Back to Victoria: Craig Street Brewpub

Posted July 3, 2015 by Alan Brown
Categories: Brewery

Tags: , , , , , , ,
Swan's

Swan’s: still unvisited

After Elaine dragged me out of Phillips’ tasting room, I checked my list of breweries and brewpubs in Victoria that I hadn’t visited. Hey, only one brewpub remained: the venerable Swan’s Hotel.

Swan’s, a combination of boutique hotel and brewery, has been around since 1989. In years past, I had quaffed ale in their brewpub, but had never seen their brewing operation.

Alas, I never made it past the receptionist. Brewers are busy people, don’tcha know, they can’t just have anyone walk off the street and bother them. No, it really didn’t matter that I write a beer blog. Neither did I gain any traction by showing her my list with every name checked off except Swan’s.

So, Swan’s remains on my “to be visited” list. Guess I’ll have to call ahead and make an appointment next time I’m in town.

houseboat

Only $350,000…? Hmmm.

(Update: Since my visit, another brewery has opened up in the Victoria area, the curiously named Category 12, apparently started up by a scientist who is turning his homebrewing hobby into a business. So now I have two places on my list.)

lunch

How can one visit Fisherman’s Wharf and not eat seafood?

It was still morning, and seemed a bit too early to head back to the Comox Valley, so we drove down to a part of the Inner Harbour called Fisherman’s Wharf. This part of the harbour is home (literally) to several dozen gaily painted floating houses. (“Floating houses”, not “houseboats” — apparently houseboats have their own engine for moving from place to place — these houses have to be towed from mooring to mooring.) We saw one for sale for only $350,000 (plus $970 per month in mooring fees, but interestingly, no property taxes, which makes sense since you’re floating on the ocean). For a brief moment, I imagined myself living down by the Inner Harbour. But there’s all of those pesky tourists (like us) gawking at your house every day and wondering out loud about living down by the Inner Harbour. Besides, was I ready to eat seafood every day?

Craig Street

Craig Street Brewpub, on Craig St.

With that in mind, we sat down and ate some seafood. Mmmm, maybe I could live like this.

And then it was time to head back up-Island. Of course there was a massive traffic stoppage at the narrow Malahat Pass — a multi-vehicle accident right at the summit of the pass had traffic stopped in both directions for over an hour. In fact it took so long to get over the pass that we decided to stop for some refreshments in Duncan, a small town just north of the Malahat.

pale ale

All hail Arbutus Pale Ale!

And where better to stop than Craig Street Brewpub, which predictably is located on Craig Street.

Constant readers of this blog will know that when I come across a well-made northwest pale ale, I rejoice. And at Craig Street, there was cause for rejoicing. All thoughts of traffic stoppages were erased by a pint of Arbutus Pale Ale, an unfiltered, aromatic gem. A small pizza and a sharing plate of panko-crusted crab cakes definitely left us gruntled.

(I’m assuming that since “disgruntled” means unhappy, “gruntled” must mean the opposite, right?)

brewhouse

Shiny brewhouse with a surprising amount of space

Unfortunately the Craig Street brewer was not at work when we were there, so all I could do was gaze through the window at the brewhouse, which seemed to be about 10 hL. Everything looked nice and shiny, and I was surprised at how much room the brewhouse and fermenters had. As I have mentioned before, often brewpub equipment is shoehorned into spaces so small, the brewer has to add “contortionist” to his or her resume in order to be hired.

120 kph

Check out the speed limit sign: 120!

But alas, we really had to get back to the Valley. As we hit the long straight stretches of the Island Highway north of Nanaimo, we got a pleasant surprise: the speed limit, which had been 110 km/hr (70 mph) the previous day, had been upgraded overnight to 120 km/hr (75 mph). Wheee!

