Ben's Beer Blog

A place for all things beer.


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30 years of Great Lakes Brewery

At this point, Great Lakes Brewery has largely cemented their status as a great Canadian brewery and has earned their place in most Canadian beer fans’ hearts.

I’d wager that, right now, almost everyone reading these words has at least one GLB beer in their fridge. And why not? They make great fucking beer.

But it wasn’t always like that. In fact, the killer version of Great Lakes that most of us know and love is a fairly recent innovation considering that the company has actually been around for 30 years. Purchased by Peter Bulut Sr. in 1991, Great Lakes was, at the time, a small brewery in Brampton with an 18 hectolitre system that made their beer using syrupy malt extract brewed on an electric kettle. And so, roughly the same time they bought the business, they bought a mill and a masher to make beer from proper malt, and immediately outgrew the brewery’s fermenters. Taking possession of the company in April, Bulut had to move his operation to a 30,000 square foot building in Etobicoke by August, and today that’s the building the brewery still inhabits.

Bulut quickly found success in the 1990s Toronto restaurant scene which was, at that time, largely dominated by Greek families. Having come from a Greek and Serbian background and having been raised in an Italian school, Bulut was a man of languages and would often adapt the dialect of whomever he was speaking with and tell restaurateurs he was actually from the same village as them. It proved to be an effective ruse and, as a result, he ended up selling a lot of beer.

Like, a lot. Next time you drink a Karma Citra, be thankful for the hardworking Greek people of Toronto and their patrons who drank a shit ton of Great Lakes Lager in the 1990s to make that IPA possible for you. Continue reading


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Let’s talk about Untappd

Untappd irritates me.

Sure, there was a time in my life, as there is in most budding beer nerds’ lives, when I wholly embraced all that Untappd had to offer. A crowdsourced collection of tasting notes at my finger tips, a way to track beers that I tried, and even a built in humble-brag system that lets me not only tell people what cool beer I was drinking in a cool bar but also alert all my social media followers that I’ve just earned a badge for surpassing a benchmark like 25 IPAs consumed in one month. It was fun. It was engaging. It was well designed.

But now I think it might be one of the worst things to happen to beer drinking since Adolphus Busch decided he wanted to shag Lilly Anheuser.

Here’s how I came to this conclusion. First, on crowdsourcing tasting notes: I’ve realized I don’t actually care what most people think about a given beer. On the one hand, Untappd is great in that it democratically allows everyone to provide feedback about a beer, and yeah! power to the people.  But on the other hand, who cares about people? Untappd makes every neckbeard with a smartphone think he or she is Michael fucking Jackson. Do I really give a shit that “Jeff T.” thinks Bellwoods Brewery’s Farmhouse Classic “has a weird tangyness” or that “Kyle M.” thinks Instigator IPA from Indie Alehouse is “Really good”? No. No I do not. Untappd is the Yelp of beer, but lazier. If I’m looking for a good restaurant, I don’t want to know that John from Schenectedy gave it one star because he was seated under a drafty vent, I want to know what an actual fucking restaurant critic has to say.

Beer is the same way, and I’m sorry for being snobby here, but most people don’t know a cream ale from a California common, so why the fuck would we want an app that lets all of the people drinking beer (all of them!) share their opinions directly with the world? Continue reading


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Never mind Oktoberfest, here’s Craftoberfest

When I was in university, I travelled to Kitchener to attend the annual Oktoberfest event there, and it was nothing short of terrible.

The pilgrimage to the K-W included sleeping on the floor of a frat boy friend of a friend and it coincided with a lamentable period of my youth that all men seem to go through where we find it humourous to hit each other as hard as possible in the balls. While my group of friends always had a gentleman’s rule that these shots were permissible only when administered open-handed, the agreement was not enough to prevent my two best friends from nearly fighting each other in the middle of a polka-filled hall of dirndl- and lederhosen-bedecked revellers that evening.

Accordingly, I will likely forever associate my experience at Oktoberfest with a terrible night of drinking and the anxiety of perpetually fearing blunt force trauma to my penis and testicles. And while the organizers aren’t responsible for me associating Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest with being hit in the balls, it seems to me an apt metaphor for the annual event. Continue reading


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Column: The top five places for (good) beer in London

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In addition to the ol’ blog, some of you might be aware that I write a bi-weekly column for the local publication Our London. About a month ago, I wrote a column detailing the scant places you might find a good beer in town. I thought I’d repurpose it here as it might be helpful to any thirsty blog readers who might be headed to The Forest City soon.

