Category Archives: reviews

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.

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Long time brewer, first time filterer.

Got some more gear the other day through a friend. In amongst the gear was another Buon Vino Minijet filter unit for wine makers.

I got one a while back in this haul but only ever used it as a small pump for transfers until I broke the inlet barb on the pump itself. 😦 It has since gone to a better place (thank you, Scott).

This most recent acquisition came with some filter pads which was one of the things slowing me down with the last pump: Just getting to somewhere to get the pads. With everything in place for the filter and a beer ready to go with an empty keg ready to fill I went for it!

I was mostly interested in seeing how easy it was to filter and whether it actually made a difference to the end product. It might seem kind of obvious but in my set up if it makes things more complicated and doesn’t make the beer appreciably better then I’m not interested.

Set up was fine. I had all the lines in place and was able to sanitize easily and quickly. I was supposed to soak the filter pads in water as per the instructions but I figured with beer everything needs to be sanitized so I used Star San instead. This may have been a mistake, I don’t know yet. 😉

Once the pump was set up I needed to get various receptacles in place. The carboy of beer needed to be close to the pump, the keg needed to be on the floor and I needed a line to go from the bottom of the filter to a bucket to catch the drips from the filter itself.

Everything in place and away we go. It all seemed to be going fine, I had beer moving from the carboy, through the filter, and out the line to the keg. I let the unit run for a bit into a container to clear any sanitizer from the lines before connecting to the coupling head. Fine. Connect to the coupling head and keep going.

Big problems at that point! Beer was back flowing through the filter pads and just leaking out all over the table top. My first thought was that the filter pads were too fine and were already clogged with yeast and protein from the beer. I shut everything down and tidied up as much as possible before realizing that I hadn’t engaged the coupling head on the keg. D’oh! The beer had nowhere to go but back through the filter.

Take 2.

No problems this time. Generally smooth sailing. I was worried about some foaming issues coming out of the filter but that subsided in fairly short order. Beer was moving in the right direction!

My only two issues with the process were losses of beer during filtration and flavour. The line coming from the bottom of the filter to the bucket was fairly busy. I didn’t measure exactly the amount that was in the bucket at the end of filtration but it was easily a litre or two. Not great if I’m just filtering a rent beer .

The other issue was the flavour of the beer that I had right at the beginning. This is where I’m wondering if the soak in Star San was a mistake. The beer tasted a little bit funny. Now, I was filtering a Pils that I make and I made this last batch with Tettnang hops which I have never used before so there may have been some new flavours there that I’m not used to but this seemed like more than that. This was easily described as “soapy”.

Since then I’ve posted on a couple of forums to see if anyone has experienced the same thing with either Star San or the Tettnang giving a soapy flavour. Response has been mixed with the likely culprit being the hops.

The Verdict:

I’ll do it again. The end result is a beautiful looking beer and the basic process is only a bit more involved than my standard transfer to a keg. I almost need to do it again to refine the process.

A couple of things do make me a bit resistant to doing it again. The first main thing is that one set of pads costs about $3. I can buy a fair bit of gelatin for that price to help clarify many batches of beer. The other thing is the wasted beer. This is definitely something that can be fixed it’s just a matter of figuring that one out.

I’ll post a pic of the finished beer later, right now it’s 10am. 😉


Utopias

A fellow beer geek, blogger, and brewer, Alan, dropped by my place yesterday. Alan is at Niagara College in the Brewmaster’s program and is on reading week. He had a bit of time in the midst of taxiing his sons around Southern Ontario and wanted to share a special drink with me that he had been saving.

Sam Adams’ Utopias is one of the specialty beers coming out of the Samuel Adams brewery in Boston. It’s less like beer and more like a liqueur. It sort of changes one’s perception of what beer can be.

In Ontario the beer was released by the LCBO in a lottery format. With so few bottles being produced by the brewery and such demand for the product the LCBO decided to buy a very limited number of bottles and offer them to customers in a lottery format. Put your name in to request a bottle and if they draw your name you can buy one. They aren’t cheap either!

The packaging of the beer is stunning. It’s a miniature replica of a copper boil kettle used in breweries with little sliding doors to reveal a smiling portrait of Samuel Adams himself.

The bottle with the box in the background

The smiling image of Samuel Adams

I don’t do beer reviews per se but I will say that this was a thoroughly enjoyable beer. It pours flat with no carbonation. Our pours were a little hazy but they were the bottom of the bottle and I have no idea what the initial pours were like, whether they were clear or also hazy from the get go. Lots of interesting smells in the aroma of the beer and that all carried through to the taste. Such a complex beer which, as I said earlier, challenges and changes ones perception of what beer is or can be.

The pour.

Many thanks to Alan for dropping by with this special treat! It was a thoroughly enjoyable visit and a pleasant way to spend a beautiful fall afternoon.

Cheers!


Beerclings Review

I’m finally getting around to this! With apologies to Shawn at Beerclings for the delay, no offense intended.

