Great Lakes Brewery Celebrates 25 Years


Ontario’s craft beer scene is blowing out the candles on a bunch of anniversaries this year — Mill Street is celebrating their 10th anniversary tomorrow night, and they have a special anniversary six-pack at the LCBO for those not lucky enough to go to the Brewmaster’s dinner.

Peter Bulut Jr., president of Great Lakes Brewery has been celebrating all year, with four limited edition 750ml anniversary releases. Each has been stellar, exemplifying brewer Mike Lackey’s countless hours of brewing, inventiveness and love of bold flavour.

The latest release, an Imperial Black IPA, is the first of this style I’ve ever had from a Canadian brewer, and it’s fantastic.

The aromas are all big, bad grapefruit rind, with hints of chocolate, star anise and a smidgen of toffee. As it warms up juicy mango notes come out, and so does a warming boozy note (it’s 9.5%), after that one-two punch notes of chocolate and roast coffee come in for a dry, long lasting finish, with some of the hops sticking to your cheeks like red wine tannins.

The uber creamy feel of the brew is what makes it sing – a soft, silky body and creamy head lend a lusciousness that screams “I’m worth celebrating.”

But Great Lakes hasn’t always been doing celebration brews, seasonals and the range of one-offs that they are known for so today, it’s been a long evolution from a crisp lager brewery to an outfit with it’s own pilot system and a very big portfolio of brews.

I interviewed Mr. Bulut Jr. in September, 2011, for a story I was writing on the brewery’s evolution. He shared some of the brewery’s history with me, so I’m sharing that interview with you here:

You didn’t start off brewing the big, bold styles that you’re know for today, how did it all happen?

“We changed maybe a little later, at a time when consumers were looking for change. We had blonde lager, red lager and a black lager for a while and they were quite tasty beers but in the retail market we hard to cut through clutter when most beers were very similar to the ones beside them, so we started with a unique flavourful ale which was Devil’s Pale Ale. That started as a one-off, we brewed it at the Brew-Your-Own back then, in 2006.”

Some breweries swear by consistency, but your beers seem to have become bolder in flavour, and sometimes ABV, over the years, would you agree?

“It has gotten stronger. You know some breweries come up with a brand and they say, ‘Here it is world, take it.’ We have been evolving the brands as we get better at them. Like our Orange Peel Ale, we put a hit of essence in it, and  I hated to do it because it had the McDonald’s orange flavours and kept playing with oranges and we found a way to cut out the essence. We improved the Devil’s by tweaking hops and malt slightly, which balanced it out a little better.”

How did you get into brewing?

“It was a family decision. In 1991, my Dad decided to buy the company, I was just finishing up college.”

What did your Dad think about moving to the bigger beer styles?

“My Dad had a passion for business, he had an entrepreneurial spirit and he didn’t understand why we were coming out with these big flavourful beers. He knew beer as a 50-year-old when he bought the company, for that generation it was all mainstream swill, or lawnmower beer, and that’s what he was used to. He understood clean, crisp lagers. But when we started brewing Devil’s and Winter Ale he thought, ‘What is this?  Look at the numbers here, what’s happening?’ With our seasonals we started doubling in growth year after year since 2006.”

What does the future look like?

“We are expanding, in the last year we upgraded refrigeration and upgraded the brewery’s heating system, we have a bunch of new tanks coming in. We won’t be moving anytime soon, as we have enough real estate to keep growing — we’re less than 15,000 HL right now.”

Cheers to another 25 years.

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