The stately lady in the above photo is my great-great-great-great-great grandmother, Susannah Woodhouse (Culverwell) Oland. If you are a beer geek, you may just recognize her as the grand matriarch of Canadian brewing. If not, you still might recognize her name from having seen it on a wall inside a pub...
There are some inconsistencies in the stories about her, details blurred by the passing of time, but she was, by all reports, a woman of indomitable spirit. A person of grit and pluck who carried her family through thick and thin. Her husband, John, along with his three male partners, may have been given the public credit for the founding of their first brewery, (The Army and Navy Brewery, named in honor of the breweries best, most thirsty customers.) but the family has always held that Susannah was the true driving force behind it all. The beer they first brewed was Susannah's, her personal recipe for a brown "October Ale", and when John died suddenly in 1870 during a riding accident, she founded her own brewery: S. Oland, Sons and Co.
John's untimely death left Susannah with 6 children to care for and in considerable financial distress. She was forced out of their company, selling the families shares in The Army and Navy Brewery. But ever unsinkable, she came roaring back into the brewing world seven years later, buying the brewery back from the remaining partners and founding her own damn company, using an inheritance she had received.
S. Oland, Sons and Co. may not have had her name on it exactly, but it did have the next best thing: her initial. This was either an acquiescence to the social pressures of the time, or a strategic move to sell more beer to late 1800's male chauvinists. It's said that it was her choice to use only her initial, a decision made as canny business move, and that would certainly fit in with what we know of her character.
Either way, we do know that Susannah found her success as an unlikely female entrepreneur of the age, and guided S. Oland, Sons and Co. into prosperity- though it didn't come easily. Fire, a major (and constant) threat to breweries of the era, struck twice over the first 8 years of operation. But both times that the brewery burnt, Susannah rebuilt. She survived, grew, and taught her sons what she had learned of both brewing and business. In 1886 Susannah Oland died, and the company fell to her sons; George and Conrad.
I can't say why, but perhaps eager to get out from under the shadow of their legendary Mother, George and Conrad renamed the company to The Maritime Brewing & Malting Co.
It would seem that business for the two brothers was mostly good- until the morning of December 6th, 1917.
The Halifax explosion was catastrophic. The blast was the greatest that the world had ever known, and it remained that way -the most powerful explosion that the world had ever seen- right up until the development of nuclear weapons. It still holds the gruesome record for the most powerful blast ever created by conventional explosives.
Nearly all structures within an 800-metre (2,600 ft) radius, including the entire community of Richmond, were obliterated. A pressure wave snapped trees, bent iron rails, demolished buildings, grounded vessels, and scattered fragments of the Mont-Blanc for kilometres. Hardly a window in the city proper survived the blast. Across the harbour, in Dartmouth, there was also widespread damage. A tsunami created by the blast wiped out the community of Mi'kmaq First Nations people who had lived in the Tuft's Cove area for generations.
As for the Olands, the disaster demolished their brewery, killed Conrad, and ultimately split the family apart. After the explosion, the family rebuilt in two places: atop the original Nova Scotia address in Halifax, and in a new location in Saint John, New Brunswick. By the 1930's, two distinct and separately controlled companies had emerged: Oland Breweries in Halifax and what will eventually come to be known as Moosehead Brewery in Saint John New Brunswick. Divided, Susannahs descendants fought bitterly over the Maritime beer market. This lasted until 1971, when Oland's Breweries was acquired by Labatt, which was itself consumed by Interbrew, which merged with Anheuser-Busch to become now AB InBev, and which will soon become Coorbrew-Global-Hyper-Mega-Corp I suppose.
In 1993 Derek Oland made the strategic decision to shutter Moosehead’s Nova Scotia brewery (Which was established in Dartmouth to compete with the cousins) in favour of focusing their efforts on their New Brunswick home. This marked the end of the family's Nova Scotian brewing tradition, begun by Susannah just over 125 years prior- but it was far from the end of the Oland family brewing tradition: Moosehead remains proudly independent and family-run to this day.
Still, somewhat sadly, the Oland name- or at least, the Oland Brands- are now owned and brewed by Inbev. Brands like Schooner Lager :
You may recognize that schooner from such currencies as: our own, and such denominations as: the flippin' dime. And well, if you don't, then it's time for another heritage minute:
What the heritage minute doesn't mention, and what many do not realize about the Bluenose, is that she wasn't just a pleasure craft. She was built to work and race, and when she reached the end of her useful working life, she was sold- just like you would do with a used work truck.
She was no mere racing ship, but also a general fishing craft that was worked hard throughout her lifetime. She fished cod and other kinds of groundfish, and at least once won competitions for largest catches of the season and similar awards.
Fishing schooners became obsolete during the 1930s, displaced by motor schooners and trawlers. Despite efforts to keep her in Nova Scotia led by Capt. Walters, Bluenose was sold to work as a freighter in the West Indies. Laden with bananas, she struck a coral reef off Île à Vache, Haiti on January 28, 1946. Wrecked beyond repair, with no loss of life, she was abandoned on the reef.
Still, the people of Nova Scotia mourned the loss of the Bluenose, and in 1963 Oland's Breweries had a replica built of the celebrated vessel; the Bluenose II. It was built using the original Bluenose plans, at the original shipyard, even with many of the same shipwrights. The Bluenose II was primarily a promotional tool, but she was also used as a pleasure yacht for the Oland family, right up until 1971, the year of the Labatt's buyout, when the family sold the Bluenose II to the government of Nova Scotia- for one dollar... or 10 dimes.
"Wait" I can almost hear you thinking, "Victor, if you're a part of this yacht-owning family, this national beer dynasty, why did you start a tiny contract brewery, instead of, you know, anything else??" Well, the simple answer is: I'm not. I'm a North. (and very proud to be one!) But we Norths have no particular claim to brewing. Remember how I mentioned that Susannah is my great-great-great-great-great grandparent? Well, we all have a lot of those. Mathematically speaking, we ought to have around one-hundred and twenty-eight, in fact. Look hard enough into that crowd, and there ought to be at least one or two exceptional people in the mix. Wait but Why has an excellent post that explains genealogy (which can be found here) and in it is an illustration which explains my situation within the Oland family almost perfectly:
I've always thought that what we choose to be is so much more important that what our ancestors were anyway. I am a brewer because I chose to become one, and that is what counts at the end of the day, no? As Kurt Vonnegut wrote: "We are what we pretend to be".
Still, I do draw inspiration from my Great5 Grandmother Susannah, her determination and her resilience, and the resilience shown by her descendants. I take a measure of pride that beer runs in my blood (increasingly more so, after several beers!) It's a source of reassurance to reflect upon when the going gets tough... which it has. I'm afraid that this brings me, at long last, to the point of this story. I have some sad news: I'm sorry to tell you that we've run out of runway, and we're going to have to stop brewing for the foreseeable future.
It's no secret that contract brewing is a difficult way to start a brewery. Local beer writer, Jordan St. John recently wrote that "Contract brewing has proved to be a grueling, merciless, low margin, joyless and difficult way to make your way in the beer industry." which was such a remarkably pointed and insightful comment, it made me wonder when Jordan ran a contract brewery!? The low margins he mentions are key: the margins are very thin indeed, so unless you are contract brewing on a rather large scale, these small margins mean that you are unlikely to break even, and making money becomes an unrealistic goal.
The true goal with contract brewing is typically to build a brand, develop some brand equity, or prove a concept. The entire exercise could be thought of as a marketing expense; the money you lose bringing your product to market, attending beer festivals, and operating your company is essentially money invested towards building up the idea of your brewery into a real and respectable thing. This is done in the hopes that you might be better able to access funds that perhaps would not have been available to you otherwise, say, if you were simply a dreamer with a well-thumbed business plan. That was our thought anyway, of course I can't speak for every contract brewer. There are lots of folks out there taking the same route as us, and many seem to be doing rather well! Perhaps we have simply been doing it wrong. (That seems quite likely actually, given the circumstances!)
