The Dirt

Beer In Bloom

25 June 2015
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Beer In Bloom

Last January, at the beginning of this year, I began teaching part time in the Brewmaster and Brewery Operations Management program offered at Niagara College. This has been a very interesting and rewarding experience- and it also opened the potential opportunity to do some contract brewing out of the teaching brewery! We recently decided to explore that opportunity, coming to the realization that the smaller size of the school system (500 liters, instead of the 2000 or 4000 liters that we normally brew at Black Oak) would be perfect for producing some interesting and experimental small batches! And you want to drink some interesting and experimental small batches, yes?  Yes.

But we didn't want to commit to making "one-offs", as some brews really do demand a second round, and we didn't want to do "seasonals" either. We don't have a lot of interest in picking just 4 brews or so, and making them in order, again and again, year-after-year.

The brewing industry, however, is lacking a common term for "Beers that are made maybe once, maybe every-so-often, but not regularly, and never hang around for very long."

So, once again, we turned to the world of gardening for inspiration, and decided to call this series of beers: "Now In Bloom!"

The Blossom is a good symbol, we think, to express our idea. 

Though the Art History student in me wanted to call the series Wabi-Sabi

After that was settled, we then turned, once again, to Mike Jerome, our Graphic Designer Extraordinaire!  He's always done great work for us, and this project was no exception. He created the "Blank" seed packet images below:

Mike created a version where the logo space was empty, as an opportunity to customize the art for these special beers, which gives me a chance to have some fun contributing to our beer artwork! In a past life, I actually made much more art than beer, though I know my limitations (one of the good things about getting older??) which is why we got a professional to create all of our branding and graphic design. We didn't want it to look amateurish or sloppy, and Mike was really able to do things right.  Still, I do miss art, and I think within the context of Mikes work, it'll all come together! Besides, it'll be fun to have an opportunity to make some art again for this series!  

After Mike had completed his work I dusted off my old printmaking tools, which hadn't seen the light of day in about 6 odd years. (Hmmm, they went into storage around the same time that beer making stuff moved back into my home. Coincidence??)

 Art tools, like Brewing tools or Office supplies, have an almost irresistible attraction about them. Anyone who tells you otherwise is simply denying their true feelings.
 
 First, I drew a handsome bicycle onto some unmounted relief printing linoleum...
Then I carved it all away...
Then I had a beer- I mean- Then I inked it up...
...and made some prints!! I Removed more material as I printed, to tweak the image...
...and then I brought the image into the computer for coloration and more tweaks!
 Finally, after a few more tweaks and incorporation into the label,
"Petal-Pusher", an Elderflower Lager, is ready to meet you!

 

About the beer:

Elderflowers are often described as having a character reminiscent of ripe pear and floral lychee... Or sometimes as having an aroma existing somewhere between a peachy stone fruit and lemony citrus fruit. This character seems to be emphasized when Elderflower is used fresh, but as we were unfortunately unable to source any locally-grown commercially-available fresh flowers, we used dried flowers. When dried, the blossoms seemed to retain their classic qualities, but gained a surprising Star Anise/Fennel Seed character as well! In our experiments, a long boil and hot (or extended cold) steeping really brought out the fennel quality, while a short boil brought out more of the citrus and fruit notes. Interestingly, passing hot wort through the blossoms created more of a subtle savory note of earthy mushrooms, chopped celery, and dried sage, not unlike the aroma of turkey stuffing!!  We didn't end up using that technique, as it also clogged our hopback. And that was probably lucky, because: turkey stuffing.

 Making hot Elderflower tea to sample with my students.
 

We ended up going with a compromise: a short boil, followed by a long steep. This allowed us to get the classic elderflower notes we wanted, along with some of that licorice quality for complexity. We used our hops in the same way-  highlighting the orange marmalade note that Pacifica hops are renowned for. Pacifica was the perfect choice for this brew, as its bittering qualities are gentle and "noble" -in the tradition of its German ancestor, Hallertau Mittelfrüh- but its Orange Marmalade aroma qualities are much more like that of its fellow Kiwis!  An ideal hop for this hybrid lager style. 

In terms of malt, it was 57% Canadian 2-Row, 18% English Maris Otter, 18% Canadian Toasted Wheat, and finished up with 7% German Acidulated malt to create a slight sourness- which comes across as a subtle tartness- something to enhance the perception of citrus from the flowers and hops, and to increase its "Refreshing" thirst quenching qualities. (Think Lemonade- or Elderflower Cordial!)

We had an extended-length mash, with heating periods that helped develop some colour as well as some lovely subtle caramelized bready-wheaty notes. That was followed by an hour long boil, with both hops and blossoms going into the boil in the last few minutes and then whirlpooled for a full half hour. Fermented as a Lager, this beer is clean and crisp with a bit of a lager bite enhanced by the botanical additions and clean lactic tartness. Finally, it was dry hopped with a little Galaxy hops to add a peachy-gooseberry complexity to the aroma. In terms of style, this beer is probably best thought of as a Spiced American Wheat. Of course, as with all our beers, we were not looking to brew to style, simply to create the best showcase for Elderflower: the most harmonious, interesting, and delicious beer possible!

Which starts with homebrew experimentation...
And leads to brewing with my students!
It's a bit hard to see on the package, but the botanical name for the Elderflower plant is "Sambucus Nigra", which ought to have been a big clue that would have made the licorice note unsurprising.
Adding the Hops!
And the Elderflowers!

Elderflower is hard to pin down in terms of its exact flavour- it seems to gently move and change as soon as you figure it out- like trying to fly a kite in a really soft and gentle breeze. As a result, it is sometimes simply described as "Tasting Like Summer". We love that! And we like to think that our Petal-Pusher, with its classic, clean lager beer character, notes of lemon, orange, and tropical fruit, and its sharp, biting finish- tastes just like summer too!! We're excited to see what you think!

I'm going back to the teaching brewery first thing next week to put the Petal-Pusher into kegs, and you'll hopefully be seeing it in bars and pubs very soon. We're happy to have it coming out now- just in time for summer- and we've already filled our first casks with this beer too! 

 
A Pin and a Firkin- It was a lot of fun to hammer in the shive bung with "The Educator", I gotta admit!

