May 18, 2023 - Food and Drink

The rise and fall of Platform Beer

The outside of Platform Brewhouse in Cleveland.

The once mighty Platform. Photo: Sam Allard/Axios

When Platform Beer shut down local operations in February, it sent shockwaves through the local craft brewing industry.

Why it matters: Platform embodied the passion of the Cleveland craft beer scene — until rapid expansion became its chief focus.

State of play: On Feb. 22, Platform revealed it had ceased operations at its local taprooms and production facilities.

  • Anheuser-Bush InBev acquired Platform in 2019 for an undisclosed amount. However, control of day-to-day operations remained in Cleveland.
  • Following the local shutdown, Anheuser-Busch said it would continue to brew just three Platform beers: Haze Jude IPA, Odd Future Imperial IPA and Canalway IPA.

Flashback: Platform launched in 2014 as a collaboration between Paul Brenner, a local homebrew supply store owner, and Justin Carson, a draft line operator.

  • The original mission was twofold: Create a line of beers for sale at Platform's taproom, and establish an incubator program for local homebrewers to get their private beers to the public.

The intrigue: Platform was attractive to people trying to get a foot in the brewing industry, Craig Young, a former Platform warehouse manager, tells Axios.

  • "I believed in what we were doing," Young says. "We were a small, community operation building a culture that could bring strangers in this city together over their shared love of beer."

Between the lines: By 2019, the incubator program was gone and expansion was the focus. Platform increased production — from 2,500 barrels per year in 2015 to 30,000 in 2018 — and expanded into Columbus and Cincinnati.

  • "Based on how fast they'd grown, selling the company felt like the business model from the beginning, even if they said otherwise," Peter Campen, Platform's former safety manager, tells Axios.

What happened next: Following Anheuser-Busch's acquisition, Platform continued its strategy of making more than 200 unique beers per year, canning approximately 80 for retail sale, as opposed to narrowly focusing on a few brands.

Zoom in: That strategy may have caught up to Platform, as production dropped to 22,500 in 2021, according to Brewbound.

Meanwhile, the entire staff at Platform's Columbus taproom abruptly quit in March 2021, alleging they'd been overworked and underpaid. The location never reopened.

What they're saying: "I wasn't surprised by the Columbus walkout," Craig Young, who worked for Platform in Cleveland until June 2017, tells Axios.

  • "When I worked there for $10 an hour, they made promises about benefits and paid time off. None of it ever happened."

The other side: Brenner, Carson and Anheuser-Busch did not respond to requests for comment on this story.

Threat level: In August 2022, Platform laid off 17 workers at its Cleveland production facility. Six months later, the company closed its remaining operations in Ohio.

The bottom line: Despite its controversial demise, Platform's influence on Cleveland's brewery boom is undeniable.

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