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99 Bottles

Craft beers make Cleveland visit special

gary dzen/globe staff

I highly recommend taking a beer trip, to Vermont, for example. However, the opportunity to go to a place specifically to try its beer admittedly doesn’t come along very often. It’s tough to make a living as a jet-setting beer drinker.

Without the funding to travel the world, I’m always looking to turn other trips into beer trips, even partially. When I travel for work covering basketball, I seek out the best beers in a particular city in any downtime I have. On personal trips, I’m always trying to rope friends and family into going to some out-of-the-way bar because it has the best beer selection. If you’re going to make the effort to go somewhere, you might as well experience the best food and drink that city has to offer.

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My wife and I and a few of our friends recently found ourselves in Cleveland for a wedding. That might not sound like the sexiest destination, but there’s plenty going on there for craft beer lovers. In addition to beers from Ohio, many beers from places like Michigan make their way to Cleveland but not the East Coast. It’s a good place to try a bunch of new brews.

With various locations around the city, the Winking Lizard was a good jumping-off point. The bar serves more than 300 beers, and many of them are priced around $4. These are good beers, mind you, for the price. One beer I really wanted to try was the Two Hearted Ale from Bell’s Brewery in Michigan. This is a well-balanced, well-hopped IPA. At Melt, a sandwich bar with various locations around Cleveland, I crossed another beer off my list. Alpha King, from Three Floyds Brewing Company in Indiana, is another world-class IPA. Neither beer is available in Boston.

The next day at the hotel bar I worked my way through some selections from Cleveland’s Great Lakes Brewing Company. Given that I needed to attend a wedding that evening in a different location, I wasn’t able to try them all. Luckily for me Great Lakes has pubs in the Cleveland airport that sell beer to go. I bought a four-pack of the Great Lakes fall seasonal, Nosferatu, to take home with me.

In keeping with the Halloween theme that dominates beers of the fall season, Great Lakes names their beer “Nosferatu,” which is a synonym for the word vampire. The ghoulish packaging is inspired by the notorious German vampire from the 1920s film era. It’s kind of frightening.

The beer is an imperial red ale. There’s no set definition for what makes an imperial beer imperial, but what brewers mean is that these beers have a higher alcohol content. In this case, the ABV is 8 percent. This is also a hoppy beer, with an IBU (international bitterness unit) measurement of 70.

Thankfully, Nosferatu pours a less-than-evil red with a big, white head. I thought it would be cloudier. I smell oatmeal and some citrus.

On first sip there’s a nice, malty backbone, but plenty of hops keep it interesting. This is one of the first imperial reds I’ve had where the mouthfeel isn’t syrupy. The use of a Harrington 2-row base malt keeps the beer clean. This is an imperial red? I dig this.

Cascade and Simcoe hops flavor the beer, but they don’t bite (vampire joke). Nosferatu has gotten exceptionally high ratings on all the beer rating websites, and I can see why.

If you find yourself in Cleveland, be comforted that there is good beer there. In fact, having spent time in Miami covering the Celtics, I can say Cleveland is by far the superior beer city. LeBron James doesn’t know what he’s missing.

Gary Dzen can be reached at gdzen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globegarydzen
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