These casks were filled after primary fermentation was completed, given some extra sugar, a fresh pitch of ale yeast, and were dry-hopped with Galaxy. The Firkin is reserved for Because Beer, which is adding a Cask Zone this year! You are planning to come to Because Beer this year, yes? Because last year was awesome, and this year looks to be even better!  As for the Pin, it has already had dibs called on it by The Mugshot Tavern- so look for it to get tapped there soon! 

Here's to summer!

Cheers!

-Victor


Green-Thumbs & Bronze Fingers

We're very happy to share some news with you: Green-Thumb took a Bronze medal at the Ontario Brewing Awards!

 

Seen here is Davis, happily accepting the award!

Big congratulations to all the other brewers who won!

 

...an extra-special congratulations to our pal Brad Clifford who brought Gold back to Hamilton for his wonderful Porter, and to our friends at Black Oak, our outstanding production brewery, who took Gold for their Nox Aeterna!

Cheers!!!

-The Garden Brewers


Garden Brewers Spring Equinox Party!

It's finally here! THE FIRST DAY OF SPRING.

That calls for a celebration. And celebrations call for a beer!

 

Please come celebrate the first day of spring with us! We're throwing a party at Mills Hardware right on the Spring Equinox- Friday March 20th.

The event will run from 6pm to 10pm, and will really be something special. We're going to have seeds, plants, talks about gardening, and 5 dollar mugs of cold, delicious Garden Brewers beer- including our brand new Green-Thumb IPA! What could be better than that??

Our wonderful event partners are:

 A New Leaf Farm will introduce Square Foot Gardening, perfect for urban people who want to garden, but are not sure where to start. Neighbour to Neighbour will be highlighting their work with Community Gardens, and specifically, the Hamilton Community Garden Network. The Hamilton Pollinator Paradise Project will explore their important work creating pollinator habitat corridors across our city by planting native wildflowers, and artist Sean Martindale will profile his incredible interventions and guerrilla gardening:

 

Hawthorn Farm will also be on site, offering their certified organic seeds of rare and heirloom varieties, and there will be hop plants available from Greenfield Gardens Clean Hop Plant Program!

It's going to be great. We truly hope that you can join us at our Spring Equinox Party!

Cheers!

-The Garden Brewers

 


Brewing With Fire: Bullion Hops & Green Thumbs

We've now brewed our second style, Green-Thumb, a Ginger IPA! 

 

Like Piperales before it, Green-Thumb is unfiltered. This helps lend a little uniformity to our small family of two very different brews. Another element that helps unify our pair of beers is the choice of hop: Bullion. As a matter of fact, in both beers, Bullion is the ONLY hop used. While Piperales is very malt-forward and the hopping rate of Piperales is very low and trivial when compared to that of the Green-Thumb (which, by contrast, is incredibly hop-forward) they both have that peculiar and beguiling note of Bullion at their core, embedded deep in their DNA. This shared trait is meant to colour your perceptions of two very different experiences, and hopefully, make them both recognizable as a part of a greater whole. Kind of like how you can spot a sister and brother by the way they hold themselves with the exact same posture- or how you can pick out two brothers, not by how they look, which may be wildly different, but by how they share a sense of humor. 

Why choose Bullion as a signature hop for Garden Brewers? Well, it's a very special, very unique hop. In some ways the choice was easy. In other ways, we're still not sure if we've made a wise choice. We first came across Bullion during our homebrew experiments, and like beer itself, it wasn't exactly love at first sight. Beer is challenging. Bullion is challenging. But they are worth the effort. 

It took some time to fall in love with the hop and its distinctive and pungent qualities. It also took some experimentation to know how to handle it. It is a bit like cooking with Offal: delectable like nothing else with the right execution, but almost universally despised when in clumsy or inexperienced hands. Bullion is not like the old-world standbys, epitomized by Saaz, which seems noble and confident in any situation. But it is also not like its younger new-world relatives either, such as Cascade, which possesses that wonderfully effortless American swagger. 

Something to keep in mind: Cascade was not really bred to be the bold hop that we know, love, and hold synonymous with American Pale Ale today. It was bred to be disease resistant. To have good agronomics. It's brash character was a fault- not a feature. And compared to Bullion, Cascade is downright refined!  The story of North American brewing and hop varieties in a nutshell is this: Old world brewers came to North America and brought with them all of their wonderful brewing traditions, cultures, styles, and ingredients- right down to prized yeast strains stowed carefully away during long transatlantic voyages. Finding that their traditional hops didn't perform the same way in this new world, they were forced to experiment with native varieties. The old-world hops struggled for a variety of reasons, primarily: new-world pests and diseases, and the rules of Terrior, which dictate that even if a foreign plant should thrive in its new climate, it will not taste quite the same as it did back home. Just as Pinot noir grapes grown in France will taste different than the same grape grown in Niagara, (not necessarily better -mind you- but necessarily different.) Tettnanger hops grown in the United States will not taste quite the same as those grown in the Tettnanger region of Germany. (By the way, both types of Tettnanger are readily available to brewers today, according to their preference.)

So our immigrant brewers wanted new-world yields and resiliency, but with the old-world character that they already knew and loved. Native hops were considered entirely unfit for brewing, but foreign hops floundered. Hop breeders began crossing wild North American hops with established European varieties in search of a hop that could deliver it all. E.S. Salmon, a professor at Wye College in the United Kingdom, was among the first to formally attempt such hybridization in the early 1900's. By the turn of the decade, his pioneering efforts had brought us Bullion.

So what is Bullion? 

