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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Raspberry Rhubarb Ale - Great Lakes 'Project X'

When Great Lakes Marketing Representative, John Bowden, told me about a 'Project X' last month he was anxious to see how well the first monthly session would go, and judging by his reaction to the crowd last Thursday evening, he was ecstatic.

"We didn't expect to see this many people come out for the first event," stated Bowden as he pulled 1/2 pint samples of Orange Peel Ale, Horseshoe Lager, Red Leaf Lager, and Devil's Pale Ale for 50 or so customers before the tapping of the casks, "but am I ever happy to see so many faces."

The first edition of 'Project X' got underway just after 6:30pm in the retail/tasting area of the Great Lakes Brewery as Chef Darryl cooked away in the back corner. Great Lakes Vice President, Peter Bulut Jr. addressed the crowd in his 'mad scientist' jacket and told everyone a little about why the brewery created 'Project X' and what the brewery hopes to get out of each monthly tasting. "There was a small brew-your-own store behind the brewery where we would often do test batches of different beers and it recently shut down. Because of this we decided to purchase a small pilot system to help us play around with recipes and 'Project X' was born," said Bulut Jr.

After having a couple of samples from the Great Lakes products on draught in the tasting area, and munching on some of the terrific creations by Chef Darryl, all the new members of the project were led into the brewhouse where one of the Great Lakes brewers was waiting with a cask of Silly Pucker Raspberry Rhubarb Ale. The beer featured at the monthly tastings will all be casks and will be different each month, so brewing a Raspberry Rhubarb Ale for the first session was a good start at capturing the audiences attention. *(Note - Great Lakes offered two casks for this first tasting, but future tasting will only see one beer)

The beer featured a raspberry aroma, sweet, fruity, barn-yard and a touch grainy. The palate was shocked with bitter punches from the rhubarb. It actually tasted like biting into a ripe juicy rhubarb stalk with a berry finish. The rhubarb was prepared the very same way the orange peel and the pumpkin is - the stalks are dried then grinded up and added to the brew. Very different and not too bad. But the star of the night was about to be tapped.

Great Lakes has brewed an IPA a number of times for different events and they've called it 'Superior IPA'. There have been times where I've tried it and found it underwhelming, more malty than hoppy, leaving me thinking they could do better. While they've done it with 'Superior III'. This was the best batch of the IPA to date and one that would be a great hit at cask festivals. A little green, the Superior III was all hop in the nose, a hop bomb in the mouth, but nicely rounded out with a good amount of balancing malt. "This would have been a good beer to send to Volo's IPA cask challenge," thought Bowden as we worked on our samples, and I agree, as did most of the paying members who had nothing but praise for the IPA.

A great thing about 'Project X' is that Great Lakes wants to hear from the people that plan on attending each month. They want to hear their suggestions for what beers Great Lakes should look at brewing and even recipes they'd like to see the Chef whip up to go along with the beer. "We also think it would be a great idea to brew a couple of casks and bottle some of the one-offs for our members to take home with them at the end of the night," Bowden mentioned. That would a good way to attract some new members for sure, but don't expect it to happen until 'Project X' gets a few more tastings under its belt.

The staff at the brewery did a good job and kept things on schedule yet made sure the night was casual and loose. They also made sure that each member left with a complimentary Great Lakes pint glass and an exclusive black 'Project X' t-shirt.

The next tasting will take place on Thursday August 13th (the week after the Toronto Festival of Beer) and will run from 6:30pm-9pm. Getting to the brewery is easier than you think. Hop on the GO Train to Mimico and make the 10 minute walk to the front door. Or grab the Subway to the Royal York station and take the bus to Evans and walk 2 minutes to the brewery. A one time $10 gets you a membership (t-shirt and membership card) and then each session is $10, which will get you 2 free drink tickets of regular Great Lakes products, beer-themed food, and samples of the special cask beer.

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