Great Lakes Brewery (GLB) – AKA Magical Ontarian Hop Wizards

American IPA is a beer style that is increasingly popular and widely discussed (although arguably less so in recent years with the rise of other styles). For the most part, the term is used to describe “West Coast” styled IPA. The difference between West Coast and East Coast IPA is something that’s often debated, but I think most would agree that the style doesn’t simply correspond to the side of the continent that the beer is actually brewed on, but more describes the differences between the hop and grain profiles of each subtype.  Just as a Belgian Pale ale can be brewed in Belgium, it can also be brewed in Montreal or Mexico City as it’s a descriptor of style, not location. For the most part, the West Coast is regarded as the originary mecca of American IPA production, however things have changed, and something sexy and amazing has been rumbling in the east; most notably in Vermont. IPA’s brewed on the East Coast can now (to a large degree) thank the Alchemist‘s Heady Topper for turning the world’s hopheads towards our side of North America. Heady has become an obscenely sought after and hyped beer, one that has been on the tops of charts for several years now. I could probably write a whole book on the problems surrounding beer hype; it places beers and breweries on an unrealistic pedestal for them to be unnecessarily worshiped or disgraced on a daily basis by beer-geeks worldwide. It’s unfair, and kind of silly, but it’s not going to change anytime soon. That being said, in my humble opinion, Heady actually lives up to the hype – well, as much as any beer can when expectations are set so high. With that said though, it’s certainly not the best beer in the world, and it’s arguably not even the best IPA in Vermont; Hill Farmstead and Lawson’s Finest Liquids have easily produced more impressive, mind shattering hop bombs – but that’s besides the point. Instead, my point is that Vermont is making some fucking good IPAs, that easily rival, if not surpass similar examples brewed in the West. So just because “West Coast” IPAs originate in the west, doesn’t mean better examples aren’t popping up elsewhere.


So why am I talking about Vermont when this is an article about Great Lakes Brewery in Ontario, Canada? It seems like I’m drunk, doesn’t it? Well maybe I am, but my point is this; with the exception of perhaps Moralité from Dieu du Ciel and a handful of others, I’ve yet to find IPAs elsewhere (including the west coast) that carry that intoxicating, “Dry IPA” flavour profile that I’ve fallen deeply, deeply in love with. That is, until I drank the these canned masterpieces from Great Lakes Brewery. However, the last thing I want to do is infer that this Canuck brewery, who clearly knows how to wield hops in sexy and tantalizing ways, has in any way “copied” (or attempted to copy) any of the sexy hop specimens found in Vermont. Instead, I’m saying that in my opinion (and I want to reiterate that it is just my opinion), outside of Vermont, Great Lakes Brewery is making some of the better IPAs I’ve ever had, and I’d also say that some of the examples below are the best IPAs made in Canada.

GLB or “Great Lakes Brewery” shouldn’t be mistaken for “Great Lakes Brewing,” another (extremely well known) brewery out of Cleveland, Ohio. The similarity in their names makes it a tad difficult to find a lot of information about the brewery. However, GLB is Toronto’s oldest craft brewery, and with the exception of Bellwoods, I’d say they are my favorite in Ontario. I want to talk about five of their beers today: Thrust! an IPA, Karma Citra, Canuck Pale Ale, Robohop, and Apocalypse Later. Not all of these examples are considered IPAs, however they are all certainly hop forward beers.

Canuck Pale Ale (American Pale Ale)

crazy canCommercial Description: “It’s been said that “Canada is the only country in the world that knows how to live without an identity.” This beer doesn’t help much with that crisis. From the fiercely irresponsible stereotypical image on the front of the can to the distinctly American style of the beer inside it – we’ve really made a mess of things. What have we done? Sorry.”

The above description does a really good job of summarizes part of what I was talking about earlier. Beer style location nomenclature is a confusing, muddled bastard that really requires a bit of beer geekdom to be fully understood. So if you don’t get it, don’t feel bad, you’re not an idiot (or maybe you are, but not about this).

