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The 6 Buzziest Beers of 2013 (So Far)

The 6 Buzziest Beers of 2013 (So Far)



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The beers making headlines in the first half of 2013

The most-talked about beers of 2013.

Unsurprisingly, it's already been a great year for craft beer. Craft brewers are putting out even more beer than the year before, in all 50 states, and starting to rival even the Goliaths of beer. And we just can't get enough of it: new beer styles, coffee beers, canned beers, even "light" craft beers. Let's be real, we may all love a good PBR now and then, but 2013 is the year of craft beer.

Click here for the 6 Buzziest Beers of 2013 (So Far) Slideshow

And while we're always looking for new beers to review and taste, there are certain beers that get everyone's attention. And 2013 so far has been no exception. But what's made these six new brews stand out is that they're, well, weird — no wonder everyone's talking about them. Perhaps following in the footsteps of 2012 and 2013's hottest-selling beverage, flavored vodka, craft brewers are finding outrageous new ways to flavor and make their beer. The most unexpected flavors and ingredients are finding their way into beer, but even if some craft beer is following the downward spiral of flavored vodkas, we can't help but be impressed. Sure, there may be a peanut butter jelly craft beer and vodka, but we don't hate it.

And then, other beers that made news in the first half of 2013 were in large part because of who makes them. Let's just say Anheuser-Busch made headlines this year, perhaps for all the reasons the company didn't want. Which beer have you been itching to try — or avoid at all costs? These are the headline-making beers of 2013; who knows what the rest of 2013 will bring.


Beer Guide 2013: 9 Other Favorites

/>John Eaton, Widmer Bros.

[Our 2013 Beer of the Year is featured here. The exemplary beers below round out our top 10 local beers for the year 2013.]

No. 2: Oblique Black & White Coffee Blonde Stout (Cascade)

C ascade Brewing's Oblique Black and White Coffee Blonde Stout has a logic-defying, tongue-twisting name. It fits the beer well. This brew is blonde in color, with the huge body of a stout and the drinkability of a lager. A blind smell test conjures images of an iced toddy rather than beer, and the taste backs it up: This is the most vivid coffee flavor we've ever tasted in beer. Too many pints, and you'll feel wired and drunk. In short, it's exactly the sort of beer Portlanders should be excited about, the sort that breaks new ground and can spawn a brigade of imitators.

Cascade is primarily known for its sours, but Jon Berry is carving a new niche. Four years ago, Berry gave up a lucrative career as a chemist at Seattle-based biotech firm ZymoGenetics to brew full-time, taking over Cascade's operation at Raccoon Lodge. A year ago, Berry approached Southeast Portland's Oblique Coffee Roasters about collaborating on a coffee beer, as other roasters and brewers have done across the country.

Initially, Cascade's notoriously prickly head brewer, Ron Gansberg, a world-renowned master of sours, wasn't thrilled with the idea. "This was a beer, believe it or not, he didn't want to make," Berry says. "Then I showed him how cool it could be to do coffee beers, and now we're doing a whole series." The blonde stout is the third entry in that series, and the first of its kind: a combination of rich malts, oatmeal ("anything to provide body") and Oblique's dark, heavy Landauer French roast beans. Those beans come through in the beer better than in any of the many coffee stouts we've tried before this blonde.

"How can you call a stout blonde?" you may ask. This is a common question from beer drinkers who come across this startling hybrid.


Red Rock Root Beer

So back in March I found myself in Salt Lake City again to give another seminar on electric vehicles. This time it was at the University of Utah. I’d hit the area pretty hard back in February but was certain that there was some gourmet root beer left to be found. Sure enough, a devoted web search revealed Red Rock Brewery where they make their own root beer and cream soda. As soon as I landed and got the rental car, I knew where I was heading. I took a seat at the bar and ordered a pint, no ice, lots of foam.

The Body is dark and spicy with some mint. It isn’t really sweet and has a stronger licorice flavor than I prefer. The spices make for a strong and solid Bite when mixed with its carbonation. There is no Head, none whatsoever. The server said it was a “foamless tap” but I don’t buy it. I saw beers with foam. The Aftertaste is a light wintergreen and licorice that turns bitter at the end and not in a good way. This bitter lasts far too long.

This isn’t my favorite flavor and the bitter at the end really turns me off. Plus, no Head, a travesty of travesties is a draft root beer incapable of building a Head. I won’t be drinking this again, ever. The food on the other hand, could make me come back. I asked the bar keep what he recommended and he said their caramelized onion New York steak sandwich was amazing, and it was! Melted cheese on the top, delicious caramelized onions over my sliced, medium rare steak with onion soup for dipping. I got a refill, of cream soda that is. No need to ruin dinner after all.

My amazing steak sandwich and fries and cream soda. This picture can’t even begin to describe the deliciousness.


Student of Beer

So far in East Vancouver, we had visited a 32-hL brewery with a staff of one (Storm Brewing), and a 25-hL brewery with a staff of two dozen (Parallel 49).

Powell Street Brewery: small but mighty

Our next stop was Powell Street Brewing, the first nano-brewery in Vancouver proper. (Technically, Bridge Brewing is across Burrard Inlet in the city of North Vancouver.) It proved to be very different from our previous two stops.

Situated next to several commercial buildings on, yes, Powell Street, Powell Street Brewery is in what appears to be a small house. Entering, we found ourself in a small, bright lounge/sampling bar. Pieces of local art lined the walls and the ubiquitous growler filler stood on a corner of the bar.

The young woman behind the bar introduced herself as Nicole Stefanopoulos. It turns out she is half of the Powell Street team — her husband, David Bowkett, is the brewmaster.

Nicole poured me some samples (yay!) as we chatted. The Old Jalopy Pale Ale was excellent (more about that later) and I was very charmed by the ginger & cardamom wit — enough spice to be lively, dry enough to make a pleasant patio thirst-quencher. Clearly David knows his stuff.

“Small batch” is a phrase often thrown around by craft breweries, but Powell Street brings a new meaning to the phrase — each batch is a minuscule 3.5 hL (350 litres). However, demand for their beer has been crazy since the moment they opened their doors: when we visited in early May, they had been open less than 20 weeks and they were already producing and selling as much beer as their business plan had envisioned in the third year of business.

