitting shelves around Cleveland starting September 3rd. Quantities are limited!
Also - we have a stage! We host a spoken word open mic on 2nd and 4th Tuesdays of each month. We are also open to inquiries for relatively low volume live music. Every Sunday that there’s an Indians game, we have a guy - Ty Sickels - who does a live, radio-style call of the game. We don’t have TVs (by choice), so it’s a fun way to bring baseball to Bookhouse.
HM: What’s your favorite restaurant in Cleveland?
LB: The Happy Dog is the beating heart of Cleveland as far as I am concerned.
HM: Where is your favorite place to be in Cleveland?
LB: Edgewater Beach
HM: What is your favorite event to attend in Cleveland?
LB: The Puerto Rican Festival
Upcoming events at Bookhouse:
August 27th: Bookhouse Spoken Word Open Mic
August 29th: Thursday Trivia Night
August 30th: El Caminante Walking Taco Bar
September 1st: Waffle Bar Popup by Hungry Bear
September 3rd: Bookhouse Book Swap