Canuck Pale Ale is probably the only beer out of this line up that is readily available and easy enough to procure (presuming you live in, or visit Ontario often). It’s been brewed for quite some time, and got a re-branding last year. It pours out a bright glowing orange colour, like a big glass of peach juice, smelling incredibly juicy, with loads of citrus and other tropical fruit; mango! I’m getting pears as well (which is a bit odd, but awesome). There are also some slight musty yeast aromas, which add a nice earthiness. I’m also getting just a bit of sweet honey malt smells, however this beer is certainly a hop forward specimen. Smells wonderful.

The flavours are a bit subdued in comparison to the nose, however it drinks brilliantly and is perfect for summer days. It still has the fruity elements of the nose, carrying lots of tangerine and lemon zest at the front. There is virtually no sweetness, making this beer beautifully dry and sessionable. The finish is not exceptionally bitter, but because of the lack of of any residual sugars, the bitterness cuts everything down beautifully. The body is pretty robust, even a bit chewy, but it still goes down like water. This really is a exceptional American Pale Ale, I’m surprised it doesn’t get more attention (or maybe it does and I just don’t live in Ontario).

Karma Citra – (American IPA)

IMG_20140724_024556Commercial Description: “News of any new hop coming from the Yakima Valley perks the ears of IPA brewers everywhere, but, with Citra, things were different. The buzz was bigger. As Citra’s wave rolled across the land from the west coast we waited… and waited. Finally it crested, and a sample crashed into our pilot system. After brewing with it all the buzz made sense. Comments ranged from “Well that changes the game” to “It’s so good it feels like we’re cheating.” Today we procure as much as Citra as we can to bring you as much of this IPA as our little brewery can muster. All hail Citra!”

Karma Citra pours out a beautiful golden orange colour with perfect clarity and a frothy, pillowy head that rests there, sexifying my eyes as I stare at it. The aroma is a big citrus bomb, followed by some nice grassy and earthy hop complexities; however, it’s mostly fruit forward. There are some subtle sweet aromatics from the grain bill, with a bit of honey lingering in the background. That being said, this is certainly all hops, with strawberries, oranges, and lemons leading the way. It’s a citrus bonanza.

It’s nice and bitter, with tons of resinous hops coating my tougne. This is fantastic. There are lots of citrus fruits of course, alongside grassy and slightly herbal hop essences. It is perfectly dry, with only hints of sweetness, which are cut down immediately, leaving lingering flavours of honey and vanilla in the finish. It has a pretty full body though, making it feel more filling than, say, Moralité from Dieu du Ciel (which I drink A LOT of). I’ve now had both the canned and bottled versions of Karma Citra, and the canned version is far, far superior. It is likely due to the cans ability to hold onto freshness that much better than bottles, but it’s also possible that they have been tweaking the recipe here and there. The bottled version is still excellent though.

Thrust! An IPA (American IPA)

IMG_20140722_084247Commercial Description: “Designed by NASA scientists, THRUST! is structured to attack you senses. First, it burns into your visual cortex the image of a beer with a deep copper hue topped with a rocky white head. Soon your olfactory bulb should be awoken as the massive dry-hop propels a penetrating aroma of grapefruit, mango, grape, stone fruit and lychee hurling into your forebrain. Resisting the impulse to keep smelling the beer, you pound back a gulp which illicits a poking and prodding of tropical fruit and resin on your taste buds. Your pallet soon succumbs as THRUST! penetrates and perforates, eventually becoming your new reality.”

Thrust pours out a deep copper orange colour, with a nice frothy and sticky head. There is so much citrus off the bat, followed by an explosion of fruit in general; lemon, lime, orange and strawberry. There is also a bunch of dank, funky, and grassy hop aromas; and when coupled with the fruitiness, it makes for a heavenly nose. I’m also getting a bit of vanilla, with some minimal caramel maltiness as well.

