Toronto flood beer great lakes

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

In 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.


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