While in Cleveland on a hot July day, a brewery tour of Great Lakes Brewing Company (GLBC) was a perfect choice. Sure there’s that museum, that baseball team who was playing in town that day, but a visit to GLBC sounded more like my kind of activity. GLBC has regular (free) brewery tours that last approximately an hour. Of course you can always head straight to the brewpub and take your pick, but for those of you who want to get closer to the magic, the tour is an hour well spent.
We were taken across the street by the painfully camera-shy Sarah, who insisted we not take pictures or video of her. I needed my blog material, so the second best thing to do was to capture what I could standing nearby. Sarah knew the script by heart, and spoke to the wide-eyed tourists with the enthusiasm of a new employee.
GLBC is Ohio’s first brewpub and microbrewery, and has become the state’s most award-winning brewer of lagers and ales. Sarah led us from room to room, and explained how the company began and how it has grown to what it is today. Our field trip group was attentive and inquisitive, just as any good group should be. Lake Erie provides the water that supplies the beer, while a local organic farm provides the main ingredients for the restaurant. Even two of their beer delivery trucks, known as “Fatty Wagons” are run on vegetable oil. For a brewery situated in an industrial town, whose Cuyahoga River actually burned from contamination in the 1960s, GLBC is no mistake by the lake.
Sarah led us to the four vessels that function at four different stages of the brew making process. From the mash tun where the milled grain (malted barley) is mixed with water and heated, the leftover sugar water (known as ‘wort’) is strained in the next vessel called a lauter. What I found interesting was that the spent grain is sent to local farmers to feed cows and pigs, as well as to local bakers to make bread and pretzels. The next stage and vessel is the kettle where the wort is mixed with hops and spices and boiled. The last stage is where the mixture settles to clarify in a whirlpool. Before learning about fermentation and bottling, Sarah read our minds and took us to the bar for some samples. I tried the Holy Moses White Ale, a Belgian wit made with chamomile, coriander and orange peel. The flavors were certainly distinct but didn’t overwhelm my senses. I really enjoyed it (I ordered one after the tour). I also sampled Burning River Pale Ale, a tongue-in-cheek reminder of Cuyahoga’s bad reputation, and now an award winning American pale ale.
And so with a few meandering turns from the tank farm to the bottling area, we were enlightened about the six and a half hour birthing process of GLBC’s fine products and learned about its humble beginnings and commitment to sustainability. While GLBC only distributes to 12 states and D.C., if you are ever in close proximity to a bar or supermarket that sells it, give it a try. To have such a brewery in your town is a gem. GLBC certainly revitalizes Cleveland in more ways than just providing a tasty alcoholic beverage to consumers. This field trip was definitely educational and fun, and at the end I received the best gift of all – beer and knowledge.