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Issue Date: July 2009

Mr. Clean

Roughly 90 percent of beer is water, so it’s easy to understand why the co-owner of Great Lakes Brewing Co., Pat Conway, is obsessed with making sure it’s clean. Conway, a water preservation advocate, hosts the Burning River Fest, an environmental festival. His goal is to end the question brewery-goers occasionally ask when they see Burning River Pale Ale on the menu: Is the water that went into the beer safe to drink?
Beth Stallings
We introduced the pale ale around ’89. The style came first, and then we chose to call it Burning River. The name is kind of cheeky, slightly irreverent and probably not the most sound public relations strategy, but we thought, What the hell, let’s do it.

If our streams and lakes hadn’t gotten cleaner over the years, I don’t think we would have used the name.

It’s part of the history of Cleveland now. We have this wonderful, valuable resource at our fingertips, and it should be considered our Grand Canyon, our Yosemite.

To celebrate it, nine years ago we started the Burning River Fest. Cleveland needed a strong summer festival. It’s not just people coming to hear music. We’ve got eco-partners talking about water quality, alternatives to synthetic fertilizer, global warming and green architects talking about building.

On Aug. 15, we are moving the Burning River Fest back to Whiskey Island to the Coast Guard station at the mouth of the river. It’s a beautiful Art Deco structure that was built in the late ’30s, but it’s been abandoned since the 1970s. We want to resurrect that building as a source of education. We’d like to raise money to have a sleek schooner take people out all summer on water-quality tours so people can better understand the lake. Then people would be more apt to want to save it.

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