Archive for November 2013

Caps, Corks and Forks 5: The results

November 24, 2013

As promised, here is the blow-by-blow account of the recent Caps, Corks & Forks dinner at Niagara College that pitted wine against beer.

This dinner highlights the skills of students from several programs at the college: Culinary students design and create a six-course dinner. Teams of beer and wine students choose what they believe to be the best beverage to accompany each dish.


Benchmark Restaurant being prepared for battle. Note the line of bottle caps and corks to be used for voting running down the centre of the table. The dark forested ridge seen through the windows is the Niagara Escarpment.

The battleground is The Benchmark, our beautiful campus restaurant nestled against the Niagara Escarpment. (The name is wordplay on the location — the shoulder of land just below the Escarpment is known as “the bench”. In addition, “nc” in “bench” happens to be the initials of Niagara College.)

During the dinner, the two culinary students who designed each dish are introduced and explain what it is and how it was made. Then one member of the Wine Team has two minutes to introduce the wine being paired with the dish, its history, the reason for the pairing etc. Likewise a member of the Beer Team explains the choice of beer. As the diners eat and drink, members of each team come to your table and try to convince you of the righteousness of their selection. The 80 diners then vote which beverage pairs better with the food by dropping either a cap (beer) or a cork (wine) into a bucket at the end of each course. The winner of each course is then announced and we move on to the next course.  Whichever team wins the most courses is declared the champion.

The rules of combat are quite simple:

  1. All beer and wine chosen for the dinner must be made in Ontario.
  2. Rather than selecting a commercial beer, 2nd-year Brewmaster students have the option of brewing their own beer for one of the courses. (However, it wasn’t an option for this dinner, since the Teaching Brewery had been shut down while undergoing expansion.)
  3. No beer or wine can cost more than $35 per bottle. (This rule was obviously put in place for the wine team, since the infection of ridiculously overpriced wine seems to have drifted across the Atlantic from France. I mean, seriously people, it’s fermented grape juice.)
  4. If there’s a 3-3 tie at the end of the dinner, then total votes for all six courses determine the winner.

There are two of these dinners each academic year, in November and February; I was actually a member of the Beer Team at the first such dinner two years ago — we tied 3-3 after six courses but lost the tiebreaker. There have been three more dinners since then, all of them also ending in a 3-3 tie, with Wine winning twice and Beer winning once. (So total wins to this point have been Wine 3, Beer 1).

Now I was back, but this time as the coach of the Beer Team, merely a spectator as the evening unfolded. Here’s how it went down:

Chef Michael Smith

Chef Michael Smith

The emcee for the evening was Chef Michael Smith, one of Canada’s most well-known and popular “foodies” due to his many appearances on the Food Network. I often wondered why he always seemed to meet such short people on his shows; it turns out that they are not short, but rather that Chef Michael is very tall — easily topping 2 m (6’8”). In conversation, he is instantly likeable, with a disarming smile and a friendly word for everyone. He was clearly at ease as he spoke to the crowd between courses.

The two teams presented an interesting contrast in style. The Wine Team were in matching burgundy vests and ties, with black pants. The Beer Team opted to go with a more casual look: plaid shirts and jeans.

First course: Amuse bouche


Tofu with Asian mustard dressing

The dish: Tofu rolled in spices then deep fried and served with an Asian mustard dressing

The wine: Henry of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Rosé with a dash of raspberry purée

The beer: Mill St. Belgian Wit (presented by 2nd-year student Asuka Nogami)

Beer Team strategy: This was a delicate dish. The spices, although evident, were not overwhelming, and the mustard was likewise more about taste than heat. Asuka felt Mill St.’s wit, with its spicy notes of coriander and orange peel, would compliment the spices of the dish, but the light body of the beer and high carbonation would lift the food without overwhelming the flavour. She also wanted to avoid starting the evening with a  bigger beer that might dull our palates.

My opinion: The wine contrasted the spiciness with a sweet tartness. The wit matched spice for spice. This was an interesting difference in approach: contrast versus complement. (As a bit of background, I should mention that the wine that the Wine Team ordered for this course did not arrive, and they were forced to make a last-minute subsitution.) In the end, I thought the beer played well with the food, while the wine put up a bit of a fight.