Bullion, according to the United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service, is:

USDA ACCESSION NO.: 64100
SELECTION: Seedling selection from a cross made at Wye College, England, before 1920
GENUS: Humulus
SPECIES: lupulus
CULTIVAR: Bullion
PEDIGREE: Wild Manitoba BB1 x OR (open pollinated)
PRIMARY SITE: USDA World Hop Cultivar Collection, OSU East Farm
ORIGIN: Cross made by Professor E. S. Salmon at Wye College, England, before 1920. Seedling was raised in 1919 from open pollinated seed collected on the female BB1 in the hop nursery at Wye College, England. BB1 was obtained in 1916 as a cutting from a wild hop growing at Morden, Manitoba.
DATE RECEIVED: 1964
METHOD RECEIVED: Rhizomes, from Roger Kerr, Keizer, Oregon, who obtained it via S. S. Steiner Co. from England.
AVAILABILITY: No restrictions, commercial cultivar
REFERENCES: Salmon, E. S., Bullion hop, a new variety. Journal, South East Agricultural College, Wye, Kent, England 42:47 52. 1938.
Burgess, A. H. Hops. Interscience Publishers, New York, 1964, p. 46.
Romanko, R. R. In Steiner's Guide to American Hops. S. S. Steiner Inc. New York 1973, p. 20 21.
MATURITY: Medium early
LEAF COLOR: Dark green
SEX: Female, occasional sterile male flowers in certain years.
DISEASES: Downy Mildew: moderately resistant
Verticillium wilt: resistant
Viruses: infected with all major hop viruses
VIGOR: Excellent
YIELD: High, 2000 to 2400 lbs/acre
SIDE ARM LENGTH: 20 40 inches
ALPHA ACIDS: 10.0% (10 year range: 6.7 to 12.9%)
BETA ACIDS: 5.4% (10 year range: 3.7 to 9.1%)
COHUMULONE: 39%
STORAGE STABILITY: Poor
OIL: 1.65 ml/100 g (10 year range: 1.14 to 2.70)
MAJOR TRAITS: Identical to USDA 21056
OTHER INFORMATION: Identical to USDA 21056 but slightly lower alpha acids content due to virus infection. This hop, a major U.S. hop variety since the mid-1940s, was discontinued from commercial U.S. production in 1985 after the advent of super-alpha hops with better storage stability and higher alpha acids content.

Lots of interesting information there! Some key things:

❧ Bullion dates back to 1919!

❧ Bullion has a Canadian mom! A native of Morden, Manitoba. We have no idea who the father is, since Bullion was the result of open pollination (scandalous!!) but most people assume someone of English stock.

❧Bullion is a high alpha acid hop, with an excellent yield, and pretty decent resistance to downy mildew & verticillium wilt.

BUT

❧ Bullion rootstock is infected with all major hop viruses.

❧ Bullion hops have a poor storage stability.

❧ Bullion became a major hop variety from around 1950-1970 but has been in decline since 1985. Many people, in fact, assume it to be already vanished, or at least, long since unavailable for purchase.  Not so! There are still people growing and selling Bullion today! Our beers are proof of this fact. 

Here's some more: my personal homebrew-sized Bullion stash.

Our beer may be unique nowadays, but Green-Thumb is hardly the first IPA to showcase Bullion. In fact, a rather legendary IPA  made it a feature: Ballantine.  The Peter Ballantine & Sons Brewing Company was founded in 1878 in Newark New Jersey. It was one of the scrappy few to survive Americas prohibition- and perhaps even more impressive- they emerged from prohibition with their bold beers intact! More amazing still is that they continued with their aggressive beer- as it was- and were successful!  In the 1950's, during Bullions golden age, Ballantine was the third-largest brewery in the whole U S of A. And they did it without slowly watering down their flagship IPA until it was an unrecognizable shadow of its former glory. (Are you taking notes, Alexander Keith?)


 "Ballantine quarts with the puzzle on the cap" 

 

They were a bona fide historical anomaly. An aggressive American IPA before the craft beer revolution! And a popular one at that! Discovering the hidden history of Ballantine IPA is like discovering a photo of your grandfather crushing a farmhouse sour whilst updating his twitter account. It seems to go against everything we think we know about the past. But it's true. Like a brewery built ontop of a tear in time, they did all sorts of things that were out of place in their own era. Some, like aging the IPA for a year in pitch-lined wood barrels, was charmingly traditional and hopelessly antiquated in the era of stainless steel. Other things, like dosing the beer with hop oil that they extracted themselves, was remarkably futuristic:   

"Ballantines dry-hopping process was totally unique. It used Bullion hops, a variety very hard to find now, and ground them into a fine powder, added water, and cooked them in a vacuum process that effectively distilled the oils from the hop material. The oils were collected and added to the beer, which gave it an intense, distinct presence unlike anything else available in the United States at the time.”

-Mitch Steele: IPA, Brewing Techniques, Recipes, and the Evolution of India Pale Ale. Page 134

But, they were a brewery unstuck in time, or perhaps stuck in the wrong time, and they couldn't fight the changing times. Their time had come. Time. And their aggressive hop choice, our brave Bullion, may have been just the thing that sealed their fate in an era of ever-lightening flavour profiles:

"Ballantine ... beer featured a very distinctive hop variety, Bullion, which, although pungent, was not typically known for a refined hop note. Highly aromatic and assertive hop aromas are now common with craft brewers, but Ballantines use of Bullion may have led to its decline from the nations third largest brewer in 1950 to being sold in 1969 for a small sum and finally to their liquidation in 1972."

-Ken Grossman: Beyond the Pale, the story of Sierra Nevada brewing co. Page 35

The Pabst Brewing Company, as the rights holders to the Ballantine story, have recently revived the beer. I was lucky enough to try this new version on a recent CABA bus trip. I must say, it's a very fine IPA, but it is decidedly lacking the distinctively twangy and zesty Bullion character that I've grown to recognize and love. It tastes like a solid modern example of an American IPA- it is completely lacking that harsh-yet-charming historical character! I found out later that this is probably due to the fact that they don't use any Bullion hops at all! 

Hops raised an important philosophical question that framed the entire project, too: should Pabst try to recreate a museum piece, or brew a version of Ballantine that appeals to drinkers in the 21st century? “In the back of my mind, I thought if Ballantine as a brewery were in business today, which hops would they be using?” Deuhs wondered. “Would they have evolved to newer varieties, or a combination of new and old.” He opted for a combination, which seems like the right call. Breweries constantly update their beer; it’s difficult to imagine Ballantine trying to survive with a Bullion-and-Cluster-hopped beer in a Mosaic and Meridian world.“[Old] boiling hops are not readily available,” he said. Instead, he experimented with hops that might have the character of older hops. He tried Galena, a relatively old “modern” cultivar from 1968, but it was too harsh. Cluster “didn’t give the flavor we wanted.” In the end, he used a blend of old classics and newer varieties. “We ended up with Magnum as the main bittering hop. Then we dosed a combination of Columbus, Brewer’s Gold, Fuggles, and then we did use some Cascade.”

