Willoughby Brewing Co. recalls a bygone era when train travel mattered. The former rail-car depot nods to its history with distressed painted advertisements on the exposed brick walls, oversized booths and thick, chilled beer glasses.
A model train laps the interior of the restaurant along a 200-foot track. The clack-clack of its wheels fade into the brewery’s muted atmosphere, drawing attention only as the car passes overhead in unhurried intervals, as though we were merely passing the time until the next train out. It’s no surprise, then, to find rail-themed beer, too: Railway Razz, a three-time medalist at the Great American Beer Festival, and Northern Trail Nut Brown. Try the Last Stop Stout, a dry, nitrogenated Irish stout that’s extremely smooth, overloaded with roasty flavor and has overtones of coffee and a baconlike smokiness.
Take it home: The beer isn’t sold in stores, but you can get a 64-ounce growler to go.
Jason Sims Brewer Willoughby Brewing Co.
How long he’s been brewing? Almost nine years Movin’ on up (on the East Side): As a server at Willoughby Brewing Co. in 2000, Sims was required to take a brew class. Unable to meet at the scheduled class time, Sims asked the brewer if he would consider teaching him one-on-one. The brewer and Sims “hit it off pretty damn well,” and he asked Sims if he wanted to volunteer in the brewery. After a year of volunteering, his brewing skills were rewarded with a paycheck and title of assistant brewer, which he held until being promoted to head brewer in July 2008. Not the average 9-to-5: His favorite part about the job is the flexible schedule. “I can set any hours I like and come and go as I please. As long as I keep the beer pouring out the tap, I don’t have any problems.” Changing taste buds: Although he was a light beer drinker in college, he now enjoys the roasted flavor and full body of a dark stout. His favorite at Willoughby Brewing Co. is the pumpkin beer. His wish for the world’s beer drinkers: “I wish people would expand their palates more and try different things.” Bottle or draft? “Some beers are better than others when they come out the tap. It could be the same beer but there is something about it that tastes like apples and orange to me.” His advice for the home brewer: Keep your equipment clean and sanitized. Brewing is “70 percent sanitation and 30 percent actual brewing.” Back-up plan: Sims is planning to enroll in the radio technology program at Lakeland Community College. “I truly enjoy what I do and I plan to do this for many years but I don’t want to be lifting grain bags at 70.” — Katie Kuehn