Published July 19, 2021
A friendship that has endured for so many years has hit another milestone as Peter Bulut and Mike Lackey celebrated 30 years in craft beer late last month.
It all started way back in elementary school. A young Bulut and a young Lackey; classmates in Sr Kindergarten at Swansea Public School. Playing sports, riding bikes, getting into mischief together. A friendship and a bond blossomed, one that both lads likely didn’t expect (at the time) to last for so long and in the fashion that it has.
Same High Schools – first Humberside C.I. then Runnymede C.I. Different universities. Many of the same friends. A reconnect. The year was 1991 and a brewery located in Brampton, Ontario was struggling to stay afloat. Peter Bulut Sr. enters the picture and acquires Great Lakes Brewery, laying the foundation for the brewery that stands before you today in glorious Etobicoke.
“Son, do you want to own a brewery,” said Bulut Sr. to his then 20-year-old son, and the answer was an obvious one.
Shortly thereafter, a phone call was made. “I hear your father owns a brewery? I’ll work for beer,” said an eager Mike Lackey.
It was a deal. Lackey became the second official employee after Bulut Jr. (paid in the traditional manner… and beer). Together, they’d grow up (figuratively) in the brewery.
It was the very early years of the craft beer revitalization, all trial and error for both, who, admittingly, had zero beer experience other than hosting keggers. From ripping up carpeting to cleaning tanks, delivering kegs, installing draught lines to actually brewing the beer, Bulut Jr. and Lackey did it all.
Since that phone call, both Bulut Jr (Owner & President) and Lackey (Brewing Operations Manager), have changed the game here in Ontario craft beer. They’ve experienced all the lows you can have in a small independent business. They’ve experienced the highs too. Together, they’ve introduced Ontario drinkers to west coast pale ales, American style IPAs, one-off experimental brewing (Project X), won a couple big awards, and have helped develop so many talented individuals in the brewing industry throughout their 30 years.
Together, they’ve helped make this a better industry and have created so many friendships along the way, but none stronger than the one they have for each other.
Congratulations Peter and Lackey from all of us here at GLB, past and present, on 30 years in Ontario craft beer.
After a strenuous photo-shoot, we sat these two fine gentlemen down to ask them some tough questions about their 30 years in craft beer.
GLB: What was the first job that you had at the brewery?
PB: Washing tanks, filling kegs, learning to brew. Delivering beer. And many more
ML: I pulled up carpet from an old office space that is now our brewhouse. I spent a few days after that with a rented floor buffer trying to get the carpet glue off the cement. I guess I took too long or didn’t do a great job because I was soon offered the brewing/cellaring position up at the original Brampton location.
GLB: Do you have a favourite memory from way back in 1991 when you both started?
PB: Too many. One that I always talk about, about how good it’s gotten, was picking up 100lb bags of malt at Canada Malting downtown Toronto. You’d have to drive there to grab what you needed, load up, drive back to the brewery and unload. Tough work, but memorable for sure. Another one was the long drives to Creemore Springs Brewery to wash our kegs.
ML: I just remember how much fun it was to be actually making beer. I mean, there wasn’t much beer being made those days outside of Labatt and Molson, hell, there wasn’t even much homebrewing. They were all long days because there was only me and Peter up there doing the brewing, packaging, cleaning and even deliveries but, man was it exciting! I The first few Christmas parties got pretty raucous and were pretty fun too!
GLB: Would you do it all over again? If so, anything you’d change about the history?
PB: 100% I’d do it all over again. But, as the Etobicoke brewery was being built, Mike and I were in charge of making the beer. We really messed it up & actually burnt the beer. It was so awful…. perhaps a bit more instruction in brewing would be a great place to start.
ML: In a heartbeat! Would I change anything about the history – not a chance. I was living the McKenzie brother’s dream – working at a brewery!
GLB: What is the biggest noticeable difference in craft beer over the 30 years that you’ve been part of it?
PB: That you can actually make some money at it. In the 90’s, and early to mid 2000’s, the taxation was so high it was hard to stay afloat. We almost lost the brewery, and it wasn’t as easy to make ends meet.
ML: Access to ingredients (particularly yeast) and the internet. Back then, yeast was hard to come by. When we needed a fresh pitch, we had to order a slurry from Europe and head up the airport to pick it up. Today, there are dozens of yeast banks where a brewer can select from many different yeast strains to brew whatever they may fancy brewing. In the 90s brewers protected their yeast and relied on it to keep them in business. The internet offers a whole world of brewing information at your fingertips. At the start, we had a small library with big books with big words, so it was more of a challenge.
GLB: Name one thing that you consistently tell new brewers/brewery owners that you’ve learnt/experienced along the way.
PB: Quality, quality, quality. Everything revolves around quality.
ML: Don’t take things too seriously. Beer is a serious business, but beer is meant to be fun. Beer is one of the greatest gifts humans have given themselves so work hard making it then enjoy it at the end of the day. Try and explore different parts of the industry because it’s pretty damn interesting and it attracts a lot of great people.
GLB: What will the next 30 years hold for you?
PB: We keep doing the same thing. Have fun, love lots, make and share beer with more and more people. Both Mike and I love beer and did before the brewery. We get along really well and are constantly making jokes and having fun. We’re the leaders of silliness on our brewery trips and we’re really looking forward to travelling around again!! Hopefully the next generation of Bulut’s will be joining the team full-time after university and the cycle repeats.
ML: Oh man, hope to stay healthy enough to continue enjoying fresh beer whenever the desire strikes.