Posted tagged ‘A Winter’s Tale’

Iron Brewer: The Results

September 29, 2013

As long foretold by email scribes, the day of the Iron Brewer competition, heralded by a blood-red dawn, arrived.

Okay, I don’t actually know what the dawn looked like — I had stayed up late thinking up a name for my Iron Brewer beer and then designing some labels, so dawn was long gone by the time I rolled out of bed.

labelThe name I had thought of … or that someone had suggested but I can’t remember exactly who … was A Winter’s Tale Winter Ale. And this is the label I stayed up late designing … and printing … and putting on the bottles.

(There’s something Tolkienesque or Game of Thrones about the label, but I’m not sure what.)

At mid-afternoon, we met on the field of battle — Cool Brewing in west Toronto — armed with only our beer. And now, we revealed to each other what wonders we had wrought:

  • Andy Preston: “Paddywack Black”
  • Dan Unkerskov: “Pencil Scratch Pilsner”
  • Jeff Broeders (a Brewmaster grad): “Rye Knot Sour Ale”
  • Erica Graholm: “Cinnamon Vienna Lager”
  • Michael Hancock: “Para-dice Rye-der”
  • Mary-Beth Keefe: “Rye Another Day”
  • Helen Knowles: “Mild Dark Horse Ale”
  • Andrew Lamore: Underdog Brown Ale
  • Mark Murphy (another Brewmaster grad): “Rye’n Express” (on cask!)
  • Nick Muzzin: “Ryedemption Amber Ale”
  • Victor North: Mild Iron
  • Adrian Popowycz: Red Light Ryes
  • Jamie Mistry: unnamed
  • Siobhan McPherson: unnamed rye ale
  • Me: A Winter’s Tale

A bag of toasted rye flakes had been included in our ingredients, and as you can see, seven of the brewers chose to make the rye a central part of their beer. And no wonder — rye gives a distinctive spicy, dry taste to your beer. However, it can be a notoriously hard grain to use because its kernels are small, narrow and slippery. If you try to crack open the kernels with your barley mill, they just slide right on through the rollers untouched. So, using trial and error, you have to adjust the distance between the mill rollers in order to catch the rye between them. Once you are finished with the rye, you have to try to reset your mill to its original settings for barley. Good luck with that. Pre-processed rye avoids this entire problem — the rye has been steamed and rolled into flakes and does not have to be milled. You can just add it straight into the mash. Hence everyone’s excitement at the inclusion of easy-to-use rye flakes in our ingredients.

I had been tempted by the rye — my second choice was going to be a dry Vienna rye lager. But I have to say that my very first thought when I looked at the list of ingredients was a spiced winter ale. I thought it was such an obvious choice that I believed I would be duking it out with several other winter ales.

Nope. Seven rye beers, and an assortment of other styles, but no other cinnamon-spiced winter beers. Huh. As a matter of fact, the only other beer that used the cinnamon was Erica Graholm’s sunny and sassy “Cinnamon Vienna Lager”. Whereas the cinnamon in my beer was dark, muted and woody around the edges, Erica’s beer had the bright peppery taste of cinnamon hearts.

Mark Murphy's table display: samples of grain.

Mark Murphy’s table display: samples of grain.

Everyone was clearly in it to win it. Some of the contestants even had special desk displays. In addition to his casked Rye Mild Ale, Mark Murphy (Left Field Brewing) also brought samples of the grains he had used, in the proprtion he had used them, complete with little cards that described the grain type and extract value.

Nick Muzzin was right next to Mark, but he did not suffer by comparison:

Nick Muzzin's desk display: samples of grains and hops, palate-cleansing crackers and a custom logo.

Nick Muzzin’s desk display: samples of grains and hops, palate-cleansing crackers and a nice graphic.

Nick not only displayed samples of the types of grains he had used, but also samples of the types of hops. He also brought some crackers so contestants could cleanse their palates before trying his “Ryedemption Amber Ale”. And he had borrowed a great publicity graphic from Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare for his display.

