Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries


Beer Reviews

Burning River Pale Ale

Great Lakes Brewing Co.
Cleveland, OH

Style: American Pale Ale
ABV: 6.0%

Nigel’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (Recommended)

Many of you may be wondering how the fine staff of reviewers here at selects which beer they’re going to review. Well, there’s a number of scientific ways. First is style. Each reviewer tends to have their own preferable type of beer and often select brews that fall into those categories. For example, Jill likes fruit beer, which makes her more likely to review them or other lighter selections like wheat ales. Franz likes the Oktoberfest/Marzen style, so he reviews them as well as ambers, etc. Baby-boy goes by the mantra “once you go black, you never go back,” so he typically sticks with his dark stouts and porters, and so on. We also try to select new releases or brews from newer or hard-to-find breweries (at least new to our respective areas), as well as any limited releases we may stumble across. Often we select brews based on the season, or brews that may coincide with current events, a big game, or a holiday. It all depends, but ultimately we try to select a wide variety of brews to review for you, the loyal reader.

So, which scientific method did Nigel use to select his latest beer, Great Lakes Brewing Co.’s Burning River Pale Ale?

Free pint glass.

That’s right, my favorite good beer retailer was offering a free Great Lakes Brewing pint glass with the purchase of a six-pack of their beer, and Nigel went for it. God knows I can’t turn down free shit, especially free shit that has to do with beer. I’m gonna review Burning River for you in a few minutes, but I have to wait until my dishwasher finishes its cycle so I can use said pint glass to drink said beer from.

First, I must issue an official apology to the people of Cleveland. I, Nigel Aloysious Tanner, take full responsibility for the Indians choke-job in the ALCS against the dreaded Red Sox. Unbeknownst to the public, in my Bare Tree review published prior to the World Series, Nigel remarked that he was looking forward to a Series that “didn’t include a team from New York, Boston, or California.” This was written when the Indians were up three games to one and appeared on the verge of clinching. It was changed prior to publication to eliminate the Boston reference after the Red Sox unfortunate comeback, but it did lead me to the following conclusion: Nigel puts a curse on every team he praises in his reviews. The following examples should provide adequate proof:

• In late winter, Nigel’s reviews spoke highly of his beloved Badger basketball team, which was rolling through the best season in school history and climbed as high as number one in the country. Not long after heaping on the praise the team began to flounder, ultimately leading to a pathetic second round loss to an unknown UNLV team in the NCAA tournament.

• This spring, Nigel was optimistic about the prospects of his Brewers. After getting off to a ridiculously good start, Nigel continued to heap on the praise, going so far as to taunt the teams that were at the time (June), nine games behind. Not long after this Nigel’s Brewers began a monumental collapse, and by the time I stopped praising them in August, it was too late. Season over, collapse complete, Cubs (ugh!) win the division.

• This fall Nigel made passing reference to his beloved Badger football team, praising a squad that opened the season ranked fifth in the country and a legitimate national title contender. After struggling to some very ugly early wins, they were humiliated in back to back games in October, effectively ending any hopes of a title of any sorts.

• In yet another blow to the unsuspecting folks of Cleveland, Nigel was openly rooting for the Cavaliers to beat the Spurs in a review this past June prior to the NBA Finals. The result? San Antonio swept the Cavs away with minimal effort.

To the fans of these teams, I’m sorry, and for the sake of my favorite teams, I think it’s best I keep my damn mouth shut. The Sports Illustrated cover jinx has nothing on a Nigel beer review.

As for Burning River Pale Ale, it’s the signature brew from this quality Cleveland brewer, and I absolutely love the name. The “Burning River” would be the Cuyahoga River that flows through the heart of the city, which was so polluted in the 20th century that it actually started on fire on a number of occasions, most famously in the summer of 1969 (I believe Bryan Adams wrote a song about it). While this event was a huge embarrassment to the city, as time passed and the city underwent a major urban-renewal facelift, the people of Cleveland came to embrace the humor behind this event, and celebrate the recovery of the river. Great Lakes Brewing went a step further and named its signature brew after this event, as well as its Burning River Fest, which is held annually to bring awareness to environmental causes.

As for the beer, it’s uncanny how much it looks like fire in the glass. A beautiful bright orange/copper color, this looks exactly like the flames roaring out of a fireplace or bonfire (though probably NOT like the flames of burning, polluted river water). An extremely flat brew, the minimal white head quickly evaporates leaving only the slightest of lace at the tip of the glass. The aroma is nice, but not really what I was expecting. Burning River is an American Pale Ale that uses a good amount of Cascade hops, but I wasn’t overpowered with that distinct piney, zippy aroma of Cascade-heavy brews. Yes, hops are the dominant aroma, but there is a surprising bit of earthiness and sweetness as well due to a nice amount of caramel malt. Not the most aromatic APA I’ve ever sampled, but not bad.

The flavor is very good, leaving me somewhat stuck between a three and four mug rating. I’m going with the three, since I was expecting more Cascade hops and less malt. While this is an APA, it could be passed off as an English pale ale as well, in my opinion. Northwest hops are in perfect balance with sweet, caramel malt, making for a flavorful brew that is quite pleasing on the tongue. However, it’ll be a bit of a disappointment if you’re expecting a super-hoppy APA along the lines of Sierra Nevada, Summit, or Tyranena. The initial rush of hops and caramel malt are tempered by a nice, fruity zing and a tad bit of alcohol. Medium bodied and extremely smooth, Burning River is the perfect APA for those who tend to favor the style with less hops and more balance. Very good for sure, it’s definitely worth a try, but not among the most elite in a fantastic lineup of offerings from Great Lakes.


Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on November 6, 2007.
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