Bringing the Burning River Home with Brewmaster Mark Hunger

Inspired by the infamous Cuyahoga River Fire of 1969 that eventually led to sweeping environmental law reform across the nation, Burning River has served as a symbol of our commitment to celebrating and protecting the natural resources so vital to the Great Lakes region. In many ways, the story behind the beer is just as important as the beer itself.

But just how close could we bring the beer and the story together? With a desire to bring the beer back “home,” our brewers set out to reformulate the Burning River recipe with regionally sourced ingredients that brighten the aromas and flavors while still honoring its roots as a classic American Pale Ale. To learn more about the homecoming of Burning River, we sat down the Brewmaster Mark Hunger:

As a brewer, what do you look for in an American Pale Ale?
A great American Pale Ale needs to have a pronounced hop character while still being an approachable and drinkable beer. It’s a style that is mostly centered around the hops, but with so many new varieties being grown the door for potential flavors and aromas is wide-open.

Burning River is a classic GLBC beer. What was your goal as you began to reformulate the recipe?
I wanted it to be different but the same if that makes sense. When we started, it was pretty much agreed upon from the get-go that we wanted to make certain aspects of the flavor and aroma more pronounced with still maintaining the characteristics Burning River is known for.

How long did it take to finalize the reformulated recipe?
We had a pretty good idea of what we wanted to change, so I think we did about two different brews on our brewpub system. Each brew was slightly different, but they allowed us to tinker with the right malt and hop combination.

So what are some of the changes?
We stopped using Crystal malt. Crystal malt can give a beer a really edgy malt background, so we decided to tone down some of that edge by adding Caramel 60 malt for a softer, tastier palate. 

As for the hops, we knew we wanted to find some that were grown in the region. Initially, we thought we’d keep the same hops and find a local grower, but then we started thinking about Centennial hops. Centennial has become a classic craft beer hop but not one we’ve utilized much in the past. With similar flavors and aromas to Cascade, we knew Centennial would help complement the “old school” flavors of Burning River in a new way.

Where are the hops from and what was the selection process like?
We sourced the hops from MI Local Hops near Traverse City, Michigan. They sent us some samples to brew with and we were really impressed. After using their hops in our 50 West Brewing Company collaboration, we really got the sense that they were a high quality, easy to work with grower. Plus, we loved their Cascade hops.

And what about the malt?
We’re sourcing our Caramel 60 malt from Haus Malts right here in Cleveland. We wanted to bring that local flavor to Burning River and they have been a great fit. They source some their barley from farmers in Ohio and surroudning states. The Caramel 60 is malted at their operation just a short drive away from the brewery. They’re a pretty small operation so at the moment we can’t use them for all of our beer, but Brewpub Brewer Steve has been using their malt a lot for our brewpub exclusives, so it’s a collaboration we’re excited to be a part of. 

Burning River Pale is available in bottles and kegs everywhere our beer is sold now. Find some near you with our Beer Finder. 

Words by Adam Ritterspach

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