Archive for February 2014

MBAC 100th Anniversary Conference: Part 3

February 24, 2014

Still at the 100th Anniversary Technical Conference of the MBAC. With fermentation and history finished, it was time to move on to filtration.

Beer Haze & Colloidal Stability (Karl Sibert, Professor of Biochemistry, Cornell University)

If you’ve left beer in your fridge a long time, you know that eventually the beer will start to get hazy. First the haze only appears when the beer is cold but then disappears when the beer warms up — the classic “chill haze”. Leave that beer for a while and the haze becomes permanent, regardless of temperature. There is no way to prevent this increasing haziness other than by reducing the amount of haze-causing (or “haze-active”) particles in the beer before you bottle it.

As Professor Sibert explained — this was actually a reiteration of material we had covered in several classes of the Brewmaster program — hazes are caused by protein-polyphenol complexes that start as tiny particles but gradually clump together into larger and larger particles. Protein particles are hordein, which is found in barley (and for wheat beers, from a protein called gliadin.)

Dr. Siebert’s research shows that since haze-active proteins and haze-active polyphenols combine to create haze, it follows that reducing haze-active proteins by 50% should reduce haze by the same amount.

He also suggested that silica gel, a filtration aid now gaining favour with brewers, works by attaching itself to haze-active proteins, thus not allowing competing polyphenols to attach. If a significant number of the polyphenols are unable to bind with the haze-active proteins, beer haze will be reduced significantly.

Beer Filtration: The Current situation and Future Outlook (Ernst Meier, M & L Consulting)

We started with a look back at the past 70 years of beer filtration.

The 1940s saw the development of mass filtration or deep-bed filtration, where beer was passed through a very long box filled with cotton or sometimes even asbestos. In the 1960s, the excellent filtration properties of diatomaceous earth (the microscopic fossilized silica skeletons of a prehistoric hard-shelled algae, better known as kieselguhr in Germany) were discovered. The first DE filters were “plate and frame” style — cotton “plates” stretched on frames and covered with DE were clamped together and beer forced through the apparatus. In the 1980s and 1990s, DE filters using circular steel plates, either horizontal or vertical, were developed. These were soon followed by “candle” filters.

The interesting thing was not the development of this technology, but the relative cost of the filter: In the 1960s, 90% of your filtration cost was tied up in the filter itself. Today, the cost of the filter is only about 28% of your filtration cost — the other 72% is being spent on a complx web of tanks, pipes and peripherals, including in-line syrup dosing, flash pasteurization and in-line CIP (clean in place).

You would think it would be obvious, but many brewers run into problems by installing new filtration systems without regard to their existing systems. Apparently a recurring problem is installing new equipment in the old space, depsite the fact that it requires more space than the old system. What usually occurs is a lack of space for proper maintenance and access to the new systems.

As we heard earlier with regard to fermentation tank design, pre-planning a new filtration system is paramount.

Best line of the presentation: “Employees always make the same mistakes. Engineers always make new mistakes.”

Centrifuge Optimization and Maintenance (Marco Garcia, MillerCoors)

Large centrifuges are becoming popular with brewers as a means of quickly and efficiently removing yeast and other “large” particles from the beer before fine filtration. This reduces the load on the fine filters, and also speeds up filtration times. A modern centrifuge has a stack of metal cones inside it, with a clearance of a few microns between each cone. Yeasty beer fresh from the fermenter is forced in between the cones while they are being spun at 30,000 rpm. The yeast and other “heavy” particles are forced to the outside wall of the centrifuge and are drained away, while the now-clear beer is forced to the centre of the centrifuge, where it is drained to the next step of finer filtration or to a holding tank.

This can remove yeast from a very large volume of beer in a short time, but there some caveats. This is not a machine you want to run if you have the slightest doubt about maintenance issues. It is a big heavy machine with parts that are spinning incredibly fast — if anything were to happen, I would not want to be in the same building, let alone standing beside it.