Winner: Beer (Beer 1, Wine 0)

Second course: Appetizer


Pork pate with quail eggs and pickled beets

The dish: Country pork pate with quail eggs, crispy pig ears and pickled preserves

The wine: Thirty Bench Riesling 2012

The beer: Indie Ale House Rye So Sour (presented by 2nd-year student Steve Herold)

Beer Team strategy: The pate was very fatty, and Steve wanted a sour beer so it would both cleanse the palate with its acidity and match the sourness of the pickled preserves.

My opinion: The Riesling also had a high acidity in order to cut through the fat of the pate. The pickled preserves that had been so sour during our taste trials seemed to be less pickled for the dinner, so the match of sour beer to them was not as apparent. Although I voted for beer, I had to hand it to the Wine Team, the Riesling was an excellent choice.

Winner: Wine (Beer 1, Wine 1)

Third course: Soup


Roasted chestnut soup with aged cheddar and foie gras

The dish: Roasted chestnut soup with aged cheddar and foie gras

The wine: Niagara College Dean’s List Chardonnay 2010

The beer: Black Oak Nut Brown Ale (presented by 1st-year student Matt Soos)

Beer Team strategy:This is a heavy, thick soup, with a high fat content and a robust nuttiness. Matt liked the way that Black Oak’s multiple-award-winning Nut Brown Ale had enough body not to be overwhelmed, had a high carbonation that cut through the fattiness to cleanse the palate, and a nuttiness to match the soup.

My opinion: During my summer at Black Oak, I helped to package many thousands of bottles of Nut Brown Ale, and I actually recommended the Nut Brown Ale to Matt. I tried to keep an open mind as I tasted a very familiar beer. Although the Chardonnay accentuated the nuttiness of the soup, it was itself diminished by the soup. The Nut Brown Ale, on the other hand, went hand-in-hand with the soup, the two making a whole that was greater than the sum of the parts.

Winner: Beer (Beer 2, Wine 1)

Fourth course: Seafood

The dish: Pan seared sea scallops with spicy Indian carrot relish and coconut curry sauce

The wine: Peller Estates Ice Cuvée Rosé

The beer: Cameron’s Rye Pale Ale (presented by 1st-year student Hannah Lee)

Beer Team strategy: During our preparatory food tastings, the carrot relish and curry were both very spicy hot. India pale ale is the usual go-to for curry dishes — its sweet backbone ameliorates the spiciness and its bitterness is big enough to go toe-to-toe with the curry. Hannah felt that the spicy notes provided by the rye in Cameron’s Rye P.A. would further compliment the dish.

My opinion: The hot spiciness we had tasted during prep was greatly throttled back this evening. (Following the course, Chef Michael Smith opined that he had wanted the dish to be much hotter.) Of course, that’s part of the human element that comes into play at these events. The result was that the Rye P.A. was too big and bitter for the curry, while the wine, which I believe would have been vanquished by the heat had the curry been as hot as originally presented, was actually quite a good match.

Winner: Wine (Beer 2, Wine 2)

Fifth course: Meat

Meat dish

Ontario Lamb Wellington

The dish: Ontario Lamb Wellington wrapped in puff pastry, with cauliflower purée, chanterelles, heirloom carrots and mint jus

The wine: Malivoire Albert’s Honour Old Vines Foch 2010

The beer: Niagara Oast House Biére de Garde (presented by 1st-year student Drew Simon)

Beer Team strategy: Drew looked for a beer that would complement this simple yet hearty fare. Biére de garde was developed centuries ago on the farms of northern France, brewed in the winter and spring, then stored in root cellars until the hot days of summer — hence it’s name, which translates as “stored beer”. Its zesty carbonation from secondary bottle fermentation and the use of Belgian yeasts to provide a spiciness to the taste make for a thirst-quenching beverage, and one that was designed for the hearty meals of the farmhouse dinner table.

My opinion: The Niagara Oast House brewmaster, Kevin Somerville, was present, so kudos to Drew for asking him to stand and be acknowledged. This was the first time most of the diners had tasted a biére de garde, and I believe many of them were truly startled by its effervescent yet spicy flavour. The wine was also outstanding, a big fruity red that also went well with the dish. Many diners at our table were torn over how to vote. I myself could have voted either way on this one, and I believe the overall vote was probably fairly close.

