Monthly Archives: June 2013

Still Waters Distillery

A little while ago a friend contacted me about a brewery tour trip. Sounded like a great idea to me: 40 or so people, bus, brewery tours, dinner, home. A decent way to spend a Saturday afternoon. He had contacted me each year about this but I have not been able to attend until this year.

One of the changes to the tour this year was that they decided to visit a distillery, Still Waters Distillery in Vaughan to be exact. Great idea!

I had never been to a distillery. I knew about spirits and the basic (very basic) process involved in creating whisky, bourbon, vodka, etc., but had never seen it action or heard more details about it.

Barry Bernstein and Barry Stein were very gracious hosts showing us around their compact distillery and explaining the processes and answering our questions. I peppered Barry Bernstein with several questions about the process of mashing and fermentation as only a brewer would. I found this aspect fascinating as I had been aware of the connection between brewing and distilling but had never had properly explained to me.

One aspect that was interesting to me and will be of interest to my readers (both of you) is how coarse they crush the grain when mashing in. Barry was kind enough to let me photograph a sample of the grain crush they use and you can compare that to the crush I use at home when brewing beer.

This is how fine their crush is for their mash.

This is how fine their crush is for their mash.

Another one of the differences between distilling and brewing that I found interesting is the amount of sanitizing that is required. When we entered the distillery they were in the process of distilling some spirits that were entering a vessel at approximately 85% abv. No cover, no transfer lines, just liquid flowing from a spout into an open tank. Of course, at 85% abv there isn’t an organism that will survive a swim in that tank!

After an explanation of the process for distillation it was sample time! Barry Stein handled the sample table, explanation of the products, and any other questions from the group. Barry is an affable gentlemen with a fabulous voice (which I didn’t tell him at the time) and was generous with the samples. Not so much in quantity of each sample but we were basically told that whatever product we wanted to try just say so and we could try it.

still waters (6 of 7)

Barry serving out samples to the group.

I’m no spirits expert but I tried the cask strength whisky and regular strength. Both were excellent but I certainly preferred the body and flavour of the cask strength.

Later that day we did visit other breweries but their tours paled in comparison to the Still Waters Distillery visit. I came out of that tour with a renewed appreciation and fascination of the process of distillation, something I had not expected at all. If you can’t get to the distillery itself they do have an excellent explanation on their website of the process. (Bottom of the page.)

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Forked River Brewing Visit

Finally! A craft brewery in London!

I drive back and forth to London frequently in order to play with Orchestra London and teach at UWO and one thing that has been missing for a long time is a craft brewery. London has long been the home of Labatt, which I drive by on my way to UWO, but it has been a while since there has been a real bona fide craft brewer in town.

I was able to get an insider’s view of the brewery when I contacted Dave Reed, one of the brewers at Forked River. He was very kind to take a chunk of time out of his busy day to show me around the brewery and talk shop with me. I know how busy brewers can be and I felt honoured that he took so much time to spend chatting with me about the general operations in the brew house.

Tanks!

Tanks!

The brewery is very small, as you can see in the photo. It kind of caught me off guard to be honest. For some reason I was expecting something larger. That said, it’s perfectly suited to the space and to their current brewing plans. There also seems to be a fair bit of potential for expansion within the square footage that they occupy.

More tanks!

More tanks!

The thing that struck me most about the visit was that their set up is very much like a glorified home brewery. I want to state that there is nothing wrong with that at all, in fact, I found it quite simple and very common sense. They don’t filter, they just cold crash, like many home brewers. Carbonation is done over days, not hours. The MLT/BK/HLT are all just like a home brew set up. The boil kettle and hot liquor tank especially with them both being direct fired. They just seemed like glorified converted kegs!

Dave in action.

Dave in action.

Now the beer… I tried a sample of their Riptide Rye straight from the bright beer tank and it was excellent! I been withholding judgement on rye beers but Cameron’s Rye PA and this excellent example of the style have sold me on using rye in my own brewing. I will definitely be trying a rye beer in the near future.