David mashes into direct-fired 3.5-hL system. (Photo by Nicole Stefanopoulos, used with permission)

In addition to ever-changing seasonals such as the ginger & cardamom witbier, Powell Street produces three beers year round: the pale ale, an IPA (of course) and a porter.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to tour the brewhouse — Nicole was taking care of the shop (several customers arrived and left while we were chatting), and David wasn’t there, since he still has a full-time job as an architectural technologist. (Yes, he works full-time, brews and bottles on weekends, and he and Nicole spend their evenings delivering beer to licensees and liquor stores.)

Nicole mentioned that she gets calls all the time from restaurants and bars seeking their products, but she has to turn them down — Powell Street is already selling everything that David brews. However, help is on the way in the form of another fermenter that should be arriving soon.

In addition to kegs for licensees and 650 mL bottles for liquor stores, a lot of their beer is dispensed via growler refills for locals Nicole has seen growlers get strapped to bikes and even a baby stroller.

Local art is for sale — the artist receives 100% of the money

I have mentioned before that I particularly like nano-breweries because of their bonds with the local community. In the case of Powell Street, the brewery also serves as a kind of local art gallery — the artwork we had admired as we entered was created by local artists and is actually for sale. When a piece sells, the brewery doesn’t take any commission all of the money goes to the artist. It’s Powell Street’s way of being a part of the local arts community.

Powell Street expects to produce 200 hectolitres in their first year of operation — that is the equivalent of only ten batches at most of the other breweries in town. (Parallel 49 Brewery, with their high speed rotary filler, could bottle that much beer in less than a day.) Can nano-breweries, with their limited capacity, compete with their larger craft-brewing cousins? Perhaps not in volume sold, or number of licensees. But Powell Street makes it clear that even the small brewery can be mighty. Ten days after our visit, Powell Street won a gold medal at the Canadian Brewing Awards for their Old Jalopy Pale Ale — and then a few minutes later, Old Jalopy was also named Beer of the Year.

West Coast Journey: Parallel 49 Brewing

Time to visit the second of four breweries in East Vancouver. It was just a hop and a skip from Storm Brewing to our next destination, but one glance at Parallel 49 Brewing told us that the two breweries could not be more different.

Corrugated steel-panelled condo marks gentrification of area while still paying tribute to gritty industrial history.

This is still a very industrial part of town, but the corrugated metal “faux industrial”- style condo developments here and there and banners proclaiming “East Village” indicate that some gentrification of the area has started.

Parallel 49: sleek professional exterior

Parallel 49 Brewing (named after the nearby 49th parallel, which acts as the Canada-U.S. border in these parts) was started by three home brewers who were ready to step up to the big leagues. The brewery’s location in a sleek two-storey commercial building makes it obvious that a lot of professional planning — and a whackdoodle of cash — went into realizing their dream. Clearly the owners are gambling that this area will continue to attract more well-to-do people and their money.

Live TV: Brewhouse operations on the flat screen TV.

The brewery’s open front door invited us into a bright and airy lounge and sampling bar. A large flat screen tv hung above the bar, but rather than sports or news, it was permanently tuned to the brewhouse, focussed on the mash-lauter tun and kettle. Yes, you can have a sample of beer and watch the next batch being made. (I wonder if the brewmaster gets paid for his TV appearances?)

L to R: Ruby ale, IPA, Watermelon wit, saison, brown ale, India pale lager

Behind the bar, four growler fillers lined the wall — like several other West Coast breweries we had already visited, growlers are obviously big business here too. In addition to a cooler with bottles, there was also a plethora of brewery-related swag, including beer jelly, beer soap, beer glasses and (of course) beer logo t-shirts.

A young woman behind the bar gave us a friendly greeting and introduced herself as Angie. And an angel she was too, since she immediately poured some samples of their beer. (Hallelujah!)

Lord of the Hops IPA: “One Beer to Rule Them All”, apparently. What would Frodo think?

The beer samples covered a wide gamut, from a tasty ruby ale to a very hoppy India pale lager. Several really stood out. The Old Boy Brown Ale was nutty and smooth. The Seedspitter Watermelon Wit — yes, it tasted like fresh watermelon — was very light, dry and thirst-quenching. I can see of lot of it being consumed on Vancouver patios this summer. And it goes without saying that I enjoyed the Lord of the Hops IPA — with Ahtunam, Citra, and Amarillo hops, a very enjoyable example of the Northwest style.

As I sampled, Angie filled us in on the brewery’s short history. On the day we visited, the brewery had been open almost exactly a year. The three homebrewers had originally been chemical engineers — perhaps their engineering degrees explained the high degree of attention to detail that we saw. They in turn had brought five other investors on board. Their business plan clearly calls for Parallel 49 to be sleek, modern, and well-marketed.

Custom embossed bottle with 1940s-style artwork.

In addition to growler and keg sales, the brewery also bottles their product in custom 650 mL bottles with the company logo embossed above the label. In addition, most of the labels feature distinctive art in a 1940s cartoon style. The result is a very professional-looking and very recognizable product.

More than good marketing and good looks, the brewery has in its short life proven to be a purveyor of fine beer as well. The week after my visit, Parallel 49 picked up a whack of trophies at the Canadian Brewing Awards:

  • Old Boy Brown Ale: Silver, Brown Ales
  • Vow of Silence: Gold, Belgian-Style Abbey Ales
  • Lord of the Hops: Silver, American-style IPAs
  • From East Vancouver With Love: Silver, Wood- or Barrel-Aged Strong Beers

Pretty impressive for a brewery just celebrating its first birthday.

Fermenter farm. Not sure I have seen FVs scrunched so close together before. The upper catwalk is a nice touch.

Unfortunately I didn’t arrive on the proper day for an official tour, but when Angie was unable to answer some of my more technical questions, she resourcefully snagged John, one of the brewer dudes, as he walked through the lounge. Fortunately John had just enough time in his schedule to take me on a behind-the-scenes look at the brewhouse and packaging area.

The brewhouse is a 25-hL example of stainless steel art. They had started with some 50-hL fermenters, but when demand outstripped supply, they quickly installed several 100-hL fermenters, each capable of holding a quad-batch. Perhaps the rapid pace of expansion explains why the fermenters were scrunched so close together. Glad I’m not the guy who cleans them — that would be a tight work space.

John was an excellent host, and as we passed by a couple of fermenters holding special brews, he stopped to draw samples for me. Like I said, an excellent host.