Winner: Beer (Beer 3, Wine 2)

Sixth course: Dessert


Tiramisu with ale-soaked lady fingers and an ice wine reduction

The dish: Tiramisu of mascarpone mousseline layered with stout-soaked lady fingers, accompanied by an ice wine reduction

(Dessert was plated at the front of the restaurant so that diners could see how the two students — Rebekka Schmidt and Melanie Williams — worked together to create the beautiful dish.)

The wine: Southbrook Whimsy! The Anniversary

The beer: Nickel Brook Bolshevik Bastard Russian Imperial Stout (presented by 1st-year student Phil Craig)

Beer Team strategy: If you have finished an Italian meal with tiramisu,  you probably also ordered coffee or cappuccino to accompany it. Phil — who works for Nickel Brook part-time and is very familiar with Bolshevik Bastard — believed this beer’s chocolate and coffee notes would end the meal in a similar fashion.

My opinion: Wow. This was the perfect beer to pair with this dessert. The beer’s heavy body contrasted with the mousseline’s light texture, the chocolate notes of the beer played with the same notes in the stout-soaked ladyfingers, and the coffee flavours of the beer reminded everyone of that cup of cappuccino they might have ordered to go with this. I would be hard-pressed to think of any wine that would be able to match such a pairing.

Winner: Beer (Beer 4, Wine 2)


Chef Michael Smith presents the Beer Team with the trophy. (L to R): Hannah, Matt, Asuka, Steve, Chef Michael, Drew, Phil.

Woo-hoo! We not only won the dinner, but this was the first time any team had won a majority of the courses outright.

What’s next? For me, it’s back to the drawing board right away —  Caps, Corks & Forks #6 is on February 6, and due to the Christmas Break, I need to put together another Beer Team pronto so we’re all ready for action in the New Year. (The demand to be on the Beer Team is so high that each Brewmaster student can only participate in one dinner — hence the need for a new team for every dinner.)

If you are interested in being one of the 80 diners on February 6, the cost is $79 (taxes and gratuity included). But you’ll want to contact the Benchmark right away — it’s always a sell-out and many of the diners order their tickets several months in advance!

Beer and food pairing: What would you choose?

November 20, 2013

Hey kids, it’s time to play “Match a Beer to the Food”! It’s easy! I’ll give you a fancy-schmancy dish, you choose any Ontario beer to go with it. And to make it seem more realistic, I’ll use the actual menu for the “Caps, Corks & Forks” dinner happening this week. Yep, it’s the dinner that pits wine against beer — which pairs better with each course?

(Long time readers might remember that two years ago, I was a member of the Beer Team at the inaugural Caps, Corks & Forks dinner. Now I’m staff support for the Beer Team at the fifth such dinner.)

Ready? Let’s get started! Which Ontario beer would you choose for each course?:

Amuse Bouche: Tofu cubes rolled in spices then deep fried and served on an Asian mustard dressing

Appetizer: Coarse pork pate on a bed of pickled beets

Soup: Roasted chestnut and cheddar soup with cubes of foie gras, garnished with bitter celeriac

Fish: Pan seared sea scallops with spicy Indian carrot relish and coconut curry sauce

Meat: Lamb Wellington wrapped in puff pastry, with cauliflower puree, chanterelles, heirloom carrots and mint jus

Dessert: Tiramisu — mascarpone mousseline layered with ale-soaked lady fingers

In two days, I’ll reveal what the Beer Team chose, and how they fared against the Wine Team.

Food and beer dinner: Goose Island

November 19, 2013

The Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) is one of the largest purchasers of alcoholic beverages in the world, but sometimes even they can only get their hands on a few cases of the rarer vintages. Occasionally these exceptional products never even make it to a store shelf; instead, the LCBO holds a special (rather expensive) dinner for their favourite customers featuring good food and rare vintages of wine, where the diners are given a single opportunity to order bottles of the wine they are tasting.

Up until now, these dinners have only been held for rare wines. This past week for the first time, the LCBO put on a Vintages dinner for beer, specifically Goose Island beers.

