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Saucy Brew Works: “There will be beer. And it will be good.”

10.16.2017

In Cleveland, the popularity of starting a craft brewery has ushered in a golden era of craft brewing beer enthusiasts on what seems like a never-ending tasting tour. It’s not just the fact that so many breweries and tap rooms have popped up around greater Cleveland – though the expansive options are enough to keep anyone hopping from tap to tap for quite some time – it’s that each season brings new brews from each establishment. The vibrant Cleveland beer scene is part of the city’s identity, a well-earned point of pride for locals, and certainly an attractive feature for visitors. But for the entrepreneurs driving the movement, starting a craft brewery requires dedication and a willingness to take risks that keep customers returning.

Saucy Brew WorksSaucy Brew Works is one of the newest breweries to emerge onto the craft brewing scene, though the individuals behind the brewery’s concept have helped shape the Cleveland beer market for years. Eric Anderson, owner and brewmaster at Saucy Brew Works, says the locally-brewed angle is part of the identity he and his business partner, Brent Zimmerman, are building, but it’s the quality and innovation that capture the loyalty of customers. Anderson, who has previously brewed for Butcher and the Brewer, knows a thing or two about what makes Cleveland’s craft beer market work.

“We don’t bank on the local thing,” says Anderson. “We are proud to represent Cleveland, but people shouldn’t drink beer because it’s local. People should drink beer because it’s good.”

But success takes more than great beer. Starting a craft brewery, and keeping it growing, focused and well-managed is a challenge Anderson and Zimmerman take seriously. From managing a staff of 25, to maintaining their building and meeting compliance regulations, the partners have a lot to stay on top of. For many of Saucy’s behind-the-scenes financial operations, Zimmerman says he relies on his long-term relationship with KeyBank.

“Working with Key as a partner makes the whole process easier,” says Zimmerman. “Taking care of electronic financial transactions can be laborious and time consuming, but Key is responsive, understands my business and helps everything run as efficiently as possible.”

Anderson and Zimmerman got to know one another during Anderson’s time at Tremont Taphouse. The two worked together on a consulting project for a separate brewery near Sandusky, with Anderson helping design the building and Zimmerman serving as an investor. Once they decided on starting a craft brewery back in Cleveland, they approached a couple of established breweries with their concept as an expansion strategy before ultimately deciding to build it on their own.

Saucy Brew Works under constructionAnderson and Zimmerman chose the Steelman Building in Ohio City’s Hingetown neighborhood as the home of Saucy Brew Works. The 14,000-square-foot former machine shop had been dormant for years. Today, historic charm meets modern tech in the renovated building, but transforming the space into a state-of-the-art brewery with full accommodation for dine-in guests came with more than a few challenges. With Brent’s father, Greg Zimmerman, as the general contractor for the project, the three navigated a series of challenges, from an unforeseen 17-inch grade change from the front to the back of the building, to roof reinforcements and the collapse of a wall.

“In retrospect, it may have been easier to tear it down and build from scratch,” says Anderson. “But that’s not the Cleveland way.”

For Anderson, Saucy is a chance to push the envelope and redefine what people have come to expect from a beer. With a background as a biologist and as a graduate of the Siebel Institute in Chicago, one of two brewery schools in the U.S., Anderson has never shied away from trying something new.

Saucy Brew Works pizza offerings“I wouldn’t necessarily refer to us as a brew pub,” says Anderson. “We are a production brewery with a tap room. It’s more like we have a lot of beer, and just enough food to keep people around while drinking.”

The food portion of Anderson’s concept is a unique variation on New Haven-style pizza, incorporating cool-fermented dough, medium-thin crust, and a spicy red sauce with multiple variations. But it’s Anderson’s creative approach to brewing that is firmly planted at center stage.

“My strategy is super clean, approachable beer,” says Anderson. “A little risky, but clean and well made.”

After a successful opening in July 2017, Anderson says one of the biggest advantages of building Saucy is having the autonomy to experiment. While the initial priority was to establish the brewery’s core set of beers to serve as a foundation, the results are far from predictable. From its Fauxbia white stout to its Punchline fruit ale, even conventional brews at Saucy come with a signature complexity.

“We have systems figured out and things are running properly,” says Anderson. “Today it’s more about planning for what’s next.”

One project Anderson is excited to start involves cultivating in-house yeast.

“We’ll develop different yeasts and different mix fermentations to test on small batch sizes,” says Anderson. “My goal is to see if we can find some that don’t exist yet and change how people think about yeast.”

Saucy Brew WorksSaucy already has enjoyed remarkable success. With three full time brewers, the operation is on pace to quadruple its initial 1,300 barrel output goal. Just in time for the beginning of the Cleveland Cavaliers season, Saucy has secured a presence at Quicken Loans Arena, and soon, cans will be available in Cleveland-based grocery chain Heinen’s Fine Foods.

Starting a craft brewery, and keeping it growing, focused and well-managed is a challenge Anderson and Zimmerman take seriously. From managing a staff of 25, to maintaining their building and meeting compliance regulations, the partners have a lot to stay on top of. For many of Saucy’s behind-the-scenes financial operations, Zimmerman says he relies on his long-term relationship with KeyBank.

With a solid foundation quickly established, and more than a few aspirational projects in the works, there’s no telling which direction Saucy Brew Works grows from here. Anderson says the key to brewing is to always be thinking ahead. As early as the fall, he starts designing spring and summer brews. One thing he knows for certain: There will be beer. And it will be good.

“We just keep on driving home quality,” says Anderson. “If the beer doesn’t hit the mark, it doesn’t leave the building.”

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