7 February 2017

Alternative Facts - Beer Writer Collab at Great Lakes Brewery

The Alternative Facts brew crew!
 There are a few experiences I've had since I started writing about craft beer that will come close to this past Saturday. The very thought of being in a collaboration brew with some amazing writers and lovers of the craft was not something I ever entertained but I was humbled and honoured to be included.
When Troy from Great Lakes Brewing invited me a few weeks ago, I honestly thought he sent it to me by mistake. My journey has often been supported by the fine folks at GLB, but this seemed like something that happened to other people. I have long dreamed of spending a day with good beer people, talking and learning from what they have experienced and sharing our stories. My acceptance reply probably was sent within minutes and I anxiously watched the calendar roll towards brew day.
I carefully planned ahead and had my folks drop me off at Great Lakes (Kat was at work and would pick me up). It was a little funny getting Mom and Dad to drive me out to Etobicoke, but I figured I might enjoy a few GLB treats and wanted to be responsible. Arriving just before 9 a.m., we sat in the car for a few minutes before I headed in.
"I'll just wait and make sure you get in okay", my Dad told me as I got out of the car and it gave me a chuckle as I went through the entrance. I might be pushing 44, but my parents still look out for me and it is a warm and fuzzy feeling I get being so loved.
Entering the brewing floor of GLB, I saw a few familiar faces and grabbed a coffee so we could catch up, admire the beautiful new 7 bbl pilot system Great Lakes owner Peter Bulut had recently purchased and prepare for our day of joy. Genius Brewmaster Mike Lackey was already prepping the tank and I was honoured to dump a bag of malts in as we started up our brew. He told me that the usual job when you're at someone else's brewery for a collaboration is to contribute a little labour and then enjoy the company and beer surrounding you. Who am I to argue with the man who has created so many of my favourite beers and as the clock passed 10, Troy brought out a case of Pompous Ass Ale to get our day off to a proper GLB start.

One of my first Craft Beer loves, fresh from the source and the very first GLB beer from 1987.
As we sat around the table, the stories started as soon as the beer hit the glass and we introduced ourselves or renewed old friendships. I was happy to put a face to a few internet friends, relaxed and felt at ease as the conversation flowed. Time came for the next bit of awesome for the day, a tour and talk about the past and future of GLB.
Troy form Great Lakes took us on a tour of the glory that is GLB.
We walked through all the various rooms and production areas that encompass this ever growing brewery and saw a few of the surprises they have coming for us as their 30th birthday celebrations continue all year long. The tanks, bottling and canning lines whizzed by as we approached the one room and singularly most famous tank in Ontario Craft Beer, Tank Ten. Originally given to the brewers to create whatever their heart's desired, it has become an iconic symbol of what Great Lakes stands for. Many of their most popular and innovative beers have come from this tank and it was no mistake as I lingered like Grampa Joe and Charlie at Willie Wonka's so I could gaze in wonder and place my palm on this beautiful steel vessel. I'm not saying I hugged it or said a silent "Thank you", but things happen and I wandered back to the group with a skip in my step.
It's like visiting the Vatican and seeing the Holiest of Holies. Tank Ten Baby!
After our walk through the back, we returned to the floor to see what was next on the brewing schedule and maybe another signature GLB brew. Sure enough, a case of Canuck Pale Ale soon graced the table and another glass was filled with pure and fresh Great Lakes beer. The discussion turned to the future of not only this brewery, but the growth of the industry overall. Questions abounded as we talked of favourite beers, styles of glassware and some not so favourite trends in the industry. I was quite caught up in getting to spend so much time with people I admired and read on a regular basis and soaked up their experiences and words.
Gordie is always a welcome sight.

The dean of Ontario Craft Beer Writers,
Jordan St. John
As the afternoon progressed, we were asked to sit down and contribute some thoughts on film and I watched as everyone talked quite happily about why they love Great Lakes. I even took a turn, although it was a bit more nerve wracking than my usual filming of beer reviews which is done mostly alone and talking in camera in front of people wasn't something I'd ever done before. But watching my fellow beer writers talk about their experiences and maybe because I was feeling like I belonged for the first time in a long time, I was happy to share my thoughts.

Now that's fresh GLB
   After a delicious and perfectly timed pizza lunch, another round of Fresh GLB appeared and it was my favourite IPA from last year, Lake Effect, Canned only the day before, it was a deliciously hopped up beauty that was even better when you consider just how short a time it had spent in the can. Keeping my calm, I sipped one and wandered back to the brew floor to check on the progress. The scent of the mash filled the air and as our Mild called Alternative Facts (haha) was brewing, cocoa nibs were added and hops came into the mix. 

Getting our cocoa on!

Unreal to see this Imperial flow right from the tank
As the sun moved across the sky, the brew day was coming to a close and Mike Lackey gave us a peek at the next great beer to come back into the rotation, Apocalypse Later. Right from the tank and into our glasses, we were pretty excited to see it. Something about getting it right from the man who brewed it and where it awaits the canning line made it even better than I had remembered and I await its return with a smile. Could this day get any better? Oh it did, indeed...

The brewing done, we were then surprised with a few treats out of the cellar at Great Lakes, including a 2012 Barley Wine called Beard of Zeus that was a malted, dark fruit gem. Smooth, warming and boozy, it was a joy to share with my fellow craft beer friends and our gracious hosts. A bottle of Imperial Bout and Behind the Wavy wall rounded out our day at the brewery and I am pretty sure everyone was feeling good about our Saturday as we made our way out front to say our goodbyes.

I don't think I really will ever be able to describe what it was like for a guy like me to spend a day at Great Lakes, surrounded by people who love beer like I do and who write and share that with everyone. Our hosts were not only welcoming, they were actively engaged in making this a day to remember forever. A huge Thank you to Troy and Mike for all the time they spent with the group and myself personally. To the guys I was lucky enough to spend the day with, thank you for helping me to feel like I belonged and for your encouragement. It was truly a once in a lifetime experience and I am going to bask in its glow for a long time to come.
With the Master of Hops himself, Mr. Mike Lackey, Brewmaster GLB!
 Raise your glass and your standards,
One beer at a Time.
What a day!








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