Goose Island was a well-respected craft brewery in Chicago, perhaps best known for Honkers Ale, a tasty well-balanced amber ale. I use the phrase “well-respected” in the past tense because in March 2011, founder John Hall announced that he had sold a majority share of his brewery to Anheuser-Busch, a major component of the brewing giant AB Inbev. Although the move gave Hall the capital he needed to increase production, most of the craft beer community has since turned their backs on Goose Island, believing that the Goose has waddled over to the Dark Side. According to the Brewers Association, Goose Island is no longer considered a craft brewer since it is owned by another brewery, which is a no-no according to their guidelines. This, of course, has instigated a fiery war of words over what constitutes a craft brewery. While the battles rage, Goose Island blithely continues to brew the beers they were brewing before the takeover.

Goose Island entered the Ontario market for the first time last year with the introduction of “Sofie”, a Belgian style farmhouse ale, and “Mathilda”, a Belgian style pale ale.

More recently the LCBO obtained a very limited number of bottles of two other Goose Island Belgian style beers, Pepe Negro and Pere Jacques, and rather than send them to some stores, it decided to distribute them via the aforementioned Vintages-style dinner.

Now, considering it was $125 to get in the door, you wouldn’t normally see me at one of these events. However, as a representative of the Brewmaster program, I received a pair of complimentary tickets from Labatt, and how often do I get to take Elaine on a date to Nota Bene, a très chic restaurant in downtown Toronto?

AB Inbev, which now owns Goose Island, is a conglomeration of many breweries around the world, including Canada’s Labatt. Since that makes Labatt and Goose Island kissing cousins, Labatt had a strong presence at the dinner. The crowd was an interesting mixture of beer lovers, beer scribes, friends of Labatt, and some high-powered guests.

In the end though, we were all there to taste the beer, and Goose Island did not disappoint.

The first course, an appetizer of black cod with a citrus vinaigrette, was accompanied by Sofie, the Belgian farmhouse ale already available in Ontario. Our hostess for the evening, a Certified Cicerone from Goose Island, shared with us that Sophie was named for John Hall’s first granddaughter when she turned 10. This is a lighter beer, both in terms of body and colour, with a subtly spicy nose and a slight citrussy pepperiness that contrasted nicely with the rich oiliness of the cod. I think that Sofie would also pair well with salads and soft cheeses.

The second course was suckling pig jowl, fried until it resembled very crisp bacon, on a salad of Brussel sprouts, apple and kimchi. The beer paired with this was Mathilda, a Belgian pale ale, and the other Goose Island offering available in Ontario. Mathilda was not named after another grandchild, but after the woman who founded Abbaye Notre-Dame d’Orval in the 10th century. (Apparently Mathilda dropped her wedding ring in a river, but recovered it when a trout surfaced with the ring in its mouth. She was so thankful that she funded the building of the monastery, now where the famous trappist beer Orval is brewed.)

Ironically, Belgian pale ale only dates back to the end of the Second World War (unlike farmhouse ale, an historic style that can be traced back through the centuries to those medieval times when trout retrieved wedding rings and monasteries were founded.) The recipe for pale ale was brought to Belgium by British soldiers, but Belgian brewers fermented the beer with native Belgian yeasts that added a spiciness to the otherwise familiar fruity aromas and caramel flavours. Goose Island goes one step further, giving Mathilda a secondary fermentation with brettanomyces, the wild yeast that imparts sour and further spicy notes. Overall this pairing worked — the rich caramel notes contrasted well with the saltiness of the pork, while the spiciness imparted by the brett stood up to the heat of the kimchi.

The third course was a very rare piece of rib steak. The beer chosen was Pepe Nero, another farmhouse ale with exactly the same recipe and fermentation process as Sofie except that a small amount of chocolate malt and black patent malt are added to the grist bill. This not only adds the much darker colour and rich roasty notes one would expect, but also accentuates the black peppercorn aspects that are only hinted at in Sofie. (“Pepe nero” is Italian for “black pepper”.) Needless to say, this was a great match for the steak, and would be a good accompaniment for any grilled meat course.

Dessert was pecan pie and bourbon infused maple ice cream. The beer paired with it was Pere Jacques, a strong (8.7 % abv) Belgian style abbey ale, with a nose of brown sugar, raisin and plums. Although the taste and finish are also on the sweet side, I didn’t think it was a good pairing for the rich dessert. Belgian yeasts tend to eat some of the sugars that otherwise give other big beers like stouts some body and sweetness, resulting in a thinner body than one would expect; the yeast also throws off some spicy notes which don’t tend to play well with sweet foods. Rather than pecan pie or ice cream, I would have preferred to try this beer with a selection of cheeses. Excellent dessert, excellent beer, but I think the marriage of the two was forced.