Bottle filler capable of filling and bottling 1800 bottles/minute–when it is working.

We also took a look at the packaging line. The brewery uses a rotary filler capable of filling 1800 bottles per hour. (This is very impressive for a Canadian craft brewer .) However, the bottling machine had been purchased off-shore, and apparently it had taken considerable time and effort to get it working properly. I have heard similar stories at several other breweries — off-shore equipment purchased for a very good price that takes a significant amount of time to get up and running or causes a significant amount of down-time.

My tour with John over, I returned to Angie (and my wife Elaine) in the lounge. Angie poured me another sample, this time of their winter seasonal, a salted caramel Scotch ale. Oh, my! A nose of brown sugar, a thick, rich mouthfeel, and the salty smooth taste of Mackintosh toffee. Angie apologized that this was the last of the batch — four or five bottles in the cooler was all that remained.

Yes, I bought one of those bottles. No, I didn’t have room in my suitcase for it — I would just have to jettison some socks.

West Coast Journey: Storm Brewing

Following our visit to tiny Bridge Brewery in North Vancouver, we decided to quit the suburbs and head right into Vancouver itself. We only had a few hours, and traffic in Vancouver varies between bad and impossible, so we were happy to discover four breweries clustered within a three-block radius. As it turns out, they may be close geographically, but location is all that they have in common.

Brewery or motorbike repairs?

We started with Storm Brewing. In stark contrast to the shiny new suburban nano-brewery Bridge, Storm is an 18-year-old inner city brewery located in a gritty industrial area. The small single story brick building looked like it might house a tool & die shop, or perhaps a Harley-Davidson repair shop.

As I walked from the bright sunlight into the shadowy interior and wended my way around piles of spare parts, racks of tools and large machinery that seemed to have been bodged together, I realized that I was right — this was a Harley-Davidson repair shop. And the biker dude with bleached spiked hair in a purple t-shirt and leather pants, chains hanging around his neck was obviously the owner. Then my eyes adjusted to the dim light — no, wait, my mistake, the place was a brewery, and the biker dude was actually a brewery dude.

Semi-skeletal tap handles would look good in a Mad Max movie.

I am not kidding about the ambience. It sort of looked like a cross between a welding shop and a set for the latest zombie apocalypse movie, heightened by the presence many post-apocalyptic tap handles, as well as the steam rising from the mash tun. (I was lucky enough to visit on a Wednesday, which is brew day at Storm.)

I introduced myself and discovered that I was talking to James Walton, founder, owner, chief mechanic, brewmaster and sole employee of Storm. (At various times, James has had an assistant however, at the moment, it’s just James.)

He had at one time been involved in the pharmaceutical industry, but soon realized that he was much more interested in his homebrewing, and decided to start up his own brewery. Instead of buying brewery equipment, James taught himself to weld and constructed his own. (I sensed a bit of the rebel in James — okay, a lot of the rebel.) As a result, some of his equipment is, well… unique.

Lower part of grain hydrator, featuring a series of cascading steps

His brewhouse features the first ground level mash/lauter tun I have ever seen — yes, it sits right on the floor like a giant hot tub. The grain hydrator, which wets the grain with warm water before it falls into the mash tun, is also an interesting design, featuring a series of “steps” or “rungs” through which the grain cascades on the way to the mash tun.

Over the years, James has rebuilt, upgraded and redesigned the brewhouse. Its current capacity is 32 hectolitres, which has to make it one of the larger craft breweries in Vancouver, and a very substantial size for a one-man operation.

He offered me a sample of his unfiltered Hurricane IPA, and I have to confess that, given the hand-manufactured equipment, I wasn’t sure what to expect. However, I lifted the cup to my lips and — WHAM! Flavour exploded in my mouth. Wow. I love northwest IPAs, and have tasted and savoured a lot of them, but Hurricane instantly stormed its way into my Top 10.

James Walton, powerful warlock, casting spells over his 32-hL ground-level mash/lauter tun

Then I realized it. I had mistaken James for a biker dude, but he was actually a powerful warlock, standing in the dim light of his cavern, casting his mighty arcane spells over the steam rising from the mash tun. This explained everything. (Or perhaps it was simply the IPA casting its potent 7% spell over me.)

When James first started, there were not very many breweries in Vancouver, and he believed they were brewing a lot of uninteresting beer. He also strongly felt that filtering beer significantly reduced and changed the flavour of the beer. He set out to change both the uninteresting part as well as attitudes towards unfiltered beer. In 1995, his first beer, an unfiltered alt named Red Sky, thundered on to the scene and opened a lot of eyes to the possibilities of both unfiltered beer and brewing that pushed the envelope.

(He stopped brewing the alt many years ago, but has just undertaken a collaboration with nearby Parallel 49 Brewing to recreate the recipe as part of Vancouver’s annual Craft Beer Week in June.)

Over the years, James has brewed everything from a porter to a cherry lambic, always unfiltered. Besides Hurricane IPA, his current lineup includes a Scotch ale, a north-German style pilsner, a strong (8%) stout, and a huge (11%) Flanders sour red. Don’t bother looking in liquor stores for Storm beers — you are going to have to travel to Vancouver and search for the beers on tap at about 30 establishments. Trust me, the trip will be worth it.

Handmade equipment, unfiltered beer on tap only, huge 32-hL system manned by a single brewing magician — Storm is perhaps the most unique brewery I have visited.

(Addendum: After I published my blog about Bridge Brewing of North Vancouver, a reader pointed out that there is another Bridge Brewing on the East Coast of Canada, in Halifax. By coincidence, I discovered that there is also another Storm Brewing on the East Coast, in Newfoundland.)

West Coast Journey: Bridge Brewing

As I mentioned in my previous post, the Vancouver craft beer scene is exploding.

This just demands some personal exploration, so a few days after driving westward across Vancouver Island to visit Tofino Brewing, Elaine and I travelled in the other direction, taking the eastbound ferry from the Island to Vancouver and booking a room at a B&B in the city of North Vancouver.

