By Wendy Pramik
Posted On: Feb 22, 2022
Willoughby, near the Lake Erie shoreline in the snowbelt of Northeastern Ohio, is a long way from balmy Maracaibo, Venezuela.
But thanks to three "sisters" originally from the South American city known as the "The Beloved Land of the Sun," it's now home to Ohio's first Latin-owned brewery.
Sisters Jennifer Stuyvesant-Ortiz and Joane Stuyvesant, and sister-in-law Paola Valbuena, quit their day jobs during the pandemic to forge a family business in beer and introduce Ohioans to a refreshing taste of their homeland.
Pulpo Beer Co. opened in November 2020, a stone's throw from the Willoughby Coal building on Erie Street in the city's historic downtown.
Pulpo means octopus in Spanish. For their logo, the owners chose a six-legged octopus, which represents the six families involved in the business. On the octopus' forehead is a heart.
"Family is love," Valbuena says. "I think we make a great team, and everybody adds to the business a lot of heart and knowledge."
Valbuena, who is Vergara's sister-in-law, says Vergara wanted to bring her and the Stuyvesant sisters to the business after recognizing their unique talents in marketing and beverage production.
"Yes, let's go," Valbuena said.
They started looking for a location for beer production and found the perfect spot in Willoughby. It was inside a 10,000-square-foot building that was formerly Brim Kitchen and Brewery, which closed in August 2020.
Hola Taqueria & Cerveza opened on the first floor in September 2020, and Barroco Arepa Bar opened soon afterward on the second floor. That left a large space that could be used for the brewery.
They didn't have to look far for a head brewer: Valbuena was the perfect fit.
"They said, Paola, you have a chemical engineering background. You work at Pepsi, do you want to brew?" I said, "Yeah, sure. I don't know anything about beer, but I can learn."
She received guidance from Houston-based SpindleTap Brewery, as well as from local brewers.
She came up with a unique angle: making a few beers that reflected favorite cocktails or foods from Venezuela and Colombia, where other members of the family hail from. Cleveland Magazine named Pulpo's Tropical Thunder IPA, which resembles a pina colada, among its Best of Cleveland 2021. It's made with fresh ingredients, including coconut flakes, pineapples, and Madagascar vanilla beans, conjuring up pleasant images of a day at the beach.
The first beer to go into production was a more-traditional blonde ale called Blonde Mamacita. That was in early 2021. Other varieties soon followed. They included Medusa Hazy Pale Ale and Pulpo Libre Mexican-Style Lager.
There's also Churro Dreams, a holiday ale that offers cinnamon and brown sugar notes to reflect the popular fried dessert. More coconut and tropical fruit notes are present in La Nueva IPA. Padre's Peach Tripel is fermented with Trappist yeast, which yields fruity, bubble gum notes. El Capoccino is a blonde ale made with Mexican vanilla beans and a special Colombian roast from Rising Star Coffee Roasters in Cleveland.
"We have so many flavors and fruit that people have always wanted to try," says Jennifer Stuyvesant-Ortiz, whose favorite beer on tap is a hazy pale ale called Morir-Sonando that tastes like a creamsicle. "We bring our home-country flavors, colors and smells to our beer. It's made with so much love. The Latino community is very welcoming."
Prior to opening Pulpo, the sisters said they preferred lager beers, which they described as soft, crisp and not hoppy. Hoppy beers have been on trend, though, so they decided to have fun with their flavors.
"I learned how to drink beers since we've been with Pulpo," says Joane Stuyvesant, who likes to drink Pulpo Libre while eating tacos.
Pulpo offers more than a dozen brews in its festive, welcoming brew pub. They're also available at selected local retailers. The brewery is a member of the Ohio Craft Brewers Association and is on the Ohio on Tap app. It soon will be a part of Ohio's TagaBrew Trail, featuring a "memory tag" in the shape of an octopus. The owners also plan to be a part of the Chardon Brewfest in August.
"Working with the family is the best job that I have had," Valbuena says.
It's certainly a long way from the heat in Venezuela.
"Willoughby was our destiny," Valbuena says. "I know it sounds silly but, when I moved to the U.S., I remember always going to Willoughby with the whole family and having the best moments. This location was just made for us. We know that Willoughby is very into craft beer, and we will not disappoint them."