11/10/18: Great Lakes Brewing Company's Edmund Fitzgerald

4:46 PM

Would you believe me if I told you that this is a post I've wanted to make since the summer after I started this blog? That'd be summer 2015, mind you. Well, I hope you said yes, because it's a true statement.


During summer 2015 I accompanied my dad to the Michigan Maritime Museum in South Haven, MI, where I was awed by the exhibit on the Edmund Fitzgerald. See, as often the ship pictured on the bottle of Great Lakes' porter named after the it, the story printed on the label never hit home. But in the museum, listening to the exhibit looping Gordon Lightfoot's "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" and looking at enlarged photos of the ship in its prime, everything clicked.

Today is the 43rd anniversary of the sinking of the ship. To get the full impact of this post, I recommend you hit the link directly above to hear the story of her sinking from ol' Gordon himself before reading onward, or maybe listen to it in the background as you read this. Today's post is about Great Lakes Brewing Company's Edmund Fitzgerald, the first porter I ever had.

Great Lakes (that link'll take you to their "Our History" page, which is where I've pulled this information to put into digest form for you) was dreamed up by brothers Pat and Dan Conway in 1986 Cleveland. After tapping into Schmidt's veterans Thaine Johnson and Charlie Price, they began brewing on a seven barrel system in 1988. From those humble beginnings, Great Lakes Brewing Company snowballed. Their lager, Dortmunder Gold, won a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival in the early '90s, which led to hype that paved the way for the company's first major expansion and wider distribution. 2018 marks Great Lakes' 30th anniversary and, complete with a past filled with ever-expanding boundaries and fantastic, award-winning beers, the company, presumably, is eagerly looking forward to what's coming next.

The official Edmund Fitzgerald page contains a brief tale of the porter's namesake. It also has all the details one could want on the beer itself: it has a 6% ABV, is brewed with roasted barley, has chocolate and coffee notes, and has won more than a handful of awards. If you're into pairing beer with food, there's even a whole section devoted to doing so.

My bottle boasts a strong coffee bouquet. I was met with quite a bit of hoppiness when I first popped the cap (no idea why that was), but that's now subsided after a few minutes. It's all coffee here, with little else--just like I want from a porter. Purrl, who is a cat and doesn't like coffee, gave the porter four meager sniffs when I offered her the bottle.


The roasted malt is showcased wonderfully in the flavor. It's bitter coffee and dark chocolate, with a short smoky bite rounding it out. I really don't have a ton to say about how the ale tastes--it's simple but that simplicity is pulled off in spades.

Great Lakes has nailed how a porter should feel. It's full, with a slight burst of carbonation. That smoky, roasty bite I mentioned just above does wonders here to help make the beer feel like exactly what I'd expect from the style.

I few years ago, my cousin got married about forty minutes away from South Haven at the end of December. It was a great wedding--Michelle and I had a blast with my family, both immediate and extended. We stayed in South Haven that night and were set to head home the next morning.

I don't know if you've ever spent a December night in Michigan on the Lake, but the snow is something else. The crews did a great job clearing the roads, and, yes, we did leave on time. Well, we kind of left on time. We made a quick pit stop at the city's South Beach. It frigidly cold, especially because we literally right on the lake in the beach's parking lot. Michelle opted to stay in the car as I braved the whipping winter winds and walked the snow- and ice-covered South Beach pier to its end.

The red lighthouse at the end was a sight to behold that day. Layers of ice from freezing waves crashing up from the lake had coated it, totally obscuring the red paint on the lake-facing western side. There were a few people clustered around the thing by the time I'd reached it, all doing exactly as I had intended do: admire the icy power of Lake Michigan.  The Lake is a beautiful, horrible thing and that's a powerful thought to ponder while drinking an Edmund Fitzgerald.

Great Lakes' porter is a shining example of the style. Edmund Fitzgerald is simple, but there's beauty in its simplicity. Odds are you've had it--it's available everywhere Great Lakes is sold--but on the off-chance you've never imbibed. you really should. It gets a hearty 9.5/10 from me and is the standard by which I judge all other porters.

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