Regardless, we simply didn't have the money to chase this dream but we wanted to chase it anyway, so contract brewing was the method we picked to jam our foot into the door. It's not something that is sustainable for very long. You either open the door, or it gets painful pretty darn fast! The idea, typically, is to move past contract brewing -and do so quickly- before you lose your shirt! (or foot!)
There is a simple reason why most contract brewers have either a part-time or full-time job in addition to their business. But that job presents a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem familiar to any entrepreneur: you don't want to quit your job and go all-in until your business is actually no longer losing money, but that is unlikely to ever happen if you don't commit your full time and attention to the project. Once I left my position teaching at the College to focus on Garden Brewers, I was making that commitment and taking that chance- and I set the clock ticking. We began to really focus on growing into a bricks-and-mortar company, but we also began to really lose money. I genuinely thought that we would beat the clock -and the odds- but we now find ourselves in a position where we are unable to continue.
Don't worry about us though. I've already been offered, and accepted, a job. I've been brewing for a little while now at Black Oak, and I'm happy to be in such good company while we figure out what comes next! In the coming weeks and months, Garden Brewers will be winding down and selling our remaining kegs of beer. We will then be collecting the empties, and selling the kegs themselves as well. Unfortunately, we'll have to sell any physical assets of the company that we can, in order to help cover some of our start-up loans. From there, it's harder to say. I would like to say "We'll be back!", that this is simply a temporary setback and we will still open our brewery someday, but the reality is that we don't see any way forward at this time.
Still, Hamilton's bylaws are changing, the industry is growing, and the rules around beer and alcohol are slowly being liberalized and modernized in this province. There may be a way for us to make this work yet. After all -if Susannah and her descendants could overcome deaths in the family, brewery fires, and utterly devastating explosions- maybe we can find a way to deal with our little problems, eh?
Until then, we wish you well. We hope that you have also enjoyed our beers, and the time we spent together at bars, beer festivals, and at our special events- however brief it was. May you always have a clean shirt, a clear conscience, and enough coins in your pocket to buy a pint!
I can certainly drink to that,
-The Garden Brewers
We have a new "Now In Bloom!" beer to announce: Ever-Green! An Imperial Juniper American Brown Ale. This beer pairs the piney and resinous notes of American-type Hops, with the similarly woodsy and citrusy notes of Juniper berries! Rounding out the flavor profile is dark malts (which have been cold-steeped to extract the most gentle coffee & cocoa notes possible) and higher-alcohol (which adds a drying decadence, and contributes to overall balance).
The risk with American-Style dark or brown hoppy-beers of any type (from American Brown, to American Porter/Stout, Cascadian Dark, Black IPA, what have you...) is that by using a combination of dark malts and bold American-type hops, you can achieve a pretty unpleasant clash between the hop character, and the burnt and astringent malts. At its worst, it can seem extremely harsh... at least to me. The cold steeping/sparging process was our way around this issue!
Of course, the rest of the mash was warm-steeped and hot-sparged in the typical fashion. The grain bill was 100 kilos of Pale Ale Malt, 75 kilos of Vienna, and 5 kilos of Brown.
As usual for this series of brews, we made our own label image by carving a relief print! This time, we used an actual piece of wood:
This was the last woodblock that I had hanging around from a trip to Japan many, many years ago. You don't go to Japan, and not visit at least one art supplies shop, not if you're me at least! I've been out of the art game for so long, I've been able to coast off of the fumes of these old supplies for awhile! Now that they're finally all used up, I have an excuse to go spend some time and money at our local independent Art Store here in Hamilton: Mixed Media. It's always nice to indulge in some lovely art things without feeling too guilty about it, yes?
This was a simple, but fun, one to carve. It wasn't extremely challenging, but I hadn't carved an actual wooden block in some time, and had forgotten how the grain does pose a bit of a challenge! Still, it all went very quickly.
After carving and printing the image I experimented with many different colors, but eventually settled on a brown background, because I think it reflected the actual beer best. You can see below the three leading colour choices, and if you think I was wrong to settle on brown, then I might just agree!
The beer itself came out very nicely! It has a firm backbone of bready-toasty malts which supports a dark-roasted oily-coffee character, with notes of sharp dark chocolate! These flavours are decidedly present, but do not clash with the Hopping/Juniper. The beer was hopped to 22 IBUs via a small first-wort hopping of Magnum, and an extended whirlpool hopping of a mix of hops; including equal amounts of Amarillo, Citra, Northern Brewer, Willamette, and the interesting Huell Melon. It was then dry-hopped with a generous amount of Citra, Amarillo, and Juniper Berries. On the pilot batch the Juniper Berries were a bit too subtle, so we increased the amount, and instead of just lightly crushing them, we completely pulverized them in a blender. We essentially made a Juniper Berry puree!
The Hops and Juniper were added loose to the fermentor, and allowed to sit warm for about a week, before we cold-crashed and filtered the beer to sparkling clarity!
The final product is pretty delightful, with neither Hops nor Juniper overwhelming, but both making a firm presence felt. The Juniper comes across subtly at first, with a woodsy character that builds, so that by the time you are finished your pint you have a robust and resinous flavour in your mouth. The Juniper appears to be cumulative in that way, so it is probably a good thing that is rather gentle to start. I believe that all of the flavours work quite harmoniously together, and provide a unique take on the flavour profile of an American Brown Ale- with higher alcohol serving to unify and compliment the dark chocolaty Malt, piney Hops, and woodsy Juniper. I hope you agree, and enjoy this beer as much as I do...
Exciting news- Piperales just took GOLD in the Ontario Brewing Awards for Rauchbier!! Congratulations to all the winners, especially to our fellow Hamiltonians, Collective Arts and Clifford Brewing, who took Gold and Silver respectively in Porter! Well done!! (Kinda like old homebrewing days, eh buddy?)
Carobou; our English-style Barleywine brewed with Carob is back- in a big way!
This beer was first brewed four years ago for sharing with friends, family, and fellow homebrewers over the holiday season. That first batch was in back in 2011, and it was my entry into the SOB advent calendar. Check out this awesome photo of that brew by Patrick Hirlehey, another participant in that calendar:
The idea of a homebrew club advent calendar is simple- and brilliant: somewhere between 12 (days of Christmas), 24 (bottles in a case) or 31 (days in December) homebrewers sign up to brew and bottle an advent batch of beer. They bottle enough for every participant, and sometime in advance of December they get together to do a swap! Everybody gets one bottle from each brewer and keeps one of their own bottles to create a complete set. Each bottle is assigned a day, and everybody goes though them together: each participant gets to enjoy a super-unique advent calendar of beer! They also get to share feedback and thoughts with each other as a group, as the days progress towards Christmas. Carobou was my entry into the 2011 SOB advent calendar, and it also took first place in that years All About Ales Comp in Spice/Herb/Vegetable beers!
In 2012 I re-brewed it to be served at Black Oak's annual Holiday Party. I made it at Black Oak on a little homebrew system as part of their "Rubber Boot Camp" series of how-to brewing sessions, open to the public. At that time I wrote:
"I think that many brewers instincts would be to pair the Carob with Chocolate malts, but I think that would be a disservice to the Carob. It would cover the Carob up, dominate it, and place it in a flavour competition it simply cannot win. Carob, if you are not aware, is a lovely but much maligned spice. I think because it is often presented as a Chocolate Substitute. Carob may have a character that is somewhat reminiscent of chocolate, but it is no substitute. Nothing is! Carob has its own thing going on anyway, it’s different. It’s interesting! It’s good. Don’t ruin it by forcing me to think of it as a cruel and crude approximation of Chocolate. ANYWAY, this big beer is made with 100% Canadian 2-Row barley- which allows the subtle Carob character and colour to come through."
