Making Cleveland’s Craft Proud

Orville and Wilbur Wright, pioneers of aviation, are probably the most famous brothers from Ohio.  The ingenuity and creativity of these two inventors will always be remembered each time we step foot on a plane.  Patrick and Daniel Conway, whose names may not be as well known, are two Ohio brothers who will most certainly go down in history for their contribution to craft beer.

Patrick and Daniel are the creators of the Great Lakes Brewing Company (GLBC), based out of Cleveland. Today, GLBC is distributed in 13 states and Washington, D.C. The company has been praised in the press for its commitment to the craft, and its environmental sustainability initiatives.  Not to mention that the beers produced in the Ohio City neighborhood of Cleveland are all top notch.

The Conway brothers, sons of Irish immigrants, learned about recycling out of necessity as children, during a time when the word “recycle” wasn’t in fashion.  Their mother was a stenographer for Elliot Ness, an American Prohibition Agent (and now the name of their amber lager).  After studying abroad in Europe and enjoying the beers of Germany, Belgium and England, Patrick wanted to bring the European taste to Cleveland by opening a microbrewery.  From concept to research to actualizing their vision, Patrick and Daniel opened Ohio’s first microbrewery in 1988. Their operation started as a restaurant that exclusively sold their beers.  It would take another ten years for the beer business to grow larger than the restaurant. Fast forward to 2012 and GLBC produces five year- round beers (its “family of five”) and a variety of seasonals and brewpub exclusives.

While Great Lakes is available in the state of New York, it wasn’t during the time I lived here when I turned 21.  I didn’t know about the brewery or its beers until I lived in Florida, where it is NOT available.  How, you may be thinking? I would have to credit my now father-in-law for introducing me to GLBC.  After dating my husband long enough to make that dreaded visit to ‘meet the parents,’ we flew to his birthplace – Cleveland, Ohio.  His parents, like some of us who have the room to spare, have two refrigerators:  one for food, one for beer.  The beer fridge was always stocked with pop’s favorite beer: Dortmunder Gold.  Upon subsequent visits to Cleveland, I would try another Great Lakes family member.

With names rich in Ohio history – Burning River Pale Ale, Edmund Fitzgerald Porter, Commodore Perry IPA, and even a beer named after those other brothers, The Wright Pils (Pilsner) – I knew that this brewery had put a lot of thought into the importance of branding and marketing.  I had to learn more, so I went on a brewery tour on a hot July day, followed by a delicious lunch at the brewpub.  I was hooked.

What I also found cool was how the company uses the leftovers and reuses them.  For instance, leftover barley is used to make pretzels for the brewpub; used restaurant oil fuels its shuttle bus AKA the “Fatty Wagon;” and leftover beer is used by a local ice cream company to create a Porter Chocolate Chunk Ice Cream, served at the brewpub.

Had I stayed in Miami and not met my husband, I might not have had the pleasure of making acquaintance with Great Lakes Brewing Co.  However, as fate would have it, I got married to a Clevelander and eventually moved back to New York.  As I immersed myself in the craft beer scene of the northeast, I was able to appreciate the diversity that was available to me from different parts of the country, including Great Lakes.  I was now able to travel easily to Ohio and enjoy the brewpub exclusives.  I have also enjoyed cask versions of Christmas Ale, one of the fastest selling beers I have savored.

It probably isn’t a coincidence then, that when I saw a job posting for Brand Ambassador in Syracuse, that I applied for the job immediately.  How cool would it be to represent Great Lakes Brewing Company in my hometown? To spread the word, to educate consumers about these handcrafted ales was certainly something I could believe in and see myself doing on a regular basis.  While I knew much already about GLBC due to my history, I didn’t know everything and hoped for the best during my interview.  I am happy to say that I did get the position, and couldn’t work for a better company.  The Conway brothers believe in the craft of beer, as do many brewers who start their own microbreweries.  What stands out to me is their ingenuity and creativity, with the ability to grow the company steadily.  All without losing integrity and keeping the tradition of a high quality handcrafted beer.  Patrick and Daniel, you’ve got the Wright stuff. Cheers!





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