View of Vancouver from North Van

(The city of Vancouver proper is separated from North Vancouver — “North Van” to locals — by a piece of the ocean, Burrard Inlet. To reach Vancouver from the North Shore, you must cross the inlet via one of two long bridges. Try to avoid doing this during rush hour unless you enjoy sitting in a motionless car. But I digress…)

I am by nature drawn to nano-breweries. Beer doesn’t have a long shelf-life at the best of times centuries ago, before refrigeration and railways made transportation of beer possible, you drank beer that was made within a few miles of your home. For household consumption, wives were responsible for brewing the ale served with every meal. For a social evening out, you went down to your local tavern and drank the beer made right there. Beer was local, unfiltered and meant to be drunk fresh. Every brewery was a nano-brewery.

Of course there are advantages to refrigeration and modern transportation, and I would never dream of giving up the ability to head down to my local liquor store and buy German, British and Australian beer. However, to me, nano-breweries and their strong connection to the local population are a pleasant reminder of simpler times.

Since we were staying in North Van, it made sense to visit a nearby nano-brewery on the North Shore, the brand-spankin’ new Bridge Brewing.

Bridge Brewing: small, bright, modern, a little hard to find.

It’s pretty obvious where the name came from–the brewery is just down the road from the Ironworkers Memorial Second Narrows Bridge (one of those two aforementioned bridges from traffic hell). That doesn’t automatically make the brewery easy to find, however: although it’s in a nice, new modern commercial building, that structure is tucked behind another nice, new modern commercial building. It took a few minutes of exploration and head-scratching before we finally discovered it.

Although we arrived outside of the brewery’s normal hours, the door was open and we were lucky enough to catch Director of Consumption Leigh Stratton, who was busy loading kegs into her car for delivery to a local bar. Leigh and her husband Jason started up Bridge Brewing only nine months ago as Vancouver’s first nano-brewery.

Many (most?) craft breweries are started by home brewers aspiring to join the big leagues. In contrast, although both Jason and Leigh enjoyed craft beer, neither had any background in home brewing. Instead, they took the unusual step of bringing in a consultant to teach them how to make beer. Leigh and Jason then took on a partner with no brewing experience and trained him to be the brewer.

Everything in one room. (Two older fermenters are hidden behind the two new FVs.)

Like Tofino Brewing, Bridge fits everything into one room — their brewhouse, fermenters, and a small sampling bar are all shoehorned into just 930 square feet of space.

The sampling bar features a dedicated growler filler. (When you fill a growler by simply pouring beer into it, you add air as the beer swirls and splashes around in the bottle. This is bad bad bad — oxygen is a beer killer and reduces the effective life of the growler to a day or two at the most. A growler filler evacuates the air inside the growler and replaces it with beer-friendly CO2, then gently adds the beer, forcing the CO2 out as the growler fills. With much less oxygen in the beer, the shelf life of the growler is greatly extended.)

It being a sampling bar, Leigh poured me a sample of Bridge’s North Shore Pale Ale, which I enjoyed as she took me on a tour. That basically involved standing in the middle of the room and turning around as she described their operation.

Nano-brewhouse: two 2-hL mash/lauter tuns (smaller vessels), two kettles, all sitting on a propane-fired stove.

Each of their 4-hectolitre (400-litre) batches is made by mashing into two 200-litre mash/lauter tuns sitting on direct-fire propane burners. The wort is then transferred to two kettles, also direct-fired, then transferred to one of their four fermenters. (They started with two 8-hL fermenters, each capable of holding a double batch however, high demand immediately called for an expansion of volume, and they quickly added a 16-hL and a 24-hL FV, capable of holding a quadruple- and sextuple-batch respectively.)

With the increase in fermentation space, Bridge expects to produce 800 hL by the end of their first 12 months. That may sound minuscule, but actually represents 200 batches of beer in their first year, a respectable number for any start-up brewery.

Since this is the Pacific Northwest, it’s not surprising that Bridge’s main beer, North Shore, is a 5.5% abv northwest-style pale ale. The nose is nicely citrussy, with floral hints, the body medium, with a pleasant malt & caramel taste. Although it possesses only 27 IBUs–fairly moderate for this part of the world–that’s enough to impart a pleasingly crisp and dry finish. All in all, a very good beer to have in the fridge. Bridge packages some of this in 650 mL bottles for sale in a few liquor stores, and some in kegs for a few bars, but a lot of it is sold to locals who bring in growlers to be refilled.

They are also about to add Hopilano IPA to their year-round label stable — again, almost a required product for this part of the world. (The word “Hopilano” is wordplay on the nearby Capilano River.) Bridge also makes a rotating series of seasonal beers — this summer will feature a kölsch.

Like several other West Coast breweries we toured, Bridge does not filter their beers. While this probably shortens the beer’s shelf-life a bit, the upside is the retention of more flavour, aroma and protein.

Bridge also prides itself on its eco-friendly processes. The brewery does not have a hot liquor tank that constantly keeps water hot for brewing and cleaning instead they rely on a tankless water heater to flash-heat cold water, instantly producing hot water on an as-needed basis. Almost all waste products and packaging are recycled, composted or reused, even to the point of washing and reusing growler caps. About the only items that end up in the garbage are foil hop bags.

Bridge is obviously putting a lot of work into connecting with the local community. They have a modern website, and their Twitter feed (@bridgebrewcrew) reads more like a conversation with the neighbours than a promotional tool. A couple of days after we visited, they sponsored their first annual North Shore 10K Growler, a 10,000-metre run that started and finished at the brewery. However, it was not your ordinary 10K: each participant who ran the entire distance carrying two growlers of water — that’s almost 5 kilos (10 lbs) of extra weight hanging at the end of your arms — won two free growlers of pale ale each week for a month.

(That is a very generous offer by a tiny brewery. Twenty-four runners successfully took up this challenge — at just over 15 L of free beer per person, that is a community freebie of 360 L of beer, almost an entire batch. On top of this, I’m sure there were a few free pints consumed at the brewery following the race as well.)

With the strong demand for their product, a small eco-footprint and a good local presence, Bridge Brewing seems to be another well-thought-out business plan. I will be very interested in watching their growth over the next couple of years.

West Coast Journey: Tofino Brewing

As I mentioned in my previous post, just a couple of days after finishing my Brewmaster exams, family business took me to British Columbia for a couple of weeks. In retrospect, the timing was not perfect–I flew out of Toronto just a few days before the Ontario Brewing Awards, and left B.C. just a few days before the Canadian Brewing Awards in Victoria. However, on the plus side, once my family commitments were completed, I had some time to explore some of the craft breweries on the West Coast.

