In the 1870s, Cleveland had 30 breweries. By the early 1980s, the last one had shuttered its doors. So when brothers Patrick and Daniel Conway opened Great Lakes Brewing Company on September 6, 1988, it not only signaled a new era in Cleveland brewing, it was also the first microbrewery in the state of Ohio. Andthe idea of a craft brewery in Cleveland caught on fast, as curious patrons hurried in for a pint crafted in the styles of old and drawn from the taps of the beautiful Victorian era bar. Our commitment to sustainable business practices greatly contributed to our early popularity and success. Before long, Great Lakes Brewing Company had become one of Cleveland’s most popular destinations for both dining and a fun night out.
Master Brewer Thaine Johnson and engineer Charlie Price joined us during the early days. Their three decades of brewing and managing experience at various U.S. breweries—including Christian Schmidt, Cleveland’s last brewery—played a key role in developing the recipes for our first beers. Raw materials used by European brewers (malted barley instead of corn and rice) were incorporated into the craft brewing process, which included using only the freshest ingredients and avoiding preservatives, synthetic chemicals and pasteurization (which ultimately compromise flavor). Approximately 1,000 barrels were produced during our first year.
Our original beers included The Heisman, a Dortmunder-style beer named for the famed football player (and future trophy) who lived around the corner from the Brewery. It was immediately followed by Eliot Ness Amber Lager. Both were overnight successes; the Heisman was later renamed Dortmunder Gold for both its golden color and the Gold Medal it won at the 1990 Great American Beer Festival. Dortmunder Gold and Eliot Ness were soon joined by an exceptional family of award-winning year round, seasonal and pub exclusive beers including Burning River Pale Ale, Edmund Fitzgerald Porter, Commodore Perry India Pale Ale, Conway’s Irish Ale, The Doppelrock, Holy Moses White Ale, The Wright Pils, Oktoberfest, Nosferatu, Christmas Ale and Blackout Stout.
In 1992, to meet growing demand, the Brewery expanded to the adjacent Fries & Scheule Building—and as the popularity of our beer continued to grow, so did our Brewery. In 1998, we moved into what now consists of six buildings—three that originally served as horse stables, keg facilities and bottle storage for the 1879 Schlather Brewing Company. In 2010/2011, we invested $7M in capital improvements that included a new centrifuge; brewhouse additions for increased production speed and quality; filler, rinser, conveyor and packaging efficiency upgrades; a new grain silo, spent grain tank, flooring and piping; and lastly, the installation of four additional storage and fermentation tanks.
We now produce over 100,000 barrels annually and serve 13 states and Washington D.C. As Ohio’s most celebrated and award-winning brewer of lagers and ales, we continue to possess an unwavering commitment to brewing only the freshest exceptional family of beers.
Name Origin: This American pale ale garners its fair share of attention around the world – just as the Cuyahoga River did when it suddenly caught fire in 1969 and spurred the introduction of the Clean Water Act of 1972.
Style Origin: Pale ales gradually evolved from an English town called Burton-upon-Trent that was known for its distinctive hard water supply and propensity to brew a lighter-colored beer than was common at the time.
Flavor: Assertive hopped with citrusy and piney Cascade hops.
Name Origin: Hailing from Dortmund, Germany, the name of this smooth lager reflects the unprecedented accolades and recognition it’s earned in major worldwide beer tasting competitions.
Style Origin: During the mid-19th century, seven breweries within the city of Dortmund, Germany, began brewing beers in the same manner, resulting in what has come to be known as the “Dortmunder” style.
Flavor: Delicate balance between sweet malt and dry hop flavors.
Name Origin: It’s considered nearly “untouchable” in worldwide beer tasting competitions – much like a certain former Cleveland safety director (who also employed Margaret Conway, mother of co-owners Patrick and Daniel, as his stenographer).
Style Origin: Anton Dreher and his family were solely responsible for a brewing empire that included Vienna, Bohemia, Budapest and Trieste in 1796; Dreher perfected this Vienna style lager around 1841.
Flavor: Rich, fragrant malt flavors balanced by crisp noble hops.