-http://allaboutbeer.com/ballantine-ipa/

 

 

What a shame!  What's the point of re-brewing a landmark historical beer, if you project it along an imagined evolution to make it more like every other IPA of the modern era?  I was really hoping that Pabst would champion Bullion, and help keep this rapidly disappearing heirloom hop in the ground. It's from 1919! You know what else is from 1919? The first non-stop transatlantic flight:This was a time when pilots apparently didn't practice landing all that much, I guess because there was a good chance that it wouldn't come up. This new "Ballantine" is like setting out to build a recreation of the plane pictured above, but deciding to just build a Cessna instead, because that Vickers Vimy was just hopelessly outmoded.  

But I get it- I do. Bullion is a tough choice. It is a notoriously challenging hop that has been credited with bringing down the THIRD LARGEST BREWER in the United States. If you can even find it, this hop may just disappear out from underneath your feet- if it doesn't take you down first. Talk about brewing with fire! But- It is also bold, unique, historically significant, and distinctive & delicious when used well!  

There is history you can taste in this hop. It's worth holding on to. It's worth brewing with.

At least we think so! We hope you agree,

 

Cheers!

-The Garden Brewers 

 


Green-Thumb has arrived!

Good News!

We've brewed our second style, Green-Thumb, a Ginger IPA! Watch for it to spring up soon at the finest craft beer establishments around Ontario.

 

Green-Thumb:

1. A person with a natural skill for gardening.

2. Someone who has been picking hops.

3. Piquant, provocative, and powerful, Green-Thumb is a Ginger India Pale Ale which combines the unique zesty and pungent character of heirloom hop Bullion with the unmistakable tangy tropical notes of freshly ground Ginger root. The heat from the Ginger enhances the bitterness of the Bullion. Together, the two botanicals provide the dry malty backbone of the beer with a spicy heat, an intense bitterness, and a united front of harmonious flavours; resinous piney notes and zesty tropical character- which linger into a long, bitter finish.

Some IPAs add novelty ingredients that have negligible flavour impact- not so for our Ginger IPA. You can expect true ginger character and heat, working in tandem with bold hop character and bitterness! 

We get that real ginger character by using actual ginger root! Look at this one- a crustacean monster!

First, the ginger root gets a dunk in a food-grade, acid-based sanitizer- just to be safe. We want spicy, not sour!

 

Then it takes a spin in a blender! 

And when it's all combined, we are left with two kilos worth of freshly blended ginger root. It was like a hot, golden sun of fragrant, freshly ground ginger! The aroma rising from this bucket of ginger was incredible- you could almost feel the heat!

In it goes! Straight away into the fermentation tank, right into the beer, which had already finished fermentation. The beer then sits on the ginger for a few days, just like during a dry-hop process, to pick up the aroma, flavour, and character of the ginger. It is then transferred off of the ginger into a bright tank, where the beer is carbonated, chilled and made ready to package into kegs. That kegging happened earlier in the week! The beer is now ready to meet you, and boy, is it ever prepared to make one heck of a first impression! !

 

Green-Thumb is based upon a recipe our brewer first created for sale at celebrated Hamilton craft beer bar; The Ship. The launch of The Ships Rations back in 2013 was a great success in all regards except for availability! For Garden Brewers, this wonderfully bitter and spicy brew has evolved into something a bit different, that will enjoy a more frequent, and wider, availability! Of course, there is no better place in the world to launch that wider availability than where it all began- The Ship! I hope you can join us tonight, at the Ship, where Green-Thumb will make it's debut! 

Cheers!

-The Garden Brewers

 


A New Leaf

05 March 2015
2 comments

A New Leaf

I began working at The 3 Brewers in 2010. I stopped last Friday.

2010: A wet-behind-the-ears assistant brewer, far right

I'm now going to be focusing on Garden Brewers, and I'm very much looking forward to the challenges of helping Garden Brewers to grow! But for the moment, please indulge me as we look back briefly- before moving forward! 

 

So much has changed and happened in those few short years. The company, and myself, have grown quite a bit, but I clearly remember the very first time a beer I made myself was available to a thirsty public! My brother and a friend joined me for a drink of that prem'bière after work. It was a tradition in the company at that time to have a liter of your first batch. Or at least, my mentor in the company, Pierre Labarre, claimed that it was tradition and I was happy to accept the idea! That thrill, of having your beer on tap, has yet to get old. I don't suppose it ever will!

 

In the early years, we went on a couple of really outstanding company trips to Montreal to visit exceptional breweries in the area, such as Brasseurs du Monde, Brasseurs Illimités, Dieu du Ciel!, Brasserie McAuslan, and several others. We also toured Canada Malting's Montreal malting facilities, a really eye-opening (and ear-closing: so loud!) experience!! I enjoyed every visit, and value every experience, but one visit stands out as truly special; our 2011 visit to Unibroue. We were lucky enough to get a rare tour, given a peek of what lay beyond the public tasting room by the Brewmaster himself, Jerry Vietz.

 

And after the tour? Incredible beers began to flow. Beers- fresh and delightful, aged and complex, rare and mysterious, soured and unavailable anywhere else. Beers that could only be delivered directly from the hands of the brewmaster! We had Jerry and the lovely tasting room all to ourselves, and it was dim, comfortable, warm and moody- providing just the right atmosphere- as thick snowflakes began to cover the brewery in a heavy coat of snow. You know that particular feeling snowfall can provide, of not needing to go anywhere or do anything else? It's like when the power goes out on a summers evening, or when your phone is left behind while you're on vacation. That forced-yet-comfortable retreat from the world at large. It was a magic beer memory- one I'll always treasure.

In 2011, I reached my one-year anniversary at work...

2011: Less wet behind the ears, more ready to wet your whistle

 

...and created a new anniversary to celebrate by getting married!

A great day! The very best day, in fact.

In 2012, I managed to convince the company to allow me to brew a beer of my own design: A Schwarzbier. There is a whole story behind the brew, so I'll just link you to it. It's a bit of a long read, but this brew was a milestone for both myself and the company: It was the first time a recipe I wrote was used for a commercial brew, and the first time that The 3 Brewers ever produced a Lager!