Nurtured in the Northwest craft beer movement of the 1980s, B.C. craft brewers have always been about five years ahead of Ontario in terms of consumer attitude and marketplace penetration. So if you think the craft beer scene is burgeoning in Ontario, you need to visit B.C., where the craft beer scene is exploding. This year alone, nine new breweries and brewpubs are scheduled to open in Metropolitan Vancouver, bringing the city’s total to 20. And new breweries are popping up around the province as well.

I decided to start my journey of exploration by driving out to Tofino Brewing on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

Tofino is one of a handful of small villages that cling to the harsh mountainous western coast of Vancouver Island. With nothing between it and Japan except several thousand kilometres of Pacific Ocean, Tofino is lashed by fierce storms in the winter even summer days are usually accompanied by a daily blanket of morning mist, rain and cool winds. Fifty or sixty years ago, there was only a tiny fishing village here, connected to the populated east coast of the Island by a bone-shaking, white-knuckled, 6-hour drive over a tortuous gravel road clinging to sheer cliff faces.

Long Beach: 20 km of hard sand and big waves

Then in the 1960s, hippie surfers discovered the big ocean waves endlessly rolling onto Long Beach, a 20-km stretch of hard tidal sand just outside Tofino. The Clayquot Sound old-growth forest controversy of the 1980s, pitting loggers against the nascent eco-movement, brought attention–and even more visitors–to this part of the world. The gravel road was paved and improved, cutting the 6-hour drive to about 90 minutes. Now Tofino is a busy tourist town offering eco-adventures via kayaks, floatplanes, and whale-watching boats. A new generation of surfers has arrived, and like their snowboarding ilk at Whistler and Banff, they eke out a living waiting tables and doing odd-jobs between surfing sessions.

The big door is open: C’mon in!

Tofino Brewery is located in a section of an industrial building just outside of town. Like several other small breweries we visited in B.C., if the big delivery door was shut, the brewery was closed. If it was open, come on in! As luck would have it, the brewery was open, and when I introduced myself, I was given a quick tour–not quick in the sense that they were eager to get rid of me, but quick because it is a pretty compact set-up.

I confess that, given the young average age of the locals, and the laid-back lifestyle of a population more interested in rippin’ the primo rollers around nearby Incendiary Rock than in getting a science degree, I half-expected to see the brewing dudes at Tofino Brewing standing around a 50-litre pot, stirring the mash with a piece of driftwood.

The mill tower (and motorcycle stand). Bags of grain are carried upstairs and poured into the two-roller mill. Milled grain slides into large funnel where it is pre-hydrated as it falls into mash tun.

However, what I saw instead was a clean, professional state-of-the-art brewhouse. The single room contains the sampling bar/retail operation, the grain tower holding a two-roller mill (whimsically topped by an ancient motorbike frame), the brewhouse, and fermenters.

(A confession: As my fellow Brewmaster students know, I am usually an avid note-taker. I distinctly remember taking notes during my visit to Tofino Brewing. And yet, perhaps a legacy of the several samples of beer I tasted, those notes–which included the size of the brewhouse, the name of my guide and various other pertinent details–cannot be found. On the plus side, my wife Elaine volunteered from this point forward to be my note-taker and blog co-author during brewery visits.)

The brewery was founded a couple of years ago by three friends who were tired of financing their surfing habit with arduous odd jobs around town. Having between them various business degrees (but no brewing experience), they put together a business plan for a local brewery, and convinced brewmaster David Woodward of Whistler Brew House to move to Tofino.

The brewhouse has a mash/lauter tun of perhaps 10 hectolitres (due to my lack of notes, I’m guessing at capacity based on my photos), and I seem to remember my guide mentioning that they could push capacity to a typical knock-out of 13 hectolitres of wort.

(L to R): Electrically heated mash/lauter tun, kettle, whirlpool

Tofino has a shortage of fresh water–although a lot of melted snow comes off nearby mountains, most of it ends up in the ocean well before it has a chance to reach the town. Even in this wet climate, the large number of tourists puts a huge strain on the water system each summer. For that reason, the brewery vessls are electrically heated rather than steam-fired. (My guide did allow that this added a certain flavour of caramelization to their Tuff Session Pale Ale, and that cleaning the elements after every batch was a pain.) Water is also saved by recycling warm heat exchanger water into the hot liquor tank to be used in the next batch of beer. (Niagara College’s Teaching Brewery also uses the same water-saving method.)

Tofino Brewery does not filter their beer for that reason, rather than having a combined kettle/whirpool, they have a separate kettle, and a dedicated whirlpool to remove as much trub as possible. (Many small breweries combine the kettle and whirlpool in order to save money on capital expenses–however, the inevitable design compromises means the kettle doesn’t heat as efficiently, and the whirlpool doesn’t remove trub as efficiently.)

Fermenter farm. Smallest FV at far end was one of originals. Largest on the right is the newest.

From the whirlpool, the wort flows through the heat exchanger to one of eight fermenters. The brewery started with three FVs–one horizontal and two cylindrical-conicals–each capable of handling a single batch. They have since invested in several double batch cylindrical conicals, as well as one capable of handling a triple batch (or perhaps it was a quad batch). The horizontal fermenter has been converted into their hot liquor tank.

The brewery initially didn’t have enough room (or the money) for a bottling line, so the original business plan envisioned direct sales at the brewery via refillable growlers–consumers would buy a growler, then bring it back to the brewery to be refilled. Apparently the recycling aspect of that plan struck a strong resonant chord in this eco-friendly community: the brewery originally bought 300 growlers, thinking that would last them a month–those sold out in less than a week. They ordered another 600–those were gone in another week. Local demand for Tofino beer was–and continues to be–overwhelming. In the 30 minutes I was there on a Saturday mid-afternoon, an endless stream of casually-dressed locals arrived to have a growler (or two) filled.

Demand being strong, when another unit of their industrial building became available, the brewery quickly moved in, turning part of the space into a cooler capable of holding dozens of kegs for delivery to local restaurants. The remainder of the new space gave them the room they needed for a 6-head Meheen bottle filler. Although this is probably capable of filling more than thirty 650-mL bottles a minute, the small table-top bottle labeller really slows the process down, since each bottle has to be individually hand-inserted and removed.

The open-air lounge. Casual dress encouraged.

