Brewery: Great Lakes Brewing Co.
Location: Cleveland, Ohio
Production: 156,000 BBLs (annual production in 2015)
Year Founded: 1986
Brewmaster: Mark Hunger
Brewmaster’s Favorite Beer: “With a preference for lagers, Mark’s favorite GLBC beer is Eliot Ness Amber Lager. Interestingly, the recipe for Eliot Ness Amber Lager was developed by our original brewmaster, Thaine Johnson, and was one of the first two GLBC beers along with Dortmunder Gold Lager (previously known as “The Heisman”). Johnson was a renowned lager brewer and former employee of Cleveland’s last operating brewery, Schmidt’s, which closed its doors in 1984.”
Innovation / Awards: Great Lakes Brewing Co has won numerous awards in the two major international beer judging events, among others, The World Beer Championships and the Great American Beer Festival (linked here).
Availability: 13 states and Washington D.C.
About Great Lakes Brewing Co: Founders Pat and Dan Conway incorporate GLBC in 1986. They attain a collective 75 years of brewing experience by recruiting Master Brewer Thaine Johnson and Engineer Charlie Price, both former employees of Schmidt’s, Cleveland’s last operating brewery. Together, the team sets to work designing GLBC’s 7-barrel brewing system, which is still used to brew Pub Exclusive beers today.
Pat and Dan work with Thaine to develop beers reflective of the styles the brothers enjoyed during their European travels, and choose to honor their local roots with the names of their first beers. Eliot Ness Amber Lager honors the notorious prohibition officer who frequented the tavern that’s now home to the GLBC brewpub (how’s that for irony), and who once employed Pat and Dan’s mother as his stenographer. The Heisman, now known as Dortmunder Gold Lager, is named for football legend John Heisman, who once lived in the Ohio City neighborhood.
From the start, the brothers are focused on sustainability, opting to renovate 19th century buildings to house their brewpub, and purchasing used restaurant equipment to stock their space. As GLBC expands, new businesses sprout, and Ohio City gradually evolves into a bustling place to work, play, and brew. In their first year, the team brews less than 1,000 barrels of kegged beer, and hand-bottling doesn’t even begin for another year. The first bottles are capped by hand, after being knocked on with a screwdriver to create foam and push out oxygen–thankfully, we’ve come a long way since those days!
Dortmunder Gold Lager sets the stage for success with its first gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival in 1990. Two years later, Christmas Ale debuts as one of the first American spiced holiday ales and quickly becomes the stuff of local legend.
In 1992, we expand into the Fries & Schuele Building (later home to our Beer Symposium). Before long, we outgrow this space and move our main operation into our current production brewery on Carroll Avenue. The brewery’s 19th century buildings once acted as stables and storage facilities for the Leonard Schlather Brewing Company.
Now that they have the beer, Pat and Dan set out to find new customers. In their maroon stationwagon, they hand-deliver bottled beer to their first retailer: West Point Market in Akron. Insisting on selling their beer refrigerated to maintain freshness, Pat and Dan outfit the market with a used cooler–committed to quality from the start!
In the early 2000s, GLBC commits more deeply to environmental causes. In 2001, the first Burning River Fest takes place in the brewery’s tank farm. In 2007 GLBC puts down roots at Hale Farm & Village, founding Pint Size Farm. Two years later, they join a collective to form Ohio City Farm, thought to be the largest urban farm in the country.
All the while, the brewery experiences tremendous growth, first boosted by Northeast Ohioans, then a growing distribution footprint filled with thirsty craft beer drinkers. They pass the 100,000 barrel mark in 2010 after adding three new 300 barrel fermenters.
GLBC celebrated 25 years in 2013, another brewhouse expansion in 2014, new markets, and the company’s first brand refresh in 2015.
Chillwave Double IPA
Conway’s Irish Ale
Lake Erie Monster
Nosferatu Imperial Red Ale
Ohio City Oatmeal Stout
Rye Of The Tiger IPA
Sharpshooter Session Wheat IPA
Alberta Clipper Porter
High Striker Single
Silver and Gold IPL
The Wright Pils