Archive for the ‘Brewmaster’ category

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…


Beer & Food pairing: What would you pick

January 14, 2014

Another “Caps, Corks & Forks” dinner is in the offing. For new readers, this is a six-course gourmet dinner prepared by culinary arts students at Niagara College. Teams of Wine and Brewmaster students then pair an Ontario wine or beer with each course. On the night of the dinner, 80 diners vote on which one pairs best with the dish. The team that wins the most courses is crowned champion.

So, it’s time once again to play “Match the Beer to the Food”. The only rule is that it has to be a beer made in Ontario that is currently available. Ready? Here we go!

  • pheasant

    Pheasant pot pie and fire roasted vegetables

    Oysters on sea salt accompanied by three sauces: mignonette, raifort Chantilly, Abbigail’s Trinidad hot sauce

  • Fricassée of veal sweetbreads with black truffle in vol au vent
  • Gravlax with spent grain crisps, apple fennel slaw and lemon peppercorn mascarpone ice.
  • Roasted beet risotto with wilted arugula and creamy feta
  • Pheasant pot pie and aiguillettes of pheasant with blueberry reduction, soft polenta, fire roasted vegetables.
  • Dessert trio: Cinnamon heart crème brûlée, chocolate ganache cake, spiced caramels

So what would you pair with each course?

No classes? Now what?

June 28, 2013

And so, our sojourn to the West Coast finished, Elaine and I returned to southern Ontario. The next morning I awoke to face the puzzling phenomenon that eventually happens to every student: no classes.

Being an analytical kind of guy, I decided to analyze this.

  1. Observation: No classes.
  2. Probable causes:
    • It’s Christmas vacation
    • It’s Reading Week
    • It’s Summer vacation
    • I’m finished school
  3. Examine the evidence:
    • No Christmas carols playing in stores
    • No assignments to finish
    • No new courses to choose
    • Diploma hanging on bedroom wall
  4. Conclusion: I’ve finished school.
  5. Problem: No money in bank
  6. Analysis: Lack of income while attending college meant outgo was higher than income.
  7. Observation: Income comes from inheritance, investment or work
  8. Hypothesis: I need to get a job in order to earn income
  9. Experiment #1: Open front door. No lawyers standing there holding inheritance cheques.
  10. Experiment #2: Multiply bank balance by expected interest to arrive at expected income. $0 x n% = $0
  11. Conclusion: Hypothesis is correct. Get a job.

Having solved the problem of what to do, I immediately sprang into action: I drove to the college to clean out my locker and buy some beer.

While I was there, I had a conversation with the dean of the department about the Brewmaster course and some of the problems with curriculum that my fellow students had identified.

When I left the college, I had my safety boots that had been stored in my locker, I had a growler of Butler’s Bitter — a beer that had just won a gold medal at the Canadian Brewing Awards — and I had a job.

Yes, over the summer, I will be working at Niagara College  trying to identify duplication in the Brewmaster curriculum — stuff that is being taught twice or even three times — as well as needed curriculum that is not being covered at all.

Excuse me while I put my analytical hat back on…

Day 600: A look back… and a look forward

May 5, 2013

Well, there it is: Six hundred days since my first day of Brewmaster classes. Hopefully I learned how to make good beer, and more importantly, that I learned how to do it safely and consistently. I’ve definitely met a lot of great people in the local brewing scene, as well as several people in ancillary industries. And my fellow graduates should form the core of a stronger craft brewing industry over the next few years–many have already started work in breweries from Nova Scotia to British Columbia.

But let’s be realistic: As good as the program was, there’s still room for improvement.

