Great Lakes Lake Effect vs Bellwoods Cat Lady

So here starts the head-to-head battles between beers.  Before I address the two contenders, let me make something clear:  The four breweries involved are absolutely top brewers in Toronto.  None of these matches are likely to be landslide victories.  In fact, I expect to have trouble picking winners.  Mike and the folks at Great Lakes just won Best Brewery in Canada at the Canadian Brewing Awards.  Iain and his team at Amsterdam (at both breweries) are turning out some amazingly innovative beers, especially around their barrel program.  Mike, Luke and the crew at Bellwoods are also innovating and playing with barrels, wild yeasts, aging on fruits and more.  When I needed some brettanomyces yeast, it was Luke who was like “yeah, we’ve got a 5 gallon carboy starter going, come on over and we’ll draw you off a few hundred ml”.  Jason and Jeff at Indie are not only making incredible beer in a neighbourhood that only ditched prohibition around 15 years ago, but they are engaging with home-brewers, partnering with other breweries, and generally sticking their fingers in nearly every pie with wonderful success.  Over-all, I’m even just realizing that a few months ago Great Lakes and Amsterdam had their Maverick and Gose at the LCBO, and when I was at Indie last week, they had a beer on tap that they made with Bellwoods, called (if I recall) “Tommy Likey”.  These guys are all friends. Indie, Amserdam and Great Lakes were all involved with the Niambic project.  That I’m even putting these beers against each other is a bit silly.  But there it is.

So, Great Lakes Lake Effect IPA was an occasional one-off that Mike made at least two times that I know of, maybe more.  It is now one of Great Lakes’ Tank Ten series, which are basically successful pilot batches that Mike (and others) make on the small system, scaled-up to full batch size.  Bellwoods Cat Lady IPA is a new addition to their bottle shop, alongside their awesome Roman Candle IPA.  I’m not sure if it will become a regular fixture, but it’s at the brewery now, so go check it out!

Great Lakes Lake Effect IPA vs Bellwoods Cat Lady IPA

Great Lakes Lake Effect IPA vs Bellwoods Cat Lady IPA

Round One

Appearance & Aroma

From a 500ml stock Bellwoods bottle, Cat Lady IPA pours a slightly hazy amber/gold, with a dense 2″ head that dropped to a fairly thick layer of foam and left lots of lace on the glass.  Aroma is immediately funky and citrusy.  Grapefruit, just a little dank.  There is some evergreen in there too, almost spruce.  It’s earthy as well, though the sharp citrusy hops are the main event.  Some grainy malts are there, but you need to pay attention to get them (or at least, I did) as the hops are so tantalizing.

From a 650ml Great Lakes Tank Ten bottle, designed by Garnet and Fabian, Lake Effect IPA also pours a hazy amber/gold, though it’s a bit more hazy.  They are nearly identical, actually.  Dense 2″ of head also dropped to a dense layer and left a lot of lace.  Though Lake Effect seems to be benefitting from the nucleation point in the Spiegelau IPA glass more, and it is holding more head longer.  Aroma is also citrusy, but with more balance with the piney evergreen hops.  It’s resinous and lemony.  Strangely, the malts smell nearly the same too, sweet and a little grainy, but I’m so excited by the hops that it takes focus to pick them up.

Going to the judges: both beers fought well this round, but Lake Effect gets the edge, as I like hazy beers slightly more than clear ones.  It was a very close round though.

Round Two, Fight!


Cat Lady immediately has a lovely sweet hit of malts on the front of the tongue. Initially, the hops are funky and dank, with a bit of citrus.  They become quite citrus-peel and evergreen towards the back of the palate, and dry out hard on the finish, resinous and nearly squeaky on your teeth.  There is also a slightly spicy hit at the end, showing a touch of ginger, which combines with the grapefruit peel remarkably well.  While clearly an American-style IPA, the balance is even-handed, and the big hops are kept in check by that pleasant sweet malt that pops up at the front of every sip.

Lake Effect has a mellow sweetness across the palate that is less easy to define as malts, but which provides a good foundation for the hops.  These show lots of tropical fruits and evergreens, like the aroma.  There is lemon and grapefruit, but also lychee and maybe even pear.  The evergreen is bracing and piney, sharp and earthy, and quite resinous.  I’m not sure if the finish is less aggressively dry than Cat Lady, or if it’s bitingly dry across that palate and is in roughly the same range.