I pretty much stand by that, or at least the most important part: Carob is not Chocolate. And I think that the idea that "Carob is a good chocolate substitute" is ruining Carob. It's so unfair. Carob has a lot to offer, but it's always being put into situations where its only job is to be JUST LIKE CHOCOLATE. Situations where it inevitably falls short, and then gets told that it's crummy. It's as if Albert Einstein had a big brother who was great at hockey, Wayne Einstein, and whenever Wayne was too expensive to use or whatever, well-meaning hippies were like: "Try Albert, he's just as good!" and poor Albert just gets thrown in and then told how crummy he is at being Wayne... All. The. Time. People completely miss out on what is amazing and brilliant about Albert because they can only conceive of him as a lousy Wayne impersonator.
There simply is no substitute for Chocolate. But the same could be said of Carob, yes?
The result: everyone seems to hate Carob, when really, all they hate is how poorly Carob mimics Chocolate. (For one, Carob has none of the mood-altering mojo of Chocolate)
But Carob, when taken on its own merit, can be understood as a very interesting and unique ingredient, one certainly not worthy of universal derision.
And that is how we try to use it here- Carob for Carob's sake. We use only pale malts, to let the Carob shine. The grist bill is entirely pale 2-row barley, except for a small addition of malted Spelt, which is an ancient grain in the wheat family that I find adds a mild, nutty earthiness, as well as enhances the mouthfeel.
All of the malt created a massive mash. We REALLY hit the maximum amount here, I think.
But, we made a mistake (again): we had left the valve running to the kettle OPEN during the mash in. By the time we had crammed all of that malt into the mash tun, we had something like 200 liters already run off into the kettle! (How embarrassing!) We left that volume of wort in the kettle during the mash, where it could be kept warm, then ran it off into buckets and returned it to the mash tun as our first volume of sparging liquid. In this way, we we didn't lose any of that sweet, sweet sugar.
We added the Carob as a powder, right into the kettle, before the beginning of the boil. We used 10 kilograms of Carob for this 400 liter batch, so our addition was 25 grams of Carob per liter! That is what we brewers call a "non-trivial addition", my friends.
With the beer ready, it was time to revisit the old design- which featured a Carob pod hanging unattractively above two (hopefully, public domain) images of a beer and a Caribou:
Once again, we started designing a relief print. The first attempt went pretty well, with the exception of the antlers, which clearly gave me some trouble. You know when you're painting text on poster, but you misjudge the space, and by the end you're really squeezing those last few letters in? That's how I felt about these antlers on my first attempt:
My old art teachers would have been happy about how I really "used the canvas" on this design, filling all of the available space and creating some interesting negative spaces. But after all of that fuss on those majestic antlers, they had to be cut from the final image!
We kegged the beer only a few days ago, ending up with 360 liters- or a dozen thirty liter kegs.
We've already brought one of those kegs to Project Brew, the mini beer festival staged by the most recent graduating class from the Brewmaster program at Niagara College (This particular group was special to me, as I had them as students! Congrats, Cheers, and Good Luck everyone!) and the beer was quite well received there!
We plan to put aside at least one more keg for cellaring, which leaves us with only about 10 kegs to share with our friends. Look for them to go on tap shortly!
This new 2015 Carobou is young (rather young indeed, for a barleywine) but it isn't hot; it is remarkably refined for its age, with a powerful, wonderful aroma of dried, dark (bordering on tropical) fruits, and a decadent body as well as a rich flavour, marked by an sweetly earthy, spicy character. The Carob's chocolaty notes are more woodsy than what you might expect from Cacao nibs, more like chocolate covered truffles than milk chocolate. The Carob character is complementary with the base style, enhancing and rounding out the luscious maltiness and boozy, brandy-like complexity you would expect in a big barleywine. It's a rather different- but very special brew. We hope you like it as much as we do around our home. Happy Holidays!
Cheers! Here's to 2016,
-The Garden Brewers
Time for some news:
Due to popular demand, we've re-brewed our Petal-Pusher!
Petal-Pusher was our first "Now In Bloom" beer, and it is still our most popular Now In Bloom brew to date! Look for it to go on tap very soon. Our neighbors at The Winking Judge got a big ol' Firkin of this lager, specially cask-conditioned with ale yeast and extra galaxy hops! Ought to be quite interesting! Our friends at Lansdowne Brewery have already reserved 2 kegs and their own special cask! The first batch of Petal-Pusher was one of the lucky beers on tap the night Lansdowne opened their doors for the very first time, and I'm proud to say that it was the first keg to empty! It took us awhile, but we've finally got them re-stocked. We've also had orders from our long-time supporters at Iggy's and our buddies at BRÜ! Get a pint while it lasts!
We've also re-brewed the Green-Thumb, because, ah... lots of reasons, really.
I'm pleased to say that the make-up brew day went well! We'll have to see how the final beer comes out, but so far so good! Still, we did rebrew our Ginger IPA yet again... sort of. We made a small batch of the retro-recipe. That's right, the original recipe! We re-brewed The Ships Rations for the first time since 2013! We made a limited amount for a special event coming up at The Ship on Thursday November 26th!
Come try the beer that brought brewing back to Hamilton! Come try all the new beers now gloriously flooding our fine city with quality brewskis! Our pal Clifford Brewing will be there with his beers, and we'll be bringing our collaboration brew: L.O.L., a Session Flanders Red! Only 2 kegs of this beer were made, and this is the last one. We pitched some bonus Brett into this keg, and it's had extra time to get funky! It ought to be really nice. Collective Arts Brewing and Nickel Brook Brewing will be there as well, representing their collaborative Arts & Science Brewery; which has brought life back to our historic Peller brewery- empty since the Lakeport buyout in 2010.
As for ourselves, we'll be bringing our B.F.F. Porter and H.H.H. IPA, two beers made with Hamilton-Grown ingredients. Very appropriate for this event, yes? We've been saving the last keg of B.F.F. Porter for this, so for everyone who has been asking where they can get more B.F.F. in the city; this event will be your last chance! (Until next years hop harvest, I suppose!)
How far has this city come in just a few short years?!! You can brew anything in Hamilton!
And more is yet to come. Join us all to celebrate: Thursday November 26th!
And check out this old website: http://theshipsrations.com/
It's still live! I guess we need to check our credit card bills for hosting fees more carefully!
The above painting can currently be seen on display at The Ship. Further artwork in the Ships permanent collection made by yours truly includes the two big super-hero themed paintings upstairs! I'll admit, I quite enjoy the fact that for a couple of years now, you can go to a bar in my town and enjoy a fresh pint of my beer- while simultaneously enjoying my old paintings! I mean, if you're into those sorts of things. Maybe you'll enjoy one but not the other? I'll let you make up your own mind, but you'll have to go to The Ship to decide: I don't have any photos of the other two paintings! For some reason! (And we still don't know how to download a pint! For some reason!) But the two paintings upstairs look kind of like these three:
Yup, in my artistic career, I never did hang in the finest galleries, but I did hang at the finest bars! Kind of foreshadowing, don't you think?
That just about wraps up the news for now! One last thing: we have a special cask coming up! We took some beer from the fresh batch of still-fermenting Green-Thumb (before the addition of any Ginger) and added one whole fresh Papaya:
We cut that tasty tropical fruit in half, peeled and de-seeded it, blended it into a paste, and put it all into a sterilized cotton bag- along with lots of Mosaic hops!
