Great Lakes Burning River: Beer UP Visits Michigan, Land of Microbreweries, and Drinks Beer From Ohio


Great Lakes Burning River Pale Ale from Cleveland, Ohio

Style: Pale Ale

Serving style: Bottle

Location: On a deck in the woods in Michigan

Cost: I have no idea because I found it in my uncle’s cooler. (Thanks, Gary!)

ABV: 6.0 percent

Appearance: Well, I drank from the bottle, so I couldn’t get a good look at the actual beer substance. So . . . the bottle is cool! There’s a burning river on it! Fire!

Aroma: This pale ale smells fruity, hints of citrus and berries. A bit malty, as well, but overall it carries an intense floral scent.

Taste: Starts strong, with a heavy malt flavor, but balances out quickly with some sweet hops. It finishes nicely — that’s when the fruity scent comes through in the flavor, ending crisply (and surprisingly) with citrus flavors.

Mouthfeel: Right where you would expect a pale ale body-wise — not too carbonated, not too empty, but juuuust right.

Overall Experience: So I went to Michigan this past weekend for a family reunion, which was a rousing good time. My aunt and uncle have a beautiful house in the middle of the woods and, after spending my the past two years of my life splitting a one-bedroom apartment with a roommate (meaning, yes, not a significant other, so, yes, there are two beds in the one-bedroom apartment, and yes, things are a little cozy), it was nice to get outside and enjoy some fresh Upper Midwest air. I saw family I hadn’t seen in years (or as some said, “Since I was thiiiis big”), and, to top it all off, we drank. A lot. And I gotta say: Getting hammered with your relatives is way more fun than playing cars.

I went into the weekend with the goal of downing as much of the state’s fine craft brewing as possible. If you’re at all familiar with the craft beer community, it’s well-known that the movement has taken hold in Michigan. Back in 2011, there were 80-plus microbreweries operating in the state, with plans to open even more. Many great breweries come from the woods in the Upper Midwest, including one favorite of mine, Founders. I’d even heard of bars that served strictly Michigan beer, so I was excited to visit the state and see what I could find.

But my quest for Michigan beer didn’t really pan out. Instead, I went to my relatives’ house in the middle of the woods, didn’t leave, and kind of got lost in the convenience of coolers full of beer at my fingertips. During this consumption of lots and lots and lots of booze of all kinds (shouts to my 40-year-old cousin who drinks strictly Diet Mountain Dew and Coconut Rum), my uncle introduced me to the Great Lakes Brewing Company. I inspected the label — “Burning River? Cool!” — threw it back, and loved it. The pale ale had just the right amount of citrus flavor, but didn’t have too much headiness. Sometimes brews like this are a bit dry for my liking and, weirdly enough, I end up with a little cotton mouth. But with the Burning River, it was an ideal, crisp blend.

The ironic thing is that the entire time I thought I was drinking one of those premiere, nectar-from-the-gods Michigan beers. But Burning River is from . . . Cleveland. I’d be upset I flubbed the opportunity to intimately report on the microbrewery culture in Michigan, but hey, this beer is good, so, uh, cheers!