A concept poster I made for the brew- the company went with something less trademark-infringementy  

In 2012, I also had developed an advanced case of "brewers mustache" as evidenced by the video below:

By 2013, the company had begun its annual "Master Brewer" competition, giving each one of their brewers an opportunity to create a brew of their own design! Through a complicated series of events, I actually ended up travelling to my home town of Ottawa to brew my recipe, a Hopfen Weisse, at the as-yet-unopened Sparks Street location. It was very well received! But I had left the city long before the restaurant opened or the beer went on tap, so I actually never got to try it myself! 

later in 2013, I was promoted to Head Brewer, when I was given the brand-new Oakville location. I also became a father!!  I learned a few new things, like how my uniform can double as a baby-carrier:

And that mash forks make good teethers, apparently!

2013 was a big year!

In 2014 I brewed a Pre-Prohibition style Cream Ale for the Master Brewer competition, and was photographed professionally for use in marketing materials...

...including a stand up (actually a photo from 2013) which they printed during the 2015 competition:

This year was my last entry in the Master Brewer competition. It was to be my last recipe ever made at The 3 Brewers: "Oakheart" a big 'ol coffee stout aged on oak! My pal Keir made a poster for it:

I suppose that's it! My story with The 3 Brewers ends here, in 2015. I'm officially hanging up my overalls.

Whats next? 

It's hard to say much about the future with any certainty, but there is one thing that I'm sure of:

There is going to be more beer!

Cheers!

-Victor


The Great Ontario-Hopped Craft Beer Competition (GOHCBC)

 

Our "B.F.F. Porter"  just took second place in the 2015 GOHCBC!

The competition is to promote Ontario-grown hops. It partners local hop growers with local brewers to create special beers that showcase the potential and promise of our friendly neighborhood hop producers. This year the style they selected to do that was Robust Porter. We partnered up with our hop-growing BFF: Buttrum's Family Farm.

This beer actually began way back in spring. When the hops were just starting to shoot up out of the ground, Gary Buttrum came to our Corktown home and dug up our backyard hops to bring them to a better life on his farm. 

"I promise Davis, the hops are leaving to go live on a farm. Really. They'll be very happy there."

It was a rough day on the plants, but hops are tough customers, and after a summer of care in their new home they had done very well for a first year of growth!

Gary, Sonja, and Davis surveying the harvest

 

They had some struggles for sure- to be expected with any fresh start- but there were lots of great looking cones! We had plenty enough to pick! We selected the best cones, vacuum-sealed the hops, and froze them for later use.

A few weeks ago we recovered the frozen hops from the back of the freezer and got ready to brew! Davis insisted he help by thawing out a small section of the hops. Either he was teething, or we have a future Hop-Head on our hands! Since the hops were vacuum sealed and frozen immediately, while undried and at the peak of their freshness, this was like making a fresh "wet-hop" beer- in the middle of winter!

To get maximum usage of the hops, and to prevent any scorching, we blended the whole-cone hops into a fine consistency. Essentially- homemade hop pellets!

It all went into the Kettle- we used the First-Wort hopping technique.

The Hot Break and Boil

First wort hopping helps control the hot break (Important when you're pushing your kettle volume to the limit like I did here) as well as maximize bitterness extraction (Helpful with homegrown hops, which tend to be on the lower side of their alpha-acid potential) and, counter-intuitively, is said to enhance hop aroma and flavour! All very desirable things in this brew.  Of course, the hops weren't tested or anything, so it was simply a guess at the hopping rate. It could have turned out much too bitter for style, but we were lucky and it was a truly wonderful brew.

We're all thrilled that it took 2nd place! It's great to represent Hamilton and to see a homegrown brew do so well in this intra-provincial competition! It is also really encouraging to see our small scale hop-growing experiment yield such a nice harvest. Gary is already gearing up for a bigger and better growing season this summer!

Congrats to all who entered!

We're all helping to grow good things, for good things grow- in Ontario

 

 Cheers!

 

-The Garden Brewers


Beer Sore

06 January 2015
0 comments

Beer Sore

Yesterday evening we were quoted in a Spectator article concerning the Beer Store. Check it out!

Here's the thing- "Beer Store" is really weird.

(Weirder still, now that they've dropped the "The")  

And it is inherently unfair.

(A lot of ink has been spilled on the topic of unfairness already, so I won't get into all that here.)

It ought to change. And you know what? My bet is that change is coming to the Beer Store, whether the province forces it upon them or not...

...and I'm cautiously optimistic about that fact.

But, that said, change isn't easy.

I know that to many people, when small brewers express any kind of enthusiasm for Beer Store, even if it is to just point out that they think that it is the lesser of two evils, it seems like a form of Stockholm Syndrome... and maybe there is some truth to that- but it goes deeper. If small Craft Brewers and Beer Store (doesn't it seem like it's shouted when the "the" is dropped? Beer Store. Beer Store! Fabbbrric Land. FABRIC LAND!) were in a relationship on Facebook, the status of that relationship would most definitely be "It's Complicated." (And, sadly, the only other friend Craft Brewers would have would be the LCBO. Well, and a bunch of friend requests from Dial-A-Bottle companies.)

See, since every single brewery in Ontario post-1927 developed in an environment where there was such a thing as a "Beer Store", some have evolved to thrive under its particular conditions. Which is kind of an obvious thing to say. Of course, right? No matter what particular conditions an environment contained, you could expect to see business models emerge that take advantage of the situation. Even an environment of complete prohibition only created...  unique sorts of brewing entrepreneurialism...

...now romanticized for your enjoyment, by two percent owner of Beer Store!, Sleeman Breweries, an arm of Sapporo of Japan.

One example of how some small brewers do well under Beer Store!:  Kegs are really expensive. Our fleet of beautiful stainless steel kegs were, far and away, our largest single start up cost. It will take about 3-4 sales and returns of each keg before we've paid off that initial keg purchase cost. And kegs do sometimes go missing. They're a major investment, and source of loss. But BEER STORE! allows brewers, small and large, to rent their kegs. This is a major advantage to a brewery that is modeled to take advantage of it. Ha. Which is, again, a silly thing to say. But it does sum up my point:  BEER STORE!! is a great opportunity to breweries who are able to take advantage of it. Pro-Beer Store advocates and employees make this case often, and of course, they are right. But just because they are right, doesn't make it any more fair. It is still an inherently messed up and unfair system. And just because some businesses have evolved to thrive in this particular environment (where they had little choice but to) isn't a terribly compelling argument for the continuation of that environment.