 

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Back to Victoria: Phillips Brewing

Posted July 1, 2015 by Alan Brown
Categories: Brewery

Tags: , , , , , ,

After visiting CANOE and Lighthouse, you might think that I had already enjoyed my fair share of beer and beer talk. And normally you might be right. But here’s something you might not know about Victoria: ALL the downtown shops and stores close at 5:00 p.m. That means there’s very little to do except walk  down to the harbour and watch the seagulls. Or look for a restaurant or bar. And drink beer. And talk about beer.

tapas & beer

Hoyne Pilsner and a shared plate

Luckily, Elaine & I have experienced Victoria’s early closing hours, and we did what we have done on several occasions in the past: we had dinner at one of our favourite spots, the Tapa Bar in Trounce Alley. Trounce Alley is one of those impossibly cute tourist draws, a narrow Victorian alley chock-a-block with tiny but trendy shops. And the Tapa Bar has been there as long as we can remember, well before tapas (shared plates) became popular.

Looking for a good all-round beer that can pair to a lot of Spanish-inspired dishes, I decided on Hoyne Pilsner, made just a few blocks away by Sean Hoyne and his crew. It turned out to be an inspired choice, the crisp noble hops giving an extra oomph to each of the locally-sourced garlic-spiced sharing plates.

latte

Perfect latte

Our dinner only emphasized how much Victoria (and frankly, a lot of BC) is a foodie heaven. Even in a small restaurant, everything always looks and tastes so good. The next morning, even a latte in the hotel bar was presented with a sense of calm perfection.

Over our caffeine fix, Elaine discussed what to do and where to go before we had to head back up Island. First up, we decided, would be Phillips Brewing.

What is your emergency back-up beer? You know, when you’re in a restaurant that only has the standard mix of American and European lagers courtesy of AB Inbev, MolsonCoors and Heineken? Thankfully, when I’m in British Columbia, I usually don’t have that problem — even in restaurants that don’t carry a lot of craft beer, I often find Phillips Blue Buck on the menu, a well-balanced northwest-style pale ale with a bright nose and a snappy finish with a that goes well with a variety of dishes. It also happens to be Phillips’ best-selling beer.

Phillips Brewing

The funky exterior of Phillips Brewing

Matt Phillips opened the doors of his new brewery in nearby Esquimault in 2001 as the only employee, and quickly made his hoppy beers a mainstay of the northwest craft scene. Two moves later, and the brewery, now located in Victoria, has over 40 employees. And although the brewery makes many styles, it still has something of a reputation for beautifully bitterness — Phillips brewers have never been afraid to add another handful of hops. Or two handfuls.

organ

Bottle organ

The exterior of the present location has that funky, eclectic “what should I do with these spare parts?” sort of exterior. The tasting room is likewise rather funky, complete with an organ made with beer bottles. And although it was empty when we entered at 11 am, that didn’t last for long — over the next thirty minutes, a variety of locals and regulars entered to get their growlers refilled.

We were greeted by Matt (not Matt Phillips who had founded the brewery, just Matt), who quickly poured me a sample of beer. Wow, for sure they aren’t afraid to use hops. As a matter of fact, of the 15 beers produced on a regular basis, no less than seven are what you might describe as hoppy.

DSC_0721

Lots of fermenters inside…

After a few more samples, Matt took us on a quick tour. And what we saw is pretty neat. The 30-hL brewhouse is certainly capable of pumping out a lot of brews each year, but it’s the number of fermenters I found impressive. We counted four rows of them, filling up what seemed to be all available space. In fact, they did take up all the available space — in a major expansion a few years ago, Phillips had to move some of their fermenters outside, something you usually don’t see at a craft brewery. In total, they had  46 fermenters on site when we visited.

external fermenters

…and more fermenters outside.

They also were one of the first Canadian craft breweries to can their beer, added a beautiful Italian rotary canning line during that major expansion. Over the past year, canning has become the fad du jour in Ontario, but was definitely not common at craft breweries even just three or four years ago.

Back to the tasting room for a few more samples — Matt seemed determined to get me to taste every one of the current beers on tap, and I have to admit, I didn’t put up much of a fight.

sample

Chocolate Porter + Raspberry Wheat. Amazing.

The best was saved for last, however: the final sample was a beer cocktail (a “beertail”?) that Matt made by mixing half Longboat Chocolate Porter and half Raspberry Wheat. The resulting colour was a beautiful chestnut. The nose was a decadent and heady mix of fruity chocolate. And the taste…

I fell to the ground, crying tears of joy.