At MillerCoors, they have discovered that measuring the discharge is essntial to optimizing performance. If the discharge starts to drop off, there could be a problem. They have also installed sensors that can detect if a shaft bearing is starting to fail. In addition, MillerCoors has instituted a schedule of cleaning and preventative maintenance that include semi-annual major overhauls, timed to avoid the busy summer brewing season. All of their American operations now use standardized maintenance practices, and maintenance personnel are trained to follow a Standard Operational Procedure (SOP).

Next up: Barrel Dwellers


MBAC 100th Anniversary Conference: Part 2

February 20, 2014

The first two parts of the conference had been about cellaring and fermentation. The next part of the conference was brewery history.

Sleeman Brewery (John Sleeman)

Sleeman started as a small brewery on the outskirts of Guelph, Ontario, but through clever marketing of clear glass bottles (bad for beer but nice to look at) it rapidly outpaced the other small breweries in the area and became a national player. The founder, John Sleeman, is a very personable guy, very able to sell himself — and that has probably been one of his strengths during the long and sometimes difficult road he has followed while building Sleeman to the size it is today.

He related some of the stories behind the advertising we see on TV — the references to “pirates” and “smugglers”, and how his father was forced to close the family brewery in Guelph when the Sleemans were caught providing beer to American smugglers during Prohibition. How John started a brewery armed with nothing more than his grandfather’s recipe book and the promise of technical expertise from Stroh’s, was a fascinating story.

He had several pieces of advice:

  • Be brutally honest about your own skills, and find people to fill in the gaps you have.
  • Don’t hire friends and family. First, it’s too hard to fire them when they mess up. Secondly, other employees will always believe that friends and family, no matter how skilled, get promoted due to nepotism.
  • Don’t underfund your start-up. More companies die due to lack of cash flow rather than bad product or poor sales.

Mill St. Brewery (Joel Manning)

Mill St. was a “3rd wave” craft brewery that started as a tiny operation in the touristy Distillery District of downtown Toronto  in 2002. Smart marketing to women of a rather bland low alcohol organic beer in a smaller-than-normal 200 mL “pony” bottle caused sensational sales and growth. (During an informal tour of their brewery last summer, one of the brewer showed me their fermenter schedule — “Organic Ale” still makes up over 60% of their production.)

Joel was brought on in 2005 to oversee construction of a brewhouse out in the dreary eastern suburbs of Toronto — an area called Scarborough on the map, but better know as “Scarberia” to locals.

Things were not easy for Joel — the industrial building for which Mill St. had signed a lease proved to have inadequate water, electricity and sewage capacity. However, problems got solved with the application of more money. (As the experts say, “Set a budget and schedule, then double the money and triple the time.”) Mill St. definitely did not build a showcase brewery — it is located in an anonymous industrial building in an anonymous industrial district. Mill St. has never publicized the new brewery location, and many people probably believe their beer is still brewed in the Distillery District.

Once the new brewery was in operation, the original brewery back in the Distillery District was converted into a brewpub.


MBAC 100th Anniversary Conference: Part 1

February 19, 2014

A couple of weeks ago, I attended the Master Brewers’ Association of Canada (MBAC) Annual Technical Conference. What made this one a bit special was that the MBAC was founded a century ago. Unlike the Ontario Crafter Brewers (OCB) Conference last October, which included seminars about marketing and event planning, the MBAC conference had a strictly technical focus — how to make beer, and how to make it better. Here is a summary of the various seminars.

Design of Fermentation and Maturation Tanks (Michael Kurtzweil, Ziemann International)

Ziemann is a German firm that manufactures fermentation tanks of all sizes. I remember them most for the tanks they made in 2010 for Molson — six massive 4500 hL tanks. (Each could hold about 1.4 million bottles of beer.) The tanks were shipped across the Atlantic to Hamilton (right next door to my town of Burlington), then put on trucks and then slowly and gingerly moved along back roads to Molson’s Toronto brewery. One of those back roads was about 2 km from my house. The move took ten nights, and required approval from the province of Ontario and six different municipalities since it involved lifting up hundreds of telephone, cable and hydro wires at intersections, as well as temporarily moving stoplights.