The tour finished, samples were quickly offered at the in-house bar, and gratefully accepted by this thirsty traveller. (Hence the lost notes.) Tofino’s flagship beers are a fairly mainstream blonde, a nice English-style pale ale (with the aforementioned caramel notes), and a snappy northwest-style IPA–de rigeur for this part of the world. They also had a coffee porter bottled–another clever addition to the lineup, since good strong coffee is a huge part of the West Coast lifestyle–but alas, none was on tap. Curiously, you can’t buy a single 650 mL bottle at the brewery–the minimum purchase is four bottles, which is more than my poor suitcase would hold for the flight home (unless I discarded all my clothes, a concept with which I briefly toyed). In any case, I left without a bottle of the coffee porter, but I did buy a logo t-shirt, since I do not have enough t-shirts with brewery logos.

The last phrase of the previous sentence is a complete lie.

In a nutshell, despite the added expense of having ingredients shipped from mainland to the Island, and then shipped to the far side of the Island, Tofino Brewery seems to be a rollicking success, buoyed by the strong support–and thirst–of the local population. At a glance, the brewery seems to be brewing close to capacity, and it will be interesting to see if this results in a further expansion–perhaps a larger brewhouse or more fermenters.

Well-made local beer, made in tune with local sensibilities. Now that was a well-thought-out business plan!

Day 600: A look back… and a look forward

Well, there it is: Six hundred days since my first day of Brewmaster classes. Hopefully I learned how to make good beer, and more importantly, that I learned how to do it safely and consistently. I’ve definitely met a lot of great people in the local brewing scene, as well as several people in ancillary industries. And my fellow graduates should form the core of a stronger craft brewing industry over the next few years–many have already started work in breweries from Nova Scotia to British Columbia.

But let’s be realistic: As good as the program was, there’s still room for improvement.

If I were the Mayor of Beer, here’s what I would do:

  1. Enlarge the Teaching Brewery. The current space is too small by half. It’s hard to learn about the proper way to do one thing when you are dodging around five or six other people doing other things. (Apparently plans are being drawn up for a larger Teaching Brewery.)
  2. More teaching in the Teaching Brewery. Sometimes I felt that we were learning how to brew by a process of osmosis rather than by structured lessons in proper procedure.
  3. More lab work (and more lab work tied to the Teaching Brewery). We need more lab work in the formal chemistry and microbiology labs to reinforce lecture material. But we also need more lab work tied to the Teaching Brewery. Small teams of 1st- and 2nd-year students should be taking daily samples from the Teaching Brewery for analysis in the lab, testing for yeast viability, IBUs, water composition, microbiological content, etc. More lab work and attention to Quality Assurance is what will take craft brewing to the next level Brewmaster students not only need to learn about it, but need to live it constantly during the course.
  4. Small business, not large corporation. With courses like Human Resources and Business Ethics, the current focus of the Brewmaster program seems to be the large corporate workplace. These classes should be replaced by courses that will help us set up and run small businesses. An introductory accounting class would seem to be ideal. There is also an Operations Management class already offered in other courses that includes “customer service, forecasting techniques, procurement, supply management and just-in-time strategies, aggregate planning, inventory management, materials requirements planning, scheduling techniques, quality management and control techniques, and productivity analysis and improvement.”
  5. Better central coordination. There does not seem to be any hand on the tiller at the moment. None of the teachers knows what is being taught in other classes, so duplication of material is rife. For instance, we learn about gas laws in Packaging, then learn about gas laws again in Filtration, Carbonation &Finishing. Someone has to take charge, meet with the teachers–or even bring the teachers together–and negotiate some sort of coordinated approach to the program materials.
  6. (While we are mentioning Packaging and FCF, wouldn’t it be more more logical to have FCF first, followed by Packaging, since that is what happens in real life?)
  7. Real world applications. Given that Brewmaster students will be brewing professionally as soon as they graduate–actually many students were brewing professionally before they graduated–more of the Brewmaster program should be linked to the outside world.
    • As I have already suggested, our final project beers should have to be entered into a real brewing competition versus professional brewers.
    • Brewmaster students should be leaving the program as fully qualified beer _________s, whether that be BJCP judge, Ciccerone, Prud’homme or one of several other official designations.
    • Likewise, Brewmaster students should have to judge at several professional competitions as part of the program.
    • Every student should have to belong to the Master Brewers Association of Canada (MBAC), and every student should be required to go to each of the MBAC quarterly technical seminars.
  8. Yeast propagation and cropping. Right now, a fresh batch of yeast is used for each brew in the Teaching Brewery. However out in the real world, yeast is cropped from one batch and used in the next batch. Part of the problem is the small size of the Teaching Brewery (see Point #1), but there has to be some way to incorporate proper yeast management.
  9. DE filtration. Likewise, filtration using diatomaceous earth (DE) is industry standard, but we do not have a DE filtration system at the college. Yes, DE presents a possible health hazard, so don’t have any DE on site–just have the filter there so we can at least learn to set it up (minus the DE) and clean it.
  10. Proper classrooms. A Sensory course requiring a delicate sense of smell and taste being given in a science lab full of chemical smells? Again, it seems that a central coordinator should be able to stick-handle problems like this with the college administrators.
  11. More field trips to breweries. Given the number of breweries within two hours of the college, it seems unrealistic that we only had one field trip in the last month of the two year program. Seeing how breweries are set up and talking to the brewers is important.
  12. Technical seminars. Bring in brewmasters to give 2-hour seminars on technical aspects of brewing: lautering issues with bigger mashes, or care and feeding of yeast in high gravity brews, for instance.
  13. Make student education more important than college profit. Sales of college-made beer (and wine and food, for that matter) produce money for the college. That helps the college, obviously, but sometimes it seems that education takes a back seat to business. For instance, the dates of the very profitable Caps, Corks & Forks dinners are set without any regard to the time needed to properly design and brew beers to match to the cuisine. Again, this may be an instance where a strong central voice for the program is needed.

I’m certain that several of these concerns are already being addressed, and I am actually looking forward to coming back to the college in five years to see the improvements that will have been made in both the facilities as well as the curriculum.

So, that’s my look back. Now what? As a child of the sixties, I was raised to believe that learning is a lifelong process. So I intend to keep learning about beer, and to keep you informed about that ongoing journey through this blog. A Student of Beer I have been, a Student of Beer I shall remain.