It was with some difficulty that Elaine got me out the door, and only after I had purchased bottles of the Chocolate Stout and Raspberry Wheat in order to reproduce this magical ambrosia for friends and family.

 

Back to Victoria: Lighthouse Brewing

Posted June 10, 2015 by Alan Brown
Categories: Brewery

Tags: , , , , ,
CANOE IPA

CANOE IPA

I have no idea how I managed to write an entire post about a brewpub and not include at least one photo of their beer, but somehow I did accomplish that feat yesterday when writing about CANOE Brewpub. So here’s a photo of their IPA. The 1-litre container behind it — sometimes called a “Boston round”, a “growlita” or a “growlette” — is actually filled with water, not beer. As you can also see, there were no large sea otters lounging about in the background, at least while I had my camera ready.

After lunch, we decided to head over to Lighthouse Brewing. Specifically I wanted to catch up with fellow graduate Matt Lyons, who had just moved out to Victoria after a year at Trafalgar Brewing of Oakville, Ontario. I was interested to see what he thought of life on the West Coast.

Lighthouse is a 17-year veteran of the BC craft beer scene, founded by brewer Paul Hoyne (brother of Sean Hoyne of Hoyne Brewing). Paul started with a single beer, kegged for sales to restaurants and bars, and quickly expanded to four canned products. Now Lighthouse is a major player in the BC craft beer market and regularly brews eleven mainstays as well as a number of seasonals.

Lighthouse Brewing

Not built for beauty, but man, they make good beer.

However, unlike nearby Vancouver Island Brewing, a popular draw with tourists, Lighthouse isn’t built for visitors. Housed in an anonymous industrial building down an obscure alley, Lighthouse is never going to win the prize for most beautiful brewery. But they brew a lot of good beer.

Brewhouse

Lighthouse three-vessel brewhouse

Matt was kind enough during a busy day to take us on a tour of Lighthouse, starting with their 25-hL brewhouse. This is a 3-vessel brewhouse: a combined mash/lauter tun, a kettle and a separate whirlpool. This allows the brewers to make more batches — instead of having to leave the wort in the kettle at the end of the boil in order to whirlpool it (to remove coagulated proteins and hop residue), the brewer can move the wort into the whirlpool vessel, move a fresh batch of wort into the now-empty kettle and save 25 minutes of brewing time. Twenty-five minutes may not seem like a lot, but if you are brewing around the clock, that will allow you to brew several more batches of beer every day. And more beer means more money.

Fermentors

Matt Lyons in front of 100-hectolitre monster fermentors

And if you’re going to be brewing more beer, you need fermentors — lots and lots of fermentors. And Matt showed us lots of fermentors, including roomfuls of 25-hectolitre vessels (each holding a single batch) and several quad-batch monsters capable of holding 100 hectolitres.

Where there are many fermentors, there’s also lots of cleaning — well, that’s the life of a brewer. Kids, don’t become a brewer if you complain about washing the dishes.

And what are you going to do with all that beer when it’s ready? You’d better have a quick way of bottling or canning a lot of beer every day.Yes, Matt showed us the packaging lines, including a rotary filler for bottles.

bottling line

Rotary bottle filler

A rotary filler is a neat piece of equipment: empty bottles arrive on a conveyor belt, enter the large wheel, are filled and capped as they make make one revolution and then are shunted down another conveyor belt to be cartoned. Like I said, neat. A lot of moving parts though — I have heard them called an instrument of the Dark Lord by other brewers.

We also saw canning lines, stacks of pallets of cans, cartons of hops — this place is set up to make and package beer.

As a postscript, in the time since we visited, Matt has been given the opportunity to develop new recipes for Lighthouse, and one of his beers won a medal at this year’s British Columbia Brewing Awards.

Go, Matt!

 

Back to Victoria: Canoe Brewpub

Posted June 9, 2015 by Alan Brown
Categories: Brewery

Tags: , , , ,

O what a rogue and peasant slave am I! Not only have I neglected this blog as of late, but I realize, to my chagrin, that although I visited a number of breweries in Victoria almost a year ago, I still haven’t written a word about them.

