Luke Purcell is the brewer at Great Lakes Brewing Co. in Cleveland. He's been with the company -- the state's oldest operating craft brewery -- for nearly two decades. The brewery also is arguably the most recognized Ohio craft brewery outside of the state.
Question: Why did you become a brewer?
Answer: I got into homebrewing after I had my first Sam Adams Lager. It was the late '80s and there wasn’t much going on around Cleveland as far as craft beer goes so my friend and I decided to make beer on our own. Soon after, Great Lakes opened and we were hooked on craft. I started working at Great Lakes because of a chance meeting with our brewmaster at the time, Andy Tveekrem. I was laid off from my job and was really only planning on working here for a couple of months. That was almost 17 years ago now. I guess I liked it!
Q: Great Lakes Brewing is the oldest and largest Ohio-owned craft brewery in the state. Its beers are revered across the nation. What don’t people know about Great Lakes and what’s it like working for the company?
A: Well there are a few ways I could go with this answer. I could get into the environmental efforts or the family atmosphere that is maintained here. Being a brewer, I’ll go with the beer side of it. It’s always great when folks come to the brewpub and discover that we have so much more available than the stuff they see in stores. We have a list of beers that are brewed in the pub and only available here that is over 50 beers long and our pub brewer, Joel Warger, is coming up with more all of the time. It keeps the people coming back.
Q: With so many breweries planning on opening in Ohio this year, what advice can you give future brewery owners?
A: I would say, based on experiences here, to plan for steady growth. Think ahead when sizing the brewery and give yourself space to grow into, while trying not to get ahead of yourself and grow too fast. I see a lot of breweries that try to grow too fast and end up sacrificing quality because of it. They aren’t keeping up with demand so they push beers out and pretty soon the inconsistency causes the consumer to back off of the brand.
Q: What’s your best-selling beer and why do you think it’s so popular?
A: Dortmunder Gold is still our best-selling beer, but by a much smaller margin than it was. I think that it’s because it was our first beer, Clevelanders have really latched onto it as the go-to beer in town. It’s really a great lager and people always seem to come back to it. I believe it truly is “Cleveland’s beer.”
Q: Which beer – any beer in the world – do you wish that you invented/brewed and why?
A: That is one tough question for a brewer to answer. I’m a fan of most styles of beer and can appreciate any well done beer, regardless of category. I am a huge fan of the bourbon barrel-aged stouts. We put our Blackout Stout in bourbon barrels early on, but still do it on a very small scale. I would have liked to have been able to say I was the first to come up with that idea. The marriage of flavors in that style is incredible to me.