One of the benchmarks in beer history that moved the U.S. from 80 active breweries in 1983 to over 8,500 in 2020 was the “Class of ’88”. This class was a wave of new, American breweries that opened in the late 1980s, and paved the way for thousands of breweries across the nation. This group included heavy hitters like Deschutes, Goose Island, Brooklyn Brewery, and Great Lakes Brewing Co. Many from the Class of ‘88 went on to become hugely popular and successful breweries, and they are the ones that smaller breweries aspire to become.
The team at Great Lakes Brewing Co. (GLBC) does not shirk this responsibility and consistently strives to be worthy of that admiration.
Great Lakes was founded by brothers Pat and Dan Conway in Cleveland, Ohio. As the name comes from the neighboring Great Lakes and beer is typically 90 percent water, one of the earliest sustainable pillars GLBC decided to focus on was improving and maintaining their regional freshwater sources. According to Marissa DeSantis, brand marketing manager, “as a company named after the Great Lakes, we also know that brewing great beer is not possible without great water, so water stewardship and conservation have always been of special interest to us.”
With their focus on water, in 2007 GLBC founded the Burning River Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to water stewardship. The Burning River Foundation hosts an annual event called Burning River Fest, which has raised almost $680,000 for local non-profit organizations dedicated to preserving and protecting freshwater resources and increased public awareness of the local deteriorating historic Coast Guard Station, which has since been restored as a result of the Fest’s efforts. Both the Foundation and Fest are references to the 1969 fire on the local Cuyahoga River. Unfortunately, the Burning River Fest had to pause during 2020 and 2021, but the hope is to return to its annual cycle next year.
Additionally, GLBC continues to evaluate water usage and was able to reduce its water usage by 9 percent in 2016.
Great Lakes is getting it right as they have produced solid, style-defining brews such as Dortmunder Gold Lager, Edmund Fitzgerald Porter and Eliot Ness Amber Lager for the past 30 years. They have also served as the center for Cleveland’s beer renaissance, prioritized sustainable practices, and have been stewards of their community. “Sustainability has been part of our DNA since 1988, and we continue to invest in practices like local farming, waste, and energy management, community partnerships and giving, volunteerism, water stewardship, responsible sourcing, and creative repurposing,” adds DeSantis.
Aside from water, a lot of grain goes into the beer-making process. During the brewing process, once that grain is used, it is filtered out. This is called “spent grain” and while it seems simple to dump this into the trash, this contributes to food waste in landfills. Many breweries do not let this product go to waste. GLBC uses their spent grain in their brewpub’s pizza crust, beer mustard, and ice cream. Spent grain is also sent to local farms and used as feed for livestock.
One of the final steps in beer production is canning and bottling. Sometimes during this process, there are errors and the cans or bottles don’t get filled properly. These are low-fill beers and are not fit for sale. Again, these could easily end up in the trash. GLBC uses these beers in sauces and dressings on their brewpub menu. They also partner with local artisans like Cleveland Jam and Chagrin Valley Soap & Salve Company, who utilize the low-fill beer in their products.
Some of the food served in GBLC’s brewpub comes from a Pint Size Farm. Founded in 2008 by GLBC (in collaboration with Hale Farm and Village), this organic mini farm has also provided hands-on volunteer and educational opportunities for the brewery and brewpub staff.
GLBC is also a longtime partner of Ohio City Farm, Cleveland’s largest urban farm which is located just down the road from the brewery and operated by The Refugee Response. Over the years this partnership has provided fresh, local ingredients for their brewpub.
GLBC has certainly done the “Class of ’88” proud. As they continue to evolve and grow, sustainability and community will remain at their core. DeSantis explains, “after a challenging 2020, we are excited to re-energize some of these initiatives and partnerships and find more areas of opportunity. We are so appreciative of those who have supported Great Lakes Brewing Co. over three decades and are always looking for ways to give back to our customers, community, and planet.”