Posted tagged ‘Niagara College’

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?


Chocolate Decadence

March 23, 2014

A few weeks ago the college had a “Chocolate Decadence” festival. This event is mostly a chance for the culinary department to show off — chocolate, after all, is the theme. However, the organizers also wanted to offer a 1-hour seminar that would focus on chocolate-based foods and the college-brewed beers that could be paired with them, and a similar seminar pairing chocolate with college-made wines. I was asked to lead the seminar on beer and chocolate, and my counterpart in the wine education program, Britnie Bazylewski, was asked to handle the wine seminar.

Shortly after receiving our Decadence seminar assignments, Britnie and I had a brilliant idea while we were munching on Skittles. (Britnie keeps a supply of Skittles on her desk, which I have to eat if I feel like Skittles, because even if I had a supply of Skittles on my desk, I’d never find them under all the papers.) The brilliant idea, undoubtedly fuelled by Skittles sugar, was that it would be much cooler if we joined forces and offer two identical seminars that would pair both beer and wine with various chocolate dishes. If that wasn’t enough, we also decided that it would be way more fun to present chocolate-based foods rather than straight chocolate.

cocloco1During the weeks leading up to the event, Brewmaster students created six beers to pair with the food. Working with the culinary department, we developed a menu of chocolate-based foods that were perhaps outside the usual range of what you might think as chocolate. And that was the gist of our seminars as well — we knew everyone was going to go home from the festival bursting with chocolate-y ideas of what to serve to guests next weekend, but inevitably it was going to be either chocolate fondue or chocolate cake. We titled our seminars “Going Coco Loco”, and as the name suggests, we wanted people to think outside the box when it came to both chocolate and the wines and beers to serve with them.

Ancho Chili Soup with Cocoa

Ancho Chili Soup with Cocoa

Our first course was Chili Ancho Sopa de Chocolate — a smooth spicy Mexican soup made with blackened ancho chili peppers and enriched with semisweet chocolate. I think a lot of people in the seminar were expecting Britnie to present an icewine — it’s the usual suspect when eating chocolate-based foods; but Britnie instead pulled out a 2012 College Rosé. The sweetness of the Rosé’s residual sugar helped disperse the heat of the spices, and its light body contrasted well with the thick soup. On the beer side, in the first seminar I chose to pair the spicy soup with a Vanilla Cream Ale that had been devised by Teaching Brewery Brewmaster Jon Downing and made by a group of 1st-year Brewmaster students. Like the wine, this beer was on the sweet side, which tamped down the heat of the soup, and the vanilla flavour went well with the cocoa notes like vanilla and chocolate ice cream in the same bowl. In the second seminar, I used the same reasoning but with a bit more oomph, pairing the soup with a Russian Imperial Stout devised and created by 2nd-year student Graham McMullen.

Pulled chicken sliders with Mole Negro

Pulled chicken sliders with Mole Negro

The second course was Pulled Chicken Sliders with Mole Negro — spiced with three types of chili peppers, some garlic, a bit of canela, some almonds and sesame seeds, and of course , some chocolate. For the wine, Britnie picked a 2010 Dean’s List Meritage, a Bordeaux-style with enough body to match the blackened spices. For the first seminar, I chose Chocolate Cherry Schwartzbier, again one of Jon Downing’s recipes that was created by 1st-year students. This sweet beer is normally paired with black forest cake, but I wanted to try it against the black mole sauce, and I think it worked well. For the second seminar, I paired the chicken sliders with 2nd-year student Mark Lewis’s modern take on an ancient Aztec beer recipe, something he calls “Xocolotl”. This big (10%) beer has both sweetness and some fairly significant spicy heat, so matched both the blackened spices and the cocoa in the sliders.

Cocoa-Rubbed Baby Back Ribs

Cocoa-Rubbed Baby Back Ribs

The third course was Cocoa-Rubbed Baby Back Ribs — just what it sounds like: ribs rubbed with a combination of cocoa powder, brown sugar, ancho chili powder, and some spices. Mmmmm! Britnie’s wine was a 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon with lots of tannins for the meaty ribs. My choice of beer at both seminars was 2nd-year student Tanner Hinrichsen’s “Spicy Orange Ale”. Tanner confessed that he is not really a fan of chocolate, so he set out to make a beer that would pair well with chocolate without using chocolate or dark malts. The result is a light amber ale with strong citrussy orange notes and a bit of heat. This and the ribs made for a great combination.