This cask smelled AMAZING while it was being filled! It smelt so delicious in fact, I was compelled to drag people (who were just innocently standing around nearby) over to the filling cask to have a sniff. After taking a whiff, the head brewer at Niagara told me that Papaya is called "Paw-Paw" in Australia, so I decided right then and there that we're calling this cask Paw-Paw IPA as that is adorable. Although "I-PapayA" could also work? Maybe??
Refermented using only the natural sugars of the fruit, this cask ought to be very, very flavorful indeed! Look for this special cask to get tapped this coming Saturday, right here in Hamilton, for the grand opening of Hambrgr! I understand that the plan is to kick off their grand opening weekend with the tapping of the Paw-Paw Pin around 6pm! Be there, or be thirsty!
This beer began, like a lot of beers, with a plan. But like a lot of plans this one went awry. As they say; the best laid plans of mice and brewers, right?
(editors note: nobody says this)
But they also say that close counts in horseshoes and beer, right?
(editors note: what)
The truth is, beer is an inexact science. We aren't typically too far off, but it is a good day when we hit all of our numbers exactly.
Typically, brewers do such a good job on consistency that most people are unaware that we actually have narrow bands within which we are allowed to deviate. Everything from bitterness to colour, and yes, even alcohol level is actually allowed to stray a little. Legally speaking, that 5% ABV beer that you're currently drinking? (I assume that you're drinking a beer right now- am I right?) It could actually be anywhere from 4.5 to 5.5 ABV. If I guessed wrong, and you're in fact having a, say, 7% beer, the allowable deviation goes up. That beer might actually be as high as 8%ABV or as low as 6%ABV! Are you shocked? Outraged? I wouldn't worry. To be honest, we don't deviate that much too often. If you see a beer in the LCBO with a little label stuck on it correcting the ABV, then that brew was likely found to be really out of bounds. But, again, it doesn't happen very often, and when it does it is almost always limited to special one-off brews that are not tried-and-tested. In the absence of hard data, I'll go out on a limb and say that it happens "almost never" for the vast majority of beer volume produced in Ontario.
I'm confident because production brewers who make a lot of the same beer are accustomed to blending batches to achieve an even higher level of consistency. For example, if the batch that you made first thing in the morning was a little high in sugar content -what we would call the gravity- you would adjust on your second batch to hit your blended target precisely. When doing a single batch without an opportunity to blend the challenge is heightened. Yet watching a good, experienced brewer at work is a bit like watching a good, experienced carpenter. It is precision work that seems to demand a flawless execution- but this world isn't perfect. To account for us not living in the best of all possible worlds many minor adjustments can be made throughout the day, small course-corrections, so that the little deviations that pop up are properly adjusted for and are never noticed in the final product. I believe that the difference between novice and experienced tradesmen is not in the absence of flaws, but in knowing the many ways to correct flaws. A bit more water here, a longer boil there, a pint of good ale, and the cabinet looks effortlessly flawless. That said, typically -truthfully- there are always small variations from batch-to-batch. There are always going to be minor differences from day-to-day. but it is on the sort of scale that is not noticed by the average thirsty fan, or often even by the most experienced palates. It is much more subtle, the sort of perhaps half-imagined thing that drives us brewers crazy, because we know it must be there, while everyone else around us is certain that it doesn't exist.
As commonplace as minor deviations are, major deviations are certainly a no-no. One of the points of pride in brewing is that we can, and do, achieve consistency regularly. We treasure it. It is... precious to us. We mostly lack the concept of vintages in brewing, like you see in wine. When our raw ingredients are not to our preferred specifications, we don't have the luxury of shrugging our collective brewing shoulders and simply saying: "Well, it was a bad year for grain". We need to adjust, we need to make those course-corrections, so that while the ingredients change regularly, our results remains the same. Ironically, it is perhaps this attention to our natural ingredients, this consistency that we achieve, which allows people to sometimes forget that beer is made with natural, botanical ingredients; just like wine. And just like grapes, hops and barley are subject to all the whims of the weather and every stress of the season. Now, to be fair to vintners, many wines are blended in the same manner as beer to achieve the same sort of consistency that brewers cherish. But we brewers do like to pick on those grape guys and gals, eh??
We messed up. It's a bit hard to admit, but we believe that honesty is at least as important as consistency in craft brewing- so here's our confession: We fumbled this one. We were clumsy carpenters. We had intended to re-brew our Green-Thumb (as we are running rather low!) and we decided to do so at the College, as the space was available. I scaled the recipe down for the smaller system, made my plan, but as Robbie Burns said about mice and brewers, it went all askew.
Our problems began with a grain substitution. The Munich malt required for Green-Thumb had unexpectedly run out! This happens pretty regularly around a brewery that makes so many different beers. Rather than scuttle the brew day, a suitable substitute was found. This new Munich was apparently very similar, and ought to provide the proper colour and flavour:
Unfortunately (while it didn't seem to create any appreciable difference in flavour) it most certainly provided a noticeable difference in colour. Our Green-Thumb should look a good touch lighter, like this.
Colour is very hard to correct for without blending, but it was a small difference, and not the end of the world. We continued on with the plan!
Our next problem occurred when the pre-boil gravity reading we took was WAY TOO HIGH. It was more than a full degree plato above the target FINAL gravity reading, which is taken when the boil is complete, after all the evaporation has happened and the sugar content is significantly concentrated. What that means is that our tools were predicting a beer with a final ABV somewhere over 8%! While that might be legally allowable for our 7.2% Ginger beer, it certainly wasn't allowable under our brewers pride. Especially when we could easily correct by adding water! Here's a handy calculation to jot down:
Volume of water addition = (Current Volume * [Actual gravity - Target gravity]) / Target gravity.
So, if your pre-boil gravity is too high for whatever reason- lets say it's at 19 and you need it to be at 16- and if you're currently at, say, 550 Liters, you would add about 100 liters, right? Right.
Until Segal's Law comes into play. As they say, a brewer with two watches never knows the time.
(editors note: that's it. I'm done.)
Our problem wasn't with watches, but with hydrometers and refractometers. We had a bogus reading. Actually, we had several. But we didn't know it until it was too late. Yes, the preboil gravity was high, but not nearly so high as we had thought. When we measured our gravity post-boil, it was now impossibly low- lower than before we had even started the boil!! When you get impossible measurements; get another tool.
So we did. Three different tools, three different readings. As it turned out, both refractometers were in need of calibration (they were both pretty far off, and in opposite directions) while the hydrometer was fairly accurate, it just wasn't all that accurate to read because of the physically tiny scale, which gave us an error of about a degree plato. How can we be sure? We busted out the big guns, the SBS-3500.
So all along, while we thought we were being oh-so-clever and skillful, we were like carpenters using a weird magic tape measure that constantly shifted it's size.
By the grace of Ninkasi, we had somehow still managed to come within our tolerances, even with all of our bad decisions based on bogus measurements. But we were definitely going to be low on gravity, having over-compensated by dilution. It was too late now to boil longer to bring the gravity back up, as that would add significant bitterness, and we were already over our target IBUS as a result of our earlier dilution.
A game-day decision was made: If this beer was going to be different, then by god, let's make it really different! The only hop used in the beer thus far has been Bullion. We decided to go off-book and add a whole bunch of Cascade hops to an extended whirlpool in order to increase the hop aroma a lot and the bitterness a little. We then dry hopped with even more Cascade, as well as the Ginger as planned- but we also increased the amount of Ginger a fair bit. Since we were undeniably clumsy with this batch of Green-Thumb, and this batch has an extra powerful hop character & ginger flavour - as well as greatly increased bitterness and intensity- we decided to call it: "All-Thumbs: Double Green-Thumb". It seemed appropriate!