But- what to do about it? That's the question now. And there is no shortage of answers. Personally, I'm pro-baby, anti-bathwater. I think there are real good things about the current set up, messed up as it is. 

To quote Jeff Newton, President of Canada’s National Brewers (CNB), representing Labatt Brewing Company Ltd., Molson Coors Canada and Sleeman Breweries Ltd., who jointly operate the Beer Store​:

"The bottom line is this: when you’ve got Canada’s most efficient beer retail system offering the lowest prices and widest selection, in addition to a recycling program that diverts more than two billion alcohol containers from Ontario landfills every year, we need to be careful about how we 'fix' it."

In his last statement: "...a recycling program that diverts more than two billion alcohol containers from Ontario landfills every year, we need to be careful about how we 'fix' it." Mr. Newton and I are in complete agreement. The beer store is messed up- which is another way to say it's unique- there is nothing else quite like it anywhere in the world, and I'd like to hold onto the positive aspects of this singular system. We've earned them, dammit, through these many years of (mostly) quiet suffering. The Beer Store may be a bizarre thing, but it's our bizarre thing- a historical oddity 88 painful years in the making. There will never be another Beer Store- we need to be careful about how we fix it.

     

Nostalgiempörung- German, Made-Up : a simultaneous feeling of warm nostalgia and simmering outrage, inspired by going to Beer Store!

Photo by LazyMonkey. Used under the Creative Commons License. 

 

But lets not stop there. The Beer Store's near-monopoly is just one (admittedly large) part of a whole province-worth of old laws and legislation that needs to be looked at and reformed.

 

A perfect example: This summer was saved by BEER STORE. That's right. BEER STORE RESCUE SUMMER. YOU WELCOMEHow? Well, you may recall a big kerfuffle this summer, when, without warning, the AGCO promised to enforce a long-ignored rule that plainly stated that Contract Brewers could not sell to Special Occasion Permit Holders. This sent contract brewers, such as ourselves, into a panic as this meant we could not participate in beer festivals! Of course, this also sent beer festivals into a tizzy, including our own Because Beer. The entire summer of beer festivals (and festivals pouring beer) across Ontario was under threat. And it was then, in our darkest hour of need, that the Beer Store stepped up with a work-around! It's because of that work-around that we were able to debut at the inaugural Because Beer. It's because of that work-around that we could pour our beer at Supercrawl.  It is perhaps difficult for us to over-emphasize how important it was for us to be able to bring our beer to these vital Hamiltonian events. And we owe it all to the Beer Store. BEER STORE SMASH PUNY RED TAPE. 

 

But- Why? Why must the Beer Store be necessarily unnecessarily involved in that whole transaction? Why does this rule exist? Why does the province see fit to limit the abilities of contract breweries as compared to bricks-and-mortar breweries? What is the rationale? Don't get me wrong, at this point I'm not even attempting to debate the merits of the rule, simply looking to understand the logic behind it- if there is any. And there are more perplexing head-scratchers, a good example: what is the rationale of limiting the abilities of small brewers v.s. big brewers? A large craft brewer like Mill Street is able to bring product brewed at a separate facility into their brewpub retail store and sell it there. A smaller brewer is expressly forbidden from doing the same. The deciding factor: production volume. Why?? Does the province specifically wish to give a competitive advantage to larger brewers? And if so, why? And while we're on the subject, does the province wish the give preferential treatment to Wine v.s. Beer? If not, then what is the rationale for The Wine Rack, The Wine Shop, and wine being offered in grocery stores and farmers markets, when brewers aren't allowed similar opportunities?? AND WHY DOES THE PROVINCE CONTINUE TO ALLOW A TRIUMVIRATE OF HUGE BREWERS EXCLUSIVITY ON OPERATION OF BEER RETAIL STORES?!?

My primary points are these: 

  • The Beer Store isn't exactly pure evil incarnate, and has some value to offer Ontario,  & 
  • The Beer Store's near-monopoly is just one part of a legislative mess that needs to be looked at and reformed. We need to ask ourselves: "What is it we want our beer laws to do?"

...and I'm worried that these points will get lost in the all noise from the Beer Store lynch mob. Lets make sure that the hard work of legislative reform gets done. Not just for the big interests, but for all Ontarians. The Beer Store V.S. Convenience Store argument was, and is, a false dichotomy. We have more options. As many options as we are willing to entertain! (Growler Fills & Farmers Markets are 2 of my favorite low-hanging fruits) The Beer Store will fight to defend it's turf, the Canadian Convenience Stores Association will fight to get a piece of the action, and the Province will demand their cut, but who will fight for the options that don't have a large and powerful group standing behind them because they stand to make a lot of money?

 

  •  We'll have to.
  • I guess.

 

Cheers,

-The Garden Brewers


Happy New Year! Happy New Beer Price!

Merry Kegsmas!

 ... and a happy new beer!

 

2014 was really something, especially for craft brewing. There were exciting developments all over Ontario, but nowhere more so than right here in Hamilton.

 

We started 2014 with just one lil' nano brewing operation in our city.

 

It was, of course, The Ship, which was brewing up occasional batches of the award-winning Ships Rations on a tiny-towne brew system with our Brewer at the helm. We began brewing at The Ship in 2013, the same year that The Shed announced their plans for their as-yet-unbuilt brewery in Dundas. Before these developments, Hamilton had been without locally produced beer- or even the hope of locally produced beer- since 2010. That dark year in our history (“2010” Imperial 'Empire' Stout anyone?) was the year that Labatt achieved cartoonish super-villain status in Hamilton by ruthlessly gutting our historic Peller brewery on Burlington street. The brewing equipment was removed, but they didn't stop there. They also pulled out the wiring and plumbing, ripping the very veins of the building out to ensure that no one else ever made beer there. ever. again. They probably also “Burtonised” the very earth, but we can't know for sure. Hamilton entered a dark period, roughly equivalent to Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.