Well, to be truthful, I haven’t actually thought that far ahead yet. My primary concern was finishing all my exams, handing in my final assignments and passing all my classes. Normally you would think that I would immediately start looking for a job. However, just a couple of days after my last exam, I had to fly out to British Columbia on family business, and I have extended that visit into a two-week vacation and an opportunity to visit as many West Coast breweries and brewpubs as possible. I’ll be writing about those breweries over the next couple of weeks.

Once I get home, yes, I’ll start looking for a job, and I’ll let you know how that goes.

And looking a bit further into the future, I will be attending a beer bloggers’ conference in Boston in late July–I will definitely be blogging about that.


>> Monday, November 25, 2013

Just in time for Thanksgiving, this brine works great for smoking whole turkeys, turkey breasts, and chicken. Brines are great for smoking because they add lots of flavor and help ensure the meat doesn't dry out. I'm not sure of the original source for this recipe, but it's posted on quite a few different recipe sites. I found it a few years ago and it's definitely a crowd favorite. Smaller birds are easier to smoke in a reasonable amount of time, so I'd recommend going with something around 16 pounds or smaller.

Ingredients
2 gallons cold water (see directions below)
1.5 c canning salt *See update below
3 T minced garlic
1 T ground black pepper (preferably freshly ground)
1/4 c Worcestershire sauce
1/3 c dark brown sugar, packed

Directions
24 to 48 hours before smoking, mix all ingredients in a container large enough to hold your turkey. I usually start off with about a gallon of water, add the turkey, then top off with enough water to cover the bird. I tend to go for about 24 hours on mine. Too long in the brine can make the bird too salty. You want the bird to be completely submerged in the brine, so I usually weigh it down with a dinner plate. It probably goes without saying, but put it in the fridge for 24-48 hours.

About an hour before you plan to smoke it, remove the bird from the brine and rinse it with cold water. Pat dry and leave the bird on a wire rack and allow it to come to room temp. That's about all there is to it. Sometimes I will add a dry rub, but it's not necessary as the bird will have plenty of flavor from the brine. Also, don't stuff it. Smoke with your favorite wood I usually go with hickory but this year I'm trying a blend of hickory along with some oak from whiskey barrel staves. Smoke until done (breast temp of 160F).

Speaking of temp, in the past I've always smoked the turkey at 225F but this year I'm going to try 325F. That may seem really high, especially to those used to smoking brisket or pork shoulders, but keep in mind turkeys aren't chock full of collagen and connective tissues that benefit from low and slow cooking like some of those other cuts of meat. At a temp of 325F we should get some of the same maillard reactions that we get when brewing beer. It also allows the skin to crisp up which simply won't happen at 225F.

Update 11/29/2013
I used this recipe on a boneless turkey breast yesterday. I put the breast in the brine Tuesday evening and pulled it out Thursday around noon. This is the longest I've tried brining and it ended up being a bit too salty for me. Next time I will brine for a shorter period of time, or reduce the amount of salt, or a little of both. I like the idea of giving the other flavors more time to work their way into the meat, so I might just try cutting the salt in half. Cooking at 325F and removing when the breast hit 160F worked out great. The combination of hickory and oak also worked well.


The 6 Buzziest Beers of 2013 (So Far) - Recipes

UPDATE (5/21/13): Last Friday morning, when we announced our Native Yeast Homebrew Competition and opened up registration around 10am, we couldn't have imagined we'd have all 40 spots reserved before folks basically got back from lunch that day. So we're opening up 40 more spots THIS FRIDAY (5/24) MORNING AT 10AM.

The link to the registration page won't allow you to register until 10am on Friday, so if you're interested in reserving a spot, make sure to bookmark this page (or the registration page itself) and revisit on Friday morning. And if you don't catch a spot on Friday, don't sweat it too badly—we're planning another competition this fall, and more than likely it'll be style-based and BJCP-sanctioned, if that sounds more interesting to you. Thanks for all the support, by the way!

As many of our friends and followers know, we've recently collected, isolated and banked our very own native yeast strain from right here in Saxapahaw, and we've been letting it stretch its legs in a few internal test batches we've brewed, as well as a commercial beer called Little Miss NC that we recently collaborated on with Trophy Brewing Company.

Little Miss NC, in all her stunning glory,
atop the bar at Trophy Brewing Company in Raleigh, NC.

So far, we've been thrilled with how our little Saxapahaw yeast strain has performed. It's played wonderfully in test batches of a Belgian Blonde, a Saison and a Belgian-style Tripel that we've brewed here. If we give it the right malt bill, it flocculates beautifully, leaving a crystal clear beer after about 20-30 days (although it finishes out a

1.060 wort in about half that time). Again, assuming we want it to, it can attenuate at room temperature quite easily, leaving a clean, crisp, dry beer.

But what happens when we ferment is cooler than 68˚F? How do the flavors meld with roasted malts? What happens when it's pitched into a more fermentable wort? A less fermentable wort? A wort with a low pH? An original gravity over 1.100? A copious amount of crystal malt? A highly hopped India Pale Ale? Oh, the humanity!

We'd love to test out all these scenarios, but we're planning on being busy building a brewery this summer. ) So we're teaming up with our friends at NCHomebrewing.com and Bull City Homebrew and reaching out to our homebrewing brothers and sisters to host a competition of sorts. How's this for an idea: We provide you with a 50mL vial of our Saxapahaw yeast strain, and you brew whatever you want, then let us taste a few bottles and figure out which ones we like the best. The brewer of the "winning beer" becomes an official Haw River Farmhouse Ales Barn Raiser (and receives a Premium Barn Raiser box, of course) and gets to help us create a single batch of the winning recipe on our 10BBL system after we open later this year! First runner up gets a bunch of goodies from Bull City Homebrew, and third place receives a special collection of fancy merchandise from Haw River Farmhouse Ales and a high five. How's that sound?

    Brew whatever you'd like. With whatever ingredients you'd like. And whatever crazy fermentation schedule you'd like to use. The only rule when it comes to ingredients is that you may only primary ferment with the yeast strain we provide you (if you're interested in pitching a little Brett in secondary or bottling with champagne yeast, feel free!). There are no style categories in this contest, and a single participating brewer can enter two different beers, if you'd like. (Although keep in mind that if your beer ends up winning first place, we're hoping to scale the batch up to 10BBL. Which means if you age your 5 gallon batch on burgundy truffles found on a remote Canadian glacier, we may have to make a few substitutions)

What kind of bottles are required?
Bottles should be 12 ounces in volume and free of paper labels or identifying caps. Corked bottles are fine as well. Bottles not meeting these requirements will be disqualified. Seriously, if we get any bottles with commercial labels still stuck to them, Ben will quite literally go insane.