With a name settled, I got to work on a label design. I was looking for something that visually crossed the phrase "All Thumbs" with the phrase "Two Thumbs Up"!
After refining the idea, I once again began creating a block print of the selected design.
It was super-easy to carve because the design was so simple! I was making prints in no time.
After making a whole bunch of prints, I picked the final print by selecting two prints at random, putting them side by side, and eliminating the weaker of the two- as in the photo above. I replaced the eliminated print with a new one, and repeated the process until I only had a single print remaining- which became the print that goes on the label!
What do I do with all the left over prints? Up until now, I̶ ̶w̶r̶ot̶e̶ ̶e̶m̶b̶a̶r̶r̶a̶s̶s̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶p̶o̶e̶t̶r̶y̶ ̶o̶n̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶m̶ nothing! But this time I thought: "Say, these would make sharp keg collars, at least until I make up proper ones, what with all the required legal information on them that the man demands of me." Check it out:
Pretty cool, if I do say so myself!! I think we may have just earned the title of "Biggest Beer Hipsters in Ontario" by using hand-carved, hand-printed custom-made keg collars!
I love how the final design came out,
...and I think that the beer itself is quite tasty.
The head brewer at Niagara thinks it's great! And that gives me a lot of confidence, but I must admit to being embarrassed at my mistakes, and nervous about how you'll receive the beer! It's aggressive. Time will tame it, but young it is quite bitter and biting! If you find most ginger beers wimpy, or if you tried Green-Thumb and thought "Not enough Ginger" or "Not enough hops" then this is the brew for you! I really hope you like it! And if you do, who knows, it may even become a regular Garden Brewers staple! I'd already like to re-brew it, to be completely honest. I have some tweaks in mind that I'm sure would make it even better. (I'd start by boosting that ABV!) In fact, we may even incorporate some elements from All-Thumbs into the Green-Thumb, maybe. I like the boosted hop aroma, for one.
You know, the name of the beer escapes me, but I recall being told a story about a well-known Double IPA from Montreal that was born one fateful day when the brewer was too sick to work (for a brewer, that must have meant that he got the plague or lost a limb) and his brother was called in to substitute. The inexperienced brother misread the ingredient measurements, accidentally greatly increasing them, and et voilà!! A nouveau and beloved beer was born. A rather similar story is told about the origins of wheat-wine, a style now enshrined in the BJCP. Several styles in fact (Such as the charming tale behind Eisbock) are said to have been born from blunders of one kind or another: not all mistakes are bad!
Time will tell if this is a happy accident, or just the regular kind. OH- also: we made a special experimental cask!
We dry-hopped the cask with Cascade, but we left the Ginger out. In it's place, we substituted Soursop! According to Wikipedia, Soursop's "...flavor has been described as a combination of strawberry and pineapple, with sour citrus flavour notes contrasting with an underlying creamy flavour reminiscent of coconut or banana."
According to the consensus around the brewery that day, my Soursop was likely under-ripe, as it was firm and mealy, and we only got a very subtle strawberry-coconut flavour from it. Still, we added about half the Soursop, 200g worth, to 20L of beer. If it has interesting flavours to contribute, that addition ought to bring them out!
I think that wraps this post up! A lot of experimentation, play, and straight-up mistakes this time around. Nobody has claimed the Soursop cask yet, but when it's tapped, you'll be sure to see me there! I'm dying to try it!
Cheers! May you find fortune in your failure, may all of your accidents be happy ones.
This special beer with three H's in it's name owes it all to three B's, err- sorry, Three Bees Honey Company!
Three Bees is an awesome apiary in our hometown; Hamilton. The beekeeper who looks after all those bees (I think there are actually a lot more than three? If I had to guess??) is none other than Brandi Lee MacDonald! Brandi is big into Beer, Bees and Banthropology, but I think beer might just be her favorite. Brandi loves beer so much in fact, that she created the Because Beer Craft Beer Festival and Homebrew Competition! Hmmm, but she loves Anthropology enough to complete an entire PHD on the subject... which must be a lot... and on further reflection, she loves Bees so much that she sometimes actually prefers to be called "Bee" by her friends!! Well, I guess we may never know her favorite subject, but what is certain is that Brandi is an actual doctor of knowledge, a judge of beer, and a master of bees, so she is basically the only person you need to know in a post-apocalyptic situation. She has already appeared on this blog several times on account of how she is an awesome person and friend! We go back quite a ways, which explains THIS:
That was three years ago. We made a batch of Honey IPA together, big enough to share! Three Bees Honey Company was only about a year old at the time, and Garden Brewers was still just a bunch of crazy notes in a binder.
Three Bees is still going strong in 2015- and so is our friendship! Coincidence?? In any case, we felt it was high time for another Honey IPA, and this time around, we made a big enough batch to share with the whole city! I have to say, that is pretty... sweet.
When fermenting Honey, it tends to ferment out almost completely, leaving little evidence of its flavour. It can leave some subtle notes, which will reflect the source plants. Honey is essentially condensed flower nectar, so which flowers are the source of that nectar can make a dramatic impact on the honey's flavour and colour. The "standard" Honey-as-commodity flavour that we are used to is typically Clover honey, or sometimes, in the most dubious of cases, honey cut with other mild-tasting sugars such as corn syrup. But honey, just like beer, has a wide variety of potential flavours if you venture beyond the commodity stuff, and some honeys are quite dramatic and flavourful indeed!!
Still, even the most intense honey does tend to ferment almost completely out, leaving only residual flavours, so the flavour impact it creates is similar to that of other sugars: it is able to add to the ABV without adding to the heaviness of the beer. It lightens and thins the body. So if you want a big, boozy beer, and you want it to be thick and full and rich, go all-malt. But if you prefer it to be "Digestible", as the Belgians do, add some sugar. Think English Barleywines V.S. Belgian Triples. Both styles could very comfortably occupy about 8-9% alcohol by volume, but put those equally big beers side-by-side and a considerable difference in mouthfeel will become obvious. The first will be thick and sumptuous, demanding a fireplace to be sipped beside, and the second will be light, dry, and dangerously easy-drinking. Both are great! It's horses for courses. But why the difference in body and texture? It's the sugar, sweetheart.
With the ABVs of American IPAs climbing steadily into similar territory, it has been somewhat of a trend in the last couple of years to add a portion of sugar to IPAs in order to achieve similar effects.
Brewers seeking to keep their IPA's more like the sessionable Triple instead of resembling an American Barleywine (or Imperial IPA) have brought sugar into their recipes, which in America, can constitute an act of bravery! Sugar has a complicated history in craft brewing. It is stigmatized almost to the point of taboo. The sentiment may stem from the early beginnings of modern North-American Homebrewing, which saw recipes of malt extract calling for huge additions of sugar and little else. These saccharine early experiences of many brewers left a bitter memory, and when they went on to build the modern American craft brewing culture, they brought their distaste for sugar with them. You can see this anti-sugar prejudice at work every time someone boasts of using only malt, and derides the use of any adjunct (or "Add-Junk" as some will say.) Or when someone knee-jerkingly accuses a brewery of being motivated by scroogish penny-pinching the moment that they learn of that breweries use of sugar. The fact that most big brewers use sugar, rice, or corn to lighten the body and flavour of their hugely popular products is surely a factor as well, but these are all just ingredients! We need not fear them! Sugar is neither inherently good nor bad, just like Rice, Corn, Wheat, Oats, Rye, or Brettanomyces for that matter. Ah, but I digress. Back to Honey!