If I were the Mayor of Beer, here’s what I would do:

  1. Enlarge the Teaching Brewery. The current space is too small by half. It’s hard to learn about the proper way to do one thing when you are dodging around five or six other people doing other things. (Apparently plans are being drawn up for a larger Teaching Brewery.)
  2. More teaching in the Teaching Brewery. Sometimes I felt that we were learning how to brew by a process of osmosis rather than by structured lessons in proper procedure.
  3. More lab work (and more lab work tied to the Teaching Brewery). We need more lab work in the formal chemistry and microbiology labs to reinforce lecture material. But we also need more lab work tied to the Teaching Brewery. Small teams of 1st- and 2nd-year students should be taking daily samples from the Teaching Brewery for analysis in the lab, testing for yeast viability, IBUs, water composition, microbiological content, etc. More lab work and attention to Quality Assurance is what will take craft brewing to the next level; Brewmaster students not only need to learn about it, but need to live it constantly during the course.
  4. Small business, not large corporation.  With courses like Human Resources and Business Ethics, the current focus of the Brewmaster program seems to be the large corporate workplace. These classes should be replaced by courses that will help us set up and run small businesses. An introductory accounting class would seem to be ideal. There is also an Operations Management class already offered  in other courses that includes “customer service, forecasting techniques, procurement, supply management and just-in-time strategies, aggregate planning, inventory management, materials requirements planning, scheduling techniques, quality management and control techniques, and productivity analysis and improvement.” 
  5. Better central coordination. There does not seem to be any hand on the tiller at the moment. None of the teachers knows what is being taught in other classes, so duplication of material is rife. For instance, we learn about gas laws in Packaging, then learn about gas laws again in Filtration, Carbonation & Finishing. Someone has to take charge, meet with the teachers–or even bring the teachers together–and negotiate some sort of coordinated approach to the program materials.
  6. (While we are mentioning Packaging and FCF, wouldn’t it be more more logical to have FCF first, followed by Packaging, since that is what happens in real life?)
  7. Real world applications. Given that Brewmaster students will be brewing professionally as soon as they graduate–actually many students were brewing professionally before they graduated–more of the Brewmaster program should be linked to the outside world.
    • As I have already suggested, our final project beers should have to be entered into a real brewing competition versus professional brewers.
    • Brewmaster students should be leaving the program as fully qualified beer _________s, whether that be BJCP judge, Ciccerone, Prud’homme or one of several other official designations.
    • Likewise, Brewmaster students should have to judge at several professional competitions as part of the program.
    • Every student should have to belong to the Master Brewers Association of Canada (MBAC), and every student should be required to go to each of the MBAC quarterly technical seminars.
  8. Yeast propagation and cropping. Right now, a fresh batch of yeast is used for each brew in the Teaching Brewery. However  out in the real world, yeast is cropped from one batch and used in the next batch. Part of the problem is the small size of the Teaching Brewery (see Point #1), but there has to be some way to incorporate proper yeast management.
  9. DE filtration. Likewise, filtration using diatomaceous earth (DE) is industry standard, but we do not have a DE filtration system at the college. Yes, DE presents a possible health hazard, so don’t have any DE on site–just have the filter there so we can at least learn to set it up (minus the DE) and clean it.
  10. Proper classrooms.  A Sensory course requiring a delicate sense of smell and taste being given in a science lab full of chemical smells? Again, it seems that a central coordinator should be able to stick-handle problems like this with the college administrators.
  11.  More field trips to breweries. Given the number of breweries within two hours of the college, it seems unrealistic that we only had one field trip in the last month of the two year program. Seeing how breweries are set up and talking to the brewers is important.
  12. Technical seminars. Bring in brewmasters to give 2-hour seminars on technical aspects of brewing: lautering issues with bigger mashes, or care and feeding of yeast in high gravity brews, for instance.
  13. Make student education more important than college profit. Sales of college-made beer (and wine and food, for that matter) produce money for the college. That helps the college, obviously, but sometimes it seems that education takes a back seat to business. For instance, the dates of the very profitable Caps, Corks & Forks dinners are set without any regard to the time needed to properly design and brew beers to match to the cuisine. Again, this may be an instance where a strong central voice for the program is needed.

I’m certain that several of these concerns are already being addressed, and I am actually looking forward to coming back to the college in five years to see the improvements that will have been made in both the facilities as well as the curriculum.

