13 May 2009

Great Lakes Brewing Company

I can't believe that I have been writing about restaurants for about three years on this blog, and during this stretch, I've managed to avoid writing about one of my absolute favorite lakeside attractions: The Great Lakes Brew Pub. Luckily, I can draw on a wealth of back experience to craft a nuanced piece in which I explain the little details that make Great Lakes one of the Buckeye state's, if not the nation's finest brewing operations.

In many instances, brew pubs are an apparition or an illusion. Something that appears to be an on-site operation is actually nothing more than a contract brewing ruse. Lesser outfits than Great Lakes show off shimmering brew kettles that sparkle because they harbor a darker secret: they've never actually been used.

Great Lakes takes this problematic issue and blows it to pieces. The brew pub is located adjacent to the actual brewery, and patrons can follow the pipes overhead that carry the beer directly from the brewery to the brew pub into the frosty glassware on the table. There are few illusions at play in the Great Lakes Brewing Company.

What they deliver at Great Lakes is real beer with a real flavor. Cleveland is a city with a long brewing history, and Great Lakes and its staff have been a part of that history for some time. Brothers Patrick and Daniel Conway established Great Lakes in Cleveland in 1988, and they put Cleveland Master Brewer Thaine Johnson at the helm to create beer in the European tradition with just a hint of Cleveland's rock n' roll roots.

Although Johnson has moved on to the great fermentation tank in the sky, the brewery continues to feature some of the finest brews in the nation, many crafted with Johnson's careful guidance. And there is nothing that pairs better with one of the finest beers in the U.S.A. than the brew pub fare of Great Lakes.

There are not a many vegetarian choices on Great Lakes' menu. However, in my experience, there is always a vegan burger, a pasta dish and a couple of appetizers on each menu for those who believe that meat is not a component of the food pyramid. Some of the vegetarian appetizers include the Brewer's Pretzels with Liptauer cheese dip, the artichoke crock, the sweet potato fries, and a number of salads,

The mushroom bruschetta was made with spent brewer's barley bread topped with garlic butter, Killbuck valley mushrooms, roasted red peppers and melted mozzarella. Although the dish was flavorful, the large slices of bread made the dish somewhat difficult to eat. If the slices of bread were cut in half, the whole process would have been far less messy.

My main entree was a vegetable alfredo pasta. The alfredo sauce was actually made with a splash of Dortmunder Gold beer, a mild white cheese and cream. The vegetables were zucchini, carrots and chives. The dish actually occupies some sort of middle ground between macaroni and cheese and Pasta Primavera.

Of course, the food at Great Lakes is like a great opening act. It's an added bonus, but you're at the concert to see the headliner. In this case, the headliner is beer.

Great Lakes has beers that are offered all year long, and others that are seasonally available. The regular brews are available throughout the region. However, the most interesting brews are always the seasonal offerings.

The one seasonal that is currently available in bottles is the Grassroots Ale, a saison brewed in the Belgian tradition as a summer brew for farm workers. It showcases the herbal elements that compose the refreshing, high-alcohol brew. Grassroots used to be called the Hale Ale. It is the only seasonal selection currently available at retail, unlike the other seasonals that can only be purchased at the brew pub.

The Lake Erie Monster looks like it may no longer be on tap since I tasted it, which is too bad, because that is an absolute pleasure to behold. The extreme hop presence of the beer makes itself known in the aroma, and even more so on the palate with its 92 i.b.u.s. However, the beautiful richness of the malt offsets the orgasmic bitterness of the beer.

Since the brew also possesses 9% alcohol by volume, it is served in a smaller Belgian-style tulip glass, making it a delight to savor slowly. I originally tasted this in a bottle years ago, but as of now, there is no plan to bottle the Lake Erie Monster again, so mark your calendar for next year if you want to taste the next batch.

The York Street Bitter is also an excellent example of brewing style. The ESB is a classic British-style golden bitter ale. The alcohol and hop content of York Street ESB is lower than any of the Great Lakes Pale Ales. However, the less is more approach has created a beer with a beautifully refined sense of elegance that is sometimes lacking in American ales.

The final seasonal I sampled was the Bailout Brew. This offering was made in the style of a Maibock, a blonde German-style lager typically consumed at spring festivals in the Fatherland. A grassy hops character peaks out between a bread and citrus aroma in the Bailout Brew. The 7.5% alcohol content is sneaky, because the beer has a weight like a lower alcohol brew and seems like it would be an easy quaff.

If tasting the beer from the source isn't a fun enough proposition, Great Lakes has other bells and whistles to keep your rapt attention. There are brewery tours on Friday and Saturdays. It's a fun way to spend about an hour, and you can see the guts of the Great Lakes operation. The attraction of free beer is tough to pass up, too.

Another form of entertainment with the Cavs in the playoffs and Indians season starting their season is to take advantage of Great Lakes' Fatty Wagon. Great Lakes makes biodiesel out of spent oil from the deep frying stations. The recycled lipids power patrons to Cavs, Indians and weekday Browns games for the low cost of $1 (tickets not included). It also includes a return trip.

Great Lakes Brewery

Great Lakes Brewing Company on Urbanspoon

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