Baba Ghannouj with White Chocolate

Baba Ghannouj with White Chocolate

Our final course was White Chocolate Baba Ghannouj with Spent Grain Crisps — a fairly standard baba ghannouj with the rather unusual addition of some white chocolate. Britnie chose the 2011 Niagara College Semi-Dry Riesling, which had enough acidity to cut through the thick body of the baba ghannouj. I chose another of Jon Downing’s recipes, French Coffee Porter. Although this has very noticeable coffee flavours, those actually come from one of the grains used, French Coffee Press malt. I thought the coffee and white chocolate made a good combination.

Britnie & I going coco-loco.

Britnie & I going coco-loco.

Perhaps the best part of the seminars was that the college was fortunate enough to receive a generous sponsorship from nearby Inniskillin Wines that allowed us to offer the seminars for no cost. Yep, free food and drinks, woo-hoo! Everything tastes better when it’s free.

In the end, everyone went home with some ideas for a chocolate-based dinner that will hopefully colour outside the lines, and Britnie & I were left with the task of coming up with some more great recipe ideas for next year.

If you would like a copy of the recipes for the four dishes served at our seminars, contact me at

Caps, Corks and Forks 5: The results

November 24, 2013

As promised, here is the blow-by-blow account of the recent Caps, Corks & Forks dinner at Niagara College that pitted wine against beer.

This dinner highlights the skills of students from several programs at the college: Culinary students design and create a six-course dinner. Teams of beer and wine students choose what they believe to be the best beverage to accompany each dish.


Benchmark Restaurant being prepared for battle. Note the line of bottle caps and corks to be used for voting running down the centre of the table. The dark forested ridge seen through the windows is the Niagara Escarpment.

The battleground is The Benchmark, our beautiful campus restaurant nestled against the Niagara Escarpment. (The name is wordplay on the location — the shoulder of land just below the Escarpment is known as “the bench”. In addition, “nc” in “bench” happens to be the initials of Niagara College.)

During the dinner, the two culinary students who designed each dish are introduced and explain what it is and how it was made. Then one member of the Wine Team has two minutes to introduce the wine being paired with the dish, its history, the reason for the pairing etc. Likewise a member of the Beer Team explains the choice of beer. As the diners eat and drink, members of each team come to your table and try to convince you of the righteousness of their selection. The 80 diners then vote which beverage pairs better with the food by dropping either a cap (beer) or a cork (wine) into a bucket at the end of each course. The winner of each course is then announced and we move on to the next course.  Whichever team wins the most courses is declared the champion.

The rules of combat are quite simple:

  1. All beer and wine chosen for the dinner must be made in Ontario.
  2. Rather than selecting a commercial beer, 2nd-year Brewmaster students have the option of brewing their own beer for one of the courses. (However, it wasn’t an option for this dinner, since the Teaching Brewery had been shut down while undergoing expansion.)
  3. No beer or wine can cost more than $35 per bottle. (This rule was obviously put in place for the wine team, since the infection of ridiculously overpriced wine seems to have drifted across the Atlantic from France. I mean, seriously people, it’s fermented grape juice.)
  4. If there’s a 3-3 tie at the end of the dinner, then total votes for all six courses determine the winner.

There are two of these dinners each academic year, in November and February; I was actually a member of the Beer Team at the first such dinner two years ago — we tied 3-3 after six courses but lost the tiebreaker. There have been three more dinners since then, all of them also ending in a 3-3 tie, with Wine winning twice and Beer winning once. (So total wins to this point have been Wine 3, Beer 1).

Now I was back, but this time as the coach of the Beer Team, merely a spectator as the evening unfolded. Here’s how it went down:

Chef Michael Smith

Chef Michael Smith

The emcee for the evening was Chef Michael Smith, one of Canada’s most well-known and popular “foodies” due to his many appearances on the Food Network. I often wondered why he always seemed to meet such short people on his shows; it turns out that they are not short, but rather that Chef Michael is very tall — easily topping 2 m (6’8”). In conversation, he is instantly likeable, with a disarming smile and a friendly word for everyone. He was clearly at ease as he spoke to the crowd between courses.

The two teams presented an interesting contrast in style. The Wine Team were in matching burgundy vests and ties, with black pants. The Beer Team opted to go with a more casual look: plaid shirts and jeans.

