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Eat & Drink

Toronto flood takes its toll on city's craft beer supply

Posted by Ben Johnson / July 10, 2013

Toronto flood beer great lakesIn the aftermath of "the great Toronto flood," much has been made of the city's emergency response preparedness, stranded airline passengers, hundreds of thousands of households without power, TTC delays, and property damage.

No one, however, is asking the important question. Namely, how is the city's beer supply?

Well, not so good, actually.

Thankfully, most breweries seem to have weathered the storm OK, but Toronto's oldest craft brewery, Great Lakes, has been hit pretty hard. Located along a stretch of the Gardiner Expressway in Etobicoke that was without power for over 30 hours, Great Lakes Brewery is actually still trying to figure out the extent of the damage caused by Monday's record-breaking rainfall.

The early prognosis is not good. In fact, far from simply a dark cold room and some soggy shoes, the loss of power at Great Lakes has cost the brewers a considerable amount of beer. Specifically, their award-winning "American Pale Wheat," Miami Weiss. Prior to the storm, GLB had just finished brewing over 10,000 litres of their wheat beer/IPA hybrid, and, without power on to regulate the temperature of the beer's fermentation process, it's likely all headed down the drain shortly.

"The temperature for fermentation should be 68 degrees," explains Great Lakes' Troy Burtch, "but last night it was pushing into the 80s."

The power outage also has the potential to cause significant financial losses, further than the loss of so much sweet, sweet beer. The power was restored around midnight Tuesday, but with only a few generators running in the 30+ hours since the storm, Great Lakes was unable to brew two batches of beer yesterday, had to halt the bottling, canning, and packaging of beer for distribution, were unable to put beer in kegs for distribution to bars and restaurants and even now that the power is on, that beer that couldn't be moved is taking up valuable tank space that will set back their operations a couple of days. To say nothing of the effect a lack of power had on their ability to sell from their retail store or host tours and sampling groups.

When I asked how bad the financial losses might be, Burtch would say only that Great Lakes is "exploring options."

As for the city's bigger brewers, the effects of the storm were negligible. Mill Street, located on the city's east end with large-scale brewing facilities located in Scarborough, was unaffected by the storm that hit downtown and while Steam Whistle did lose power for about four hours on Monday, packaging had already finished for the day and production wasn't affected.

"All the beer in fermenting vessels and aging tanks is good," Sybil Taylor, Steam Whistle's Communcations Director tells me. "The hardest hit area on the night of the storm was our events department," she says. "Literally two minutes after the power outage we had 200 people arrive on a bus for an evening event." However, candles were lit, caterers improvised, and guests reported that the event was "lovely with candle light and the quiet of the place." I'm sure all the fresh beer helped.

As for the city's smaller brewers, they too are reporting no lost beer. Bellwoods Brewery and Junction Craft Brewing both lost power temporarily, but to no serious effect.

Interestingly, one brewer seems to have benefited from Monday's storm. When virtually all of the Junction lost power for the second time this year, local brew pub The Indie Alehouse managed to keep their power on. Jason Fisher, owner of Indie, told me that the result was a packed house. "We were like a storm shelter [Monday] night," he says, noting the financial windfall. "We did about double a regular Monday in business and had hundreds stop by just to get dry or use their computers."

In true Junctionite fashion, Fisher noted that he was just happy to help the community.

As for Great Lakes, there's no telling how much the losses could hurt the craft brewer in a market that's already pretty difficult for smaller companies--and sadly there's not much that can be done about the loss of 10,000 litres of the city's favourite American Pale Wheat--but maybe, when you're picking up beer this weekend, swing by their brewery and spend a little money, or drop a few extra cans of Crazy Canuck in your basket at the LCBO. It's probably the only chance you'll ever have to justify your excessive drinking as "flood relief efforts."

Ben Johnson also writes about beer over on Ben's Beer Blog and wants to assure those of you who drink mass-produced lagers that you're in luck! Not only will your supply of beer continue uninterrupted, but, in a pinch, you could just drink the stagnant flood water and never know the difference.



Steven / July 10, 2013 at 12:06 pm
Ok beer drinkers, it's up to us to help Great Lakes Brewery once they get back on their feet. That's right, we must support a local brewery in time of need.

Hang in there Great Lakes.