The judges give this round as a draw.  Both show more depth and complexity in the hops.  The Lake Effect seems to give some interesting fruits that I wasn’t expecting, while the Cat Lady has a more step-by-step taste that changes, and that touch of ginger on the finish is lovely.

Round Three, Finish HIM (okay, I know that quote is from Mortal Kombat, and it wasn’t for round three, it was for when you defeated your opponent in the final round of the match, but whatever. Also, you’re welcome; I just saved the gamers out there two minutes and seventeen seconds writing an angry email).


Both of these beers are big American-style IPAs.  Both show huge hop depth and complexity.  I find the Lake Effect shows it’s tastes all at once, and you can mentally pick out each element.  Cat Lady shows different tastes on different parts of your palate.  Both have medium weight on the palate, and decent carbonation, though Lake Effect is notable more prickly.  While that difference is totally preferential, for me — probably because I drink so much cask beer — I prefer the mouthfeel of the Cat Lady [insert immature sexual joke here].  The finish on the Cat Lady is a bit more funky and dank, and with more resin, while the Lake Effect finishes more piney and with hits of citrus peel and tropical fruit.  The question of victory becomes what I’m doing with the beer and while drinking it.  I would take Cat Lady for pairing with cheeses or relaxing with a book and having one or two bottles.  Lake Effect would do better in the usual IPA role of pairing with spicy Indian curries or Thai food, particularly the latter with the hits of tropicals.  I also would prefer it when drinking five pints while sitting at the bar arguing politics or whether or not Han shot first.  Both are ridiculously good.  Over-all, I think I give the edge to Lake Effect on the simple grounds that I would drink it on a tear at the bar and also reflectively at home, but it’s a close thing.

Final Scores

Well, like I said, it’s a very close thing, but I give the win to Lake Effect.  The really good news, is now I get to drink them both!  The reality with this call, is that if you like your American-style IPAs big and aggressive, both of these beers are right up your alley.  Get them both. Stage your own fight.  I bet that in a lot of cases, Cat Lady will edge-out Lake Effect.  These are top-notch IPAs.

Cheers to Mike, Luke and the crew at Bellwoods and Mike and his team at Great Lakes!

Buy These Beers

Cat Lady is easy, you can get it on tap at Bellwoods, in their retail store, and possible at a very few select bars around Toronto. Lake Effect is  at the LCBO right now (#353920) and in Great Lakes retail shop, and likely also at select bars around Toronto.

Drink Them With

Well, like I noted, I would pair the Cat Lady with a nice funky cheese.  Go to a farmer’s market that my pals at Monforte Diary will be at, and ask them for something funky, sharp, maybe even a little blue.  For Lake Effect, grab a take-out sizzler platter from Lahore Tikka House in Little India (and Pakistan) and indulge in spicy sodium heaven.

About the Breweries

Great Lakes

Great Lakes Brewery LogoIndependently owned by the Bulut family, we produce our beer as it was done hundreds of years ago by using an open fire, copper brew house built in Germany in the early 1900’s.

Our small-batch brewing process allows us to carefully blend only the finest all natural ingredients to produce our award-winning beers. Our water, hops, malts and yeast are selected from local producers and those afar on the basis of but one criteria; quality.

Bellwoods Brewery

Bellwoods Brewery, located at 134 Ossington is one of the newest, hippest breweries in Toronto.  Luke and Mike combine to make some of the most progressive exciting beers in the city, which are served mainly at the brewpub, to a lesser extent at great beer bars, and occasionally at their pop-up retail store next door.  Drop by to give them a try, or check their website at



  1. Posted November 12, 2013 at 10:34 pm | Permalink

    Hey there! Coincidentally, I’ve just done the same taste test at home and I ~think~ I agree with you although it’s 6 to one, half dozen the other. Cat Lady has the more distinctive ‘Bellwoods’ flavour and is heartier, while the Lake Effect is just very pleasant and easy to drink. You can’t go wrong with either and it might depend on your mood or the weather or any other variable. Either way it’s great to have both to enjoy!!!!

  2. chris
    Posted November 12, 2013 at 10:44 pm | Permalink

    Andy, totally, it’s hard to pick one over the other. They are both unique, but saying one is “better” than the other is a bit silly. I say, get them both!

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