I also tried a sample of their Capital Blonde Ale at the sample bar and found it to be quite enjoyable. I like the hop presence in both their beers and both beers are also VERY clean finishing which I do appreciate. I ended up buying a growler of the Capital Blonde and my wife and I quite enjoyed a few glasses of it.

There was their newest seasonal that had just started fermenting. I can’t say what it is but it does sound terrific and I’m sure word will get out quickly. I will certainly be trying a bottle of it myself if I can get my hands on some. I have no doubt that future seasonals will be equally interesting.

Dave and my growler.

Dave and my growler.

Dave was super kind to show me around the brewery during “off hours” and I do appreciate it. I look forward to stopping by to refill my growler on my frequent trips to and from London. Of course I invited him to Grand River Brewing when he has a chance but a start up brewery is a busy place. I’ll keep you posted.


Whole Hops vs Pellets

A divisive topic this week: Using whole hops vs pellet hops in your brew.

I’ll start this by saying that if one is using whole hops one REALLY has to be set up for it. Two words: Hop. Bags. You can do it without but it’s WAY easier to brew with whole hops if you have hop bags.

That said, I dislike using whole hops very much. Bag or no bag. For the following reasons:

  • They take up a lot of space in the freezer
  • More difficult to weigh out
  • They absorb a lot of wort/beer
  • Messier to dispose of
  • There is no advantage to using them
Ingredients: Hops

Ingredients: Hops

I have a saying: Whole hops are THE reason that pellets were invented.

I do grow my own and that is one of the few instances of my using whole hops: They didn’t cost me anything except time. And a lot of it. Whole hops are a pain to harvest and the amount of work put into harvesting is disproportionate to the amount harvested.

My other saying about whole hops: I will NOT pay for the displeasure of using them.

I’ve accepted whole hops as gifts (although I suspect there will be far fewer gifts coming my way after this post LOL) and in trade and I use my own that I grow but there is no way I would pay for a bag of whole hops. No.

What happens when you use too many whole hops without a bag.

What happens when you use too many whole hops without a bag.

Pellets are just much easier to use:

  • I can store far more in my freezer
  • They absorb less of my precious beer
  • Way easier to weigh out
  • Much less trub to deal with at the end of the brew day or after dry hopping

Dry hopping is actually one of the areas where pellets shine. Trying to get a couple of ounces of whole hops into a carboy and making sure that they are all in contact with the beer? Yes, bags, but again, you have to be really set up for it. With pellets I just don’t need to worry about more gear. Not that more gear is a bad thing. šŸ˜‰

There, I got that off my chest.

As always, your mileage may vary. Flame away.

(My apologies to all those who have given me whole hops. They were not wasted and they were appreciated. Thank you.)


Glass vs Plastic

I’m going to start a new regular column on this blog about my opinions regarding certain aspects of brewing at home. I guess, in a sense, that is already what the blog is about in part, but I’m going to weigh in on a few recurring debates and questions that new brewers have.

The first debate: Glass vs Plastic

Some brewers like to use plastic buckets for primary fermentation versus a glass carboy. I don’t necessarily think there is anything wrong with using a plastic bucket it’s just that I have more confidence in my ability to clean and sanitize and glass carboy.

I have a lingering fear that I’m scratching the inside of a plastic bucket and creating wonderful little environments for bacteria to hide wreaking havoc on future brews. I just don’t feel that way when I use glass.

I know glass can break and I do have a couple of experiences with broken carboys but generally I just try to be very careful when moving them around the brewery. I’m fortunate that I recently came into possession of a small pump so my days of lifting carboys are over. Sometimes.

One thing I love to do with glass carboys that I can’t do with a plastic bucket is to keep on eye on actual fermentation activity. I know after pitching on a fresh yeast cake that the amount of turbulence and convection activity in the carboy is amazing. I also know that I’m not alone in my desire to watch the activity… As often as possible.

I like my glass carboys. Brew in plastic if you like, there’s nothing wrong with it. I just like my glass.

Next debate: Primary vs Secondary (I’m also open to suggestions.)