Tall Tales and India Pale Ales: The Story of South Bay Bessie

What lurks beneath the icy depths? A cold-blooded hop behemoth! Issue a small craft advisory, because we're starting the New Year right with the wintry return of Lake Erie Monster Imperial IPA. This longtime fan favorite is 2022's first release from the Imperial IPA Series, a collection of epic IPAs with bold flavors, premium ingredients, and legendary lore, available in 16 oz. Can 4-Packs and Draft

Lake Erie may be the shallowest of the Great Lakes, but the depth of flavor in this Imperial IPA is that of legends. Sweet peach and berry hop flavors swell beneath a wave of caramel malt, while a piney, bitter finish keeps this towering brew in check. This particular brew is also stuff of actual legends, specifically the legend of Lake Erie cryptid South Bay Bessie. Haven’t had gotten to know this local leviathan yet? You’re in luck. Go crack open a can and settle in – it’s time to tell some tall tales!

According to Great Lakes Folklore, the first sighting of the “Great Snake of Lake Erie” (one of Bessie’s many titles) goes all the way back before Ohio became a state. In 1793, the captain of the Felicity startled the dormant creature while sailing near the Lake Erie islands. A report from July 3, 1817 provides some detail of our subject’s appearance: “serpentine or eel-like, at least 35 to 40 feet long, and a foot in diameter, dark brown or black in color.” Per the Great Lakes Guide, others reported gray or silver. Subsequent reports mention a dog-like head, large fins, and even human-like arms. Despite an often fierce appearance and at times aggressive demeanor, other anecdotes recall the beast as being quite playful (long before our Imperial IPA could have been to blame).

Playful or not, Bessie was a beast. So it’s no shock that our original Imperial IPA, itself a beast of hop flavor, full mouthfeel, and firm bitterness, was named in honor of the bayside legend. A pub exclusive favorite for many years, Lake Erie Monster made its way into bottles and kegs in the late 2000’s – just as America’s growing obsession with hops achieved next level status. Hop lovers demanded more and more extreme expressions of our favorite flower, and our brewers were more than happy to satiate that demand (and through the Imperial IPA Series, they’ve continued to do so!)

It’s no surprise that a monster should appear in our great Lake Erie (or in our pint glasses). Cryptozoologists have nicknamed the span between parallels 45 to 60 degrees north, which the Great Lakes fits snugly within, the “Monster Belt.” Legends of aquatic creatures abound from indigenous peoples, and continue to captivate to this day. Our Lake Erie Monster has been spotted in far more places than the Sandusky Bay. In the late 19th century, the serpent was sighted near Buffalo (after snacking on some local cattle), Erie, Toledo, and Ontario. 

Modern sightings begin in the 1960’s, with multiple reports originating from South Bass Island. Spottings of the snakelike creature abound in the 80’s and beyond, at times incorrectly connecting the monster to Cuyahoga River pollution – we got that cleaned up, after all! Reports of the monster spawned from Rye Beach, Cedar Point, Huron firefighters, Maumee Bay, and even as close as Huntington Beach on Cleveland’s west side. 

By 1989, infatuation with this legendary creature reached a fever pitch, leading the Port Clinton newspaper to stage a naming contest. The winner? South Bay Bessie, of course! Though, some locals prefer “Lemmy,” a shortening of Lake Erie Monster—we’ve heard both names at the bar. Huron Town Council went so far as to offer a $102,700 reward for the capture and control of South Bay Bessie. The prize is yet to be claimed (perhaps we should sweeten the pot with a 4-Pack or two). Accounts of mysterious bite marks from an unknown lake creatures originate from as recently as August 2001. 

Lake Erie Monster’s label evolution is as much of a fish tale as Bessie herself. Interestingly, the beer’s first packaging run featured not a serpent, nor a dinosaur-like creature, nor anything particularly frightening. Instead, it featured one of our chefs holding a massive halibut! Impressive, perhaps, but not quite monstrous. However, over the course of the past decade, our label artists have brought Bessie’s behemoth legend to life on our labels in more exciting fashion, culminating with illustrator Sam Hadley’s fierce representation on our current 16 oz. cans. Now that’s a beast! 


So, is South Bay Bessie real, or just a really big sturgeon spotted by partying bayside tourists? After all, Rock the Lake notes that sturgeons can grow to be 20 feet and 300 pounds. That question is best answered over another Lake Erie Monster Imperial IPA, available now throughout our distribution footprint, and at the GLBC gift shop. While you might have trouble locating South Bay Bessie, you’ll easily capture Lake Erie Monster near you using our Beer Finder


Further Reading

Great Lakes Folklore, available here

"Meet Bessie, the Lock Ness Monster of Lake Erie" - Great Lakes Guide, accessible here

​"The myth of Bessie, the Lake Erie Monster: Remember When" - Rock the Lake, accessible here

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