Lake Erie Monster
The Great Lakes are said to have mysterious creatures of their own lurking in their depths, so it’s not surprising that Great Lakes Brewing Company has made their own addition to this pantheon. In this case, it’s the Lake Erie Monster Imperial IPA, which draws inspiration from South Bay Bessie, a local legend that was first seen in Lake Erie in 1793, and has inspired legends and obsessions all its own.
On the label, Darren Booth’s artwork depicts the head of a fearsome aquatic beast looming out of turbulent waters and incorporates the texture of hops into the creature’s green skin. It’s a nice attention to detail, one of many that will emerge when pondering this beer. Lake Erie Monster itself is utterly clear, and its color is a deep, dark reddish-brown—a shade not dissimilar from the photographic negatives that drinkers of a certain age may recall seeing amidst their family’s photos. In contrast to the raging waters depicted on the label, the sense one gets of looking at this beer is that of utter stillness: This is a stable, solid brew.
A first encounter with the beer’s aroma reveals something that smells almost earthy. It’s a verdant odor—something you might expect as you walk past rocks and moss in a forest a few hours after a rainstorm. The effect is lively and organic; it’s as far from harsh as you can get. A deeper inhalation reveals hops, as well as a hint of ground white pepper. Not many beers conjure up entire places when breathed in. This one is an exception.
What ultimately makes Lake Erie Monster interesting is the interplay of hops, subtle notes of flavor and the overall smooth texture.”
Lake Erie Monster’s hop essence intensifies with first sip. This is a bitter beer, with the taste of hops centered in the mouth and leaving a slightly sour feeling as it’s consumed. There’s a hint of citrus as you drink it—citrus in the sense of both the slightly acidic flavor that comes from the segments of fruit, and a sharper taste that evokes the pith laying just beneath the skin. While this can get lost in the larger bitter taste, it nonetheless feels distinctive, which lends some nuance to an otherwise forceful beer.
That’s not to say that any of this is much of a surprise: This is a 9.1% ABV beer, and it measures up at 80 IBU. If you’re drinking a beer with a sea monster on the label, odds are good that that will be a very strong beer. But what ultimately makes Lake Erie Monster interesting is the interplay of hops, subtle notes of flavor and the overall smooth texture. Put all of those together, and you in fact have something large and imposing moving through clear waters—suggesting that the influence of Lake Erie Monster’s name didn’t stop with the label design.
Lake Erie Monster is a forceful beer, and grappling with it can be challenging. If a strong beer with plenty of hops is your thing—and if you’re eyeing an imperial IPA, it probably is—then there’s a lot to admire in this beer’s construction. But even someone who doesn’t necessarily tread too far into these particular waters can find some nuance in the array of flavors on display. It’s a massive beast, to be sure, but there are fascinating details if you look closely enough. That unexpected complexity helps make Lake Erie Monster an impressive beast.