Tap Talk Vol. 4: R. Shea Brewing
“Researchers”: Mike Searl, Alex Hall, and Councilman Drew Reilly, 05-20-2019

One of the brews at R. Shea Brewing.
Alex Hall
We know what you're thinking: how can you guys possibly continue the difficult work of sampling beer at area breweries? Well, we are here to serve you, even if it means visiting breweries and sampling their wares. You're welcome.

For this edition of Tap Talk, we were graced with the presence of local beer expert and all-around-cool-dude Drew Reilly. Reilly is a home brewer himself, touting his flagship brew “The Hunt for Red Oktoberfest” as “pretty fantastic” if he does say so himself. Oh yeah—he is also a Cuyahoga Falls City Councilman serving Ward One.

We met at R. Shea Brewing—located just outside Cuyahoga Falls in the Valley at 1662 Merriman Road. It was 8:45pm on a Wednesday, and it was really crowded, which is problematic in part because the taproom is pretty cramped to begin with. Still, we were able to grab a table near the bar and order up three flights of five beers, which cost $10 each. We also sampled the Uncommon Beer Cheese because at this point the pretzel/beer cheese combo is a Tap Talk staple, and R. Shea's version handily earned our stamp of approval—the beer is detectable in the generous portion of beer cheese, and two giant soft pretzels accompany it, all for only $5.50. R. Shea offers a full menu of noshables besides, and they are open for lunch as well. You can even grab food to go when you stop in to fill a growler, like the Pub Grilled Cheese or Cuban sandwich. But what of the beer you say? Read on!

We began with the Ron's House Stout Rum Barrel Aged w/ Island Coffee(s), a newer brew with a pale ale malt base and caramel, chocolate, and roasted barley malts. They aged the beer 16 months plus a day in a rum barrel then flavored it with Island Rum and Coconut Fudge coffee courtesy of Akron's Pearl Coffee. The coffee is very present, and the rum barrel aging process yielded a flavor not unlike strong black coffee with sugar. The pale base made this one drinkable at the pint level too, in spite of the depth of flavor, which other coffee stouts might be too heavy to pull off. With an ABV of 6.75%, it's a bit low on the imperial spectrum, but who cares? This is a nice brew indeed. Next up was the new Belgian Thaw, a so-called “Post-winter Warmer” with Belgian Candi Sugar, Belgian yeasts, and orange peel. Again, this is a very good brew. It has a smooth flavor with a sweet, strong citrus flavor and is very drinkable, yet a bit heavy, which isn't that surprising considering the hefty 11.8 ABV. This one reads a bit like a hefeweizen, but without the cloudy appearance, and with the orange flavor in the beer itself rather than an actual orange wedge floating in the glass. From the Belgian Thaw, we moved to theRose Grenade, another new brew, apparently conceived of as an offering for the wine or cocktail drinker. Brewed in association with the Society of Akron Area Zymurgists (SAAZ)—a home brew club—this is basically champagne with pomegranate flavors in a 10% ABV package. Unlike the other brews, which have very distinctive aromas characteristic of their flavors, this one smells of yeast, and while it may work for the non-beer drinkers, we didn't even finish a 5oz. glass between the three of us.

Wednesdays are the “Lab Rat” day at R. Shea, meaning that an experimental brew is on the menu at a discount, and reviews dictate whether it should be added to the regular offerings in their rotation. This week's lab rat brew was a salted caramel imperial stout they describe as a “turtle” on their facebook page—the candy, not the animal. This is one of those gimmicky beers that, yes, tastes pretty amazing, but which would be hard to drink an entire pint of. That being said, the type of brewery clientele who wants to sip one pint over the whole night would likely appreciate this brew. The sweetness makes it feel like a dessert beer, if not a dessert accompaniment, but the brewery does not offer dessert on the food menu, and beers like this one may be the reason why.

The Carbon Black Imperial Stout came next, with its esoteric name referencing the substance used to color tires, which ties this beer to the Rubber City. It has a chocolatey flavor and aroma and is very sweet, not unlike the next beer, the One S'more Time, a former lab rat milk stout that smells like its title says it tastes, and which we found gimmicky and lacking enough body to support the depth of flavor. The other milk stout on the menu is the Polymer—another Rubber City reference—which is a caramel espresso stout that uses espresso from Nervous Dog. We found this one flat, lacking sustained flavor. The Old Man Blarney Irish Stout was the last of the stouts on the menu, and we found it accessible and not overly heavy, but lacking the chew of, say, a Guinness.

We sampled three IPAs offered on our visit, starting with the Double West Coast Citra IPA, which is 8.25% ABV. It has thicker body—almost creamy—and notes of grapefruit. IPA lovers will like this one and its little brother, the West Coast Citra IPA, which drops the “Double” for a very similar beer with almost the same bitterness and 2.5% less ABV. Both of the West Coast Citras come off balanced if a little malt-heavy, but sure to please the IPA lovers. The other IPA we sampled goes by the name of Whirlpool Party, apparently the name of a series of hazy IPAs brewed by R. Shea, and this variety was brewed with Citra, Mosaic, and Eukanot hop varieties and dry-hopped with the Nelson variety. This beer reeks of hops—in a good way—and is the runaway champion of the IPA category.

The rest of the brews on tap during our visit were the milder brews that we like to joke are brewed for the non-craft beer drinker, but there is of course an art to these brews as well. The Rubber City Red is, simply put, a good beer—nothing special, but good. The same could be said of the Towpath'n Pale Ale, though it is a different sort of beer. Easy drinking, it would complement a barbecue on a summer evening, but perhaps not so much as the Orange-Mango Citra Shandy, which is only 4% ABV, and totally sessionable. For lovers of spice, R. Shea brews another shandy, Orange Pineapple Habanero, which is spicy enough to linger on the tongue. The last brew we sampled was the Uncommon Blonde, which is a very light ale with little bitterness and 5% ABV. This is the R. Shea brew for Sundays on the couch in the fall, watching the Browns and snacking on your favorite finger foods.

Overall, R. Shea was one of our favorite breweries of the four we've reviewed thus far. There is really something for everyone, and some unique brews for those of us who just want to try something new all the time, even if some are a bit gimmicky. Of the three of us, two picked Ron's House Stout Rum Barrel Aged w/ Island Coffee(s) as their all-around favorite, and the other had it at number two behind the Whirlpool Party hazy IPA. Orange-Mango Citra Shandy, Old Man Blarney Irish Stout, Belgian Thaw, Carbon Black, and West Coast Citra IPA also made the cut, and the diversity of these picks speaks to the variety of great brews at R. Shea. With this in mind, we might have to make R. Shea our first repeat Tap Talk customer, just for an excuse to go back, but considering the numerous breweries in and around the Falls, and with more on the horizon, it may be a while. But hey, we don't have to review a brewery to stop in for a pint, so we'll see ya there sooner than later.

R. Shea Brewing is located at 1662 Merriman Rd. in the Valley and is open Wednesday through Sunday each week. Brews can sometimes be found on tap at Cashmere Cricket in Cuyahoga Falls and Mustard Seed Market & Cafe in Highland Square.

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