How many bottles do I need to submit?
Drop off at least three 12 ounce bottles for each distinct entry in this competition. You can enter two different beers, if you'd like—just make sure you fill out a BJCP form for each beer (not each bottle, of course) and that we get 3 bottles of each distinct beer for judging.

How much are the entry fees?
None, silly goose. This one's on us—we appreciate your participation and look forward to chatting with you about your experience.

What are the dates I should remember? When is the entry deadline? Why did you just call me a "silly goose"?
All participants must be registered via our online registration form no later than midnight on Friday, May 24, 2013. Yeast vials will be available for pickup starting at 11am on Monday, May 27 at Bull City Homebrew. Entries must be dropped off in person at Bull City Homebrew in Durham before 7pm on July 26, 2013. As the deadline approaches, we'll announce the day of tasting & judging (and probably plan some fun stuff surrounding it), but it'll most likely be that weekend of the 26th-28th.

To enter Haw River Farmhouse Ales' Homebrew Competition, simply be one of the first 40 registrants to fill out our online registration form by Friday, May 24th, 2013. We'll send a confirmation email to each of the 40 participants on May 25th with instructions for picking up your yeast, as well as any other judging criteria, specific rules or guidelines, and any details that may be helpful. We'll also likely provide a few details regarding a few of the properties of the yeast we've recorded so far, but we don't want you to fall into any particular preconceived mindset when planning your recipe. Sky's the limit on this one, folks!

Have fun, get that registration form submitted ASAP, and start thinking about your recipes!

*Not that there's anything wrong with Sam Calagione—we love Dogfish Head. He was just the first commercial brewery guy we thought of. :)


Supporter

Nate and I are on board as premium supporters of HomeBrewtalk.com. We should have done it earlier as we wouldn't be where we are today in brewing if it wasn't for that site and all its members. But there is another contest going on so it was time to sign up. I'm also signing up to support Untapped, because their app is awesome and deserves at least $5 from me.

Super excited about stout fest on Saturday and I am still going strong on my stout a day quest, although I think I am at 11 through 12 days so need to find an extra to catch up. Although I will have about 10-14 stouts on Saturday so I guess I'm not too worried.

And Happy Birthday to Nate tomorrow. I have an excellent surprise for him from his favorite brewery. One that is named after a color and something in space. And owned by a much bigger brewery, which I know he loves. Not to mention I have 4 other beers for him and a few other goodies. And the Lelooska is ready to drink as is the Hef and OPFApfelwine that we can taste on the way to Astoria. Should be an exciting Saturday.

Also, my new years resolution is a bust. When buying a mardi gras beer last night I couldn't resist buying a few others next to it. And I bought a few beers on sale at Dollarland the night before. And I will buying some this weekend in Astoria. But a little over a month I went without buying more than what I went in for. And I even went in a few times and didn't buy anything new. So my willpower is a little better.


SIMPLY DELICIOUS RECIPES MADE WITH 6 INGREDIENTS OR LESS!

Our latest cookbook – Six Ingredients with Six Sisters’ Stuff – is all about using a few ingredients to make a delicious dinner! With only 6 ingredients or less per recipe in this cookbook, cooking has never been easier!

Every recipe has a beautiful mouth-watering photo and has been picky-eater approved. The directions are simple, easy to follow, and do not require any strange ingredients.

Whether you are a cook just starting out or a busy parent looking to save time in the kitchen, this cookbook is for you! It’s full of entrees, side dishes, and desserts.

With our favorite one-pot wings dish or a no-bake peanut butter bar, this cookbook is a fool-proof solution to meal planning. It also features kid-friendly chapters such as -Kid Favorites and –Kids Can Cook.
We are so excited to share these recipes with you. Order your copy today!

Need another easy chicken taco dinner? Try our Cornbread Taco Bake!


Molasses in Cooking

So, you&aposve decided to use molasses in your porridge but what about using it in other ways? Just look at some of the great recipes this versatile liquid sugar is used in:

You can find more food related hubs here:

Blackstrap Molasses from Paraguay.

Straining the sorghum molasses on a Tennessee farm, 1933.


San Pedro Brewing Company

As legend has it, in the beginning there were three microbreweries in the South Bay Manhattan Beach Brewing Company, Redondo Beach Brewing Company and San Pedro Brewing Company. Manhattan Beach Brewing gave up on brewing and became a gastropub (Brewco Manhattan Beach), preferring to sell a wide variety of craft beers brewed by others. Redondo Beach Brewing Company continues to brew at their Riviera Village brewpub, but they do not experiment much and the beer recipes seemed to stay the same, batch after batch it is a good entry level brewery to visit, but nothing exciting. Rumor has it that they will be discontinuing brewing there soon, preferring to go the route of Manhattan Beach Brewing. Of the three, San Pedro Brewing Company continues to brew and is opening a subsidiary of sorts, Port Town Brewing which has already won numerous awards.

San Pedro Brewing Company (SPBC) is a brewpub that has been at their current location for 13 years. They have won more than 43 medals in local county fairs, commercial beer competitions and international beer festivals. In addition to award winning beers, they have some pretty good food. SPBC gives tours on Friday afternoons, so if in the area, you might want to check it out. I was given a mini-tour and have to admit, I was quite surprised at the quantity and quality of beers they brew with such a small operation. When I was taken downstairs I fully expected to see a massive operation as you can tell by the photos that was far from being the case.

While there I tried a flight of all seven in-house brewed beers that were available: Bruin Blonde Ale (2012 Silver Medal, California Commercial Beer Competition), Longshoreman Lager (2009 Gold Medal American Style Lager, Los Angeles County Fair), Port Town Hefeweizen, Mai Bock Spring Lager, Iowa Battleship IPA, Beacon Street Barleywine (2012 American Style Barleywine, Los Angeles International Beer Competition) and Sunken City Imperial Stout.


Watch the video: BrewDog: The Planets Favourite Beer (August 2022).