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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Great Lakes Brewing in Cleveland, OH

As I'd mentioned somewhere earlier, I was unexpectedly in Cleveland recently. My mother and I drove out to be with her sister (who just so happens to have my mother's other kidney) who had undergone open heart surgery. It was a satisfying trip in that we were able to spend quality time with my aunt during the first days after coming out of sedation. Her situation is still quite precarious, but it was nonetheless comforting to be there with her. And, at the risk of sounding selfish, I managed to take in a couple of beer-related stops as well. Yesterday, I shared my short stop on the way out of town at La Cave du Vin. The night prior to my leaving we decided to stop in at Great Lakes for dinner and a few beers (for me). The other two choices were a casual Italian place that I'd been to a couple of times (now closed) and a steakhouse (too upscale for our mood). So, a brewpub it was...perfect for this particular evening. Cleveland Clinic's impressive institution where we were staying is on the east side of the city (and practically a city within a city), La Cave is even farther east. Great Lakes is clear across town to the west in the Ohio City neighborhood. Past the Cleveland Browns stadium, Rock 'n' Roll Museum, Downtown, The Jake, the Flats, and across the Cuyahoga River to a neighborhood that is home to the historic, century-old West Side Market. Just around another corner from Great Lakes is a relative newcomer (the brewery is celebrating its 20th anniversary), the Belgian-influenced Bier Markt. It was recommended to me by more than one whose opinion I trust. I couldn't make it there during this trip, but it's on my short list for my next visit to Cleveland. Around the corner from the busy intersection of 25th and Lorain Streets, Great Lakes is tucked away on what, I suppose, would be called a couple of side streets. While the production brewery (sampling and tours) is on one side of the street, the restaurant location is across the street. When on-street parking is tough to come by, there's a parking lot ($4 off-hours) within sniffing distance of the brewery. There's no doubt when parking in this lot of when brewing is occurring, as it was when we arrived. They were still going when we left around 9pm and it made me wonder if they brew almost nonstop. With plenty of room on the sidewalk and another ten degrees warmer, it would have been tempting to sit outside. We went inside and sat by a small brewing operation that they have setup in a side room. I didn't ask, but wondered if it's where they do smaller, perhaps experimental, batches. The layout of the pub is interesting to the point of wanting to explore. From the front bar, to the two side dining rooms, and the underground pub behind big heavy wood doors there's a feeling that there's a nook that you haven't found. On top of all this, there's an upstairs dining room as well. Yet, somehow the restaurant still has a warm and cozy feel. Sitting down for dinner, my mother and I were treated to pleasant and helpful service from our waitress who promptly set me up with six 5-ounce samplers of the twelve that were available. The breadth of beers available in the local Cleveland market and as brewpub exclusives is staggering...reminds me in some ways of Victory here back home. This was quite a treat for me having only previously tried the Dortmunder Gold, Edmund Fitzgerald Porter, and Elliot Ness Amber. In addition to the first two of those, I added the Nosferatu (a bigger Hop Devil?), the Imperial Dortmunder (imperial, for sure),the Holy Moses White (a nice, middle-of-the-road Wit named after Moses Cleveland, founder of the City...that's a little known fact for you Cliffie), and the Peerless Pilsner (easy, tasty drinker). The Wit went real nicely with a Spinach and Arugula salad (strawberry vinaigrette) that we began with and the Nosferatu provided a nice counter punch to the Black & Blue burger (excellent!) that I had as my main course. Even more of a treat for me was to explain some of the differences to my mother, with whom I've never really had the one-on-one opportunity to talk about the many wonderful aspects of well-crafted beer and just what it is that makes each beer so uniquely different and flavorful. She tried a few and seemed to take mostly to the Holy Moses and the Eddie Fitz, admitting that she was surprised at the range of flavors and colors. Out the front door and just a few steps away is the "gift shop" where customers can find bottled versions of various Great Lakes beer as well as clothing, books, and accessories. I couldn't leave without a 4-pack of the Nosferatu, just one of the many Great Lake varieties that I'd never previously come across. Great Lakes has always had a distant appeal to me. I've known that they make some pretty decent beers and have been recognized time and again with GABF, USBTC, and WBC awards. Only a few of their standard bearers, though, are distributed here in Pennsylvania, at least on the eastern side. But, while on site, I learned that they make a whole long line of well-crafted, great-tasting beers. On top of all of this, they take great care in tending to environmental concerns as well. From basic recycling to community reinvestment to using (not discarding) "low-fill beers" in food preparation in the kitchen, Great Lakes is practicing what they preach. This year they began sourcing a portion of the ingredients in the kitchen from Hale Farm & Village in Bath, Ohio. I think it's safe to say that if I were a local in Cleveland, I'd be reinvesting heavily in my local Great Lakes. Can't wait to return!

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