To start, the are lots of orange forward flavours, pith and all, coupled with some herbal notes. The bitterness creeps up, and only really kicks in during the aftertaste. It’s extremely fruity, but less than the nose let on. There are a lot of earthy hops in this one, and as you drink it, the bitterness grows and grows, covering your tongue with a nice resinous finish. There is a slight tartness here as well, like sour cirtus fruit; under ripe oranges especially. However, a gentle fruity sweetness become more apparent as the beer warms. Just like Karma Citra, this beer is fantastic; it’s a true testament to the beautiful hop plant!

Robohop (Double IPA)

robohopCommercial Description: “As a child, RoboHop was shunned for his laser beam eyeballs, bulbous hop-shaped torso and robotic limbs.During adolescence however, things changed for our hero. He captained his high school hockey team, routinely took over dance floors, and thusly, garnered a lot of attention from female classmates. Today, RoboHop battles blandness by making this killer-hoppy and bracingly bitter beer. Suffer.”

Robohop pours out a nice golden colour, with orange accents. The head is frothy and sticks around during the entire drinking session.  At first the aromas are dominated by a heavy lemon-citrus hop presence, with just a little yeast character. It’s got some grassy elements, and a giant resinous hop presence that brilliantly shines. For me, this is the closest thing to Heady Topper I’ve smelled.

On the flavour front, this is perfectly hop-resin heavy, with a pungent and tangy character that helps mask any fusel alcohol elements. There is just the right amount of sweetness to go alongside the bitter hop profile, however this is most certainly a very dry beer. Like the nose, the hops are mostly citrus fruit focused, with a zesty bitter grapefruit finish that cuts through everything nicely. The bitterness lingers alongside a nice tangy underipe fruit flavour, helping to dry out your palate before the next fruit filled sex-dream-esque sip. That being said, this isn’t a bitter bomb by any means, it carries a beautiful balance that non-hopheads would appreciate as well. I love this beer.

IPAs vary so much at this point that even within their sub categories, there are HUGE variations.  Double/Imperial IPA’s are often on the sweeter/maltier side, with some of them bordering on American Barleywine. Robohop is nothing like this. It has a lighter mouthfeel, coupled with a refreshing dry character, and an incredibly potent hop presence that makes for an incredibly easy to drink, balanced beer. It may be my favorite of the bunch. I wish I could stock my fridge with cans upon cans of this stuff.

Apocalypse Later (Imperial Black IPA)

IMG_20140727_084113“Commercial Description: An Imperial Black IPA that is big and black, loaded with a wonderful array of aroma’s that consist of coffee, chocolate, roasted malt, citrus, pine and more. Much the same in the taste while finishing very dry and deliciously bitter.”

It pours out black, with a great one finger head that goes nowhere. It smells like strawberries and raspberries as I pour it out. The nose is all hops, with citrus at the forefront, followed by some red fruit. There are some mild musty elements as well, coupled with dark roasted malt. However, the nose is mostly a hop bomb. Smelling it blind, I would have has difficulty knowing that the this was pitch black.

Wow, this is different. It manages to land inbetween an imperial stout and dry double IPA, but really becomes something of it’s own. It’s bracingly bitter (100+ IBU), with a body that’s surprisingly light. You get a ton of citrusy flavours from the hops, followed by some dark roasted coffee and chocolate complexities, but with non of the chewy viscosity that can come with an imperial stout. Along with the insane bitterness, there is some noticeable alcohol, which is not surprising given the 10% ABV. This is really quite amazing; it’s basically Robohop mixed with espresso and more pungently bitter.

There you have it. Five incredible hop specimens right here in Canada that rival (in my opinion) some of the best in the world. Canuck Pale Ale is pretty easy to find, and is one of the best values around ($2.50 for a 500ml can, tax and deposit included). However, the rest are not necessarily going to be on shelves if you look for them. Most of the cans are brewery release only, but bottled robohop and Karma Citra do hit the shelves here and there (I think you can get Karma Citra now!). A couple of things to remember though; if the bottles have been sitting around a while, they really start to drop off fast. The cans hold up MUCH better, but will still be a tainted version of their fresh selves if left too long. That’s not to say that they become undrinkable, just simply not as fantastic.

An article by Noah Forrest