So let’s set the Wayback Machine for last July. Elaine & I were again visiting relatives  in the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island. Despite the fact that the Valley is the third largest population centre on Vancouver Island, there were NO breweries in the area.

(Such is the incredible growth of craft beer in BC though, that since our visit, THREE breweries have opened in the Comox Valley: Cumberland Brewing, Forbidden Brewing and Gladstone Brewing. Gladstone actually just won a bronze medal for their porter at the Canadian Brewing Awards this past weekend. Definitely worth a visit this summer.)

Java the Hut

Java Junction, aka Java the Hut

Back in 2013, I had managed to visit about half of the breweries and brewpubs in Victoria. Given the lack of local beer near us, I managed to convince Elaine that we should head down to Victoria for a couple of days to see if we could visit the breweries I hadn’t seen yet.

Armed with espresso-based beverages from a small establishment we call Java the Hut, we started early and, aided by the 110 kilometre per hour speed limit, we made the pleasant drive down-Island. When we arrived, it was noon-ish, so what better way to start our visit than with lunch at CANOE Brewpub?

Canoe Brewpub

Canoe Brewpub

CANOE is housed in a 19th-century warehouse down by the harbour. On a warm summer day, with the sun shining down, people walking by on the wooden boardwalk, boats sailing past, and cold beer in front of you, this might be the best place in the city to have lunch. Actually it might be the best place in Canada to have lunch.

As if to emphasize this, out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of brown fur beside us. Expecting to see someone’s dog out for a walk, I turned and realized a large sea otter was gamboling down the boardwalk less than six feet away. Before I could get my camera up for a shot, the otter slid into the water and disappeared.

patio

No otter in sight

It certainly gave Elaine and I something to chat about while our drinks arrived. I had ordered an IPA, of course — this was the West Coast, after all, and who am I to swim against the tide? The IPA turned out to be very tasty, so I asked our server if it would be possible to speak with the brewer. No, apparently the brewer was not in today. But the assistant brewer was here, would I like to speak with her? Sure.

Now remember, I was currently sitting 3500 km (2200 mi) from the college. So imagine my surprise when a few minutes later one of our Brewmaster students, Hannah Lee, appeared at our table. Hannah was on her summer break between the first and second year of the program, and had chosen to come to Victoria to brew at CANOE. Not only was she brewing for them, she had designed the recipe for a saison that was currently on draft and in the warm summer sun, was selling like the proverbial hotcakes.

Hannah Lee

Hannah Lee in her domain, holding a glass of her saison.

Hannah offered to take me on a tour of the brewhouse, so I left Elaine to sit in the sun and watch out for large otters, and headed inside.

CANOE has a 20-hectolitre brewhouse, and like several other brewpubs in older buildings that I have seen, it is kind of shoehorned into a small space. Of course the less space the brewhouse takes, the more tables for paying customers you can fit in.

Hannah seemed to be having a good time working here, so after tasting some of her saison — I didn’t want to be rude, right? — I said goodbye and headed outside to finish lunch with Elaine.

Verdict: great beer, good food, world’s best patio.

 

 

Travelling global, drinking local

Posted March 23, 2015 by Alan Brown
Categories: Beer

Tags: , , , , ,

Although Elaine & I are usually pretty stoic about winter, this past season had an especially vicious bite — week after week of record-cold temperatures, dark overcast skies and seemingly endless snow. Although we do not regularly flee south, this winter proved to be too much for us.

Old San Juan

The narrow but colourful streets of Old San Juan.

Which is why, a few weeks ago, we found ourselves having breakfast on the rooftop of the Hotel Milano in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. The modern city of San Juan is a bustling urban centre of over two million people. But right in the middle of the city, on a narrow peninsula lying between the busy commercial harbour and the Atlantic Ocean, lies historic Old San Juan. It’s tiny by any standards, covering an area of only seven blocks by seven blocks. Anyone, at a slow stroll, can cross from one side of OSJ to the other in under thirty minutes. But there’s five centuries of history packed into that small area, including the oldest fortifications and the oldest churches in the New World. Even the ground has a historic overlay — the narrow streets are covered with blue-glazed cobblestones from Spain, a relic of the ballast stones left behind by Spanish galleons to make room for Aztec gold and Incan silver.