 

We broke that dry spell, in our small way, in 2013. But the times were still dark. Still, like a tiny hole in a massive dam, our small trickle of local beer was an indicator of the flood to come... The Shed was announced, which gave us hope. Shortly after that, The Hamilton Brewery (THB) announced their plans to build a brewery! 2013 brought us hope, but we still began 2014 with only our scrappy little nano putting out a dribble of beer...

 

 ...and we are finishing 2014 with no fewer than SIX new breweries of various types either opened or announced!

 

BOOM:

The Shed is still working away at, from what rumor holds, is a massive, knotted ball of red tape. (That's no moon...)

 

Arts & Science was announced in March – this was the big one!!! They are going to defy Labatt and restore life to the empty shell of the Burlington Street Brewery! They hope to open in 2015 (with an Ewok dance party?) and officially end Labatts 5-year long history of cruelty to our city. Wooooo!

 

We launched in April (!!!) ,

 

THB launched (Now as a contract brewery, like ourselves) just recently at the end of November,

 

BRUX opened its doors at the same time, with plans to open and operate a nano (Which will be nice, because the nano operation at The Ship was forced to shut down in 2014, leaving us without a nano in the city.)

 

…and finally, our friend Brad Clifford announced in early December that he will be joining us (and THB) as contract brewers based out of Hamilton! We will welcome Clifford Brewing to Hamilton in early 2015!

 

We also got our first full-scale beer festival in 2014! Because Beer was incredible, and an incredible boon to the beer culture of Hamilton. It's set to return, and to be even better, in 2015!

 

2015 is totally our Episode VI year! It's The Return Of The Brewski, cats and kittens! Also- did you know? We are getting a new Star Wars movie in 2015 as well... it looks pretty OK and my enthusiasm for it may be affecting my writing style. Well, enough of that, lets talk about the new year- I've got a GOOD feeling about this!

 

We intend to not just be along for the ride in 2015, but to continue to lead the charge! And we're starting with a great new price: 140$ a keg. (Dropped from 155$ per 30 liter keg) 

 

This price puts us more or less in line with the current Ontario "standard" for a 30 liter keg of craft beer. It is -as near as we can figure- about the average price. We decided to drop our price after several months of sales and experience. Explaining why should perhaps be it's own entry, there is certainly enough ground to cover that it could make up a whole different blog post, but it would likely get tedious. Still, I'm assuming anyone coming here actually has an interest in reading some of that "how your sausage gets made" stuff, so I'll cover it in brief.

 

The short version is that publicly listed keg prices (upon which we based our price) are not necessarily the prices that licensees actually end up paying- for a variety of reasons. So, we priced our kegs too high, and as a result our beer was more expensive for you to buy. We're hoping that with our new price, some savings can be passed along to you when you order our beer! We are big believers in beer, and we cherish the idea that beer ought to be accessible and affordable! Inexpensive to buy and easy to share! As such, we'd like to price our beer as low as we can while still remaining a viable company that can continue to exist, and to create more beer! This is a difficult task for any brewer, but we're finding it especially difficult as a small contract brewer. Still, we know we can do better. Thanks to all our licensees who ordered kegs, and to all the beer drinkers who ordered a pint of our Piperales in 2014! We promise we'll do the best we can to get you the best beer we can at the best price that we can possibly manage. 

 

The longer version (skip to here if you're tired of this already): something we've learned in our pricing adventures that surprised us is that -often, but not always- craft beer is "The Cheap Stuff". For example, the most up-to-date beer store licensee prices at the time of writing places a 30 liter keg (before taxes and deposit) of Stella at 176.06, A 30 of Steamwhistle at 122.96, and Cameron's Cream Ale, Lager & Auburn Ale all at 115$ for a 30.

 

"Whoah" you might be saying, "I buy craft beer by the keg all the time. I especially like to get Steamwhistle by the keg, using their awesome home-delivery service, and I pay 178.95 for a 30, plus a 59.95 charge for delivery to Hamilton. That's 238.90 total!"

Well, sometimes craft brewers charge a bit more for home customers to account for the fact that their kegs are usually gone a much longer time, and are perhaps a little less likely to come back. Sometimes they don't.

In Steamwhistle's case, that price includes tax and:

  • Equipment setup and pick-up services
  • 1 x 12 kg bag of ice
  • Steam Whistle beer cups
  • Loan of draught equipment with tap handle

That- my friends- is a pretty darn good deal.

 Licensee customers (Pubs, bars, restaurants, ect) buying Steamwhistle from the Beer Store pay 188.95 after taxes and keg deposit, but they won't pay for the delivery (as private customers will) and they probably aren't getting any of the other stuff...  but maybe they are. It's not uncommon for breweries to provide glassware, coasters and other small items to help the bar promote their beers. We ourselves will provide glassware and taphandles to our licensees who want them... and I don't think that there is anything sketchy about that.

 

But, depending on who the licensee is, and what brewery they are ordering from-  maybe they are getting more. Maybe- a lot more.

 

Basically, it's all up for negotiation. Every licensee is potentially able to say to any brewery at any point: "What can you do for me?" and the volume of beer that they could likely sell for the brewery is their leverage. They might sell their tap lines like billboard space, they might expect a better price, free kegs, or tickets to sports events. They might think all of this is normal, because, rather sadly, it is. This highly competitive and secretive environment can make it challenging to set a fair price. How do you even know what the going rate is when there is so much smoke and mirrors? When "buy 4, 3 or even 2 kegs and-get-1-free" type deals abound? With kickbacks and aggressive beer reps offering presents of booze, fancy meals, trips, and whatever else they can muster? 

 

It's tricky, but after alot of confidential talks with good people on both sides of the equation, we feel that 140$ is the reasonable number. One where we can still afford to brew beer, bars can afford to buy our beer, and you can expect to pay a reasonable price for your pint.

 

In case it is not already clear, I suppose I should clarify that this sketchy behavior is not legal, and we are not interested in participating in (nor can we afford to participate in) this particular race to the bottom. Any place you find Garden Brewers beer on tap is an establishment where they decided that they wanted our beer based on the merits of our beer!  Not on the merits of our money. 