Although neither Pepe Nero or Pere Jacques are available in Ontario, an order form placed strategically beside each plate gave us all a one-time opportunity to order some.

And then just when we thought dinner was over, we were told that there was one more offering — a small sample of Goose Island’s much lauded Bourbon County Imperial Stout. This magical elixir, aged for 12 to 14 months in bourbon barrels, was first brewed in 1992 to commemorate Goose Island’s 1,000th batch of beer. Twenty years later, it is now rated one of the top 5 beers of the world on the user-driven RateBeer website. The intense nose of this black beer speaks of vanilla, bourbon and booze. The taste is likewise intense — roasted, charred notes nimbly intertwining with the sweet booziness of bourbon. The mouthfeel is heavy, oily and viscous, the finish long and sweet. This was the beer that should have been paired with dessert — or perhaps not, since it demands the entire stage for its soliloqy. (It was a bit too intense for Elaine, so I gallantly offered to drink her sample, an act I regretted the next morning.)

All in all, a very enjoyable evening — incredible food from Nota Bene, and a very pleasant wander through some Goose Island offerings. Others may argue about Goose Island’s corporate management, but clearly their brewers are just getting the job done with some classy takes on some classic styles.

OCB Conference, Part 4: Beer Weeks and Beer Glasses

November 6, 2013

Afternoon sessions at the OCB conference.

Session 4:

  1. New Canadian Malting Barley Breeding and Innovation Science Cluster, Implications for Craft Brewers and Supply-Chain Management: Managing Your Raw Materials over The Next Three Years
  2. How to Start to Do Business with The Beer Store
  3. Interprovincial Export
  4. Craft Beer Weeks: Insights & Strategies

I am an organizer by nature, so listening to organizers talk about how to organize beer events proved to be irresistible. The panel consisted of Cass Enright ( and Troy Burtch, two of the organizers of Toronto Beer Week; J.P.Fournier, organizer of National Capital Beer Week in Ottawa and Anetta Jewell, one of the organizers of Ontario Craft Beer Week.

Rather than trying to analyse each speaker, here are the important points of organizing your own beer week:

  • Have a mission statement. Give your efforts some focus. What are you trying to accomplish?
  • Consider having some sort of printed material. Toronto Beer Week now has a “passport” listing the names of participating bars (that includes ads from breweries and bars, of  course.)
  • Social media. Do we have to say this? Website. Twitter feed. Facebook page. Pinterest. Just do it.
  • Invite the media. If you don’t know how to write a media release, learn. Find out who the media people are in your area and get in touch.
  • Help the media to help you. But don’t depend just on reporters or the regular beer columnists. Widen your scope: Contact bloggers, food & drink editors, etc.
  • There are advantages to keeping the date generic. Ontario Craft Beer Week starts on Father’s Day each year — this means they can recycle glassware and posters from year to year, since the start date doesn’t change
  • Municipal government: Getting the city on-side is essential, so have your numbers ready. What economic impact will your event have on the city? How many festival-goers will you draw? Outside of beer, how much money will they spend on food, shopping and hotels?
  • Engage the beer community: Get homebrew clubs and beer lover groups involved. Plan events that will help local breweries show off.
  • Keep it fun. Beer drinkers are fun. If you want serious, organize a wine festival.
  • Be patient. Every panellist said an event can take three years to find its feet.

Session 5:

  1. Ins & Outs of Craft Beer Export to the U.S.
  2. Taste & Aroma: Craft Beer Glassware Workshop and Tasting
  3. Understanding Malt: The Soul of Beer
  4. On-Premise Draught Quality

Only one session featured beer tasting, so was there any question which one I would choose? Giulio Accardi and Frank Vechiarelli of Brand Concepts talked to us about glassware. The most important thing is to match shape to style by choosing glassware that brings forward the appearance, aroma or taste that the brewer wants. Of course Belgium has turned this into a national obsession — there are some Belgian bars that will not serve a particular beer if they don’t have the proper glassware in stock. For example, the tall, thin-walled pilsner glass promotes the delicate colour and fluffy head of the Bohemian pilsner. The tulip glass concentrates vapours and therefore promotes aroma.