Blue-glazed cobblestones

Blue-glazed cobblestones

So there we were at breakfast, chatting with our server about things to do when somehow — and this seems to happen a lot with me — the conversation turned to beer.

Now I confess that my expectations of beer in the Caribbean are not high. If you overlook St. John Brewers, a craft brewery in the U.S. Virgin Islands that makes a killer mango pale ale, the predominant style throughout the Caribbean is yellow American lager, served icy cold.

Almost every island takes pride in creating their own brand of this style:

  • Jamaica: Red Stripe
  • Barbados: Banks
  • Antigua: Wadadli
  • St. Lucia: Piton
  • Dominica: Kubuli
  • Turks & Caicos: Island Lager
  • Puerto Rico: Magna, and the lite version, Medalla

(Yes, on some of the islands with British history, strong stout is still brewed, notably Jamaica’s Dragon Stout, a curiously heavy drink for such a hot climate.)

On a previous visit to San Juan, we had stopped in at the Old Harbour Brewery, a brewpub featuring several ho-hum beers that I found to be, well, okay, I guess. By coincidence, it turned out that our breakfast server had actually worked at Old Harbour for a time. “However,” she confided in us, “if you are looking for really good beer, there is a new a bar in Old San Juan called La Taberna Lúpulo. It has over a hundred beers imported from United States and Europe.”

My ears perked up — lúpulo is the Spanish word for hops. How could any self-respecting bar call itself “The Tavern of Hops” and not have interesting beers?

Of course, there was one small obstacle to overcome: the server couldn’t remember exactly where it was, and there are A LOT of bars in Old San Juan. However solving problems like these only adds to the sense of accomplishment, right?

So it was that a few hours later, at noon, we were standing on Calle San Sebastiano, outside Taberna Lúpulo. The reason we were standing outside was because it was closed. In retrospect, the chances of the bar being open by noon were slight — Old San Juan is a late night party place that rocks on until just before dawn. Most shops don’t open until after 10 am, and bars only get going at sunset.

So it was back out into the narrow streets of OSJ for a few more hours of sight-seeing.

Taberna Lupulo

Five minutes after opening, the locals are already arriving. Ten minutes later, there is not a seat to be had.

But at 6 pm, as the sun was meandering down to the horizon, we found ourselves back at Taberna Lúpulo, and this time, the doors and windows were wide open. And it’s a good thing we got there just as it opened, because not only did we get a nice table by one of the open windows, but ten minutes later, there was not a seat to be had — it’s clearly a favourite with locals.

Taps

Up to 48 beers on tap, including a few I didn’t recognize

As promised, there were a lot of beers available, up to 48 on tap and another 100 in bottles. The taps were mainly imports from the States (Smuttynose, Victory, Harpoon, Stone, Abita, Founders) as well as a few European imports like La Chouffe and Moretti. The bottle menu also featured a mix of well-known American names and some prominent Belgian breweries.

Barlovento IPA

Blue cobblestones, open window, Barlovento Golden Ale

However, I didn’t recognize some of the names. “Hopera?” Over the noise, the barmaid shouted a name at me several times. I finally made out what she was saying: “Hopera Golden Ale by Barlovento. Puerto Rican craft brewery” she yelled.

It took me a moment to comprehend that phrase — “Puerto Rico” and “craft brewery” are not normally two phrases that you hear in the same sentence.

Turns out Barlovento is brewing beer in the Puerto Rican town of Manati, (30 mi) west of San Juan. This was good news to me — I didn’t even realize there were craft breweries in Puerto Rico.

Seconds later, I was sitting by our open window, contemplating a pint the colour of aged amber, with a wonderful grapefruity citrus nose. The body was light, but firmed up by a good assertive bitterness. Dang, Barlovento hit this one out of the park.

Dacay Chocolate Blueberry Stout

Dacay Chocolate Blueberry Stout

Hopera unfortunately had an extremely High Evaporation Rate, and before I knew it, my glass was empty. I wandered over to the bar to look at the list of taps, this time deliberately looking for tap names I didn’t recognize.

