Great Lakes Brewing Company's Names Behind the Brews: Eliot Ness

Great Lakes Brewing Company's lecture on Eliot Ness - the man behind the name

UPDATE: The next Names Behind the Brews event is August 25, 2011 – Burning River with Dr. John Hartig


When you’re drinking a good beer, you’re probably most focused on the drinking experience — the taste, smell, look. But how often do you ponder the story behind its name?

Once a quarter, Great Lakes Brewing Company offers an opportunity to do just that when they host the Names Behind the Brews lecture series.

I recently went to GLBC’s latest lecture which focused on their fragrant amber lager (my dad’s favorite), Eliot Ness.

Named after the Prohibition agent and former Cleveland safety director made famous by The Untouchables tv show and movie, the Eliot Ness lager is considered nearly “untouchable” in worldwide beer tasting competitions having most recently won the Gold Medal in the 2010 World Beer Championships.

There’s a personal connection to the Great Lakes Brewery as well, with Ness having once employed Margaret Conway – mother of GLBC co-owners Patrick and Daniel – as his stenographer.

After the sold-out Eliot Ness lecture, guests had the chance to mingle in the GLBC Tasting Room and talk to the speakers.

For the Name Behind the Brews lecture on Eliot Ness, Great Lakes brought in Rebecca McFarland and James Jessen Badal to debunk the Ness rumors that are out there and shed light on his time in Cleveland.

McFarland, who is a fourth generation Clevelander and Coordinator of Community Relations at the Euclid Public Library, shared insight into Ness’s life.  There is a lot of sensationalism out there regarding what Ness did or didn’t do in life (most of them arising from The Untouchables biography he collaborated with Oscar Fraley on).

However, if you want to learn the real story, McFarland is the person to go to — having been featured on A&E Biography and the History Channel with regard to Ness and Cleveland crime in the 1930s.  She was also instrumental in coordinating the scattering of Eliot Ness’s ashes in 1997, 40 years after his death.

Complementing McFarland’s exploration of Ness’s childhood, professional accomplishments, marriages (and divorces), and whether those bullets in the GLBC bar are really from him (probably not) was James Jessen Badal’s look at one of Cleveland’s most brutal crime sprees — The Torso Murders.

Badal, who is an assistant professor of English and Journalism at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, has written numerous books about Cleveland crimes. Along with McFarland, he is also on the Board of Trustees for the Cleveland Police Historical Society and Museum, which has an exhibit dedicated to the Torso Murders.

Eliot Ness - just one of Great Lakes Brewing Company's many tasty beers.

I’ve read a few books about The Torso Murders before, but none of them have been as gripping as Badal’s presentation.  Among other things, he shared present day photos of the body dump sites, as well as coroner photos of the actual victims.   It was gruesome, but fascinating.

What I enjoyed most about their dynamic presentation was how McFarland and Badal would tag  in and out of presenting – alternating between a bit about Ness’s life and then a segment on a different victim in the butcher spree.  The way they co-presented the facts demonstrated how Ness’s life eventually collided with the Torso Murders investigation when, as Cleveland Safety Director, he was dragged into the pursuit of an uncatchable serial killer.

During his term as Cleveland’s Safety Director, Ness took the city from being the most dangerous in the country to winning national safety awards. He was  successful in introducing a number of initiatives for cleaning up police corruption and building citizen awareness. Despite this, though, the city’s (and Ness’s) inability to catch the Torso Murderer had lasting effects on Ness – to the point that a documentary about the crime which features Badal and McFarland was called The Fourteenth Victim: Eliot Ness and The Torso Murders.

The $10 ticket for the evening included both the lecture and light appetizers in the Great Lakes Brewing Company’s Tasting Room.  With such an informative – and entertaining – presentation, it was a steal of a deal.

Other events at Great Lakes Brewing Company including brewery tours, Brewmaster's Dinners and Beer School

My only regret? That my mom — who got me fascinated by Eliot Ness as a child– couldn’t make it. However, the next time she is in town, I know one of our stops will be at the Cleveland Police Museum so that she can see the exhibit the presentation is based on.

In speaking to the evening’s bartender, I was told GLBC organizes the lecture series every few months around the particular beer they’re spotlighting at the time.  So if you’re looking to learn more about the stories behind their other brews, keep an eye peeled to the Great Lakes Brewing Company events calendar.  There, you’ll also find info on other popular events like their Beer School, Brewmaster’s Dinners and Brews and Blues series.

Great Lakes Brewing Company – Eliot Ness 411: