Can you pick a pilsner? Locate a lager? Eye an ale? John Staunton dreams of a day when everyone will know precisely what they're drinking. And as the head accounts manager for Ohio City's Great Lakes Brewing Company, he's just the man to make that happen. He runs Great Lakes' Beer School, a two-hour how-to lesson on the workingman's favorite libation.
In its third season, Beer School is in session every other Wednesday through December. It starts at the brewery's bar and restaurant, where students are given a history of beer-making in Cleveland. Class then adjourns to the company's production plant inside the old Leonard Schlather Brewery across the street, where tour guide Terry Ryan explains brewing methods. "We discuss all the ingredients, the entire process," Ryan says. "From the fermenting, aging, and conditioning of the beer to the color of the packaging."
"We have this beautiful brewery in this fascinating neighborhood," Staunton notes. "And nobody even realizes what we do."
Then, like a trivia game-show contestant, Ryan spouts off the do's, don'ts, and did-you-knows about beer. Here are a few: Serve the brewery's coffee-flavored Edmund Fitzgerald Porter with dessert and its Dortmunder Gold with salads, fish, and chicken ("It's like the white wine of beer"). Don't pour your brew into a frosted mug ("Frozen glassware will render the beer too cold to taste"). And did you know that beer contains between 94 and 97 percent water? "People look at you like you're a crack whore when you tell them that," Staunton says.
After the oral exam, participants taste-test two ales (the Fitzgerald and Burning River Pale) and three lagers (the Dortmunder, Locktender, and Eliot Ness), with a pint of each brew. As the newly educated -- and freshly inebriated -- walk out the door, each "graduate" gets a beer glass, can opener, and T-shirt. "We don't give away any trade secrets," cautions Ryan. "But our motto, of course, is moderation can be overdone."