The first week of November in northeastern Ohio brings crisp, cool weather and colorful foliage of ambers and reds. This year it also brought the grand opening of Sandy Springs Brewing Co.
in the quaint town of Minerva. And the taps flowed with brews in those beautiful autumn hues.
I do like to visit a brewery on its opening weekend, and this was my third time doing so this season. Everything I saw on social media indicated that this little brewery in an out-of-the-way Ohio town would be well worth my time, and it certainly was.
|Sandy Springs Brewing Co. building and patio|
I drove into Minerva in late afternoon and found Sandy Springs on a prominent downtown street corner in the same block as the City Hall. Street parking was easy to find within easy walking distance. My first good look at the brewery came as I approached from across the street. The two-story brick building is fairly simple in its presentation, which is perfectly fine, because the patio steals the show. The brewery is situated on the historic Lincoln Highway
(US Route 30 through Ohio), so it is fitting that the original site hosted the first gas station in the town. The old garage is now the brewing and fermentation room, and the outdoor portion of the gas station hosts the brewery's large patio.
|Patrons enjoying the patio|
|The original Standard Oil service station|
|Historic Lincoln Hwy (US Rt 30) marker|
I truly felt like I had stepped back in time as I took in the scene. Old-time gas pumps were one focal point and were protected by an overhang. Another focal point was a automobile themed mural on the outside wall of the main building. It came along with the building when Sandy Springs moved in.
|Old school gas pump|
|At night the patio exudes atmosphere|
|The mural by Thomas Morgan|
It may have been a little cool outside, but that didn't keep anyone off the patio. Portable heaters radiated just enough warmth after the sun went down. Both high-top tables and low picnic tables provided plenty of spots to sit and relax. While I didn't stay until closing, I suspect the patio was busy even after last-call.
The story of Sandy Springs Brewing cannot be told without first introducing the owners. Andy and Amanda Conrad are the husband and wife team behind this delightful new brewery. They are physical therapists by occupation, but developed an early passion for home brewing. While living on the West Coast they explored the variety of breweries found up and down the coast, and that strengthened their love for craft beer and the brewing industry. They knew they would eventually open a brewery back home in Ohio.
|The ill-fated barn (courtesy of sandyspringsbrewery.com)|
The prime location in downtown Minerva was not part of the original plan. The Conrads initially looked into building on Andy's family farm, rehabbing the old 1800s barn and brewing with fresh spring water from the property. Fate had other plans for that barn when it was struck by lightning in 2013. But the name Sandy Springs stuck, and it honors the farm, which the Conrads still call home. Much of the taproom's woodwork, and even the flight boards, comes from salvaged wooden beams from the barn fire. History like this makes even a new brewery seem timeless.
Sandy Springs offers a variety of beer styles with the idea that there will always be something new for your return trip. On my visit, there were several darker, malty beers, which felt just right to taste on a fall afternoon. I decided to try a flight of four, and later I added another taster. These were very solid brews and I'd happily drink any one of them again.
|Counter clockwise from lower left: Lost Gold Cream Ale, Dalai Mama IPA, Waylans Black Cascadian Dark Ale, Chai One On (chai stout with pumpkin) |
|Four tasters were not enough; my fifth was the Porter|
As I expected, my favorites were the darker styles, with a three-way tie between the Waylans Black Cascadian Dark Ale, the Chai One on Stout and the Porter. If I had to single one out, it would be the Chai One On, which is "brewed with caramelized pumpkin puree and chai tea...light pumpkin flavor with cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, clove and pepper" (via Untappd
). I've tried my share of pumpkin beers and spiced beers, but never one with these combined characteristics. The individual flavors were unmistakable, but also subtle enough that they didn't overpower the stout and everything was harmonious on the palate.
Several of the beer names pay homage to the Conrad family heritage in Minerva and also honor Andy and Amanda's dogs. Learning about the brews added to the Sandy Springs narrative and I felt like an insider knowing the stories.
Inside the brewery, the taproom has its own identity with just as much character as the patio, thanks to contractor Ross Blair. The predominant finishing materials are the reclaimed wood, exposed brick and simple subway tiling. A few things really stand out. The back of the bar is a feature wall of wood planks placed in a herringbone pattern, and the taps are mounted on a beam suspended from a pulley system, another carry-over from the barn. Hardwood floors and iron pendant lighting finish off the look. And if you like the handmade taproom tables, you can buy one for $750.
|The taproom bar area|
|So much character, and so much hand-crafted wood|
|One-of-a-kind tap handles|
|Ordering made easy|
Opening day was busy, but the Sandy Springs crew had their systems in place. Ordering was easy from the designated spot at the corner of the bar. The line moved quickly and I was served my flight immediately. I was given a number for my food order and then found a table, which I shared with a couple other patrons. With my back to the brick wall I had an excellent view of the entire room and enjoyed watching the action.
|Busy at work behind the bar|
|No shortage of beer drinkers on opening day|
The Sandy Springs team was quick to run orders from the kitchen and to clear empty glasses and food trays. Staff members were always visible in their Sandy Springs shirts (of which there is a great variety of styles for sale) and were happy to talk about the brewery and answer questions from customers. It was Andy's mother who first told me about the family farm and the fateful barn fire.
|A sampling of the creative t-shirt designs|
The kitchen is small and has a short list of items, but most people will find something. There were a couple appetizers (I had hummus with veggies and naan bread), some sandwiches and flatbreads. There were even desserts (if only I'd had the appetite for the Chai Pumpkin Beer Float). There may also be food trucks on special occasions, like there was on opening weekend.
|My hummus and veggies with naan|
After sitting for a while, I met Andy and enjoyed a brief tour of the brewery. He took me into the back where the brewing happens. Sandy Springs operates a five barrel system. The brewery is in a small facility, but they have made maximum use of the space.
|Fermenting in progress; I have it on good authority (or a label on the tank) that Christmas Ale is coming soon|
The next time I find myself near Minerva, I won't hesitate to return to Sandy Springs. Andy and Amanda truly blew me away with their beautiful brewery, their tasty brews and a history that makes the place a must-see for beer lovers.
Sandy Springs Brewing Co. is open four days a week: Thursday 4-9 PM, Friday 4-10 PM, Saturday 12-10 PM and Sunday 12-5 PM. It is a kid-friendly establishment with family-oriented hours and menu items. Currently, they sell their own beer exclusively, and you can fill up a growler to take home. Guest taps are planned for the future. Check them out at sandyspringsbrewery.com
and on Facebook
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