Glasses are expensive, so take bar owners have to treat their glassware properly:

  • Never take a glass right out of the dishwasher and fill it with cold beer. The result is usually a fractured glass
  • On the other hand, don’t store glasses in the freezer — they are more fragile, and the frost that forms will dilute beer poured into it
  • Don’t stack glasses: stacking causes micro-nicks that can cause overcarbonation due to more nucleation sites, and can cause the glass to eventually break. Instead of stacking, store them upside down on a tray then put another tray on top of those glasses to start another layer.
  • Don’t use beer glasses for pop or milk — the residues can interfere with beer head formation.

Now, what if you’re a brewer and you want to get your logo on some glasses? Lead paints have been used to provide bright colours on glass since Roman times; however, we now realize that lead is dangerous, and there are currently several much healthier options:

Decorators have developed unleaded paints that are fired at high temperatures to cure. They are very durable, but some of the colours are not very bright,

A new technology is UV colour: a plastic design  is applied to the glass and then cured with UV light. On the plus side, it has a full range of brilliant Pantone colours including bright silver, (but not gold), and contains no heavy metals. However it is scratchable, and has long-term durability issues.

Or there is the thermo-chromatic decoration — paint that changes colour with response to temperature. It can be cute watching your design change as the beer cools down the glass, but the number of colours are limited.

You could add metallic gold highlights using a thin micro-layer of real gold, or metallic silver highlights, which are actually white gold, not actual silver, but dishwashers are hard on the metal.

Then there are custom molded glasses embossed with a design. Wow, expensive. The mold alone costs $50,000 to create, with a minimum run of 80,000 glasses.

How about the laser-etched logo in the bottom of the glass? Just make sure not to overdo it — the etching creates nucleation sites, so a large logo can result in overproduction of foam.

Finally, we took a single beer — it happened to be Great Lakes Crazy Canuck, a bitter northwest style pale ale with a piney nose — and poured it into three different glasses: a traditional shaker pint, a tulip glass and a thin-walled pilsner glass. It was surprising how much of a difference the shape of the glass made to both the aroma and the taste. The aroma was intensified by the tulip glass, while the pilsner glass seemed to provide more flavour and mouthfeel. The important point was that the shaker pint glass — the one in which most of our beer is served — came in a poor third in both categories

Final session: The Pioneers

All attendees got back together for the final session, a discussion of the early days of craft brewing in Ontario with Jim Brickman (Brick Brewing, the first microbrewery in Ontario, 1984) and John Wiggins (Creemore Springs, 1987). There were a lot of great stories; my notes consist of some quotable quotes:

  • “It pays to be dumb.” — Wiggins, when asked if he would’ve opened a brewery if he had known all of the problems he would face.
  • “My tactic was to not let them have the beer.” — Wiggins, explaining his strategy of refusing to sell beer to bars that approached him, in order to increase demand for his product, while also ensuring that he didn’t have to drive all over Ontario to deliver beer.
  • “Beer is a myth in the mind of the consumer.” — Wiggins, saying that the brewer must give consumers a story about the beer, and create a myth in the minds of licensees.
  • “Craft beer has to maintain quality in order to maintain an edge of authenticity.” — Brickman, explaining what craft beer must do to continue its high rate of growth

And that was the end of the conference. All in all, a day full of positive energy, as well as useful marketing and business insights for craft brewers in Ontario. I’ll be back next year.

OCB Conference, Part 3: The Breakout Sessions

November 3, 2013

The next part of the OCB Conference featured three timeslots where each offered a choice of several topics.

Session 3:

  1. Sustainable Solutions for the Craft Brewing Industry
  2. How to start to do business with the LCBO
  3. Managing Employee Health and Saftey
  4. Current updates in kegs and kegging systems

I have always had an interest in how the brewing industry, with its high water and energy usage, can lower its ecological footprint — my faux business plan in first-year Brewmaster featured a “green” brewery — so I picked topic #1. The panel consisted of Sybil Taylor of Steam Whistle, Steve Beauchesne of Beau’s, Steve Abrams of Mill St. and was moderated by Anthony Santilli of Bullfrog Power. The session covered how these breweries have approached the issues of water, energy, waste, purchasing, and social enterprise.