1. Milos’ Craft Beer Emporium

Anyone who drinks good beer in London won’t be surprised to see Pub Milos atop this list. With an owner who goes out of his way to bring unique Ontario beers to his Talbot Street locale, Pub Milos’ 27-tap draught menu is unparalleled in London and is arguably among Ontario’s best. The food is very good, the staff are all either certified cicerones or working to become certified, and it’s right downtown. The place does beer the way I wish all bars would. ‘Nuff said.

2. The Morrissey House

In 2014, owner Mark Serre stopped buying draught from The Beer Store and now deals directly with local brewers. The result is 18 draught options that feature options you can’t find elsewhere in the Forest City, including offerings from London’s breweries and beer from Windsor to cottage country, including regular options from the excellent Great Lakes Brewery in Etobicoke. There’s an increasingly decent selection of 35 craft bottles and cans and a decent menu. Occupying a converted “London Brick” mansion, “The Mo” offers a somewhat dated ambiance, but is suitably cozy and offers a great patio.

3. Bungalow

Frequently packed thanks to being the only pub in convenient walking distance for those who live in Old North, the seriously-good burgers and respectable draught lineup are certainly as much to blame for its popularity as its convenience. A welcoming watering hole, Bungalow offers a draught lineup that skews toward craft but won’t frighten the uninitiated. Approachable craft beers like Steam Whistle and Samuel Adams Lager abound with occasionally experimental offerings like Muskoka Brewery’s rotating Moonlight Kettle series or a Beau’s All Natural one-off. The place promises a “neighbourhood hub” and it delivers.

Read the rest of my column over on the Our London site here.


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Ontario is getting tanked

Left Field Brewery New Tank

Apparently there was a sale on brewing equipment this month.

That seems to be the most valid explanation for the fact that a handful of Ontario breweries all opted to up their capacity and production capabilities this past couple weeks by adding a considerable amount of volume to their respective brewing operations.

Toronto’s Muddy York Brewing upped their capacity by 33% this week when they got in three new 7bbl (10hL) jacketed fermenters. Owner Jeff Manol tells me that this will give him the ability to lager things a bit more and do some bigger beers that can age (yay and yay). He hopes to have the new tanks in once they repaint their floors and finish the new glycol lines, and after that he says the company is set to build their taproom bar and hopefully have a tasting room open by June at the latest. Nice.

Left Field Brewery, also in Toronto, celebrated a fourth anniversary this month by not only coming to visit me (and other people) in London for an 11-tap takeover at Pub Milos, they also put in three 40bbl (40!)  fermenters and a 40bbl brite tank–upping their game from five fermenters and one brite. NICE. Continue reading


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The Ontario beer state of the union

Ontario Flag

On Thursday, at Beer Bistro in Toronto, awards were handed out to the fan favourites in a variety of categories for Ontario’s beer scene for the 2016 Golden Tap Awards.

The occasion, which likely skews a little too heavily toward Toronto beer bars and breweries, is probably about as good a way as any to take the pulse of the province’s current beer trends, and thus seemed to me like an appropriate time to reflect on the Ontario beer scene generally. Also, yes, I won one of these awards again last night and so I feel compelled to actually contribute something instead of resting on my laurels.

And so I had a few beers and thunk on it, and I’ve concluded that the craft beer scene in Ontatio is great.

But it’s time to get serious. Continue reading


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10 totally true facts about Toronto Beer Week

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In a few hours, Toronto Beer Week will kick off with a launch party at the Summerhill LCBO.

The next week will feature a slew of events in and around the city and even an official beer, Interloper, a barrel-aged, blended farmhouse beer made by Indie Alehouse and available at the LCBO, participating TBW bars and at Indie’s bottleshop.

That much you probably already knew.

But to help you make the most of your Toronto Beer Week and give you the inside scoop, I’ve put together this list of 10 totally true facts about Toronto Beer Week.

Everything written here is totally 100% true. Obviously. Continue reading