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Eat & Drink

Behind the scenes at Great Lakes Brewery

Posted by Ben Johnson / April 17, 2013

Great Lakes BreweryIf you've been drinking beer in and around Toronto with any regularity in the past couple decades, you've likely had a beverage brewed by one of the province's oldest craft brewers, Great Lakes Brewery. Family owned and operated since 1991, Great Lakes has been brewing beer in Etobicoke for over 25 years.

Originally founded in 1987, the brewery was purchased by Peter Bulut Sr. in '91 and moved to its current location at 30 Queen Elizabeth Boulevard, a building that originally served as a factory for Faberge Perfumes Limited. The building was designed by Canadian firm John B. Parkin and Associates and actually won a Massey Medal for architecture when it was built in 1950. After 63 years and a quarter century of service as a brewery, the facilities are certainly a little worse for wear, but they're still highly functioning and churning out more innovative craft beer than ever before.

Great Lakes BreweryThe brewery originally just brewed Golden Horseshoe Lager — a beer they still make and one which you've probably had even if you didn't order by it name — and Unicorn Ale (a beer they no longer make but one that may enjoy a resurrection thanks to claims that brewer Mike Lackey has discovered a long lost copy of the recipe). In 2006, the brewery produced their Devil's Pale Ale for the Toronto Festival of Beer and it proved so popular that they continued to brew it on a large scale.

Thanks to the reception of Devil's Pale Ale, Great Lakes launched a seasonal program and started brewing their Orange Peel, Pumpkin Ale, and Winter Ale. They've since embarked on a new era of experimental brewing — notably with a critically acclaimed series of beers to mark their 25th anniversary last year and Tank Ten, a newly launched series--and have proven that while they may be the oldest craft brewers in town, they're still at the cutting edge when it comes to brewing interesting craft beer.

There have been some changes at the brewery over the years, notably a high efficiency boiler that's helped keep costs down, as well as updated tanks, but a tour of the place shows that the old building still retains much of its character.

Great Lakes BreweryWhen I visited last week, more changes were in the works, including a soon to arrive lauter tun that mercifully features a removable bottom for the extraction of spent mash — the hot, wet, used, residual grains that, under the current system have to be back-breakingly shovelled out manually after each brew. A new brew kettle will also feature a 12000 litre capacity as opposed to the current one which is 5000 litres.

Great Lakes BrewerySomewhat sadly, these changes will mean that the old copper kettle that long served Great Lakes will be removed from the brewery; however, part of the old kettle's top will be retained as decoration at the brewery and a small part, cut down, will be engraved in honour of Peter Bulut Sr. and affixed to the family's tomb, a fitting tribute from a brewery that clearly has its sights set on the future, but doesn't forget its past.

Additional Photos

Great Lakes BreweryGreat Lakes BreweryGreat Lakes BreweryGreat Lakes BreweryGreat Lakes BreweryBen Johnson also writes about beer over on Ben's Beer Blog.

Photographs by Andrew Williamson.



johnsonstarfish / April 17, 2013 at 09:05 am
These guys makes some really good, under the radar beer. The Winter Ale is delicious and I haven't tried the Pumpkin Ale but have been meaning to. Will probably go buy some tonight after reading this.
AB replying to a comment from johnsonstarfish / April 17, 2013 at 10:04 am
Head's up, the Pumpkin Ale usually only comes out in the fall. Totally worth the wait though!
PC / April 17, 2013 at 11:27 am
If you want to try the latest and greatest by this fantastic brewery, head to Bryden's on Bloor Street West at Jane - they always have something different from GLB on tap or cask and these beers aren't available at the retail store or the LCBO ...
Big Fucking Mega Boat replying to a comment from PC / April 17, 2013 at 12:02 pm
Awesome, I had no idea about this. Thank you for sharing.
Bob / April 17, 2013 at 12:08 pm
Audrey Hopbern, My Bitter Wife, Karma Citra, ArmaDildo! If only they needed IT Logistics/Distribution/Order name would be Norm Peterson.
J*town / April 17, 2013 at 12:19 pm
I love the Audrey Hopbern!
Sorry, but their beer is swill... / April 17, 2013 at 03:57 pm
Tried a lot of their bottled product, can't stomach it. A tip? If you go to the annual Beer Fest at the Ex steer clear of their big booth. It all looks so great and the names are catchy, but almost all of their offerings are undrinkable.

Stick to your Budweiser replying to a comment from Sorry, but their beer is swill... / April 17, 2013 at 05:37 pm
The Great Lakes booth at the Toronto Festival of Beer is one of the highlights. They usually bring amazing cask beer. They also only tend to put seasonal stuff and specialty one-offs in bottles--both of which received acclaim from knowledgeable beer folks. Undrinkable to you apparently means fantastic to others.
Sorry, but their beer is swill... / April 17, 2013 at 06:54 pm
No, I just like good beer is all.

Y'know, like the stuff you would drink at Volo, Caledonian, Bellwoods, Victory, 3030...

...not the stuff from people wearing tie-dyed headscarves and playing hackysack, talking about how delicious their beers are because you can really taste the "watermelon" flavouring.

Not to shoot them down or anything, it's just for a certain kind of still-living-with-mom-and-dad demographic, the kind that still thinks metre-long bongs are awesome.
beersnob replying to a comment from Sorry, but their beer is swill... / April 17, 2013 at 09:55 pm
LOL. Look at the beer snob. I bet your shit doesn't stink too.
GLB fan replying to a comment from Sorry, but their beer is swill... / April 18, 2013 at 07:17 am
Buddy, Volo has Great Lakes beer on tap all the time, Victory has hosted Great Lakes Project X parties, and I'm pretty sure they're frequently at 3030. Sorry you had a weird experience with a stoner who likes their beer, and that that's informed your opinion of them ever since, but they make good beer. And metre long bongs are vaguely awesome.
Mike / April 18, 2013 at 11:46 am
Their beers are creative and flavorful. The Pompous Ass is a great ale. Very popular at Monarch Tavern, where Golden Horeshoe is the house brew.
Bob / April 18, 2013 at 02:33 pm
My Bitter Wife headed to the LCBO.

"Today was a good day "...Ice Cube
Sorry, but their beer is swill... replying to a comment from beersnob / April 18, 2013 at 06:36 pm
Nope, my shit stinks...we just happen to disagree on Great Lakes Brewery. I think it's sub-par beer.

Look, invite me to a beer tasting event where GLB is being served and we can open it up to others in attendance and see what people think. Honestly, I'd love to be proven wrong..I love all kinds of beer. but until then, I'm sticking to my opinion.
Sorry, but their beer is swill... replying to a comment from Mike / April 18, 2013 at 06:37 pm
Hi Mike,

I live close to the Monarch; I'll give it a try.
Keester03 / May 15, 2013 at 11:43 am
GLB is the only beer I will buy. I get it at the brewery, 4 blocks from my house. Crazy Canuck is my goto fave, and My Bitter Wife follows it up. Two very hoppy brews that may not appeal to most. If you like Bud, Blue or Canadian, the flavor in these two offerings will be way too much for you. The Harry Porter is another great small batch brew that's worth trying as is all of the other Project X runs.
Keep up the fantastic work GLB!! Hope to be drinking your recipies for another 25yrs.
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