My desk display: Spartan.

My desk display: a bit Spartan.

By comparison, my desk display was … uh … Spartan. I had a small sign describing “A Winter’s Tale”, a bottle opener and, underneath the desk, a cooler with twenty 650-mL (22-oz) bottles of my beer.

I was the only one to bring my beer in bottles, which is understandable. The Teaching Brewery at the college is set up to bottle small runs of beer, but most of the contestants work in larger breweries, which usually don’t have bottling systems capable of handling tiny 20-litre batches. Other contestants were homebrewers, and bottling at home is a pain, as well as expensive. In contrast, a keg is cheap and easy. Other than Mark Murphy, who casked his beer, it was very understandable that everyone else brought kegs.

[Correction: Apparently at least two of the brewers, Andy Preston and Nick Muzzin, bottle-conditioned their beer, brought the bottles to the competition and then decanted the beer into a pitcher to serve it. See comment below from another attendee.]

Victor North hooks up his keg.

Victor North hooks up his keg.

Yes, I could have kegged my beer, but there are few drawbacks to bringing a keg to an event like this. In addition to the keg, you also need a cylinder of carbon dioxide in order to push the beer out of the keg. Then you need a hose and tap through which the beer will move from keg to glass. You also need an ice-filled “jockey box” — the hose from the keg runs into the cold box, chilling the beer and convincing it to hold onto its CO2 so you don’t end up with a glass full of foam. Add a wrench to attach all the fittings and a screwdriver to adjust the gas regulator, and that’s a lot of hardware to be moved.

Me, I had to pack a bottle opener. However, I think a nice table display might be in the cards for next year. And maybe a large screen TV behind me. And perhaps some food — nothing much, but maybe I can convince one of the culinary students at the college to cook something while I pour beer.

Set-up complete, the competition started. Members of the MBAC spent the next three hours tasting each of the beers and then marking a ballot with their choice for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place. It was good to see during the voting that the 1st-year students from the college had arrived and were participating — they had started with a tour of Sleeman in Guelph that morning, had arrived in time for a tour of Cool in the afternoon, and now were getting a chance to see some serious brewing creativity at work.

I was busy pouring beer, so I didn’t have time to go around and taste, but luckily Elaine had come to watch, and was able to bring me samples. And here’s what I though of the competition:

Wow! The beers were REALLY GOOD! Tasty, interesting styles, and creative use of the ingredients. Even just a couple of years ago, the quality of some Iron Brewer beers was uneven. But this year everyone was really bringing it.

Finally, the ballots were handed in, the results tabulated and the winners announced.

First place was awarded to¬†Andy Preston of Molson for his delicious “Paddywack Black”. This is Andy’s second consecutive win, so clearly we need to step up our game in order to unseat him from his throne. Second place went to the nicely balanced “Ryedemption Amber Ale” by Nick Muzzin. Third place went to “A Winter’s Tale”. Hey, wait a sec, that’s me!


Yes, it felt great to have my name called, but what is even better: as the 3rd-place brewer, I’ll have a reserved spot in next year’s competition.

Obviously I need to keep in practice between now and then. Hmmm… since I used the entire batch of “Winter’s Tale” at Iron Brewer, maybe I should make another batch in time for Christmas. Hmmmm…


  • A quick shout out to Black Oak Brewing for letting me use their small pilot system to brew “A Winter’s Tale”, and then for letting my fermenter sit in a corner undisturbed for a few weeks.
  • Props to Jamie Daust of the Teaching Brewery, for setting up the bottling line for me.
  • And a big thank you to the various maltsters who contributed their grains to the competition, to Bob Latimer of Beer & Wine Filter for contributing the yeast and British and American hops, and to Mike Driscoll of Harvest Hop & Malt for contributing the Canadian hops.



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