Beer Review 0015: Great Lakes Burning River

Great Lakes Brewing Company was founded by brothers Patrick and Daniel Conway on September 6, 1988 at a time when not one single microbrewery existed in Cleveland, Ohio. Cleveland was a city that boasted thirty breweries in the late 1800’s, but a century later, none still existed.

The area proved to be hungry for excellent craft brew, so Great Lakes took off and quickly grew successful. But there’s a moral twist to this story: Great Lakes runs off of sustainable principles, meaning this brewery is environmentally and socially conscious. Considering I myself care greatly about the environment and am socially conscious, I thought I would spend a moment writing about this important aspect of the company.

Great Lakes operates with what they call a “Triple Bottom Line” — they run the beer business engaging in responsible economic, social and environmental practices while profiting. It’s reflected on every bottle under the company logo; you see three waves that represent beer’s most valuable ingredient: water.

Safe to say, this company does a ton of cool things for its community and this good patronage has to be a big part of the reason why Great Lakes has won so many accolades and is a favorite with so many people.

Burning River is an American-style Pale Ale named after when the Cuyahoga River (once the most polluted river in the United States; located in Ohio) suddenly caught fire in 1969, bringing about the Clean Water Act of 1972, the Environmental Protection agency, and the 1986 REM song, “Cuyahoga.” This beer is described as the “bold, hoppy, rebellious one” in the Great Lakes year-round lineup, and features specialty hops and malts to make it a clean yet toasty drink with classic Pale Ale citrus aromas and flavors.

I sampled a 12 oz. bottle on February 11.

Burning River pours a clear, almost sparkling amber color, with a large head that is extremely bubbly and of lasting nature. The color of the beer itself almost glows and a forcefield of carbonation bubbles continuously zoom their way to the surface. The lacing is spectacular, leaving a thick collar at the top of the glass and clinging all the way to the bottom of the drink.

In the aromatics department, a nice depth and balance of hops and malts are present. Immediately I noticed a caramel note mixed with floral hops, followed by a bit of toasty biscuit and a touch of pine. While not the most complex of scents, the combination is pleasant and keeps my nose returning to the glass, which is definitely one way to earn high points.

On the tongue, bitter citrus collides with caramel, for a toasty and acidic combination of flavors that feel slick and somewhat thin to the mouth. The finish lasts long with more of the caramel coming through and some grapefruit-like bitterness. This beer is balanced perfectly and is a wonderful example of the American Pale Ale style.

What’s even greater is that I think this beer would be excellent for novice and experienced drinker alike. Burning River is quite enjoyable and while not the most complex beer out there, it delivers flavors and a balance that are guaranteed to please and refresh.

And hey: By buying this beer, you’re supporting great causes.

Great Lakes Burning River, 91 points. Price: $8.99 US for six pack.

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