Blue Collar Brew Review –
Great Lakes Burning River Pale Ale


I’d bought a sixpack of beer from the MBS on Friday. A summer ale which would either be consumed, or consumed and reviewed depending whether my son and his babe would show up that evening to educate me on the inner workings and nuances of our website on Facebook. That depended on their availability at 11:30 at night after my shift ended. They said they’d be there.

Sure enough, about 11:40, just as I had fired up the MacBook, they strode through the garage service door. “Ready?” she said. “Let’s roll.” and a Friday brew review was sacrificed in the name of social networking. During that time, I drank Friday’s tentative review beer, a summer ale which really wasn’t all that great. I would have given it a C or C+, but not a C++ or a C#. Pfft!

For tonight’s review, though, we’re deviating from the summer seasonals and delving back into the wonderful world of craft ales. The selection on hand, was discovered in the cooler at the Four Seasons beer store. With two quite large refrigeration stations in the store, cold beer choices were many. I was surprised to see just how many craft brews were chilling on their respective shelves. Even in the cooler, they had a few beers that I hadn’t seen and some beers that I didn’t know existed.

There I spotted a section of cold sixpacks from the Great Lakes Brewing Co. out of Cleveland, Ohio. Many of their beers are named after a(n) historical figure or event which is associated with Cleveland. The one I had my eye on was Burning River Pale Ale and I wondered what the burning was all about. It just could probably have some relevance to today’s BP environmental disaster in the Gulf.

All the good stuff was there on the bottle label and carrier. The carrier was one of those high-waisted jobs which helps keep the ambient light from spoiling the beer. The brown bottles had pry-off caps. The label was dark and mysterious with fire in the foreground and the Cleveland skyline in the background.

There was a nice description on the label sidepanel:


Named after the 1969 burning of the Cuyahoga River, our American Pale Ale combines a citrusy Cascade hop flavor with a fruity assertiveness.

and a little blurb about conforming to the Bavarian Purity Law of 1516 (Reinheitsgebot).

From the neck label:

What do you you do when your river catches fire from excessive pollution? Clean it up and throw a hoppin’ party! Our annual summer Burning River Fest is the premier environmental education and music festival celebrating clean water and other eco-initiatives across the Great Lakes region.

Just like they said, the Cuyahoga River caught fire in 1969. Some guy in a suit, tie and a ball cap explains restoration efforts:

With a cold Burning River (!) in my mitt, I popped the first cap wondering whether the hops will blow out the back of throat or merely pucker my palate.

The beer poured with a beautiful copper color, more orange than red, though. The head came up a good inch’s worth and sat there with a thick off-white color. The bubble-ation was quite vigorous consisting of tiny spheres of varying sizes. The aroma was very slight and all I got was just a little scent of… well, beer.

The first sip held unique flavors in the mouth. A nice malt base was detected early on, the body and consistency was full without going overboard. At the end of the sip, the hop slap came out and smacked my uvula like a gong. What a nice taste.

A few sips into the first glass, some citrus flavors kicked in. Not quite grapefruit, but along that line. Melded with the malts that were present, the citrusy hop flavors made me not want to wait to have another taste. Each sip presented itself in the same three steps, the slightly sweet at the front, the citrus overtone in the middle and the drop kick of the bitter hops right at the swallow. The beer left a nice lacing on the inside of the glass.

The hop bitterness is not really all that tonsil blasting; the Great Lakes Brewing Co.’s website has Burning River listed at 45 IBUs. A little sharp but not overly so. It adds some nice crispness to the overall experience. The malt backbone, however, carries this beer all the way through sip after sip, and will be what makes you want to taste some more.

As the beer warmed up in the 86° atmosphere of the Manly Garage, the flavors really came out and pressed against every taste bud in my mouth. More of the malts, more citrus played with my tongue while the bitter end held fast at the same delightful level. As wonderful as the taste was, the 6% ABV was not to be taken lightly. A sixer of this beer would probably be just enough. Especially in this heat.

While Burning River is made all year round, it works especially nicely in this summer weather. It’s refreshing and thirst quenching, but it’s no lawnmower beer. Each sip should be savored and appreciated for the diversity of taste sensations. This is one satisfying concoction not be swilled but rather sipped and relished. It’s a great beer from Great Lakes Brewing.

The SixPackTech ratings for Burning River Pale Ale are:

Taste: A- > Like a hefty lady, there’s a lot here to be enjoyed.
Smoothness: A- > Turns like well-oiled lock.
Drinkability: B+ > Smooth like a cucumber, warts and all.
Bang for the buck: B > Worth it for tongue workout.
ABV: 6.0%
Wife’s all-encompassing opinion: Kinda… orangey. Not much smell. (sip) Not gettin’ a whole lot. (sip) It’s a little bitter. (sip) But other than that, I’m not getting much of anything. (sip) Yeah. I get nuthin’ but bitter… a little bitter. (I think some of her mouth parts are either numb or dormant. The bitter part is wide awake, though.)

BeerAdvocate rates this beer.
RateBeer rates this beer.

Great Lakes Brewing Co. on cable TV

The owners and brewers at Great Lakes

Fresh beer lives here

Cuyahoga River fire

Cuyahoga River fire

This entry was posted in beer, Brew Review, opinion. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Blue Collar Brew Review –
Great Lakes Burning River Pale Ale

  1. rich gwiner says:

    Make sure to try the Edmund Fitzgerald Porter.
    Excellent beer! And I’ ve clone brewed it three times(all grain) with decent success also.

  2. fcgrabo says:

    I envy all you all-grain brewers out there, but my time will come.

    Incidentally, I tried Edmund Fitzgerald last year. Have a look below.

Comments are closed.