We are using the honey in this IPA just like the cane sugar in the Green-Thumb; to boost the ABV, dry out the beer, and lighten the finish. You might be inclined to think "Sweet" when you hear "Honey IPA" but it is in fact the opposite! You know, I think that many people describe rather dry IPAs as sweet because the juicy, fruity flavours of the hops can create an impression of sweetness, which may certainly be the case with our HHH IPA as well. In fact, that impression will likely be enhanced by our use of BruMalt, or "Honey Malt", which creates a flavour reminiscent of Honey! This IPA will likely create a sense of sweetness for you, but I can promise you that it will not be cloying or syrupy. I think that you will find the HHH to be dry, juicy and refreshing!
The brewday went very well, but I knew that it would when a flower appeared in the mash tun:
We used 7.5 Kilograms of Honey in the HHH IPA. It was so viscous it went in hilariously slowly, but here's a GIF that will speed the experience up for you:
I'm occasionally asked about our beer recipes, and since this brew began life as homebrew, it seems appropriate to share this recipe now! If you'd like to make your own version of HHH IPA, you can buy Three Bees honey at The Hamilton Store and at Dillon's Distillery!
Scaled to a 5 gallon/ 19ish L batch, assuming about 70% efficiency, you're looking to get:
1.6 Kg of Maris Otter
1.6 Kg of Pilsner
1.6 Kg of 2 Row
0.75 Kg of Honey Malt (or BruMalt)
0.25 Kg of Three Bees Honey! Added at Whirlpool.
15 g of Chinook at first wort
15 g of Summit at first wort
4 g of Chinook at Whirlpool
4 g of Summit at Whirlpool
4 g of Cascade at Whirlpool
4 g of Amarillo at Whirlpool
Target OG is 16.8 Plato or 1.069 specific gravity. Ferment with BRY-97 at 19-20°C until completed. Then add,
20 g of Pacifica at dry hop after fermentation is complete- for 4 days- then remove and add
17.5 g of Cascade, and
17.5 g of Citra, for an additional 4 days.
..and look, this is just what we did. Feel free to switch it up! We change things too. This isn't the same recipe we made in 2012! That one used hops grown by a Corktown neighbor!
I think that just about wraps it up for this blog post. If this post has made you, like me, rather thirsty, you should know that a special lil' cask of this beer has already been delivered to Brü restaurant in Oakville, and it will be tapped this Friday! If you can't make it out for that, we'll be tapping a FULL FRIGGIN' FIRKIN of HHH IPA with our friends at Lansdowne Brewery next Thursday, the 15th! It'll be a party! There will be Garden glassware to giveaway, cask ale and comestibles to consume, and good times to be had. Our brewer will be on site from 5pm to 7pm to give a brief presentation on the beer, and then to answer questions and mingle. Full 20oz pints of fresh cask ale will only be $6 during Cinq à Sept -AND- that special price will run all night to encourage the draining of the cask. Come help us "Finish the Firkin"!
We'll be kegging up the rest of the batch next week, and you can look for Hamilton Honey Harvest IPA to go on tap all around Hamilton shortly after that. Try it! I think you will go "Apis" for this beer! At 7% ABV, a pint or two of HHH IPA will certainly give you a "Buzz".
And if you miss it, you could always brew your own! You can brew anything in Hamilton :)
-The Garden Brewers
Good Afternoon! I spent the morning cleaning and sterilizing kegs so I could then fill them back up for you with our latest, greatest, and freshest "Now In Bloom" Brew: B.F.F. Porter!
This beer is a re-brew of our small-batch entry in to The Great Ontario-Hopped Craft Beer Competition last year. It took second place!
This year, the Buttrum hops had it kinda rough. There was a ...close shave with a lawnmower I'm told, so we didn't get the big second-year harvest that we were hoping for! Still, we got enough to enter the competition again this year- and then some! Unfortunately, it wasn't an adequate amount to brew a 5-hectoliter batch of beer with, so for this brew we used some imported commercially grown hops (East Kent Goldings, grown in the UK) for the bittering addition, and saved all of the Buttrum hops for the Flavour & Aroma addition, to maximize their potential character impact.
Since the yield was a bit on the low side, we decided to supplement the Buttrum hops with a few hops that we grew ourselves! We live in a tall and narrow townhouse in downtown Hamilton, which is ideally suited for stringing up hops! I cut the hops down immediately before leaving to brew.
Even though this beer is featuring hops, because it is a Robust Porter, malts very much steal the show! In the photograph above, from left to right, this brew used ESB Pale, a specialty Canadian malt from Gambrinus in British Columbia, and Vienna from Best Malz in Heidelberg Germany- in equal amounts as a base. To that base we added a significant amount of torrefied Wheat from Thomas Fawcett & Sons in the UK. Not pictured is the additions of pale chocolate malt & brown malt, also from the UK, and finally Special Roast Malt from Briess Malt in Wisconsin. This is a unique malt that Briess describes as a "Complex flavored Biscuit-style Malt" with a "distinguishing bold sourdough/tangy flavor."
The beer came out great! Very much like how I remember the first batch last year: toasty and warm from the burly base malts & roasty, rich and full-bodied from the specialty dark malts. There are notes of chocolate from the pale chocolate malt, hints of roasted nuts from the brown malt, and yes, a tangy sourdough-like note from the Special Roast Malt, which, within the context of all the other flavours in this beer, reminds me a little bit of molasses.
The hops are present as a very complementary earthy-woodsy flavour, as well as a robust bitterness which balances out all of that maltly decadence! The bitterness is nothing to sneeze at (unless hops make you sneeze!!) at 37 IBUs.
We hope you enjoy it! It ought to be on tap around Hamilton very shortly. We think it might just be the perfect pint for these first days of fall in the city,
We're very happy to announce our second "Now In Bloom!" beer: Bière de Garde'n, a Bière de Garde! It is an amber example, which is the most common colour typical for the style.
Once again I made a lil' relief print for the beer, which after some pretty heavy digital manipulation, became the ear of corn in the center of the label above:
You may not be too familiar with Bière de Garde, it's not a terribly popular style in Ontario, so let's do a quick rundown: what is a Bière de Garde? Well, like a lot of beer styles, the answer is more complicated than it initially seems. I think it is useful to compare beer styles to musical genres: we all generally agree that rock music is a thing. We all know, generally speaking, how to rock. We agree on what the shape and feel of rock music is, and recognize those who rock -as well as those who are about to rock- and we salute them. But we get lost in the details. As a quick example; which of the following is rock?
If you're my father, then you agree that the first is definitely rock and roll, while the second is some kind of noise that definitely needs to be turned down. If you're Wikipedia (depending on your most recent edits) then you classify both as rock, amoungst all these other subgenres:
Alternative rock – Art rock – Baroque pop – Beat music – Britpop – Emo – Experimental rock – Garage rock – Glam rock – Gothic rock – Group Sounds – Grunge – Hard rock – Heartland rock – Heavy metal – Instrumental rock – Indie rock – Jangle pop – Krautrock – Madchester – Post-Britpop – Post-grunge – Power pop – Progressive rock – Protopunk – Psychedelia – Punk rock – Soft rock – Southern rock – Surf music – Symphonic rock
OK, subgenres may be the answer! Perhaps we could all agree on what a true IPA is if we separate out all of the substyles first? But that is no small task. Looking at the above list, does Emo even count as a thing? Has it been around long enough, and is it important enough to make the list? What about Screamo? And just what is "Jazz" anyway? These are genuine questions (probably for Kevin Freer) and I don't know the answers, I'm simply trying to make a point about beer styles, and our example style, IPA. The new 2015 BJCP guidelines greatly expands on IPA substyles, making room for Belgian IPAs, Black IPAs, Brown IPAs, Red IPAs, Rye IPAs and, significant to our conversation, White IPAs... but not "Hopfenweissen".
