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Great Lakes Brews Beer School

June 20, 2012 By: Alissa Ponchione


I’ve lived in Cleveland for a couple years now and I’ve been drinking beer for a few more.  Of course, my first foray into malted beverages was beer at its lowest form. The type of beer hipsters drink ironically. But Cleveland, known for many things, is also a beer town and home to one of the finest craft beers around—Great Lakes. Beer promotions done right can elevate a bars profile and made it the go to spot of an ice cold lager.

One of the keys to a great beer promotion is to first be educated on the varieties—its potency, its flavor, its color and what to recommend—of the brand you are going to promote. Since Cleveland affords you the ability to drink Great Lakes all of the time, and though I’ve been to the restaurant many times, I had never actually toured the brewery until this past week.

As part of an alumni event for my alma mater, Ohio University, a few friends and I headed to the historical Cleveland neighborhood Ohio City to tour the Great Lakes Brewery Company, learn about the process, gain promotional ideas and—most importantly—drink great beer.

The first thing we did was stop in the Great Lakes Brewery gift shop, where we eyed the beers enticing us from the cooler, whetting our appetite for the tour and beer school.

The interesting thing about Cleveland is that it’s a city rife with history. Every building tells different stories about each generation. Great Lakes Brewery is no different. A building that was the first tavern in Cleveland, even during Prohibition, eventually became the Great Lakes Brewery Company in 1988, our tour guide informs us. This historical information makes for great conversation with  patrons when talking up a beer promotion.

The essence of a good promotion, is maintaining an ambience that both educates guests while exciting them. The Great Lakes tour exemplified this. The brewery may have started small, but now the pub takes up a couple city blocks and houses its brewery across the street.  They also focus on an environmentally friendly effort. The tour of the brewery detailed the process of getting the Great Lakes taste. “Every beer has its time and place,” the tour guide says.

Part of the appeal of the Great Lakes tour is witnessing the process and seeing the way and understanding how those flavors find their way into the bottle.

After the grains are mashed for 90 minutes, it goes through a process of lautering, which allows the sugary liquid to pass through the grain bed, the beer is then boiled, pumped into a brew kettle whirpool where it spins and settles and is filtered at various degrees for lagers and ales.

From Left to Right - Grain Bed Machine and Brew Kettle Whirpool


The journey through the brewery taught even the avid beer drinkers the differences between lagers and ales, but even then, everyone was antsy for the beer school. After watching how the beer is made and bottled we were all ready to taste it. Tasting the product is also important to a beer promotion. How can your servers and bartenders promote it without being able to describe it to guests?

Walking back to the restaurant, the 30 of us on the sold-out tour were escorted to the tasting room upstairs. Because it was part of an alumni event, we enjoyed raffles between tastings, scoring pint glasses, koozies, posters and more inscribed with Ohio University’s logo. But, the beer was the highlight.

Each of the six beers (Dortmunder Gold, Eliot Ness, Burning River, Commodore Perry, Edmund Fitzgerald and a pub exclusive) were brought to our table in pitchers. We poured them in our small shot-sized glasses and rated them based on style, flavor and taste. Because Great Lakes has such a distinct taste, it’s easy to taste the nuances of what makes it stand out against the competition. You could take this idea of sample sized rating and put together your own taste test to get your guests involved while promoting a standout product.

We learned the flavors, the tastes and the history; Great Lakes names each beer after a prominent person or event in Cleveland’s history. With the bold and robust flavors of the different beer we tasted we made sure not to let the one drop go to waste.

We finished our final beer—and chatted with our tour guide about her time with Great Lakes Brewery, proving that in Cleveland, even if it’s the first time you meet someone, good beer and conversation are everlasting.


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