An Oral History of Blackout Stout

August 14, 2003. A day that many, many people in our region remember quite clearly – despite (or, rather, because of) the lack of light caused by one of the largest blackouts in world history. The sprawling Northeast blackout shut the lights off for three days, affecting over 50 million people from our home of Ohio, all the way to northern Michigan, through Pennsylvania, to New York City, and beyond. 

It’s an event so singular for our region, we had to name a beer after it! And after a three year wait, plus just a couple of requests from our fans, Blackout Stout is back in all its rich, robust, roasty glory. To mark the return of this beloved GLBC beer, we asked a few folks at GLBC to illuminate us with their recollections of that infamous day. Here are their stories, in their own words.

Pat Conway (Owner)

When the blackout hit Cleveland, friends poured in to the brewpub from out of nowhere. They knew that no electricity meant no glycol, and no way to keep our serving tanks cool, meaning there would eventually be warm beer. Not only does warm beer not taste the best, the warmer beer gets, the foamier it becomes, and the more difficult it becomes to pour. So they wanted to do us a favor and drink the beer before we would lose it to the warm temperatures.  

What they didn't expect was that the cash registers were down as well, meaning we couldn't ring in the beers they wanted to help us move. Our close friends ended up drinking in the Beer Garden for a “reduced price” right up until night fell. 

Crazy days indeed. Thankfully, the power was back on just a day or two later. If the blackout had gone on any longer, we would have lost thousands of barrels of fermenting and conditioning beer!

Luke Purcell (Pub Brewer in 2003)

That day, I was brewing Loch Erie Scotch Ale, one of our classic pub exclusive beers, on the 7 Bbl. system. The wort was just about to come to a boil when the power went off. As a brewer, there’s no worse feeling than knowing you’re about to lose a batch of beer, but thankfully the power came right back on about 30 seconds later. As that feeling of relief was setting in, out the power went again. It actually was not uncommon for the power to go out in the pub back then, so we didn’t think much of it until Derek Wilson, our chef at the time, called us from his Florida vacation. He was able to watch the news coverage of the now-massive blackout and had us rush to ice down all the food in the coolers!

After shutting down, I went to the pub, where Pat was standing there with a beer (in a snifter, of course) talking with some customers. He looked at me and said, “Guy, how long do we have until we can’t pour beer?” I estimated that we could pour for two or three hours before the beer would get too foamy to pour. Looking much like the Grinch when his heart grew three sizes, Pat grinned and said, “Let’s lock the front door. Beers are on the house for anyone that wants to stick around.” We all hung out in the bar and on the patio for the next couple of hours. There was quiet discussion about what the cause of the blackout might be, but also lots of stories and plenty of laughter going around the room. Most notably, there was no television or music in the background – just the sound of folks drinking, talking, and having a good time.  

The next morning, at around 3 AM, I woke up in a panic, realizing that I had left the steam valves open on the still-full kettle in the pub. If the power came back on, it would have started to boil again and well, who knows, we may have had a great Barleywine on our hands. I will always remember driving down to the brewery in the middle of the night. The sky was completely lit up with stars! Everything was so quiet and peaceful. I went into the pub in the dark and shut off the steam valves to the brew that I would be dumping the next day when it was cool enough. While it was a bummer to lose the brew, the rest of the experience was something I will always treasure. That dark, peaceful night full of stars, and folks drinking and talking with no sense of urgency, is what truly inspired Blackout Stout.

Original Blackout Stout label art, featuring people enjoying GLBC beer and good conversation on the porch

John Blystone (Manager of Engineering and Maintenance)

Blackout Stout is not only my second-favorite GLBC beer (right behind the barrel-aged version), but it also speaks to my personal and professional background. The blackout was largely instigated by computer software issues at an electricity provider’s facility near Akron, OH, which is where I was studying for my bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering at the time. This unusual event quickly became a case study in the engineering world. Our profession examined the system’s response to smaller issues within the system, and how those slowly built to a catastrophic and wide-spread event. 

I find Blackout Stout to be the perfect blend of extreme malt body and sweetness, with just enough hops to round it out, working together to create a rich, smooth blend of flavors that lights up my palate. Of all the Imperial Stouts I’ve tried, Blackout Stout remains my favorite. I recommend cracking one open and pairing it with dark chocolate, deep thoughts, or a full reading of the NERC report that shares in great geeky detail how the grid fell apart that day. You won’t be disappointed!

Blackout Stout is back, but only for a limited time! Use our Beer Finder to find some near you.

Word by Michael Williams

Photos by Adam Ritterspach

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