Great Lakes Brewing Tasting Experience

No matter how many beers seem to be offered in my local liquor store there always seems to be a few breweries that do not distribute in the state of Iowa.  I will chalk it up to the state’s oddball liquor laws more than a reticence to sell to the Hawkeye state.  One such brewery is Great Lakes Brewing Company out of Cleveland, Ohio.  What gets me every time is how many breweries seem to distribute to states bordering Iowa, but not in the state itself.  In the case of Great Lakes Brewing it distributes in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois.  Granted, Minnesota represents the extent of its westward reach so maybe there is hope for the future.

In September of this year, Great Lakes Brewing will celebrate 25 years of beer brewing excellence.  When I found myself in Ohio to attend a funeral a quick side trip to a local liquor store left me with quite the haul of beer hailing from Cleveland.  The poor cashier looked at me sideways for a moment as she rang up a sampler pack, a six pack, and a four pack of various Great Lakes Brewing varieties.

What about the tasting experience?  Okay, the term “tasting experience” was lifted from the not-to-be-called-a-sampler-pack sampler pack.  I kind of liked it because it suggested that the four beers contained within represented a spectrum of what Great Lakes Brewing was offering.  The tasting experience would consist of Dortmunder Gold Lager, Eliot Ness Amber Lager, Burning River Pale Ale, and Edmund Fitzgerald Porter.

The beers listed above were ordered in terms of “heaviness” and at the suggestion of the package that is how I tasted them.  Starting with Dortmunder Gold Lager:

Dortmunder Gold

This was one of the beers that started things for Great Lakes Brewing and it is still a year-round beer for the brewery.  It’s of medium alcohol (5.8% ABV) and hops (30 IBU).  Like other lagers the beer “finishes” really clean and crisp.  The presence of Cascade hops is evident on the tongue as it leaves a lingering bitterness.  Not too much, mind you, but the flavors stay there for a second or two.

When you pour a glass of a beer like this it makes you kind of sad for the Millers and Budweisers of the world that try to pass of pale swill as a lager.  The style can bring so much more the table than tasteless, ice cold brain grenades.

Eliot Ness Amber Lager is next:

Eliot Ness

Amber lagers and ales almost feel like the American craft movements second style of beer after pale ales.  I know that the lines have been blurred between pales and ambers, but there is enough distinction to still consider them different styles.

I wanted to like Eliot Ness, but the alcohol (6.2% ABV) was too much for the bitterness (27 IBU).  It really detracted from the beer because it came across “boozy.”  Not Four Loko boozy, but just not enough balance to make the beer likeable.

Let’s move on to Burning River Pale Ale:

Burning River

Cause the Cuyahoga River

Goes smokin’ through my dreams

Burn on, big river, burn on

-“Burn On” by Randy Newman

Here’s what Eliot Ness could have been with a little more bitterness.  At a medium-high alcohol (6.0% ABV) and bitterness (45 IBU) the balance seems to have been struck fairly well.  The fact that the river is named for the epic fire that actually burned on the Cuyahoga River, which inspired the passage of the Clean Water Act, is icing on the cake.

The tasting experience winds down with Edmund Fitzgerald Porter:

Edmunds Fitzgerald

First, I hear Randy Newman.  Now, it’s Gordon Lightfoot.  What are you trying to do to me Great Lakes?

I have a problem with porters and stouts because I can never figure out which style is which.  Is it a porter or is it a stout?  I feel like there should be a combination name that just does away with the confusion because there seems to be no line of demarcation.

Edmund Fitzgerald is a roasted and smokey beer.  It’s almost got a coffee flavor that makes me thing of coffee infused beer, like Surly’s Coffee Bender.  However, there is no overt coffee flavoring added.  Interesting.

I liked Edmund Fitzgerald, but on a summer evening one glass was more than enough.  This is a cooler weather beer for sure.

In addition to the tasting experience I also picked up a six-pack of Commodore Perry India Pale Ale and Lake Erie Monster Imperial India Pale Ale.  Let’s start with the commodore:

Commodore Perry

This is fairly “big” beer.  It comes in at a high alcohol (7.0%) and bitterness (70 IBU), but it does not drink like either is overpowering.  I attribute this to the mix of hops.  Rather than blast away with a single hop, Commodore Perry uses three—Simcoe, Willamette, and Cascade.  All our fairly common in American craft IPAs, but the combination of the three means that no flavors or aromas get out of whack.  It’s pretty amazing to see a beer at 70 IBUs not be considered “extreme” anymore when this would have been considered a hop explosion only a few years ago.  The name of the game has changed.

Lake Erie Monster shows us why:

Lake Erie Monster

If Commodore Perry was a “big” beer than Lake Erie Monster is a “bigger” beer.  Clocking in at a high alcohol (9.1% ABV) and bitterness (80 IBU) this is not a beer you sit back planning to drink a half dozen.  Heck, that’s probably why it only comes in a four pack instead of six.

Imperial style beers, be it IPAs or otherwise, are usually heavier varieties of other beers and Lake Erie Monster qualifies as a heavy beer.  The downside to drinking one of these out of a twelve ounce bottle is that this style is best served like a cocktail in smaller portions.  I like how in craft brewery tasting rooms there is a trend toward offering heavy beers in 6 ounce or smaller increments.  Putting down 12 or even 16 ounces of a beer like this regularly would leave one raving in no time.

I highly suggest that if you are in Ohio that you try and sample what Great Lakes Brewery is offering.  It really speaks to the quality of the American craft beer movement that excellent beers like this can be distributed in limited areas and be successful.  It also makes for fun trips when you are able to get things in a location unavailable back at home.


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