So, that’s my look back. Now what? As a child of the sixties, I was raised to believe that learning is a lifelong process. So I intend to keep learning about beer, and to keep you informed about that ongoing journey through this blog. A Student of Beer I have been, a Student of Beer I shall remain.

What’s coming up?

Well, to be truthful, I haven’t actually thought that far ahead yet. My primary concern was finishing all my exams, handing in my final assignments and passing all my classes. Normally you would think that I would immediately start looking for a job. However, just a couple of days after my last exam, I had to fly out to British Columbia on family business, and I have extended that visit into a two-week vacation and an opportunity to visit as many West Coast breweries and brewpubs as possible. I’ll be writing about those breweries over the next couple of weeks.

Once I get home, yes, I’ll start looking for a job, and I’ll let you know how that goes.

And looking a bit further into the future, I will be attending a beer bloggers’ conference in Boston in late July–I will definitely be blogging about that.


Day 591: Final day of the program

April 19, 2013

The last day of Exam Week started with a meeting. A few weeks ago, a couple of us Brewmaster students had been asked to discuss the course curriculum with our fellow students. This morning, we brought those comments and suggestions to a meeting with Craig Youdale, the Academic Chair of the department and Jon Downing, the Teaching Brewery Brewmaster. We have already seen changes made to the first year of the course, some of which may have been due to our comments last year, so we hope that the comments and suggestions made this morning will have a similar effect on the second year of the course, and on the program overall.

The meeting ran long, so I was actually very late for my final Creative Writing class–only got there in time to hand in my  portfolio.

And then it was time for the final final exam….errr… last final exam, in Sensory Evaluation.

And that was it for the Brewmaster program.

Done. Finished. Over. Completed. There is no more. Woo-hoo!

Contrary to the title of my blog, it’s not quite 600 days since I started–due to a change in the structure of the spring semester this year, we are finishing one week earlier than originally planned… but “591 Days to Brewmastery” doesn’t have the same ring as “600 Days”, does it?

So what now for this new “brewmaster”? First–and most important–it’s time for a cold beer!

(Okay, let’s admit it–just about any time is a good time for a cold beer. But I digress…)

Over the next few days, I’ll post some reflections on second semester, and some thoughts about the Brewmaster course overall.

Day 589

April 17, 2013

Two more exams today.

First up was Sales & Promotion. Pretty straightforward mix of multiple choice, short and long answer.

Then Brewery Management–a mix of multiple choice and short answer, plus one long question that involved rounding off hectolitres of beer for purposes of excise taxation. (Long question: I hate it when you think you’ve got the proper way to solve the question figured out, then right after the exam is over, someone mentions the proper way to do the question. D’ohh!)

Brewmaster Class of 2013

Brewmaster Class of 2013 and cask of grad beer

Although most of us have one exam left, a few students have to leave early in order to start new jobs, so they have already written the last exam. Yes, this was their final day. It seemed like an appropriate time to gather in front of the Teaching Brewery for a quick snapshot with Brewmaster Jon Downing and our cask of graduation beer (“The Fox Sleeps in the Barn” Niagara Peach Lambic-Style Sour Brett Ale).

The cask will be tapped this evening. Luckily for all concerned, our final exam is not until the day after tomorrow.

Day 588

April 16, 2013

Exam Week.

First up was Human Resources. Relatively straightforward and short, just 40 multiple choice questions.

Next was Beer Industry. This exam featured a mix of multiple choice, short answer and long answer, and was “open book”–we could bring in notes, reference books, a laptop connected to the internet, a smartphone Angry Birds exam app–anything we wanted. As always with an open book exam, you’ll generally do well if you know the material well enough that you only have to fact-check an item or two and you have relatively well-organized notes. Open-book exams are big trouble for the people who have to look up all the answers.

Two more exams tomorrow, so time to get studying! No time to even have a beer or write a blog entry. (As you can see, I lied about at least 50% of the last sentence. And possibly more.)

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