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Buckeye Built: Great Lakes Brewing Company brews up changes for 2020 in crowded craft beer market

Posted: 10:55 AM, Feb 07, 2020
Updated: 2020-02-07 18:08:05-05

CLEVELAND — From Cleveland to Columbus and Toledo to Cincinnati, Ohio is packed with companies who call the Buckeye State home.

As part of the News 5 Cleveland Buckeye Built series, reporter Meg Shaw went behind the scenes of the state's oldest microbrewery: Great Lakes Brewing Company.


The Great Lakes Brewing Company, also known as GLBC, was founded in 1988 by brothers Pat and Dan Conway. The brewpub, located in the heart of Ohio City near the West Side Market, was Ohio's first brewpub and microbrewery combination to open. The bar inside the pub is made up of tiger mahogany and is said to be the oldest in Cleveland.

In their first year, the brewery produced approximately 1,000 barrels of hand-bottled and kegged beer. Their first beers included two which are still crowd favorites today: Dortmunder Gold and Eliot Ness Amber Lager.

The 90s served as a large growth period for the company. They were pumping out beers fast and expanding even faster. In 1992, GLBC won the gold medal for the third year in a row at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver.

Since its opening, GLBC has continued to remain focused on their “triple bottom line” philosophy, balancing financial responsibility with social and environmental responsibility.

The 2000s have proved their enormous growth both in Northeast Ohio and regionally. GLBC passed the 100,000 barrel mark in 2010 after adding three new 300 barrel fermenters.

Today, there are seven year-round brews produced by GLBC. Five beers are released seasonally throughout the year, including their iconic Christmas Ale.

Craft Beer Industry

The craft beer industry has exploded over the past decade.

"This company, the brand DNA is solid."

According to the Brewers Association, in 2018 the craft beer industry brought in $27 billion. In Ohio specifically, it raked in $3.2 billion.

"The foot traffic that's happening in Ohio City, the Conway's started this all back in 1988. What a vibrant place Ohio City has become as a result and that's just a little microcosm of what beer can do for communities and for cities," said Mark King, the new CEO for GLBC.

King took over as the company's CEO in October 2019. He's worked in the beer industry for nearly 30 years. King called working for such an iconic brand name challenging and exciting.

"This company, the brand DNA is solid, they've got great people in place. Cleveland already feels like home to me," he said.

The experienced brew employee said there are a few cities who are experiencing an over-saturated beer market, but he doesn't believe Cleveland is there just yet.

"Here in Ohio, for instance, craft beer is about 27% of the industry. Back in the 90s people said craft beer would never get over a five share, so there's going to always be opportunities. You just got to pick your opportunities and make sure they're right, and when you get into them drive really hard," King said.

2020 Plans

GLBC is considered an "old" player in the craft beer game, so they're working on ways to stay relevant with consumers.

In 2018, Great Lakes Brewing Co. was ranked 20th largest craft brewery in the nation. But, King said, that ranking is tough to keep. "The beer business is a fun business, but it's also very competitive," he said.

To stay ahead of the game, GLBC is making some much needed renovations to the brewpub plus releasing some of their brews in cans.

"We've been around an awful long time. This building was around 100 years before Pat and Dan moved into it, but we're really excited," King said.

Then in late March to early April, three beers from GLBC will be sold in cans. You'll be ale to find Dortmunder Gold, IPA and their Mexican Lager.

"It's a big deal in terms of production and staffing, but it's a big commitment that the company is making to drive this business forward in the future. We think that we can get this engine driving forward again in a pretty strong way," King said.

King believes innovation is the key to staying relevant with young customers.

"You can always stay relevant and come to market with the next big thing. I think consumers today are looking for excitement and they're looking for occasions for different beer brands," he said.

The company plans to be finished with renovations at the brewpub by the end of February.

To learn more about Great Lakes Brewing Company, click here.