Full disclosure: I was contacted by Shawn to do a review on his product and provided with a sheet of labels for testing purposes. Anyone can get one free label to try out, they’re available on the website.

Great first impression on the labels and the package. I received a sheet of 12 labels to try out with page of instructions and a handwritten letter from Shawn. Always a nice touch!

A good first impression

The initial design of the label is fine. He says on the website that they currently offer only the one design but will be setting up for expansion to other designs. I look forward to those other designs and maybe the option for uploading our own labels for printing. That would be a nice touch.

The instructions that came with the package could not be clearer. Well written and super clear for anyone wanting to get into labeling their bottles.

I wanted to be sure to give the labels a fair test so I did follow the instructions to a T as best I could.

Some action shots for you.

Drying the bottle

Applying the label

Label applied!

Three bottles ready for testing

Once the labels were on the bottles I did have a feeling that size-wise they look better proportioned on the bomber bottle. In the photo above you can see for yourself despite the slightly misaligned placement. They fit perfectly on the standard size bottle but I just felt they looked a little big. I put one on the bomber and it seemed to be a better fit.

They labels are generic and they have a banner on them with space for writing your beer name or style. I did try a Sharpie for marking my beer style on there but was not terribly successful. It marked but didn’t stay on so well. Maybe there are some suggestions on the website for how to mark them.

My rigorous testing involved a few scenarios. First off I just labeled them and let them sit in the fridge for a few days to see how they lasted. I have never dealt with a label like this so was ready for anything. In and out of the fridge with the inevitable condensation and they were totally fine! The labels really stay on VERY well.

I couldn’t stop there. There must be more I can do to torture test these labels. What about a cooler full of ice and water at a party? What about in the middle of summer when you leave a case of beer in the trunk of the car? What about boiling bottles? (It’s not really a scenario I would come across with beer but it seemed like a good idea at the time.)

I figured I would fill a container with water and put it in the fridge with the labeled bottle in it and see how it did.

That’s cold.

No problems there. It even says on the website that the condensation will further lock the label on to the bottle. No question. That label was on there.

What about the back of the car scenario? I figured I would go one better and just try roasting the bottle with the label on it.

That’s hot enough

It’s a dry heat

It survived!

It’s not 100% clear in the above photo but the thermometer is reading just above 160F and the label was totally intact.

The final test was the boiling. Why? I don’t know, why not?

That’s a wet heat.

Sadly, this was the only test the labels failed. You can see in the above photo that the label did peel off in the boiling water. That said, I don’t think this is necessarily a realistic scenario but it was fun to see how far I could push the labels.

My thoughts? I like the labels. I think it’s a great idea and for those who do a lot of bottling and like to present a good looking, professional bottle, this is definitely the way to go. They are easy to use and easy to re-use as well. They survived heat, cold and ice water with no problems.

Recommendations? I didn’t get too far into testing what works best for writing on them so maybe there are some suggestions from Shawn for that. I look forward to other designs and maybe a template for designing our own labels and uploading. Maybe some other products? As I was reviewing these labels I thought of maybe a cling label for the shoulders of carboys to record brew details. That could be removed and reapplied to a secondary carboy and then a keg. What about growler cap labels? Keg labels?

I think this is an excellent product. If you do a lot of bottling and like to label, these are easy to use, clean, clear and well produced. Great job, Shawn!

Get them here: Beerclings


a bit of this and that

I’ve been on “holidays” for the past couple of weeks with a trip to the east coast of Canada with my family. It was fabulous and I do want to go back at some point but it sure is nice to be home!

Some bits and pieces for you:

Had some Propeller Brewery beers while I was out east. I had the ESB, Pilsener, and the IPA. All were well-brewed and I enjoyed them. I would definitely have them again but they were nothing “unbelievable”, as it were.

I had a visit to Gahan House in Charlottetown, PEI. A great visit with friends and some very fine beer. Their IPA was quite good but I also had the sample tray with eight (8… EIGHT) different samples on it! ALL very good and well brewed. Not all were to my liking but they hit the styles right down the middle and they were well balanced. Very good brews to be sure.

I have an exciting review coming up in a future post for you. (Full disclosure…) I was contacted by Shawn at BeerClings to review his labels for homebrew bottles of beer. I received the package while I was out east and so far it looks great and I’m excited to try them out and do a bit of a write up on them on this blog. Stay tuned in the next couple of posts and I’ll have that review for you.

I kegged an Imperial Citra Pale Ale and a Citra IPA before I went on holidays. They weren’t stellar when I kegged them (wanted to push them through to have some stuff for the trip east 😀 ) but they were quite fine when I returned after two weeks. The Imperial is quite nice and the IPA has mellowed quite a bit. I wasn’t happy when it went into the keg as it was a bit estery and phenolic (cloves mostly) but it has mellowed. It isn’t my best brew in the last little bit but it’s just okay. It’s what’s on tap…