 

You know, I would like to take a moment to thank all the licensees who ordered our beer in 2014- even at our relatively high price. Thank you so much to:

Iggy's Pub and Grub

The Ship

Supercrawl

The Tavern On George

The Winking Judge

Homegrown Hamilton

The Brain

The Casbah

The Rhino

Das Gasthaus

Bar Hop

Buster Rhinos

C'est What

Food & Liquor

WVRST

Imbibe

Tall Boys

The Brooklyn

The Grapefruit Moon

 

Of course, a huge thanks also to all those who ordered a pint (or two!) of Piperales from one of the above establishments!  You make all this possible, for bars and brewers alike! (Of all those who ordered pints, about 200 of you shared your opinions of our beer on Untappd, and we're very happy for the feedback. Cheers!)

 

If 2014 was the year of of the Ontario craft beer boom (and looking at this kind of data from Mom and Hops, which lists 44 new Ontario breweries opening in 2014, and a 22.7% increase in Ontario craft beer sales at the LCBO over last year, I think it's safe to say it was) then I think that 2015 will be the year of craft beer maturation in Ontario.

 

My Mom has a tradition of making "New Years Predictions". If I can cast my own "New Beers Predictions" for craft beer in Ontario during 2015, I think we're going to see good things- but with significant growing pains.

I predict an improvement in some the brash and enthusiastic, yet too often unbalanced or mediocre offerings of some the the new brewers. This long-overdue deluge of new breweries we've been enjoying will continue into 2015, but alongside all of the openings, I think we'll start to see the first closings. Competition is already unprecedentedly fierce and it is only going to increase- for shelf space, tap space, and mental space alike. (I live and breathe beer and I can't even keep track of all the new brewers, let alone all of their beers!) The new brewers that have been struggling with quality and consistency will find their feet this year, or they may very well be forced to close their doors. Other brewers with excellent beers may also be brought down this year- by everyday business issues, exacerbated by a highly competitive environment. Cash flow has killed more breweries than microbial contamination, after all. Additionally, we will see more entries by the macro brewers into the growing craft beer market,  which will only further crowd the field. 

There have never been so many players as there will be in 2015, but there has also never been so much reason to expect that the playing field itself will change too!  Never before in Ontario has consumer interest and awareness been so high! These game-changers are real wildcards with wide reaching and difficult to predict ramifications, but I think overall that there is no reason for anything but optimism! 2015 will be a great time to drink beer in Ontario, we will all enjoy variety like never before, including locally produced beer options that just didn't exist previously. There will be changes, with unexpected consequences, but there isn't any reason we shouldn't expect that anything less than the best beers ever made in this province will be helping us cheer in 2016!

 

Here's to the future!

 

Cheers!

-The Garden Brewers


Garden Brewers Harvest Party!

You are GOURD-ially invited to our Harvest Party; an evening celebrating seasonal flavors with unique beer & food pairings- right here in downtown Hamilton!

Taking place at Mills Hardware - Hamilton's newest arts and event space- and presented by Because Beer and Sonic Unyon, our Harvest Party will happen on Thursday October 30th from 6pm to 10pm. The night before Halloween! Wear a nice comfy sweater instead of a costume and join us as we hand out beer instead of candy. There will be food, fun, flavour, and frosty brews!

We have partnered with several other local small businesses in the community, and their support has allowed us to bring a rare and exciting beer event to Hamilton. The evening will feature specially-curated food pairings created by Chef Shane McCartney of McCartney and Son, made with local ingredients like squash from Buttrums Family Farm. There will be a coffee-infused Piperales made with collaboratively choosen beans from Homegrown Hamilton, downtown Hamiltons famous café and roastery. Our glassware, pictured above, will be provided by Stoney Creek Glass and, last but not least, Sonic Unyon, Because Beer, and Mills Hardware are all working together to present and host our party!

 You know, quality beer events have been all too few and far between in our city. Even big festivals like the province-wide Ontario Craft Beer Week, which hosts more than 100 events, can fail to bring even a single event to Hamilton. We are looking to change that, and we couldn't be more proud that this event is truly home-grown. 

OK! So enough FEELINGS- Just what is this Harvest Party?

Check it-

A chance to sample Piperales and explore the exciting range and pairing possibilities of the first beer from Hamilton’s Ambitious Brewery.

BUT WAIT- Not only will you be able to try our Piperales, but we will also be offering TWO unique one-night-only editions, infused with some of the traditional flavors of the season: Pumpkin Spices and Coffee.

AND THAT'S NOT ALL-The evening will also be a chance to try a rare and unquestionably unique beer cocktail: The "Hot Piper". Once the exclusive domain of Brewers, the Hot Piper is made using smoky and sweet Piperales wort and is based off of the Hot Scotchie- a warming treat made from fresh hot wort (unfermented beer) and whiskey. This unique cocktail’s origins are foggy, but legend holds that it can be traced back to Brewers sneakily adding a nip of whiskey to a little of the wort on chilly morning brew days. The drink was introduced to us in Hamilton during a brisk fall outdoor brew day. We were hosting members of Hamiltons homebrew club, the HOZERs, in our corktown backyard for a group homebrew session. The club was making a stout for the fall, and a sly brewer introduced us all to the tradition - it was love at first sip. We thought it would be the perfect thing to bring to our Harvest Party, and something that you're not likely to see available anywhere else- outside of a brewery.

HOLD ON, THERE'S MORE- Each delicious, perfect-for-the-season beverage comes paired with a tasty, hand-crafted bite by Shane McCartney:

Your pint of Piperales comes paired with- A Roasted Squash Soup Shooter 

Your sample of Coffee Piperales comes paired with- A Mini Stuffed Eggplant

Your sample of Pumpkin Piperales comes paired with- A Radicchio cup with sprouts, beans, and a honey chive vinaigrette

Your Hot Piper comes paired with- A Mini Apple Pie & Aged Cheddar

WHAT THERE'S STILL SOMETHING ELSE, THAT IS HOT NONSENSE-  No, it's true! You'll also get to keep your Garden Brewers Mason Jar style jug as a souvenir! Filled to the brim, this glass holds just over 16oz of water, beer, or tomato sauce. That is a PINT, my friend. Well, an American pint anyway. 

Admission is free! The tasting package includes all 4 food and drink pairings and a souvenir glass for 30$. Single pints of Piperales are available from the bar for 5$.


Tickets are available online or at the door.

 

We hope to see you there,

Cheers!

-The Garden Brewers