Michael Krutzweil’s first remark about buying fermentation tanks was that master planning is essential right from the beginning. Rather than thinking small and then scrambling for more fermentation volume, he advised brewers to “Think big, and start small”. Rather than ordering a tank when you need it, he advised us to plan ahead to when we think we’re going to need it, and order it well in advance to lower costs. This past summer I had personally seen several small breweries out in B.C. that had just opened their doors and were already trying to shoehorn more fermenters into a limited space because of unexpectedly robust sales, so this seemed like good advice.

When planning your tank farm, think about tank location. Are they going inside or outside? If outdoors, are they shiny showcase tanks, designed to be admired by the general public? Or are they going to quietly sit in a back lot, unseen?

Whatever the case, Michael suggested that you spend the money to ensure they are held high enough off the ground so that there is lots of working room underneath. Later on, as your brewery grows, this will allow you to install a pipe fence underneath them. (A pipe fence is a permanent grid of pipes and valves that allows you to move wort and beer hither and yon without stopping to attach and detach rubber hoses and pumps.)

What else should you plan on for the future? Flexibility seems to be the key:

  • If you increase the pressure capacity of your fermenters to 1.5 to 2.0 bars, the tanks can also be used as bright tanks to carbonate the beer.
  • Many tanks have pipes for water, cleaning solution, CO2, etc. welded directly to the top of the tank. However, Michael suggested having a removable dome plate bolted to the top of your tank instead. That way your pipes aren’t welded directly to the tank. Later on, if you want to change the arrangement of pipes or even the number of pipes, you simply replace the dome plate rather than replace the entire tank.
  • Speaking of a dome plate, what if you made the dome plate out of polyurethane rather than stainless steel? Some of New Belgium’s brewers found stainless steel dome plates too heavy to lift, but polyurethane plates were considerably lighter, and apparently have not affected performance.

Other things to consider for the future include insulation, glycol jacketing, access to the top of the tanks (ladders or catwalks?), security against earthquakes and high winds, and how new tanks are going to be moved to the brewery, especially the very large ones.

Yeast Management (Christopher White, White Labs)

White Labs is one of two major yeast suppliers in North America, so getting Chris White at the conference was impressive. The first point he addressed was the question of reusing yeast. Because yeast reproduces, it is theoretically possible to use the same batch over and over again forever. However, a batch of yeast can lose its efficacy over time due to mutations, lower viability and a loss of vitality; most breweries opt to replace the entire batch of yeast after a set number of uses (often ten batches). Chris says it all depends on how the brewery handles the yeast during

  1. Storage,
  2. Propagation and
  3. Pitching

1. Storage

When storing yeast, apparently the key to keeping maximum flavour and stability is to avoid changes in the environment and or environmental stresses — these will force the yeast to rapidly adapt to the new environment, causing mutations. Keeping the yeast in an anaerobic environment at -80°C will avoid both growth and mutation.

2. Propagation

During propagation — growing the yeast from a single test tube to 100 litres or more —  it’s important to get started soon after thawing out the yeast — never leave it sitting in a Petri dish for months at a time. Fresh wort is often used as a growth medium — this adapts the yeast to the stuff it’s going to be swimming in for the rest of its life, and wort also has all the nutrients yeast requires for growth. However, add the yeast to as small a volume of wort as possible — this reduces the risk of microbial infection due to competition for scarce resources. And remember to constantly agitate the flask to improve circulation of nutrients and oxygen. (Yeast need oxygen in order to grow rapidly). Chris cautioned that your lab has to be completely aseptic: tiled walls and floor, foot baths, HEPA air filtration, UV lights, and positive air pressure. And he suggested when propagating that you avoid volume increments of more than 10:1 during each step or forcing growth too rapidly.

