13 reasons you're going to love the new Fat Head's (In No Particular order)

The new Fat Head's Brewery, Beer Hall and Restaurant is taking shape along Interstate 71 in Middleburg Heights. Fat Head's is shooting for an August opening -- sorry, no specific date is available yet. Brewer extraordinaire Matt Cole took me on a tour of the new facility this week. It's still under construction, although brewing is taking place. Here are 13 reasons that you're likely to fall in love with the new Fat Head's:

Reason No. 1

The new Fat Head's is humongous -- just like the trademark giant sandwiches. Maybe spacious is a more appropriate word. The production brewery and taproom occupy 75,000 square feet at 17450 Engle Lake Drive. That's up from 38,000 square feet at its former location. The brewery is visible from Interstate 71 -- but it was too dangerous to stop my car along the highway to take a picture.

Reason No. 2

Matt Cole. 'Nuff said? He's an award-winning brewer a million times over. That's just a slight exaggeration. Cole has an amazing winning streak going at the Great American Beer Festival. The last time that Fat Head's didn't win a medal? Try 2008. And that was before Fat Head's opened. Before that, he was racking up medals at the Rocky River Brewing Co. While hop fans adore Head Hunter IPA and Hop JuJu, Fat Head's most awarded beer at the GABF is AlpenGlow, which has earned four overall medals and three golds.

Reason No. 3

The barbecue. Cole takes his barbecue seriously -- both personally and professionally. Fat Head's invested in an Oyler Barbecue Pit built in Mesquite, Texas. "We found a really great smoker and we figured we could put a building around it," Cole jokes. The kitchen covers about 3,000 square feet.

Reason No. 4

Blue skies -- along with white pillowy clouds -- are still hanging around. Anyone who ventured into the former production brewery and taproom, which really was just down the road and around the corner, should recall the top of the walls painted to resemble a blue sky with clouds.

Reason No. 5

Behind the scenes, you'll find enough pipes to go to the moon and back several times. Well, that's not true. But there are tons and tons of pipes. How many feet or miles would they stretch? Who knows. Cole says that's a great question but they didn't keep track.

Reason No. 6

Let's talk vibe. "Bavarian beer hall," Cole says trying to describe the place. "We tried to make the focal point the brewhouse." The main taproom -- let's face it, that's the only space most visitors will see -- will be filled with some interesting decor. There's the chandelier lighting. Thirty-foot ceiling. Barn beams hanging from one section of the ceiling. The 60-foot bar that features solid teak. The 30 taps -- 20 of which will feature Fat Head's beers, with others devoted to guest beers, a cider and a mead. The large, glass garage doors that open up to an outdoor patio. Indoor seating for about 260 people -- not to mention the outdoor seating. An area for games, along with a gift shop. The stamped concrete floor. There even will be a live ficus tree. Not to mention the ...

Reason No. 7

... Wood wall. One wall is decorated with cross sections of trees. It's a giant art piece and it's mesmerizing. "Why? It's different. You have a lot of space and a lot of open walls over here and you needed a focal point," says Anis Nakhel, of Global Custom Furniture, who's serving as a designer for the taproom.

Reason No. 8

Cans. Fat Head's has been slow to embrace cans. But that's going to change. The brewery is installing a canning line. "We are definitely going to have cans," Cole says. Expect those in 2019. "We've got to get the can thing going," he says. The cans will feature sleeve-style labels, as opposed to pre-printed cans, allowing the brewery to be more nimble in terms of what it releases.

Reason No. 9

Fat Head's now has several 425-barrel fermenters -- the ones you see rising into the sky off I-71. The photo above shows the bottom of those. "When I started at Rocky River, the first tank was a 14-barrel tank and I remember standing them up by hand," Cole says. "These, we had to get a special crane." The increased capacity will help Fat Head's expand its distribution. It's looking to expand into Kentucky, Michigan, New York and Virginia.

Reason No. 10

The pilot system! The pilot system, which will focus on some small batch beers, will be a 15-barrel brewhouse. Now, let's put that in perspective for a second. When Great Lakes Brewing Co. launched its brewpub in 1988, it employed a seven-barrel brewing system. The pilot system at Fat Head's will be more than double that.

Reason No. 11

The 68-barrel BrauKon brewhouse. The brewing system is on full display in the taproom, with the brewer elevated above the bar. "You're going to really know you're in a working brewery," Cole says. Fat Head's invested heavily in the brewing system, which features plenty of new "toys." Like the two spice dosers. Or the heat exchanger between the brew kettle and the whirlpool designed to knock the temperature of the wort down to promote hop flavor as opposed to bitterness. Or hop dosing tanks that can be loaded with whole flower hops. Or hop back pellet tank with perforated sides inside. Or the two 150-barrel open fermenter barrels. Or the two yeast propogators. Or the flotation vessel. Or the ... well, you get the point, the list goes on. The $4 million brewery has the capacity to pump out 60,000 barrels a year.

Reason No. 12

Fat Head's is investing in a wastewater treatment system to reduce the level of solids that it sends to the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District. "All of the things we put down the drain will be more neutralized," Cole says. "We're basically trying to make it a little easier on the public sewer system." It's "a half a million dollar investment," he says.

Reasons No. 13-?

Well, there are plenty of other reasons to be excited. Quickly, here are a few others. Crowlers: Fat Head's will start offering Crowlers at the new location. Quality assurance: The brewery is expanding its quality control lab and hired a second full-time lab technician. "We're definitely focused on quality," Cole says. Barrel-aging: A barrel-aging room will double as a private party room. Sour program: "We're going to expand our sours program quite a bit and barrel aging and that kind of stuff and we're going to start experimenting more," Cole says. "We haven't been able to experiment because we haven't had the capacity." Head Hunter: Head Hunter is killing it in sales in Ohio, Cole says, especially after the brewery opted to release the award-winning IPA in six-packs instead of four-packs. New beer: "We're going to come out with another year-round, lower alcohol, little bit less IBU IPA," Cole hints. He wouldn't tip his hand on specifics, but says it'll likely be around 6 percent and more competitively priced. Sunshine seasonal: He's not sure what will happen with Sunshine Daydream, which is a session IPA. It may become a seasonal brew as opposed to being available year-round. "We've got to keep reinventing ourselves," he says. Job fair: Fat Head's is hiring. Anyone interested can show up at the brewery for an interview. The brewery expects to employ about 125 people at the new site, bringing total employment to more than 300.

Created By
Rick Armon

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