First course: Amuse bouche


Tofu with Asian mustard dressing

The dish: Tofu rolled in spices then deep fried and served with an Asian mustard dressing

The wine: Henry of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Rosé with a dash of raspberry purée

The beer: Mill St. Belgian Wit (presented by 2nd-year student Asuka Nogami)

Beer Team strategy: This was a delicate dish. The spices, although evident, were not overwhelming, and the mustard was likewise more about taste than heat. Asuka felt Mill St.’s wit, with its spicy notes of coriander and orange peel, would compliment the spices of the dish, but the light body of the beer and high carbonation would lift the food without overwhelming the flavour. She also wanted to avoid starting the evening with a  bigger beer that might dull our palates.

My opinion: The wine contrasted the spiciness with a sweet tartness. The wit matched spice for spice. This was an interesting difference in approach: contrast versus complement. (As a bit of background, I should mention that the wine that the Wine Team ordered for this course did not arrive, and they were forced to make a last-minute subsitution.) In the end, I thought the beer played well with the food, while the wine put up a bit of a fight.

Winner: Beer (Beer 1, Wine 0)

Second course: Appetizer


Pork pate with quail eggs and pickled beets

The dish: Country pork pate with quail eggs, crispy pig ears and pickled preserves

The wine: Thirty Bench Riesling 2012

The beer: Indie Ale House Rye So Sour (presented by 2nd-year student Steve Herold)

Beer Team strategy: The pate was very fatty, and Steve wanted a sour beer so it would both cleanse the palate with its acidity and match the sourness of the pickled preserves.

My opinion: The Riesling also had a high acidity in order to cut through the fat of the pate. The pickled preserves that had been so sour during our taste trials seemed to be less pickled for the dinner, so the match of sour beer to them was not as apparent. Although I voted for beer, I had to hand it to the Wine Team, the Riesling was an excellent choice.

Winner: Wine (Beer 1, Wine 1)

Third course: Soup


Roasted chestnut soup with aged cheddar and foie gras

The dish: Roasted chestnut soup with aged cheddar and foie gras

The wine: Niagara College Dean’s List Chardonnay 2010

The beer: Black Oak Nut Brown Ale (presented by 1st-year student Matt Soos)

Beer Team strategy:This is a heavy, thick soup, with a high fat content and a robust nuttiness. Matt liked the way that Black Oak’s multiple-award-winning Nut Brown Ale had enough body not to be overwhelmed, had a high carbonation that cut through the fattiness to cleanse the palate, and a nuttiness to match the soup.

My opinion: During my summer at Black Oak, I helped to package many thousands of bottles of Nut Brown Ale, and I actually recommended the Nut Brown Ale to Matt. I tried to keep an open mind as I tasted a very familiar beer. Although the Chardonnay accentuated the nuttiness of the soup, it was itself diminished by the soup. The Nut Brown Ale, on the other hand, went hand-in-hand with the soup, the two making a whole that was greater than the sum of the parts.

Winner: Beer (Beer 2, Wine 1)

Fourth course: Seafood

The dish: Pan seared sea scallops with spicy Indian carrot relish and coconut curry sauce

The wine: Peller Estates Ice Cuvée Rosé

The beer: Cameron’s Rye Pale Ale (presented by 1st-year student Hannah Lee)

Beer Team strategy: During our preparatory food tastings, the carrot relish and curry were both very spicy hot. India pale ale is the usual go-to for curry dishes — its sweet backbone ameliorates the spiciness and its bitterness is big enough to go toe-to-toe with the curry. Hannah felt that the spicy notes provided by the rye in Cameron’s Rye P.A. would further compliment the dish.

My opinion: The hot spiciness we had tasted during prep was greatly throttled back this evening. (Following the course, Chef Michael Smith opined that he had wanted the dish to be much hotter.) Of course, that’s part of the human element that comes into play at these events. The result was that the Rye P.A. was too big and bitter for the curry, while the wine, which I believe would have been vanquished by the heat had the curry been as hot as originally presented, was actually quite a good match.