Dacay Blueberry Chocolate Stout? My life score of Puerto Rico craft beer sightings immediately doubled from one to two. Yep, turns out that Dacay is another Puerto Rican craft brewery, this one in a San Juan suburb.

And this stout, a seasonal from Dacay, really was very excellent — light in body, but with a rich smooth fruity chocolate flavour — perfectly in tune with the rapidly darkening streets of San Juan. I was really getting to like the craft beer scene in Puerto Rico.

Taberna Lupulo

Outside Taberna Lúpulo, sadly contemplating an evening without Old Rasputin

However, all too soon, my glass was again empty, and it was time to go. My only regret was, that as we were leaving, I noticed the name the barmaid was writing over a new tap: North Coast Old Rasputin.

Old Rasputin on tap?? Seriously?? Dang!!

Alas, the tropical night — and dinner — called.

But I’ll be back, Taberna Lúpulo, looking for more Puerto Rican craft beer. And keep a keg of Old Rasputin ready too.

Iron Brewer Throw-down

Posted December 2, 2014 by Alan Brown
Categories: Beer, Brewing

Tags: , , , , , ,

Yes, it’s been over two months since I last blogged. Here’s what happened: a BIG project. Back in the summer, I was given responsibility for creating an on-line version of our History of Brewing course. So that’s what I’ve been doing ever since. It started off as a normal project. But, like Audrey II in Little Shop of Horrors, the project began to grow and take on a life of its own. By the end of the summer, I was working on it seven days a week. By October I was working on it seven days a week, often from 8 am until 1 or 2 in the morning. It’s done and dusted now, doubtless a real achievement in the annals of on-line education. I’ll blog about the whole thing later, once the nightmares and flashbacks have calmed down.

However, now that I have a life again, let’s return to the matter at hand — the Iron Brewer competition some eight weeks ago.

In case you need a reminder, the Iron Brewer is an annual competition held by the Master Brewers Association of Canada (MBAC), where all the entrants get an identical bag of ingredients, and have to make at least 10 litres of beer using only what’s in the bag plus brewing water. I had chosen to make a strong Scotch ale.

View from my table. Nice place.

View from my table. Nice place.

This year, competition judging happened at Amsterdam Brewhouse,  a brewpub down on Queen’s Quay at the Toronto waterfront. It’s a very nice location, right beside a marina, if you can get there — for the past two or three years, Queen’s Quay has been a construction zone, raising the challenge of Toronto traffic from impossible to nigh impassable. But finally I and my cooler of Scotch ale arrived.

My wife’s coworkers had suggested possible names for my beer, and I was particularly taken with “Highland Gale Highland Ale”. (I came soooo close to using “Big Jimmy”.) I didn’t print labels this year, but I did have a graphic on the table of a highland warrior laying about with a claymore.

Last year, my table was pretty Spartan compared to some of the other displays of grain and hops brought forth by competitors. I had every intention of creating a better display this year, but… well… anyways.

table

My table, as Spartan as last year

So my table was a bit barren again.

This year, Elaine wasn’t able to make it, so I didn’t have anyone bringing me beer samples from the other competitors. I did manage to slip away a couple of times, and man, the other beers I was able to taste were fantastic this year! Andy Preston, who came in second last year, was at the table next to me, and had concocted a delicious brown ale. (That’s actually a pun, because he had used a double decoction method to make the beer. “Concocted”. “Double decoction”. Get it?)

<crickets>

Never mind then.

The special ingredient in the bag this year was heather tips, and many took advantage of this. Victor North, who with his wife Sonja has started up Garden Brewers in Hamilton, had made something incredible with the heather tips, although the exact style escapes me right now. (It WAS eight weeks and a lot of beers ago.) Siobhan McPherson also used the heather tips — again, I can’t remember what the style was, but it was good. A fellow Brewmaster graduate, Chris Freeman, now brewmaster at Collingwood Brewery, brought a delicate heather-spiced English mild. Current third-semester Brewmaster student Caleb Gilgan eschewed the heather tips in favour of the oak-smoked wheat malt, brewing up a crisp and lip-smacking smoked Oktoberfestbier.

crowds

This was early on. It got way more crowded.