Grabem / July 10, 2013 at 12:07 pm
Great article! Can't wait to hear how the flood has affected the city's barista and bartender supply too!
Helen Lovejoy / July 10, 2013 at 12:17 pm
Won't somebody please think of the beer drinkers!!!!
Toni / July 10, 2013 at 12:39 pm
Sad! I actually had a pint of Miami Weiss as I was sheltering from the storm in a pub that night.
Jordan / July 10, 2013 at 12:39 pm
I'm gonna drink a thousand!
Mat Dwyer / July 10, 2013 at 12:40 pm
We need to be better prepared for next time... let's set up an emergency text message system that alerts toronto of the biggest party ever in the event of power failure. I volunteer to be the drain
BH / July 10, 2013 at 12:41 pm
Say it ain't so! I picked up a can of Crazy Canuck today in solidarity. :-(

Soused / July 10, 2013 at 12:56 pm
Alright Toronto, it's time to roll up our sleeves and do what we can for our community by chugging as many cans as possible.
We need to organize this somehow, I would like to nominate someones else as I will be Great Lakes hammered all weekend.

BR / July 10, 2013 at 01:13 pm
blogTO we're Canadians - please report temperatures in Celsius.
Ben replying to a comment from BR / July 10, 2013 at 01:38 pm
Sorry about that. But I was simply relaying what Mr. Burtch told me. He opted to use Fahrenheit. For your reference, 68 degrees Fahrenheit is 20 Celsius, or 293.15 Kelvin, or 527.67 Rankine, or 120 Delisle, or 6.6 Newton.
BR replying to a comment from Ben / July 10, 2013 at 01:55 pm
So... writer: simply relays information. Google: makes the information useful. Got it.
Soused / July 10, 2013 at 01:59 pm
Hey BR, it's a quote stupid.

"4 score and 7 years go"


"87 years ago"
Crafty / July 10, 2013 at 02:31 pm
Not Great Lakes! Why couldn't it be Amsterdam instead?
Help Those in Need / July 10, 2013 at 02:38 pm
Alright Toronto, it's time to require out businesses to stop playing in the amateur leagues and ask them to invest in provisions like diesel generates to ensure redundancy in their production. If the proprietors of Great Lakes brewery doesn't care about their business enough to buy a generator in order to avoid incurring a loss than why should anyone care about them?
Me talk pretty replying to a comment from Help Those in Need / July 10, 2013 at 03:01 pm
I agree. Out businesses should invest in diesel generates.
doveles / July 10, 2013 at 04:09 pm
When I brewed at the Amsterdam over ten years ago we had a brewer that was drinking over a 24 every shift (he worked at night when no one was around). The beer hit the drain when they realized he had not put the re-fridgeration on two tanks and we had to dump 16 000 l of fermenting beer (it took forever to drain!). Needless to say he got fired (he's since cleaned up) and 200 or so kegs did not leave the brewery that week.
buddy / July 10, 2013 at 04:16 pm
d. generates would definitely have made a big difference in this case.
Kelly / July 10, 2013 at 08:58 pm
They should set up a similar "pay by SMS" thing that the Humane Society did, I'd totally help out.
Bob replying to a comment from BR / July 10, 2013 at 09:20 pm
As the temperature is was in reference to beer, and not the air temperature,it's natural to use Fahrenheit. It's a different than baking a cake at 350F (instead of 177C).
bellwooddrunk / July 10, 2013 at 09:28 pm
I think we should purchase as much beer as we can from Great Lakes and go to the Bellwoods Park to drink it all!

Let's get hosed ppl!
TO Gal replying to a comment from Help Those in Need / July 10, 2013 at 10:16 pm
Wow, that was incredibly insensitive. GLB is a small brewing company that doesn't have money for "diesel generates". This doesn't mean that they don't care. Now go drink some beer, sounds like you've had a rough day!
Ex-Filmy / July 10, 2013 at 10:25 pm
Can someone please tell me why no one thought to call Production services or Abdolute for a generator?? They power film sets for crissake, they can do a brewery...
MaggieP replying to a comment from Crafty / July 11, 2013 at 08:29 am
Haha! My thoughts exactly.
BR replying to a comment from Bob / July 11, 2013 at 01:39 pm
LOL, I don't know anyone with an oven you can set at room temperature. It was a general comment about making news articles comprehensible to a general audience in a quick read. Toronto has a large population not raised on the use of Imperial measurements.
G / July 11, 2013 at 08:06 pm
To those telling them to invest in a diesel generator, I don't think you realize how expensive those are. The cost of the beer they lost is nothing compared to putting in a decent generator that can power the brewery for a couple days. Not to mention all the maintenance, fuel and inspections required. There would have to be 10 storms a year like this one to justify the cost.
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