On our first night in Sandusky, when the owners of Sandusky Wine Merchant found out that Bhavna and I were craft ale fans, they recommended we visit [CLAG Brewing]. There is another brewer within easy walking distance of the hotel, but Alana and Kevin were adamant that CLAG was the one to visit.
I met a short Asian man outside the brewery just as we entered the building. I told him that he looked like the owner's photograph on the website. I asked if that was him. He gave a vague answer, and our conversation continued until we got to the taproom, where Emilia, our taproom attendant, confirmed that the man I met at the entrance was indeed the owner.
CLAG, an acronym for Cocky Little Asian Guy, is owned by the same family that owns Small City Taphouse, one of Ohio's premier craft beer bars. The owner, Kha Bui, and his business partners, including his brother An Bui, invested about $1.2 million to start Clag Brewing Co. on Columbus Avenue. Kha’s brother, An, owns The Answer Brewpub in Richmond, Virginia. The Answer Brewpub is a 2018 James Beard Foundation Awards Semifinalist. The Bui family has a history of creating popular eateries and pubs. The Buis are natives of Vietnam who have lived in the USA since the 1980s.
We are used to the small spaces of many micro-craft breweries in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, usually located in former industrial sections of old towns or restored barns on historic farm properties. The size of the space is enormous. The brewery and taproom are in one building, and the restaurant, the Small City Taphouse, is in the adjacent building.
The beer is excellent and is the best beer I’ve had in Ohio, although, to be truthful, I have not had a lot of beer from Ohio’s breweries. I was told that Dong is pronounced just as we would that vulgar word in English. Few brewery owners put their faces or likeness on their beer labels, but Kha is a brewery owner like no other. Kha continues with his tongue-in-cheek nature in the names of his IPAs, among them One Million Dong, Two Million Dong, Three Million Dong, and One Floppy Dong, with a caricature of his face on each label. We also tried his Hoppy No Ending, Juicy Bui and Yellow Moon ales.
Kha isn’t the only Bui to grace a CLAG beer label. Kha’s parents have their beers named after them: Mama Bui triple IPA and Papa Bui double IPA. We didn’t try these beers. While both have been available on tap dating back to CLAG’s grand opening, Mama Bui and Papa Bui are now released in cans once a year on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, respectively.
We spent the rest of the night at the bar, hanging out with Kha and some of his friends, staying hours after the taproom had officially closed. Kha told about how he opened the Small City Taphouse and then, inspired by his brother’s success in Richmond, bought the adjacent building, and knocked out a space in the wall between them to connect his brewery and tap room to the restaurant. Kha has plans to renovate the top floors of the building to create a boutique hotel.
It was a very late night, and perhaps because the conversations were so enjoyable, I didn’t take any photographs of the restaurant space in the Small City Taphouse. But we returned the next day for an early dinner. The photos I took of the tap room don’t quite show the enormity of the space, nor does it include the hundreds of bottles of spirits that line the wall from top to bottom.
I found the menu at Small City Taphouse overwhelming, full of succulent and authentic Asian cuisine, which features something for just about anyone. I wanted something with intense flavour. Our server suggests the Spicy Lemongrass Sauce with Onion and Pork. It was delicious.