While the judging was going on, I tried to describe my beer to each drinker: a nose of wild honey, a full rounded palate, with soft notes of caramel leading to a lushly sweet finish. Or words to that effect. However, it got quite crowded, and noisy, making erudite and witty commentary impossible By the end of the afternoon, I was pretty much reduced to pushing beer into people’s hands and screaming, “Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaar!”

trophy

Organizer Paul Dickey hands me the trophy. No, I don’t know what the object on top of the trophy is.

After a couple of hours of judging, it was time for the winners to be announced. Third place went to Ian Johnston — unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to sample his beer. Second place went to Victor North for a beer I hope Garden Brewers produces commercially. And for first place: me.

“Gobsmacked” is not a word I commonly use, but for the first time, it was perfect: I felt gobsmacked. There was some fantastic beer there, far more complex than my simple Scotch ale, but apparently Highland Gale Highland Ale had achieved some sort of zeitgeist. Huh.

Of course, I am never at a loss for words, so when I was handed the mic, I held forth: “Errr.. Ummm… Uhhh… Thanks.”

Since that time, my fame has known no bounds. People stop me on the street.

Okay, I’m lying about that part.

However, Jon Downing, the brewmaster at the Teaching Brewery, borrowed my recipe, and last week, I helped mash in what will become about 400 litres of the Highland Gale Highland Ale. It should be available later in December — perhaps in time for Christmas!

 

Iron Brewer Redux: Part 1

Posted September 28, 2014 by Alan Brown
Categories: Uncategorized

My goodness, how the summer flew by! Who knew working at the college could take up so much of my time? Oh, and there was that three-week stint on Vancouver Island. And then another class of Brewmaster students starting in the fall semester. And the Iron Brewer competition. And the “big project that Will Not Die!” Busy times.

Where to start? Hmm…

Well, let’s begin at the ending, the Iron Brewer competition, which has just finished.

As constant readers may recall from last year, the Iron Brewer competition is organized by the Master Brewers Association of Canada. Twenty brewers, some professional, some amateur, are given identical sacks of ingredients and must make a beer using only some or all of the ingredients in the sack plus brewing water.

Last year I made “A Winter’s Tale Winter Ale”, a strong dark ale spiced with cinnamon. It placed third. I had no great expectations of replicating a Top 3 finish, but it’s a fun event so I scanned down this year’s list of ingredients. Hmmm, no cinnamon, but there were a few surprises:

Malts

  • Canadian Malting Superior Pilsen
  • Bestmalz Red X
  • Thomas Fawcett Crystal Rye
  • Weyermann Belgian Abbey Malt
  • Carafa Special Type III (dehusked)
  • Oak Smoked Wheat Malt
  • Dark Bohemian Pilsner Floor Malt
  • Weyermann Caramunich Type II
  • OiO Toasted Barley Flakes
  • OiO 2-Row Malt Whole
  • Muntons Crystal 240 (120)
  • Small batch Rye Malt
  • Small batch Pale Malt

Hops

  • Columbus 12.7 %
  • US Tettnanger 5.3%
  • Belma 10.4%
  • Bertwell (whole)

Yeasts

  • Mauribrew Draught yeast
  • Safale S-04
  • Safale US-05s
  • Saflager W34/70

Other neat stuff

  • Soft Brown Candi Sugar
  • Coriander
  • Dried Heather Tips

We received our sacks of ingredients in the first week of August, so that gave us about ten weeks to brew up a batch, ferment it and package it by September 26.

As I did last year, I took all the various bags of ingredients out of the sack and put them on the living room floor. (Elaine loves it when I do this. No, wait, that’s someone else I’m thinking of. Elaine hates it when I do this. Or, to be more specific, she hates it when I spread them out, then leave them on the living room floor for two weeks.)

I then sat among the ingredients and waited for them to talk to me. Last year, they immediately told me I needed to make a strong spiced winter ale, but this year, the ingredients took a bit longer to make themselves heard. I thought when I read the ingredients list and saw coriander and candi sugar that I’d be making some sort of strong Belgian ale. But when I took out the ingredients and listened to them, that’s not what they said. Finally I heard a whisper.What’s that? A 100-shilling wee heavy?

