|Ladies & Gentlemen - Mike Lackey!|
Lackey has been with Great Lakes for over 20 years now, and has recently become their go-to experimental brewer, creating and brewing up unique one-off beers for their monthly Project X nights.
He has recently started to work on barrel aging some of his creations and has played around with other styles that he feels are underrepresented in Ontario.
Why did you get into the brewing industry and describe your passion for it.
I feel like I've gotten into the business two or three times actually. I knew Peter Bulut growing up, so when I heard his family bought a brewery and I was looking for a summer job before going to university I was on the phone immediately. I started sweeping floors in 1991 and eventually did every job at the brewery, from cellarman, to driver, to brewer. By the end of the 90s I felt like I had to do some travelling and figure out what "I wanted to be when I grow up". While some people go out west to figure shit out, I went to Europe and Australia for a year or so. When I got back, I realized I was already doing exactly what I wanted to be doing. Most recently, I've been brewing a lot on the pilot system trying to make styles that I like or that I feel are underrepresented in Ontario, like IPAs, belgian styles, barrel aged or lambic.
What's new at the brewery?
Wow, a whole lot right now. Canuck Pale Ale which is a recipe based on the first brew I did on the pilot system - "My Parents Went to the West Coast and All They Brought me Back Was This Lousy Pale Ale" - won a gold medal at the Canadian Brewing Awards and is heading into the LCBO shortly. Project X nights continue to get bigger and better all the time. And best of all, from my perspective, is the new, fun stuff we're experimenting with at the brewery like barrel aging and wild beers. I'm still kinda bitter they changed my name for the pale ale though - they said it was too long!
What is the best aspect of working in the Canadian craft brewery industry?
Passion and integrity. Not many people can truly say that they love their jobs and are able to go into work every day to do something they believe in. Most of the people I meet through work and get to work with, share the same passion. How cool is that?
You're known for brewing a lot of the Project X beers, what has been your favourite?
The Imperial Stout.
How successful have the Project X beers been?
Most have been well received. Personally I would like to see more made on a bigger scale and get a wider distribution.
Where can someone find your products?
The beers I brew can be had at monthly Project X nights and often in bottles from our retail store. As I mentioned, Canuck is going into cans at the LCBO and then hopefully followed by Miami Weiss...and maybe an opportunity for more Project X beers at the LCBO down the road. You can often get the one-off beers on cask or tap at barVolo or Brydens, sometimes at Burger Bar, Cest What?, Rhino or Cloak and Dagger. Oh, and in my garage fridge - usually something good in there.
What is the highlight of your brewing career?
Probably last years caskapalooza at the TFOB. Just the amount of work and logistics that goes into trying to serve 28 casks of 20 different varieties, outdoors in the middle of summer is daunting. It was gratifying to be part of.
Tell us something about Great Lakes that not a lot of people know about.
I've been at the company for 20 years and know so much about it that people don't know that if I answered truthfully, in full, the data would eat up your allotted bandwidth.
What advantages do smaller breweries have over the big guys?
The ability to innovate, switch gears quickly and to make decisions that aren't necessarily great for investors but for the betterment of beer and, in turn, life. : )
Cold clean lager, big hoppy pale ale, or a nicely roasted stout?
Love all of the above. Recently I've been drinking sours/lambic/wild beers whenever I can get my hands on them, which isn't very often in Ontario right now. This is a big reason why I've started trying to make my own.
Name your favourite non Great Lakes produced beer.
Impossible to pick just one but once in a while we all have a beer that makes us step back and say wow. Most recent one for me was Dupont Avec les Bons Voeux.
Best time for a pint?
I will not be constrained by time! But since I seem to be making a habit of delivering long-winded answers, I'll relay a great beer experience I had last year. I was coming home from San Francisco and tried to smuggle a couple of Pliny the Elders on the plane but was caught by the scanners. I told them to just keep the beer because, after 3 days spent at the Russian River brewpub, drinking a couple of warm double IPAs wasn't on the top of my to do list. The security girls called me a sissy and insisted I drink the beer at the airport, so I did. Such a well put together beer. So I guess that's my answer - piss-warm beer, sitting on the floor of S.F. airport, hungover as a dog - that's the best time for a pint.