A palace to call their own

There’s a palace being built in Cleveland’s Ohio City. What it lacks in spires or ornamentation will be forgiven in barrels of craft beer, sauerkraut, pickles, charcuterie and aged cheeses. When it opens to the public, it will be crowned “The Palace of Fermentation.”

The Palace of…what?

“The beauty of the name (which started as a joke but stuck) is that you have to explain what it means,” said Andy Tveekrem, a master brewer and one of four partners behind this project. “And that’s an opening to tell this story,” one that’s working on an ending.

One of the oldest methods of food preparation and preservation, fermentation involves yeast or bacteria to produce a wide range of foods including beer as well as yogurt, pickled products, teas, tofu, Tabasco, soy, sour cream, some cheeses, cured sausages and yeast breads like sourdough. “Some of these foods are the same ones Clevelanders have been weaned on, even made in their basements,” said Sam McNulty, another partner and a prominent personality in the ongoing revitalization of this Ohio City neighborhood.

The project is in forward motion but less than palatial. The vision the partners have demonstrated over the past 10 years in opening other restaurants and breweries that have pumped new energy up and down West 25th Street, including Bar Cento, Bier Market, Speakeasy, Market Garden Brewery and Nano Brew, promises something distinct.

About $4.5 million will be sunk into reviving what was once called the Culinary Arts Building, a tired structure that housed grain and supplies for their breweries located in the background of the historic West Side Market, the flagship store of Ohio City.

The 43,000 square foot project will use all things recycled, up-cycled and repurposed.

The structure itself is a mash-up of five brick and wooden houses dating back to the early 1800s. Over time, walls have been removed and the structures fused and melded together rather than razed, which would have been easier and quicker to do.

“We used original materials and purposely highlighted features of the original homes because history is part of the story for The Palace,” McNulty said. Expansive wooden beams shore up the structure, threaded end to end to create a clean span. “You can see part of a fireplace and wallpaper on one wall that makes you feel you’re standing in someone’s living room,” McNulty said.

There’s also evidence that a blacksmith shop once stood here. Surprises during excavation revealed a 40-foot well, unearthed a lot of beer bottles and a terra cotta relief of George Washington that once marked an entryway. Wooden pews salvaged from local churches and an massive mahogany bar and other pieces from closed and defunct neighborhood businesses stand in the cold shell of the building waiting to be assigned a purpose.

An on-site commercial kitchen is in the plans and local food artisans and producers are queuing up to produce their fermented specialties (using locally sourced ingredients) that will be sold through the retail shop and featured on the partners’ restaurant menus.

“Products using dairy and pork will come from local farms like Blue Loon (Wayne County) and New Creation (Geauga County),” McNulty said. “We’ll work with Fresh Fork, a local food subscription service and Ohio City Farm, an urban farm just steps away from The Palace; Chef Adam Lambert of The Black Pig for charcuterie; and we would like to produce a beer washed rind cheese so we’re looking for someone to guide us on that.”

Eventually it will all morph into a visitor friendly place with an atrium effect, glass walls, open and airy with platforms and catwalks for visitors so they can wander through the brewing process with a bird’s-eye view over more than a dozen two-story high fermentation tanks and three newly fabricated brew tanks from Germany. Offices and laboratories essential to production brewing will also occupy space as well as retail.

The frontage will be largely glass, a great vantage point to watch the flow of people around the neighborhood. A large BEER sign (yes, just the word “BEER”) will invite guests in. “No branding, just beer,” McNulty said. “It’s what pays the bills.” Beer production will be stepped up for the breweries with the first goal to have a bigger presence in Cuyahoga County and eventually branching out to other beer loving regions.

The Palace aims to be the heart of the beer culture in this area. “We plan to make this visitor friendly,” McNulty said. “What we’re seeing is that people are coming to Cleveland because they catch wind of the culinary happenings here.” Beer and beer tours would pair nicely.

“This project is also good for the neighborhood,” Tveekrem said. “It’s not just about the restaurants and bars. There are banks, retail and real estate offices that makes this a place to live and work and the addition of The Palace of Fermentation and light manufacturing will help serve as an anchor and preserve the integrity of the neighborhood, far longer than any restaurant.” While it will serve as a food, retail and tourism destination, the Palace will also create some jobs in the neighborhood, a handful to begin with such as brewers, on the keg and bottling lines, sales staff and retail jobs.

Not quite a palace yet but McNulty confidently said, “We’ll turn it into one.” The Palace of Fermentation will open sometime in 2015. On that point, he couldn’t be more vague or more certain that something wonderful is brewing.

Master Brewer
Cleveland feels like a natural hub for craft breweries. “That’s what I like about this city and the Midwest,” said Andy Tveekrem. “We have an appreciation for good beer.” Tveekrem is a skilled master brewer with a solid 25-year history of crafting beer. He started by putting up two brewhouses for Great Lakes Brewery, one for Dogfish Head Brewery in Delaware and then returned to Ohio City to set up at Market Garden Brewery and Nano Brew. With the addition of The Palace of Fermentation, Tveekrem gets some due credit for putting good beer in a compact corridor of Ohio City.

Perhaps a result of Cleveland’s strong Eastern European influence or the Rust Belt working class, but Clevelanders love their beer and are adventurous and open to new brews. “It could be that palates have been tutored or structured by more than 10 area craft brewers,” he said. “People here appreciate a wide variety of beers including lagers and ales, porters, stouts, wheat beers and Belgium-styles.”

Marilou Suszko is a food writer from Vermilion. She is the author of “Farms and Foods of Ohio: From Garden Gate to Dinner Plate” and “The Locavore’s Kitchen.”