For instance, he suggested that if we started with 10 mL of yeast and kept to volume increments of just 10:1, we could get as much as 100 litres of yeast in just over a week:

  1. Add 10 mL of yeast to 8°P wort and aerate and agitate the wort at 25°C for 1 to 2 days
  2. Move 100 mL of this slurry to a larger container of fresh 8°P wort and aerate and agitate the wort at 25°C for another 1 to 2 days
  3. Move 1 L of this slurry to a larger container of stronger wort (12-16°P) with more aeration and agitation at 22°C for yet another 1-2 days
  4. Finally move 10L of this to a very large container of 12-16°P wort for 2-3 days at 22°C.

Follow these four steps and in 5-9 days, you should have 100 litres of yeast slurry ready for use.

Chris also threw in some other considerations:

  • Using pure oygen rather than air will produce healthier yeast with thicker cell walls.
  • Watch for sources of contamination — when you are plating yeast, for instance, air-borne microbes can infect the Petri dish.
  • The wort temperature during propagation is usually higher than wort temperature during actual fermentation. Chris advises that towards the end of propagation, wort temperature be decreased so that, again, the yeast has a chance to gradually adapt to actual working conditions without being forced to mutate.
  • During propagation, transfer yeast to larger containers during its active growth phase (after 1-2 days), not after active growth has stabilized.

3. Pitching

Yeast can usually be used 5-10 times without problem. The usual pitching concentration (which I remember from Microbiology classes) is about 107cells/mL/°P. That is, about 1 million cells per millilitre of wort for every degree Plato of sugar — the more sugar there is, the more food there is for yeast cells, so there can be more yeast cells per millilitre.

(How do you estimate the concentration of yeast cells if your brewery doesn’t own a microscope? Put some yeast slurry into the fridge and let it cool for a day. The yeast will fall to the bottom of the container and form a thick white goo, while the liquid floating on top will be clear. If the yeasty goo makes up about 1/3 of the container, your concentration of yeast cells is (very) approximately 10 million cells per mL.)

If not handled properly, yeast can become infected by other microbes such as pediococcus or lactobacillus. You can “wash” the yeast with dilute acid, killing the microbes, but this has two effects. One is that it will also kill off some yeast cells, lowering your yeast’s viability. The other problem is that once you have acid-washed your yeast, it seems to become more susceptible to infection — from that point on, you may have to acid wash that batch every time you want to reuse it.

Lastly, Chris took a question from the floor about using olive oil during fermentation rather than oxygenating the wort. (You add oxygen to wort in order for the yeast to use the oxygen to construct lipids that can then be used to build cell walls. This allows for rapid and healthy reproduction. By adding olive oil to the wort rather than oxygen, the theory is that the yeast cells will use lipids directly from the olive oil rather than having to build them; hence, no need for oxygen.) In answer to the question, Chris replied that New Belgium had done some experiments with olive oil and had subsequently measured increased ester levels (fruity aromas) in the resulting beer, but the esters did not reach levels detectable by the human nose. The answer seems to be that the idea requires further research.

A Tale of Two Repasts

February 8, 2014

Today I travelled the culinary spectrum from one end to the other, starting the day with pizza and Bud Lite and ending with a 6-course gourmet meal and locally-made craft beer.

Chris Morley, Senior Director, Corporate Affairs, Labatt

Chris Morley, Senior Director, Corporate Affairs, takes questions from Brewmaster students

In the morning, I met the second-year Brewmaster students at the large Labatt brewery plant in London (Ontario), where we had been invited to take a tour. Labatt has had a brewery on this site since 1847, although most of the current buildings appear to date from perhaps the 1940s. After a quick introduction to Labatt and its role in the international giant AB Inbev by Chris Morley, Senior Director Corporate Affairs, we were taken on a tour of the brewhouse and packaging line. Alas, cameras were not allowed on the tour, so sorry, no photos.

The brewhouse equipment is enormous, but I didn’t catch the capacity of each batch because the tour guide referred to it by number of bottles rather than number of hectolitres. It was a very large number. However, the large pieces of equipment — a cereal cooker, mash tun, mash filter, lauter tun, kettle and whirlpool, were in a relatively small space, and the way it was set up, the mash and wort seemed to follow a rather convoluted path back and forth from mash tun to mash filter to kettle to whirlpool. I sensed that the current equipment has been shoehorned into a space originally designed for a smaller operation. Meanwhile a large part of the space is taken up by a truly huge lauter tun that stands idle most of the time since this plant hammer-mills the grain into a flour and then after mash conversion, filters out the sweet wort with a large mash filter rather than lautering the grain.

Despite its large size, this plant has made water conservation a priority, and I was surprised to learn that they only use about 3.8 litres of water for every litre of beer produced. (Most breweries have a water to beer ratio of more than 6:1.)

Consistency of product is extremely important to all the breweries in the AB Inbev stable — Bud made in here in London has to taste the same as Bud made in California or Montreal or Newark. So every brewery in North America sends samples of Bud to the AB Inbev mother ship in St. Louis, where the High Tasting Panel of All Tasting Panels compares the various batches. The London operation is very proud of the fact that recently, their Bud was judged to be the closest to what a perfect Bud should taste like.

We moved on to the packaging line. Most modern breweries’ tours now feature an enclosed catwalk to avoid anything being accidentally dropped onto the bottle line, so I was surprised to find that at Labatt, we were actually on an open catwalk. That certainly explained the rule about no cameras, cellphones, pens, or jewellery, to avoid the problem of finding someone’s earring in your bottle of Bud. Seeing a highly automated  line capable of delabelling, washing, sterilizing, filling, labelling, pasteurizing, packaging and palletizing thousands of bottles a minute was fascinating. I found it interesting that bottles of beer that are “kicked out” of the system for faults like low fills and labelling issues are emptied, and the ethanol is scavenged from the beer for sale to local industries.

From there we moved down into the basement to see their small tasting panel room, where six panellists gather every day at 3 p.m. to do sensory evaluation of everything used in the beer as well as the finished beer.

Then it was back to their hospitality room where a human resources person talked to the students about working at Labatt, and the general manager of the plant did a Q&A session. It was during the Q&A that we ate pizza and drank samples of Bud, Bud Lite, 50 and Shocktop. I have never been a fan of Bud and Bud Lite — the Bud yeast throws off a bit of amyl acetate, giving Bud its signature banana nose — so I was happy to see the 50 and Shocktop. You will never see the last eight words in the previous sentence ever published in this blog again.

It was an instructive tour for the students — not only did they get to see a big brewery at work, but reading between the lines, it was clear that while this was a highly efficient 24-hour-a-day operation, and that the people who work here are very proud of their accomplishments, the bottom line at Labatt is, well… the bottom line. The beer is simply a product — a highly consistent product, but a product that could just as easily be corn starch or widgets. The eternal search is not for ways to create a better-tasting product but to find more efficient and economical ways of producing the product. Nevertheless, working for AB Inbev would have all the advantages of being employed by a large multinational with a wide diversity of positions around the world, so I won’t be surprised if some Brewmaster graduates become part of the AB Inbev family.

The students climbed back on the bus and headed back to the campus, and I followed them in my car — I had driven directly from Burlington to London this morning, and now needed to make the 2-hour trip to the college in time for Caps, Corks & Forks Dinner #6, where Beer (reigning champions) would take on Wine over six courses.

As you might recall from CCF #5, the rules of engagement are quite simple:

  1. All beer and wine chosen for the dinner must be made in Ontario, and at least one beer and one wine must have been made at the college.
  2. Rather than selecting a commercial beer, 2nd-year Brewmaster students have the option of brewing their own beer for one of the courses.
  3. No beer or wine can cost more than $35 per bottle.
  4. If there’s a 3-3 tie at the end of the dinner, then total votes for all six courses determine the winner.

Although Beer had won the previous engagement, we were still behind 3-2 after five dinners, so tonight was our chance to even the score.

Chef Michael & Anna Olson

Dinner emcees Chef Michael & Anna Olson

The emcees for the evening were Chef Michael Olson and his wife, the well-known Food TV personality Anna Olson, and they proved to be an interesting contrast in style: Chef Michael always has a story (or bad joke) to tell; Anna is gracious and stylish, but often gets in the last well-chosen word.

The two teams also presented an interesting contrast in style: The Wine Team were in black shirts, pants, ties and suspenders while the Beer Team again opted to go with plaid shirts, although they did dress it up with black pants this time.

Here’s the dinner’s course-by-course replay:

First course: Amuse bouche

The dish: Tide & Vine oysters on sea salt — two from the Atlantic, one from the Pacific — accompanied by three sauces: mignonette, raifort Chantilly, and Abbigail’s Trinidad hot sauce


Oysters from both the Atlantic and Pacific.

The wine: Tawse Winery Spark Limestone Ridge Riesling

The beer: Silversmith Tide & Vine Oyster Stout (presented by 1st-year student Doug Steele)

Beer Team strategy: Oyster stout, which yes, is made with whole oysters, shell and all, is the traditional match for oysters, so it didn’t take a lot of imagination on our part to decide to use an oyster stout. As it turns out, Tide & Vine, the local oyster company that supplied the oysters for the dinner, also supplies oysters to Silversmith Brewery for their Oyster Stout.

My opinion: Straight up on their own, the oysters pair so well with the stout as to make a better match by any wine impossible to consider. But the three sauces each provided an extra layer of challenge. The mignonette, which is a horseradish sauce, was peppery and spicy, as one might expect, and the oyster sauce paired well with the roastiness of the stout. The Riesling, on the other hand, seemed a bit lifeless in the face of the horseradish. The hot sauce, made by culinary student Abbigail Geofrey, was fiery hot. Wow. It completely overpowered the wine, pummelling it into submission. Although the stout faired better due to its sweetness, it still took a few sips to put out the fire. Both wine and beer fared better with the raifort Chantilly, a whipped cream-based sauce. The wine brought out a lemony citrus aspect, the beer seemed to lighten the cream texture. Tough choice, but I would go with the stout.

Winner: Beer (Beer 1, Wine 0)

Second course: Appetizer

Veal sweetbreads

Veal sweetbreads in vol au vent pastry

The dish: Fricassée of veal sweetbreads with black truffle in vol au vent

The wine: 2012 Jackson Triggs Grand Reserve Pinot Noir, Niagara Estate

The beer: Ryan’s Brown Ale (presented by 2nd-year student Ryan Hethrington)

Beer Team strategy: The veal provided a savoury dish, and we immediately thought of pairing a fairly flavourful English ale with it. Ryan brought in a sample of a Northern English-style brown ale he had homebrewed, and we all thought its rich biscuity flavour was a good match. Ryan recreated a batch in the Teaching Brewery for the dinner.

My opinion: Ryan’s brown ale matched the savoury aspects of the veal very well. However, it didn’t really cut through the buttery vol au vent pastry. The pinot noir also matched the savoury meat, and perhaps its acidity provided a slightly better counterbalance against the pastry. It was darned close.

Winner: Wine (Beer 1, Wine 1)

Third course: Fish



The dish: Gravlax with spent grain crisps, apple fennel slaw, lemon peppercorn mascarpone ice and icewine grapes

The wine: 2012 Thirty Bench Small Lot Chardonnay

The beer: Christine’s Saison (presented by 2nd-year student Christine Nagy)

Beer Team strategy: Christine wanted to brew a saison for the dinner — it was just a question of which dish she would pair it with. When she tasted the gravlax, she was sure she could make a saison that would provide a lemon citrus note that would combine well with the salmon.

My opinion: Another incredibly difficult choice. Christine’s saison had the lemony citrus note that was a perfect match for the gravlax, obviously matched the flavour of  the lemon mascarpone, had enough effervescence to cut through both the oiliness of the salmon and the butteriness of the mascaporne, and provided a good contrast to the sweet apple fennel slaw. However, the chardonnay brought out an extra zing to the salmon, accentuated the fruitiness of the slaw and still went well with the mascarpone. Perhaps a slight edge to the saison.

Winner: Beer (Beer 2, Wine 1)

Fourth course: Risotto

Beet risotto

Beet risotto

The dish: Roasted beet risotto with wilted arugula, creamy feta and college-cured pancetta

The wine: 2011 Angels Gate Winery Brut Chardonnay Sparkling

The beer: Lake of Bays China Wall Vienna Lager (presented by 1st-year student Mike Beaupré)

Beer Team strategy: We were surprised by the umami savoury meatiness of the beet risotto, and decided a dark Vienna lager would be a good match — lighter body and less roastiness that a heavy stout.

My opinion: Tasting only the risotto on its own, I thought perhaps the sparkling chardonnay had a slight edge. However, the pancetta, which was made on campus by Food Innovation students, added a crispy, fatty note to the dish, which paired well with the breadiness of the China Wall.

Winner: Wine (Beer 2, Wine 2)

Fifth course: Meat



The dish: Pheasant pot pie and aiguillettes of pheasant with blueberry reduction, soft polenta, fire roasted vegetables

The wine: 2011 Dover Vineyards Smoke & Gamble

The beer: Cameron’s Resurrection Roggenbier (presented by 1st-year student Jeff Wiebe)

Beer Team strategy: Wild pheasant can be quite gamey and strong, which would have required a big beer to stand up to it. However, this was farmed pheasant, and the taste proved to be not much stronger than chicken. For that reason, we decided to try a rye beer (or in German, das Roggenbier), which is known for having a pleasant spiciness but also good body.

My opinion: Cameron’s Roggenbier proved to be an inspired choice — spicy enough to add some zing to the pheasant, enough body to stand up to the savoury meat and gravy, enough effervescence to cut the creaminess of the polenta. The wine, on the other hand, was a big tannic red, and although it brought out the fruitiness of the blueberry reduction, it overwhelmed the pheasant. Had this been wild pheasant, it might have been a different story, but with this particular pheasant, it was an easy call for beer.

Winner: Beer (Beer 3, Wine 2)

Sixth course: Dessert

Three in one dessert

Three desserts on one plate

The dish: Dessert trio: Cinnamon heart crème brûlée, chocolate ganache cake, spiced caramels

The wine: 2010 Niagara College Dean’s List Cabernet Franc Icewine (glasses rimmed with cinnamon and dark chocolate)

The beer: Niagara Oast House Barrel-aged Russian Imperial Stout (presented by 2nd-year student Brendan Kiefer)

Beer Team strategy: We were a bit nervous about this dish. During our test sessions, we really liked how the Niagara Oast House Russian Imperial Stout matched these three desserts. However, we weren’t actually tasting the final version: Oast House was barrel-aging most of the batch, and we were actually tasting a bit of the batch that hadn’t fit into a barrel. Obviously the barrel-aging would modify the flavour of the beer somewhat, but would it be by a little or a lot? And would the change help the dessert or not? Adding to our conundrum, the barrel-aged version wasn’t transferred from the barrels until a week before the dinner, so we only got our first taste of what we would actually be serving a scant three days before the dinner.

My opinion: If the Oast House stout was good before barrel-aging, it was now fabulous, complex and multi-layered. The barrel-aging had given it a woody, vanilla note that played with the cinnamon in the creme brulee. Its roasty notes complimented the saltiness of the caramel, and the touch of booziness (9% abv) smoothed out the harshness of the caramel. And of course, those chocolate and coffee notes we all love to taste in a Russian Imperial Stout matched the dark bitter chocolate of the ganache. In contrast, although the cinnamon on the rim of the wineglass helped the icewine play with the creme brulee, the icewine was actually a bit too sweet for the bitter chocolate of the ganache and there was no match at all with the salted caramel. Another easy choice.

Winner: Beer (Beer 4, Wine 2)

Woo-hoo! We won with an absolute majority of courses for the second consecutive time. Beer is now tied with Wine at 3 wins apiece. The next dinner in November will be a tiebreaker…

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