The Lake Erie Monster is coming!

Lake Erie Monster is not only a legend, but also a legendary beer brewed on Erie's edge by Cleveland's Great Lakes Brewing Co.

Born in 2005, the brew previously was available only on draft and, last year, in 22-ounce bottles, both only at the brewery's pub. This spring the seasonal is for the first time being more widely distributed on draft and in 12-ounce bottles that hit the Pittsburgh area this weekend and are expected to disappear fast.

It's a monster of a double, or imperial, India pale ale -- big on alcohol (9.1 percent alcohol by volume) as well as hops (92 international bitterness units, not the 72 it says on the label), and like the big lake itself it's rather turbid, because it's unfiltered.

The origins of the Lake Erie Monster tale are cloudy, too, but there are reportedly stories about the sea serpent going back to the 1800s. Skeptics attribute them to everything from a school of fish to a giant sturgeon, but many are fond of "Bessie" or "South Bay Bessie," as she's affectionately known, and sightings continue. Before the Cavaliers were bounced from the NBA playoffs, a Plain Dealer sports columnist described 7-foot-1, 320-pound Shaquille O'Neal as "rearing up like the Lake Erie monster around the rim." Cleveland's American Hockey League team is the Lake Erie Monsters.

Brewer Luke Purcell says a server at the brewpub came up with the perfect idea of naming this brew for the fabled serpent, which is fearsome on the new label, the artwork credited to Pat Wilkinson and Brittney Fuchs. It already had a good following in Cleveland (where it was tapped May 5) and is "getting a huge response so far" in other places, including anger from beer drinkers who can't get it.

As regional sales rep Connie Tucci told me when she managed to get her hands on a couple of bottles for me to try early, "It has a mystique."

The brewery suggests that Monster complements steak, pork chops, aged cheese and dark chocolate. But I savored it all by itself -- carefully, so I wouldn't start seeing monsters myself. Despite the name, its first impression is more sweet than bitter, more malt than hops -- in short, more smooth than scary and very drinkable.

It's packed in four-packs, with a suggested retail of $9.99 per pack; it should be cheaper by the case, but mark-ups will vary. Area beer bars will be serving some in draft, probably in smaller-than-pint glasses.

Here are some local tastings:

• 7 to 9 p.m. June 10 at Barley's & Hop's in South Park

• 5 to 7 p.m. June 11 at Casey's, South Side

• 7 to 9 p.m. June 12 at Mr. Bones, Greensburg

• 7 to 9 p.m. June 16 at Harris Grille, Shadyside

• 9 to 11 p.m. June 17 at Cain's, Dormont

• 5 to 7 p.m. June 17 at Brillobox, Lawrenceville

Bob Batz Jr.: or 412-263-1930. First Published June 3, 2010 4:00 AM


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