So hoppy wheat beers based around Belgian Wits currently make the cut, but hoppy wheats based around German Hefeweizens don't. That seems odd to me, because at least from my experience, the latter is much more common. So should we switch the two? Add both? Or perhaps try and include both under something like "Wheat IPA" and allow for further sub-types? And what about hoppy American-style wheat beers that lack the definitive yeast character of Wits and Weissbier?
Man, lets forget subgenres for now. It's too easy to get lost in the weeds. If we go back to just "Rock", we can see clearly that it changes with time. It grows and evolves as it branches out in new directions. Which is, of course, the whole point of culture. It is also precisely the problem with nailing our definitions down: music, like beer, like all of culture- is a moving target. You can only define it completely in retrospect. So, as soon as you define it properly, your definition is literally history.Solution: Stop History.
SO, lets look at that history- the history of Bière de Garde- to better understand the style, and to understand how it got to be where it's at today:
A long time ago, in a continent far, far away, I am told there was an idyllic land known as Flanders. Its eastern lands are now mostly Belgium and its western lands are now the north of France, but before it was separated, this land was united by a continuous patchwork of small independent farms that shared a love of beer and a need for survival. This combined interest in fine beverages and staying alive resulted in Farmhouse Ales. These rustic beers served as a way to essentially store surplus produce, and to provide themselves (and their laborers) with a clean source of hydration; water being rather suspect at the time. Because laborers still had to be able to work after a couple pints, these beers were necessarily low in alcohol, perhaps around 3%. Some beer was likely brewed throughout the harvest season for immediate consumption, but due to the nature of farming (very busy harvest times) and brewing (hot weather makes for poor beer) beer was primarily brewed after the harvest was complete. Farmers would spend the colder months of the year using last years harvest to brew up a large stock of beer, enough to provide all of their laborers with sufficient liquid to get them through the upcoming harvest. They cellared and cool-stored this beer until it was needed- so you might say that they lagered it. (If you were German)
Observant farmers noticed that there were two main ways to get their beers to stay in better condition while they aged: increase the hopping rate and/or increase the alcohol percentage. (Both hops and alcohol act as preservatives, which is probably why people who drink beer live such long and fulfilling lives??) After Flanders was split, there was a drift in farmhouse brewing styles with the Belgium side focusing primarily on the use of hops as preservative, which gave us the spicy, hoppy "Saison", and the French side focusing primarily on the increase in alcohol as preservative, which gave us the Big, Malty "Bière de Garde" (which translates as "Beer to Store" or "Beer to Keep", essentially, "Beer for Aging". Though I do love the literal translation of "Beer to Guard". Anyone who has kept a cellar or a special bottle around, only to have it opened by a "friend" or perhaps a visiting family member, can relate.)
Hey, you were out of beer, so I opened that weird bottle at the back of your closet. It tasted weird, I think it went bad, so I dumped it.
So that's the simple and romantic story. And it's a good story! Bucolic brewers making authentic ales. Unfortunately, reality is never quite so straightforward.
For example, Saint Sylvestre's 3 Monts is a BJCP classic example of a Bière de Garde. It was in the 2008 style guidelines, and remains a classic example in 2015. This is despite the fact that there is no reference to "Bière de Garde" on the label, and the brewery dismisses the very notion of Bière de Garde as "Pure Marketing". They reject the idea that there is any kind of authentic tradition or defensible history present in modern versions of Bière de Garde, and - they have a point!! Historical versions were not terribly well documented, as they were peasant beers that didn't leave the farm on which they were brewed, but we know that they were low alcohol ales, often soured, blended, and perhaps bearing more of a resemblance to modern Lambics (or perhaps a low alcohol version of historic English-style Old Ales) than any modern Bière de Garde, which is typically a high ABV lager! Historically, they may have even been smokey (depending on the quality of malting and kilning) and they most certainly varied widely in quality. "Farmhouse", after all, is not truly a style. It's better thought of as a particular mode of brewing, such as "Homebrewing", and just as homebrewers vary wildly in their preferences, opinions, and skill levels, Farmhouse brewers did as well, and the type and quality of beer that they produced may have been many things but "uniform" was certainly not one of them. So how did we end up with "Farmhouse" meaning essentially two distinct styles; Saison and Bière de Garde?
In Farmhouse Ales, Phil Markowski writes:
In the more recent past, managers of small, independent breweries began to realize that they could not compete with large-scale industrial brewers by brewing Pilsener and other "generic" lager styles and thus began searching for niche specialty products to brew and market. Bière de Garde became the focal point of that effort and was at the center of the French specialty brewing movement beginning in the late 1970s.
Credited with pioneering the style that we know today, is Brasserie Duyck's Jenlain Bière de Garde, an obscure brand that grew to prominence as a cult beer in the late 1970s amoung college students in nearby Lille, the cosmopolitan city of the region. Belgian specialty ales had just started to become fashionable in Paris and their popularity spread to other major French cities. It was a matter of time that the French would begin seeking their own specialty ales to drink; apparently, they found Jenlain. The success of Jenlain was largely unexpected, perhaps the result of "Right place, right time" (and probably due to an underdog status, not unlike the accidental rise of Rolling Rock and Pabst Blue Ribbon as cult favorites in the United States)
Most present-day producers of Bière de Garde acknowledge Jenlain as the archetypal example.
So, modern Bière de Garde, that Farmhouse Ale which is somehow a high ABV lager, is a result of something like what might have happened if Pabst Blue Ribbon became so popular in the states, that the US market embraced it as a prototypical example of a whole revived style; "Dad's Beer".
BJCP style 1E: Bière de Papa, classic example.
Perhaps this gives us some insight into why Saint Sylvestre considers the whole thing to be a marketing invention. Still, there is real history behind farmhouse ales, and there is such a concept as Bière de Garde (it is not a "fake idea") so how does the modern brewer reconcile the two? What is "Authentic" and "True to Style" in a world that simultaneously recognizes both Punk and Emo as rock?? To switch the analogy away from music and into a realm where I'm more knowledgeable, I think comic books hold the answer.Pieter Bruegel the Elder- The Harvesters: Sadly, not a comic book.
Seriously. If you'll bear with some heavy nerdiness, I'll explain: I like to take what I think of as the "Batman" approach to beer styles:
You see, there is Batman as he currently exists, however that happens to be (which, last I checked, was as some kind of time-travelling caveman?) and then there are all of the Batmen that ever were. There is a Batman who jumps around on giant oversized props with a boy sidekick and makes punny one-liners, and there is a Batman who is a dangerous brooder that lives in a very dark world all by himself... without puns. Both are equally valid. Alfred is simultaneously an ex secret agent and a doting comic relief. Batman has a bat-hound and a bat-phone and tragedy all around him. All interpretations are equally valid, and as long as they remain recognizable as a Batman story, what becomes important is if the story is any good. Every fan is bound to have a favorite version of Batman, but no one version can truly be called "Correct". The best we can do is "Original", which isn't all that helpful, since the original is a pistol-packing, sour-fermented Batman that few today would recognize! In my personal opinion, the best Batman stories draw from throughout Batmans rich history, while also managing to add something new to the lore.
So, with Batman in mind (like always) we decided to create something that we felt used the best elements of Bière de Garde: A high-gravity, malt-forward lager suitable for aging- with a rustic accent and a farmer's philosophy!
Farmers, then as now, are a resourceful bunch, and they certainly brought that quality to their brewing. They were known to use whatever fermentables that they had available in creating their brews; whether it was barley, wheat, oats, honey, or even fruits and vegetables such as pumpkins and beets. We decided to honor this tradition by including a large amount of corn in the brew, which at this batch size, meant one whole bag.
Some pretty corny photos!