Sybil Taylor pointed out that Europe, which has markedly fewer sources of fresh water than Canada, designs its brewing equipment to save water. Currently Steam Whistle uses a European vapor condensation system that not only saves 2.5 million litres of water annually, but also cuts down on the amount of energy needed to heat water. The annual savings work out to be about $47,000 for heat + $20,000 for water + $11,000 for lower waste water charges from the city = $75,000 in savings.

Mill St. recycles CIP (clean in place) water. This lowers their water usage, effluent discharge and caustic usage, and the water can be reused in other functions


When Beau’s had an energy audit done, it showed that their cooler and air compressor were wasting a lot of energy, and that they could accomplish major savings by just doing the “boring stuff”: closing the cooler door (!), replacing the compressor, replacing old lights with more efficent modern fixtures, and adding weatherstripping to the building. This “boring stuff” resulted in an incredible 50% savings in energy consumption.

Mill St. installed a free air system — on winter days, the system draws cold air from outside to cool the cooler, rather than running a compressor.

Steam Whistle switched their trucks to bio-diesel, switched to green energy from Bullfrog Power (whose electricity is generated from 60% hydroelectricity and 40% wind), and uses an Enwave “deep lake cooling” system (cold water drawn from deeper depths of Lake Ontario) to cool their building in the summer.


Mill St. was using biodegradable pallet wrap, but had to discontinue because they couldn’t source enough of it.

After a waste audit showed that too much organic and recyclable waste was ending up in the landfill waste, Steam Whistle educated its employees about waste sorting. It also sells recyclables such as spent grain. (Most breweries give it away to farmers.) Sybil Taylor believes growth will bring about new opportunities for waste diversion.

Of course, both Steam Whistle and Mill St. are located in major Canadian metropolises, where the infrastructuire for waste diversion is already in place. But Beau’s is in tiny Vankleek Hill, about an hour east of Ottawa. The brewery struggles to divert waste from landfill since there are no recycling or composting services — they have had to search out recycling companies who can take their cardboard, glass, etc.


Mill St., whose “rent beer” is its Organic Lager, used to have to buy certified organic barley and ship it to an American maltster. Now they are able to get certified organic grain from a Saskatchewan source. They also use phosphorus-free cleaners.

Beau’s has the same issue — except ALL their beers are certified organic. Requiring certified organic products can actually increase Beau’s ecological footprint: if they know of a local product that is grown organically but is not certified as such, and they also know of a foreign source of the same product that is organically certified, then they must order the foreign product. To avoid this, Beau’s encourages local farmers to switch to organic farming and then become certified. They offer a premium for locally produced certified products, and help farmers achieve certification. For instance, when they were sourcing bog myrtle to add to a beer, they found a local source that was not certified, and a European source that was. Rather than having the bog myrtle shipped all the way from Europe, they helped the local supplier to become certified organic.

Steam Whistle uses GMO-free malt. In addition, they ensure that their t-shirts are made sweatshop-free in Canada of organic cotton. In their office, their printers are set to a default of two-sided printing. All computers and printers are set to auto-shut off after a few minutes. And they were so successful at switching completely to electronic reports and invoicing that their auditors told them they had to generate SOME paperwork in order to produce a traceable paper trail.

Social Enterprise:

Steam Whistle uses employee engagement to generate more ideas. All staff were invited to join an environmental committee, and the first meeting generated a hundred ideas. For example, how long should delivery trucks idle, or what is the best recycled paper? The committee followed up each of these by researching solutions, communicating their ideas and training the other staff. Environmental responsibility is now a part of every job description at Steam Whistle.

Mill St. has made partnerships, such as Earth Day Canada, believing that the beer industry has the power to leverage change because of the social acceptance of beer.

Bea’s believes that “beer tastes better when you feel good about drinking it. They have just become the first Canadian brewery to become a certified “Benefit Corporation” (or “B-Corp”): a for-profit company that considers benefit to community and the environment in business decision-making processes, instead of simply maximizing profit for shareholders. This means, in part, continuing with the types of partnerships with local programs that deal with local concerns. For instance, Beau’s has an on-line order and delivery service in the Ottawa area that uses as its drivers homeless youth paired with a social worker.

All of the ideas presented in this session would not only be good for the environment and local community, but would also be highly marketable. My only regret was that a lot of other attendees were in other sessions. Everyone — brewers, marketing people, suppliers — should have had a chance to hear the the ideas and feel the positive karma from this panel.


Next: How to organize a Beer Week; and how to choose your beer glassware.

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