The Brew Kettle rides brewery-expansion wave in Northeast Ohio

CLEVELAND, Ohio - Add The Brew Kettle to the list of local breweries expanding in Northeast Ohio.

The Brew Kettle recently announced it will open a space in Hudson, its first restaurant in Summit County. Mark Bivenour, the company's vice president, said the goal is to open by Memorial Day weekend in the spot previously occupied by the Varsity Club, which closed Feb. 19.

"It was an opportunity," Bivenour said. "We had a chance to go into that location, and our plan is to always look at opportunities as they come along, and it seemed to make sense."

He said applications for servers, bartenders, chefs and other workers are being accepted online now for the Hudson location.

The Brew Kettle started in Strongsville, expanded to Amherst in 2015, and has eyes on a location in Ironton in southern Ohio on the Kentucky border.

"That deal is still in the works," Bivenour said. "That's been on the table and continues to move forward. Our original plan was to include brew-on-premise. So I think we've got enough space and there's enough demand in the marketplace."

The Strongsville location is the only one that maintains the company's signature brew-on-premise option, where people can go in, choose a style and brew on their own, then return to bottle after fermentation. While its brew-on-premise approach sets the company apart from other breweries - it started in 1995 and remains the only one of its kind in Northeast Ohio - The Brew Kettle is a consistent award-winner with a variety of beers made under brewer Jack Kephart's tutelage.

The Hudson location "probably is going to feature the attributes of the Amherst location," Bivenour said. "It will be designed more like it but also still have its own special feel."

In addition to the Hudson expansion, the company is aiming for a larger production brewery in Strongsville. That will allow "for more distribution in Ohio" and that "we're getting constant requests for beer in Ohio."

"This is just a plus," he said about having a restaurant in Hudson. "This is a nice plus to add to what we do."

It's no secret Northeast Ohio breweries keep popping up throughout pockets of downtown Cleveland and surrounding areas. But several key breweries have expanded operations within the past year:

* Market Garden Brewery opened its production facility behind the Ohio City brewery, allowing the company to bottle and distribute throughout Northeast Ohio.

* Fat Head's Brewery said it wants to move to a larger space for a taproom and brewery in Middleburg Heights. It has a taproom and brewery in that city, as well as the North Olmsted location.

* Platform Beer Co. opened on Lorain Avenue several years ago but last year expanded to the old Leisy Brewery plant in Cleveland. It has a full canning line and has ambitious plans for a tasting room as well.

* Thirsty Dog Brewing Co. of Akron is eyeing an expansion north to capture the traffic in Cleveland's revitalized East Bank of the Flats. The deal has been in the works for some time but is not finalized.

The wave of expansion might be a rebuttal to anyone who thinks the brewing industry has reached a saturation point. Bivenour doesn't think we're at that point, either.

"No, I don't believe so," he said. "I don't think we've hit that glass ceiling yet. We're really blessed. We have a lot of good breweries making good beer. That saturation point hasn't been hit."

About growth in NEO's beer industry

The Brew Kettle's presence in the community remains more than just a brick-and-mortar footprint. The brewery maintains a concession stand serving beer and food at Progressive Field. It entered into a beer partnership with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2015. It garners national media attention on assorted best-of lists, and recently finished its annual two-week run of Ogrefest, where it features a variety of big-beer styles.

In 2015, in a very competitive category at the Great American Beer Festival, it won a bronze medal for its White Rajah, an American-Style India Pale Ale.

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