We also included malted oats and wheat, and well as a generous amount of specialty malts, including honey malt (which is a unique malt said to produce a distinctive honey-like flavor) along with victory, vienna, biscuit, and red-x malts. Each malt contributed to to a sweet, malty complexity, while the corn helped to dry the beer out and keep it from being cloying.
We really packed the mashtun on this brew!
Oh gosh, it turned out so nicely you guys! It is toasty, bready, and complexly grainy. Rich and warming, but stopping short of being hot, and really charmingly walking a line between clean lager character and spicy saison complexity... probably on account of how we used both yeasts!
Q: What do you call two yeasts who ferment everything together??
We pitched two packets of expired yeast. (Resourceful! True to style!) One classic lager strain, and one spicy, peppery strain. This mixed fermentation is what really makes our beer special! To review; lager yeast is active at cool temperatures while ale yeast is active at warm temperatures. We pitched both yeasts into the wort at 12° Celsius and held it there. We had planned to let the temperature free rise after about half of the fermentation was complete, in order to let the ale strain (the T-58) contribute some restrained farmhouse flavours, as well as clean up and dry out the beer. But after only one week of fermentation, the gravity had already dropped from 17.2 degrees plato all the way down the 4.8! I can only assume that the T-58 is responsible! What a beast of a yeast! Even expired and pitched dry into high-gravity 12°C wort- it was active!! 12° is a temperature where many ale strains would enter dormancy, and certainly well beyond the normal working range of saison-type yeasts, which occupy the other end of the spectrum, and go all the way up to 30° +! Well, we still took the temperature control off, and, unleashed, the T-58 was able to take the gravity even further down to 2.1. Our final ABV was 8.3%. Malty yet dry? Yes.
I ❤ you too, mash. Malted Oats retain their husks!!! Who Knew?!
I'm incredibly proud of this beer. It's delicious. And for whatever a statement like this is worth, I think it is a great example of the style. And you know, despite working for many years for a company that emerged from Lille, a French city smack dab in the center of historic Flanders and the epicenter of the modern Bière de Garde revival, I have never had the opportunity to brew a commercial Bière de Garde before! It's kind of strange to finally have the opportunity independently, but it feels right. What an appropriate style to attempt for Garden Brewers! How fitting with our ethos, and how satisfyingly appropriate for a name?? Bière de Garde'n??! Basically, I think we were obligated to brew this beer! And I think we're already obligated to brew it again! I'd like to make it often! But, as good as it is, we won't reproduce this specific batch; our Bière de Garde'n will be more of a style than a brand. Garden Brewers will brew it differently each time, just as Farmer-Brewers of the past would have done. Still, it will be recognizable as part of a thought process, even if pretty different from the last incarnation- a sort of "Batman in a glass"- if you know what I mean.
We used a lot of hops in this brew: check out the alpha acid on that Strisselspalt!
Since our Bière de Garde'n was brewed just as things are getting cooler and as we're moving into the fall, I've decided to follow tradition and have put aside 2 kegs to cellar until next summer- so you can look forward to those!! If you lack the patience for that, 2 other kegs have already been reserved for our friend Jeremy Coghill at Lansdowne Brewery, a fellow producer in the "Homebrew" tradition. We're also sending 2 more kegs as our entry into the WVRST invitational, so please try it there and give it your vote- if you like it! Finally, 1 keg has been earmarked for an upcoming tap-takeover with our pal Brad Clifford (Another brewer with Homebrew Heritage) Look for an announcement on that event soon, including details of our collabo brew: Labour Of Love, a Session Flanders Red! That leaves just 4 kegs to distribute around Hamilton, and I'm guessing that since we've all been earning our keep and labouring real hard this summer, they won't last too long.
-The Garden Brewers
I was recently fortunate enough to be invited to collaborate on a beer with everybody's favorite scrappy nano: The 5 Paddles! Ontario's original nano! I had met most of the Paddles several years ago when the brewery was just a glimmer in their eyes, back in homebrew days, but my relationship with the particular Paddle I was collaborating with goes back much further, all thanks to this man:
I met Keir in the first year of University, where we both were starting a fine arts degree. We became friends and did lots of fun things together, like hosting our first art show! (Instead of wine, we provided a fine selection of "40's" of malt liquor.) We both graduated, despite the combined presence of NBA JAM and Professor Michael Farrell's (truly excellent, but exceedingly challenging) art history courses. We've remained pals since, and when Keir began dating Erin, we all partied most hardy.
Years later, when Keir and Erin decided to get married, I was honored to be given the role of "Best Man" at their wedding!
Several years after that, I had begun working as a brewer, and was homebrewing very often, which is how I probably ended up bringing a keg of homebrew to Erin and Keir's place for a party!
My memory is a little fuzzy, but if I recall correctly, this was the second batch of a hoppy American Stout- which turned out quite nicely! The memory on the photos metadata is somewhat sharper, and this was sometime in 2011. Actually it was May 14th. Which was a Saturday. At 6:12:05 PM. Or thereabouts.
I only bring this up to point out that we might actually know the precise time Erin Broadfoot became a brewer! You may not be aware of this, but brewing is a communicable illness. This illness has symptoms that include classic signs of obsessive behavior, which may manifest themselves as weekends lost to reclusive habits, the collecting of books and magazines, owning two or more fridges, bank accounts completely drained in an irrational pursuit of "saving money on beer", and basements completely filled with hoarded stuff, et cetera. It can be transmitted via beer pints, perhaps with as little as one single pint of excellent homebrew. (Patient zero has been lost to history, as it predates written language, but was probably a tipsy nomad who was infected by some soggy barley, left out in a bowl that got filled with rain and then became all fermented. "Oh no- my barley!" They probably yelled, but then hunger drove them to drink the strange brew, and, once infected, they actively spread an outbreak of obsessive behavior that may have resulted in all civilization.)
Anyway, the above photo was taken when the keg was tapped, and Erin surely had a pint shortly thereafter. So we can safely estimate that Erin Broadfoot became a brewer on May 14th 2011, at 6:13 PM. And I can take the credit! Uh, you're welcome? I guess? I just have to warn you to watch out for those advanced stages, when you begin to seek out homebrewing events....
Oh jeeze, I guess I'm not helping much there. Well, just so long as you don't leave your current career to work in the craft brewing industry...
Welp! Nothing for it now but to brew some beer together!!!
After some back-and-forth, we decided to brew something new from the 2015 BJCP guidelines. A Trappist Single! And since collaboration brews are really an excuse for brewers to get together and meet and mingle with other brewers, we decided to call it "Trappist Mingle"!
According the the new 2015 BJCP style guidelines, a Trappist Single is
"A pale, bitter, highly attenuated and well carbonated Trappist ale, showing a fruity-spicy Trappist yeast character, a spicy-floral hop profile, and a soft, supportive grainy-sweet malt palate ... Often not labeled or available outside the monastery, or infrequently brewed. Might also be called monk’s beer or Brother’s beer. Highly attenuated, generally 85% or higher. While Trappist breweries have a tradition of brewing a lower-strength beer as a monk’s daily ration, the bitter, pale beer this style describes is a relatively modern invention reflecting current tastes."
They go on to say that light, spicy, yeast-driven phenolics are found in the best examples, while yeast-derived bubblegum notes are inappropriate. That's good, because just before the brew day, the Belgian strain that we were planning to use was discovered dead. Gone to heaven. As a result, we resorted to using a fairly spicy Saison strain, that I just happened to have ready for harvest.
We had a great brew day! It was very cool to see their nano system in action.
The beer is due out very shortly! I am as excited to try Trappist Mingle as anyone, but in the meantime, I'll be celebrating our collaboration with a little mismatched beer and glassware: