Archive for April 2014

End of the semester? Whaaaa…?

April 22, 2014
Main beer tent goes up the day before the festival.

Main beer tent goes up the day before the festival.


Wow! The past two weeks have zipped by.

The week before last, while Brewmaster students were finishing off final assignments and studying for final exams, I was helping with final prep for the first-ever Niagara College beer festival. There were a bajillion little details to attend to: The DJ needs power — rent a generator. No wait, the college’s TV students are planning to park their mobile truck on site in order to broadcast the entire event. Order a larger generator. Or should we rent two generators? Cooking demos. Breweries. Smokers. Student volunteers. T-shirts for the student volunteers. Celebrity BBQ chefs. Menus. Getting Louisiana alligator carcasses across the border. Barbecue pit dug in the college lawn to slow-cook goat overnight. (May have forgotten to mention the barbecue pit to college authorities, under the “easier to ask for forgiveness than ask for permission” principle.) Festival glasses. Tokens. Age-of-majority wristbands. Student beer. Security. Fencing. Seventy-page AGCO Special Occasion Permit.

"Before" shot of main beer tent. Everything looks so tidy and clean.

“Before” shot of main beer tent. Everything looks so tidy and clean.

I was only helping with a few of these details. The real work was shouldered by Gary Torraville, the college’s Manager of Business, Student and Community Support; Sarah Scott, Manager of the on-campus Benchmark Restaurant; and the graduating class of Brewmaster students, who were handling a lot of the organizational details as part of their Sales & Promotions class.

Shhh. Be vewy vewy quiet. Do not tell the college president this is an all-night barbecue pit.

Shhh. Be vewy vewy quiet. Do not tell the college president this is an all-night barbecue pit.

We had our fingers crossed for reasonable April weather — we figured if it was above 5°C and not snowing, we could expect about 300 people. If it was cold and snowing, we’d be lucky to see 50 visitors. To be on the safe side, we ordered 600 glasses. There was no date on them, so we could always use leftovers next year, right?

On top of all of this, we also organized the first-ever Niagara College beer competition, open to any and all breweers, both amateur and professional, with results to be announced at the beer festival. Ah, but this meant the beer had to be judged before the festival. On top of festival prep, final exams and final assignments, graduating students had to judge the 100+ entries as part of their Sensory Evaluation course. (All beer was blind-judged according the the 2008 BJCP Style Guide.) Add 1st-place medals to the to-do list. Score sheets. Stewarding judging panels. Entering judging scores into a spreadsheet.

Festival glasses, ready for action

Festival glasses, ready for action

On top of that, Taps, a magazine devoted to the craft beer scene, had offered a very generous $3500 scholarship to the graduating Brewmaster student producing the best beer as part of their studies. So add student beers to the beer competition, and arrange the judging panels so a student isn’t judging a category that contains their own beer. Judging would determine the highest-scoring three beers, and we would then send those three beers to the Canadian Brewing Awards (the CBAs). The CBA judges would then pick a winner, and announce their decision at the upcoming CBA gala on May 31 in Fredericton, New Brunswick.

(Not meaning to digress, but Fredericton?? Seriously?? Fredericton is to craft beer what doughnuts are to a healthy lifestyle.)

And on top of everything else, we also planned a “Chef’s Signature” gala dinner the same evening, featuring our celebrity BBQ chefs, as well as the aforementioned alligator and goat (and many other dishes.)

Summary: We had our hands full the week before last.

The day of the festival finally arrived, and the weather was extraordinary for mid-April — a cloudless blue sky, and temperatures that topped 20°C. Between 11 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., 1400 people came through the gates. All 600 glasses were sold. We ran out of age-of-majority wristbands. Some of the celebrity chefs ran out of food.  Some of the brewers ran out of beer.

Brewmaster graduates Seb MacIntosh (foreground) and Asa Proveau (background) pour beer for Flying Monkeys and Sawdust City respectively.

Brewmaster graduates Sebastian MacIntosh (foreground) and Asa Proveau (background) pour beer for Flying Monkeys and Sawdust City respectively.

Of course we had some problems. There were lineups to get into the festival grounds, lineups to buy a festival glass and lineups to get into the beer tent. On the plus side, everyone had a great time, and the worst hazard of the day seemed to be sunburn.

Ken Woods, president of Black Oak, explains the natural superiority of "10 Bitter Years" Double IPA.

Ken Woods, president of Black Oak, explains the natural superiority of “10 Bitter Years” Double IPA to thirsty customers.

We announced the first-, second- and third-place winners of our open beer competition in fifteen categories. The biggest winner overall was Mill St. Brewing, which walked away with two first-place medals, as well as four second-place and two third-place awards. (Mill St. employs several Brewmaster graduates in its brewhouse.)

However, I thought the big winner was the Brewmaster program: Of the 46 possible prizes, 16 were won by beers created by Brewmaster students. (Remember, they were up against professional brewers.) Jamie Shillow, a graduating student, won two first place medals — one for her special project beer brewed in the Teaching Brewery, and one for a homebrewed raspberry ale. Just as impressive was first-year Brewmaster student Graeme Nichol, who won two first-place medals for homebrewed beers. Amazing.

The Brewmaster program scored even higher if you take into account the winning beers that were brewed by Brewmaster graduates. In addition to the already-mentioned Brewmaster grads working at Mill St., the awards list included Mark Murphy (Brewmaster ’12) of Left Field Brewing — 1st-place medal in the IPA category for Resin Bag IPA; Scott Pautler (Brewmaster ’13) of Old Flame Brewing — 1st-place medal in the Dark Lager category; Aaron Spinney (Brewmaster ’12) of Sawdust City Brewing  — 1st-place medal in the Light Hyrbid category for Sawdust City Kölsch; Elliot Herman (Brewmaster ’12) of Silversmith Brewing — 1st-place medal in the German Wheat & Rye Beer category for Bavarian Wheat; and Mark Horsley (Brewmaster ’12) of Nickel Brook Brewing — three 2nd-place awards for Cuvée, Bolshevik Bastard, and Naughty Neighbour.

Adding them all up, beer brewed by Brewmaster students and Brewmaster graduates walked away with 35 of 46 awards. Remember, the Brewmaster program is only four years old. Can you imagine what is going to happen to the quality and creativity of craft beer when every brewery employs at least one Brewmaster grad?

"Golden Boot" finalists (L to R): Adam Shell, Graham MacMullen, Christine Nagy

“Golden Boot” finalists (L to R): Adam Shell, Graham MacMullen, Christine Nagy

The three beers chosen as finalists for the Taps Magazine scholarship were equally as impressive: Fumé, a smoked saison created by Christine Nagy; Hop Shotta, an American IPA created by Graham McMullen; and Bloody Pale Ale, a tomato pale ale created by Adam Shell. I’m sure each of those graduates is holding his or her breath until the scholarship winner is announced on May 31.

However, no time to waste, with the competition winners and scholarship finalists announced, it was 4 p.m. and time to close the festival and clean up. Then turn around and get ready for the gala dinner.

Bacon-wrapped alligators from a Louisiana bayou head out to the grill for an afternoon of slow-cooking.

Bacon-wrapped alligators from a Louisiana bayou head out to the grill for an afternoon of slow-cooking.

This was no dinner for vegetarians. We had barbecued beef, pork, chicken, goat, lamb, salmon and alligator. In keeping with the barbecue theme, service was “family style” — we just passed platters of food up and down the tables. Lots of food. Lots and LOTS of food.

I was finished before the third course was served. Could not move. Could not eat another bite. Then another course went by. And another course. Then they brought out delicious apple, cherry and pecan pies. Okay, maybe I could have just another small bite.

The aftermath of the big weekend was, not surprisingly, a bit anti-climactic. The big tents came down. The students wrote their final exams, shook hands and had a big end-of-semester party before hitting the road. I paid bills, sent out press releases about the weekend and marked exams.

And that was the semester. Done. Finished. A third Brewmaster class graduated. Where did the time fly?

However, no time to waste. In order to accommodate more Brewmaster students, we have moved to a “year-round” stance, starting 18 new students down the path to brewmastery every four months. So even as the latest batch of students leaves, the newest batch begins their journey starting in only two weeks…


College Beer & BBQ Festival

April 11, 2014

I have been putting in many long hours helping to organize a beer festival at the college, our first.

We first had the idea of doing a beer festival about a year ago — the kind where, you know, there’s a tent with beer, and you buy beer and drink it. The graduating Brewmaster students would be responisble for organizing it.

It was a simple idea. But somehow things got complicated.

First someone had the idea that we should invite 12 craft breweries to the festival.

And then someone thought Ted Reader should invite some of his barbecue buddies to come up to Canada and make some food for the festival.

(Ted Reader is a Canadian barbecue chef well-known to those who watch cooking shows. He also teaches in the culinary program at Niagara College. Apparently he often travels down into the States for those big barbecue festivals, and meets fellow celebrity chefs there.)

Okay, add six celebrity chefs to the programme. Oh, and can we get four gators from Louisiana across the border? And there’s the small matter of the barbecue pit that somehow got dug into the college lawn without telling the college authorities about it–the barbecue pit that will be slow-cooking lamb and goat all night.

Then someone had the idea of connecting a beer competition — Niagara College’s first — to the beer festival. It would be a competition open to all brewers, both pro and homebrewer. Then another wrinkle was added — all graduating Brewmaster students would have to enter a beer into the competition…. And they would also have to judge the beers according the BJCP guidelines. (BJCP stands for Beer Judge Certification Program, and is a system of rating beer according to specific guidelines about how each style of beer should look and taste.)

When all was said and done, we had a beer and BBQ festival with a beer competition on the side. It has been a complex undertaking. However, I am not going to take you through the whole song and dance of how it got organized.

Instead, I’m simply inviting you to attend:

  • BBQBeer & BBQ Festival
  • 12 craft brewers + 23 student-made beers
  • 6 celebrity chefs and another 4 chef professors, all making mouth-watering BBQ food
  • Saturday, April 12, 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.
  • Niagara College (Niagara on the Lake campus, 135 Taylor Rd.)
  • Free admission
  • If you want to drink beer (and if you’re reading this column, of course you’re planning to drink beer) you have to buy a Festival glass for $10, but that includes your first three beer samples. After that beer samples cost $2 each and food samples cost $3 each.

Hey, when was the last time you got to sample bacon-wrapped gator?


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