An article by Noah Forrest
Just like in Quebec and most other provinces, Ontario’s beer scene is expanding more and more every month. New breweries and brew pubs are constantly being opened, some doing amazing things, and others, well, not so much. However, amongst all these new and older establishments, exists a brewery that has pretty much been there from the start. In my eyes, it remains one of the best of the lot, and of course, I’m referring to Great Lakes Brewery (or GLB). Over the years they have produced quality products that are not only innovative and delicious, but also actually available to be purchased quite easily.
The Ontario craft beer market – although expanding – can get a little repetitive with regard to what’s available, especially at your local LCBO. There are of course exceptions and they are producing amazing and innovative beers (Bellwoods for example), but they tend to be smaller breweries whose distribution is rather limited. GLB however, seems to be one that bridges the gap. Their “Canuck” American pale ale and “Pompous Ass” English ale are fantastic examples of beers that you can pretty much find at any LCBO around Ontario year round. However, Great Lakes also produce several slightly more specialized beers that are either periodically released at the LCBO, or released only at the brewery in limited batches. This kind of two tiered structure is a rarer model that (in my opinion) works quite well. It allows newcomers and people who don’t live in Toronto the ability to drink their products, while at the same time it allows GLB to create deliciously innovative beers that us geeks can line up for and savour quietly in our basements with the lights off. Most of the irregular GLB releases come from a project they call “Tank Ten.” It’s basically a tank that the brewers are able to use in order to produce new, creative offerings without the usual, larger production expectations.
At this point, I don’t think anyone in Ontario would question that GLB and it’s brewmaster Mike Lackey are the top tier in the province (and probably Canada) with regard to hop forward, American styled beers. They keep releasing these hopped masterpieces over and over, with very few that aren’t simply stellar. Today I’m going to examine five different beers; some are easily found on the shelves of your local LCBO, and others were brewery only releases that sold extremely fast. Let’s get to it.
Lake Effect IPA
Lake Effect is one of the many, many IPA’s that GLB periodically releases throughout the year. Usually, their canned IPA’s are brewery only, but this time Lake Effect had a much larger release, and was available at many stores around the province. Woot!
It pours out a beautiful foggy glowing orange colour with a nice fluffy head. The nose begins with a gigantic tangerine and apricot explosion, mixed with a bit of pine and vanilla accents. Strawberries and grapefruit also play a role in this extremely inviting, aromatic masterpiece.
The flavours mimic the nose, with apricots, peaches, clementines, and blood oranges, coupled with general citrus fruit, like grapefruit and lemon. It’s a fruit bomb! The finish is nicely bitter, but not so over the top that it hinders the delicate aromatic and flavourful hops. Instead, it compliments the flavour profile, helping dry out a bit of the fruitiness. The finish is loaded with grapefruit-like bitter resins and there is this beautiful general juiciness to the whole thing that really meshes well with the complete experience. I hope this is the start of a new GLB trend of canned IPA’s that are widely available.
Pompous Ass English Ale
Pompous Ass is an English Ale, but having had it before I can say that it’s definitely a modern take on the style. It has a surprisingly hoppy nose, with lots of citrus fruit, coupled with some earthiness, toasted grains, strawberries, light caramel, and biscuits. You certainly get the noble hops as well.
This one is very easy drinking, with a light body that goes down smooth. It has a sharp bitterness that is a bit aggressive for the style, but certainly complimentary to my tastes. The English style malt base works well with the slightly higher hoppy kick and is far drier than your average English pale, with no diacetyl to be found (which this style sometimes contains). It’s crisp, slightly malty, and delicious. It has a nice silky smooth body that provides a beautiful mouthfeel, while the English ale yeast lends a prickly phenolic earthiness that works to dry things out further.
Pompous Ass is generally always available at the LCBO and a definite go-to for me when I’m visiting Ontario. Even if you’re not really into English ales, or you find them boring, I still suggest giving this one a try – it’s quite special.
Life Sentence IIIPA
Life Sentence is a 10%, Triple IPA brewed in collaboration with Amsterdam Brewery, another successful Toronto based brewery. This was a small, brewery only release, but I’m hoping to see them produce it again. It pours out a deep orange colour with a massive sexy head. The aromas are dominated by citrus forward hops and general freshly cut tropical fruits. This is followed by some subtle caramel malts and a bit of earthy grass.
It starts off with a big citrus punch that attacks your senses, followed by a big malt base that doesn’t feel too sweet or cloying. The finish is resinous and bitter, but not over the top. There are loads of lemons, oranges and grapefruit, with some peaches and pine in the mix. Next is a great juicy component that adds a perceivable fruity sweetness without an actual sweet backing. The 10% abv is impressively integrated with the malt base, which is challenging without getting into the sweet and cloying side of things. This is a fantastic example of what collaboration and experience can produce. Bravo.
Apocalypse Much Later
Apocalypse Later is a monster of a beer. It’s 10% and loaded with extremely aromatic, citrusy hops. Picture a big and dry double IPA, but with dark malts. Now imagine taking that beer and aging it in bourbon barrels. The result is Apocalypse Much Later, and I’m very excited to try it (Thanks Brian for the trade!).
Wow, this nose is throwing so many things at me. To start, there are loads of big citrusy hops, mixed in with bourbon vanilla notes and damp earthy oak. There is some pine as well, and a cake batter thing, alongside a bit of booze. This is a really complex and strikingly potent nose – it’s huge!
Just like the nose, there is just so much going on here. The hops have certainly faded when compared to the fresh, non-barrel-aged version, however they are more present than I would have thought given the time in the barrel. Not only do the hops provide a bitterness, but also some big piney and citrus forward accents. The barrel is huge on this, adding nice vanilla and booze soaked oak flavours that mix in well with the medium/big body and dark roasted malts. The alcohol is certainly perceivable, but lends a good sharp character to the beer as a whole, and helps dry out the finish. This one was also a brewery only release, but I heard a second batch will happen at some point. Yeah!
Long Dong Pilsner
When I first started down the craft beer path of enlightenment, there was a period where I rejected Pilsners. It’s natural, given the years and years of only consuming the one style, and generally terrible versions of said style. However, over time I rediscovered them and fell in love with many craft interpretations of this Czech lager. I love me a hoppy pils.
Long Dong pours out a crystal clear, yellow colour with orange highlights, carrying a bone white head. There are lots of musty and earthy hops, with a nice citrus punch. It smells tangy and herbal, with just the right yeast profile.
It starts with a nice and crisp, Pilsner-esque flavour profile, but with a serious hop backing, which gives it a good kick on the finish. Just like the nose, Long Dong carries a big herbal noble hop presence, with saaz just killing it. It’s fruity and tangy with that lemon zest thing you get in a good lager. It’s crisp and clean, yet still complex, and I wish I had more of these to drink when the weather gets warmer. The mustiness sticks with you, leaving a long resinous finish, alongside that tangy herbal thing. There is lots of hay as well, mixed with some honey, but the whole thing is nicely dry. The balance is perfect and the extra bitterness and hop flavours don’t take away from the style in the least; instead, they enhance the experience and improve upon the the beer as a whole in my opinion.
The fun thing about writing this article is that although there are a few rare beers on the above list, there are also several that – presuming you live in Ontario – you can easily find when perusing the shelves of your local LCBO. So please, if you haven’t tried them yet, do so! In my opinion, GLB is one of the best breweries in Canada, especially in terms of hop forward, American focused IPAs. My only criticism would be that I’d love to see at least one year round IPA widely distributed across the province. If they were able to pull that off, I think we would see a lot of smiling faces.
An article by Noah Forrest
Photography by Noah Forrest