Interview with Great Lakes Spirits

August 6, 2020

We have some great news to share with you. Great Lakes Brewery, under the name Great Lakes Spirits, is pleased to announce that we’ll be releasing a Gin Soda and Vodka Soda today on our online shop.

We’ve been busy since COVID hit our industry, not only with our brewing, home delivery, brand development, etc, but with getting licensed as a Distillery!

And we’re ready to share this exciting new chapter in our storied history with you. Please enjoy this in-house and in-depth interview with Peter Bulut (Owner, President) and Matt Bod (Distiller).

So, Great Lakes Spirits, eh? Tell us about this new chapter and why you wanted to do it.
PETER: My father always wanted to get into the Spirits business, but he focused his attention on building the brewery over the years and he wasn’t able to accomplish it before passing away in 2009. I remember all the talks we had about it, and it never left me. Around 2013 I visited some friends at Sly Fox Brewery in Pennsylvania who had partnered up with a local distillery and the flame ignited once again. I thought of Dad and started thinking about how I could make his dream a reality. Then, on a trip to Central City Brewing in 2015, Gary Lohin (Brewmaster) showed me his distilling set-up and took the time to chat extensively about it and the wheels started spinning. But, there was a lot of work to do at the brewery – we were growing fast and needed new tanks, a new canning line, the building needed updates and repairs – the distillery dreams were put back on the shelf for the time being.

Fast forward to the start of COVID. We were sitting on hundreds and hundreds of full kegs that we brought back from bars and restaurants and we needed to find an economical way to dispose of them. I remembered Muskoka Brewery once had a spare still for sale and a quick phone call to Todd Lewin (President) was made. Todd, in true craft beer fashion, told me to come pick it up and we’d work out payment details later (it’s now ours). Amazing right. We brought the still to the brewery, got approved to make hand sanitizer from Health Canada and spent the next 4-5 weeks dumping beer into the still to make hand sanitizer for front line workers. Then Matt Bod came onboard. He immediately started on recipe development for Gin and Vodka soda beverages, along with Gin and Vodka. He’s now working on a Whisky program.


How excited are you to be telling everyone about Great Lakes Spirits? 
PETER: Super stoked (yes, he said that). As you can tell from my previous answer, this was something that my father wanted to do and now doing it, well, it’s an amazing feeling. I feel like he was watching over us as we got this new part of GLB up and running. I’m extremely excited to see where Matt takes us with his recipes, his attention to detail, his methodical approach to ready to drink beverages. 

The first two drinks will be Gin Soda and Vodka Soda. Why these ones?
PETER: I like Gin and Tonic and Vodka sodas. Both of these beverages (Gin and Vodka) can be produced and sold fast, while others, like Whisky, take time (aging). I’m sure Matt will have excellent tasting notes to share… (see below)

Matt Bod is the Distiller – tell us about bringing him home to GLB
PETER: For the first 4-5 weeks, I was essentially living beside the still. With the exception of going home to sleep, I set up my office next to the still, did Zoom conference calls, held meetings with staff, etc., but I needed to get some help. In came Matt Bod. Matt has a long history with GLB (he started out in beer working on our packaging line many years ago), is a terrific brewer, has an amazing palate, is very analytical, and he came onboard to help out. He showed his potential and the rest was history. He’s now leading recipe development, procuring ingredients, leading tastings with staff and conducting many research and development batches. Expect the same level of skill and attention on this beverages that Matt put into the beers he brewed at Bar Hop. 

Welcome back to GLB, Matt. What is the process like for you in producing these ready to drink (cocktail) beverages?
MATT: We’re still kind of working it out! We’re using a high quality juice concentrate (eg the only ingredient in the key lime concentrate is key limes) which gets blended and recirculated in a small, purged tank with reverse osmosis water and a small amount of potassium sorbate. This then gets blended with the spirit, and more reverse osmosis water in a purged brite tank, which is then recirculated again with a diaphragm pump in order to make sure everything is fully homogenized. We then carbonate it and can it. 

The Gin Soda and Vodka Soda (ready to drink beverages) are being released now, what is the plan with them?
PETER: Both cans will be available to purchase alongside our beer on our online shop, in our retail store, and at certain bars and restaurants. Single cans (473ml) will retail for $3 each, 8 packs for $24, and $66 for a 24 case. The goal is to produce these year-round and eventually, when our taproom and patio re-open, customers will be able to enjoy them on tap. 

Tell us about the ingredients that you are using to produce these beverages.
MATT: We tasted a lot of RTDs that are currently on the market and our big takeaway was that (barring a couple notable exceptions) they are made with “natural flavouring” which to us, tasted anything but natural. We walked away from this experience determined, in keeping with GLB’s philosophy on brewing, to only use real ingredients in our RTDs. Our canned cocktails aren’t crystal clear for the same reason the water at home is no longer crystal clear after you squeeze a lemon into it. 

Can you provide the tasting notes for the Gin Soda and Vodka Soda.
MATT: Vodka Soda – aroma is like a bowl of fresh citrus, taste is like fresh squeezed lemonade without the sugar.

Gin Soda – aroma is botanical-forward with juniper, citrus zest and white pepper. Palate is thirst quenching with slight acidity from key lime juice and some gentle tannin from the juniper on the back end. 

Both have vibrant, spritzy carbonation to enhance their refreshing qualities on hot summer days. 

Describe the emotion your felt when you took your first sips of the Gin and Vodka sodas… and the test batches of Gin
PETER: Like angels dancing on my tongue. I was pretty emotional. The first sips made me instantly think that Matt made it taste like they were really easy to produce. He nailed the flavours, the body. The Gin Soda and Vodka Soda went through many R&D sessions, use real fruit juice and no artificial flavours, and the results are terrific. We have been able to accomplish a lot in a short period of time. 

Will there be straight up Gin coming one day? 
PETER: Yes. Eventually we’ll be coming out with Gin, in a large format package that will be available alongside our beer here in Etobicoke. We also have Whisky and Vodka in development as well.

What are you working on for future flavours?
MATT: Nothing right now for RTDs, although I do have some cool ideas – canned Negroni, Americano, Moscow Mule along with various gin fizz cocktails made with local fruit. We will also be working on releasing both a dry and contemporary gin, bitter aperitivo (with local herbs) and will be putting spirits into barrels to begin the aging process for whisky soon. Then working on soft drinks as well, including spicy ginger beer and traditional root beer with locally grown and foraged ingredients. 

Tell us about the still. 
PETER: Well, as mentioned, it came from our pals at Muskoka Brewery. Can’t thank them enough. The still itself is from Czech Republic and is a 300L pot still that also has a fermenter attached to it, primarily designed for distilling whole pieces of fruit – (fruit based alcohol). Great starting still for us. 

Any last words?
PETER: Come take a ride with us on this excellent new adventure!

MATT: I’m looking forward to building a very reputable portfolio of brands here at Great Lakes and I hope you all enjoy them!