I kind of balked at this. Let’s start with the name. A wee heavy is a strong Scotch ale. 100-shilling refers to the cost of beer in Scotland in the 18th century that was based on the strength of the beer — you paid 80 shillings per barrel for regular strength ale but 100 shillings per barrel for stronger ale.

The reason I was initially cool to the ingredients’ suggestion is because the focus of a Scotch ale is all about malt — no fruit esters, hop aromas or sulphur in the nose, no discernable hops or yeast compounds in the taste, no quick dry bitter finish. It is sweet on the nose, with a round, smooth, full mouthfeel, a sweet but not cloying flavour, and a long sweet warming finish. However, in this era of hops, hops and more hops, how would an essentially hop-less beer be received?

But if that’s what the ingredients wanted to be, well, who am I to argue?

First, I had to find a system to brew on. Last year I used a sweet little 20-litre system that had been originally built by Victor North of Garden Brewers and donated to Black Oak. Alas, when I dropped by Black Oak  to see if I could still use it, well, Black Oak had recently cleaned house, so Victor had reclaimed his system and had… sold it. Gone. Forever.

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Nate’s system — flexible, clean, fast-heating

Dang. Luckily I happened to mention my predicament to fellow Brewmaster staff member Nate Ferguson, and it turns out he owns a nice system he has built himself.

Recipe. Hmmm. My plan was to make an 8% beer with just 15 IBU and no yeast esters or flavours.

  • Grist bill: I’m never one to add sixteen different types of grain to a beer (although there was the infamous “50 Shades of Grain” a couple of years ago). I just find that once you get past three or four types of grain, the flavours start to get muddled. So I kept it simple: 80% 2-row, 10% Caramunich Type II (for the caramel flavours), 5% oak smoked (for a touch of smoke), and 5% Red X (for the colour).
  • Hops: For only 15 IBU with no aroma, I didn’t need much. I settled on the US Tettnanger, which I would boil for the full 60 minutes in order to drive off all the volatile aromas.
  • Yeast: Although I haven’t used it before, I chose the Mauribrew Draught — reading its spec sheet, I saw that it apparently has good attenuation (the ability to eat a lot of sugar) and also performs well at cooler temperatures. Since I needed the yeast to eat about 16°P of sugars while at only 15°C, the Mauribrew sounded like it would get the job done.
Mashing In. Nate, whoi built the system, is a bit taller than me.

Mashing In. Needless to say, it’s obvious that Nate is a bit taller than me.

So it was that on a nice August evening, I found myself mashing in on Nate’s custom-built system. My plan was to mash in fairly hot — 67°C — to keep the beta-amylases a bit less active. This would preserve some of the long chain sugars, which our taste buds would interpret as a fuller mouthfeel. The mash went fine, although the starches took almost 90 minutes to convert to sugar. When I went to lauter the mash, I discovered that some grain had gotten past the lauter screen and had plugged the drainage port. However, attaching a garden hose to the other end of the drainage port and blowing some water into the mash tun cleared the blockage, and from that point on, the rest of the brew was fairly anticlimactic.

What a beautiful colour.

What a beautiful colour.

The run-off was a gorgeous chestnut brown shot with red highlights, and tasted delicious — I almost bottled it right then and there.

I ran into a bit of trouble with the fermentation — although most ales are fermented at 18°-23°C, Scotch ales are fermented cooler to reduce the amount of esters produced by the yeast. However, I cooled the wort down to 15°C too quickly, and the yeast simply went to sleep. I had to raise the wort back up to 20°C, wait for fermentation to really get rocking and rolling, then lowered the temperature back down to 15°C over three days.

Original gravity of the wort was 1.079 (19.75°P), and the yeast managed to take that down to 1.016 (4°P), resulting in a strength of 8.2% abv. With fermentation finished, I cold-aged the beer for two weeks at 2°C.

With the beer ready, I was all set for the competition.

Next: The Iron Brewer Throw Down


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