Winner: Wine (Beer 2, Wine 2)

Fifth course: Meat

Meat dish

Ontario Lamb Wellington

The dish: Ontario Lamb Wellington wrapped in puff pastry, with cauliflower purée, chanterelles, heirloom carrots and mint jus

The wine: Malivoire Albert’s Honour Old Vines Foch 2010

The beer: Niagara Oast House Biére de Garde (presented by 1st-year student Drew Simon)

Beer Team strategy: Drew looked for a beer that would complement this simple yet hearty fare. Biére de garde was developed centuries ago on the farms of northern France, brewed in the winter and spring, then stored in root cellars until the hot days of summer — hence it’s name, which translates as “stored beer”. Its zesty carbonation from secondary bottle fermentation and the use of Belgian yeasts to provide a spiciness to the taste make for a thirst-quenching beverage, and one that was designed for the hearty meals of the farmhouse dinner table.

My opinion: The Niagara Oast House brewmaster, Kevin Somerville, was present, so kudos to Drew for asking him to stand and be acknowledged. This was the first time most of the diners had tasted a biére de garde, and I believe many of them were truly startled by its effervescent yet spicy flavour. The wine was also outstanding, a big fruity red that also went well with the dish. Many diners at our table were torn over how to vote. I myself could have voted either way on this one, and I believe the overall vote was probably fairly close.

Winner: Beer (Beer 3, Wine 2)

Sixth course: Dessert


Tiramisu with ale-soaked lady fingers and an ice wine reduction

The dish: Tiramisu of mascarpone mousseline layered with stout-soaked lady fingers, accompanied by an ice wine reduction

(Dessert was plated at the front of the restaurant so that diners could see how the two students — Rebekka Schmidt and Melanie Williams — worked together to create the beautiful dish.)

The wine: Southbrook Whimsy! The Anniversary

The beer: Nickel Brook Bolshevik Bastard Russian Imperial Stout (presented by 1st-year student Phil Craig)

Beer Team strategy: If you have finished an Italian meal with tiramisu,  you probably also ordered coffee or cappuccino to accompany it. Phil — who works for Nickel Brook part-time and is very familiar with Bolshevik Bastard — believed this beer’s chocolate and coffee notes would end the meal in a similar fashion.

My opinion: Wow. This was the perfect beer to pair with this dessert. The beer’s heavy body contrasted with the mousseline’s light texture, the chocolate notes of the beer played with the same notes in the stout-soaked ladyfingers, and the coffee flavours of the beer reminded everyone of that cup of cappuccino they might have ordered to go with this. I would be hard-pressed to think of any wine that would be able to match such a pairing.

Winner: Beer (Beer 4, Wine 2)


Chef Michael Smith presents the Beer Team with the trophy. (L to R): Hannah, Matt, Asuka, Steve, Chef Michael, Drew, Phil.

Woo-hoo! We not only won the dinner, but this was the first time any team had won a majority of the courses outright.

What’s next? For me, it’s back to the drawing board right away —  Caps, Corks & Forks #6 is on February 6, and due to the Christmas Break, I need to put together another Beer Team pronto so we’re all ready for action in the New Year. (The demand to be on the Beer Team is so high that each Brewmaster student can only participate in one dinner — hence the need for a new team for every dinner.)

If you are interested in being one of the 80 diners on February 6, the cost is $79 (taxes and gratuity included). But you’ll want to contact the Benchmark right away — it’s always a sell-out and many of the diners order their tickets several months in advance!

Beer and food pairing: What would you choose?

November 20, 2013

Hey kids, it’s time to play “Match a Beer to the Food”! It’s easy! I’ll give you a fancy-schmancy dish, you choose any Ontario beer to go with it. And to make it seem more realistic, I’ll use the actual menu for the “Caps, Corks & Forks” dinner happening this week. Yep, it’s the dinner that pits wine against beer — which pairs better with each course?

(Long time readers might remember that two years ago, I was a member of the Beer Team at the inaugural Caps, Corks & Forks dinner. Now I’m staff support for the Beer Team at the fifth such dinner.)

Ready? Let’s get started! Which Ontario beer would you choose for each course?:

Amuse Bouche: Tofu cubes rolled in spices then deep fried and served on an Asian mustard dressing

Appetizer: Coarse pork pate on a bed of pickled beets

Soup: Roasted chestnut and cheddar soup with cubes of foie gras, garnished with bitter celeriac

Fish: Pan seared sea scallops with spicy Indian carrot relish and coconut curry sauce

Meat: Lamb Wellington wrapped in puff pastry, with cauliflower puree, chanterelles, heirloom carrots and mint jus

Dessert: Tiramisu — mascarpone mousseline layered with ale-soaked lady fingers

In two days, I’ll reveal what the Beer Team chose, and how they fared against the Wine Team.

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.


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