Category Archives: tours

Maxed Out

With the brew stand nearing completion one of the things I wanted to do was run my large volume equipment through a brew day. This is not my complete setup, I used only one of the large vessels instead of both and I don’t have my pumps hooked up yet.

My process is pretty common with this setup:

  • heat large volume of water in HLT but what will become the BK
  • mash in with portion of hot water
  • add more water back to HLT and heat up for sparge
  • transfer all sparge water to coolers and empty the vessel
  • sparge from coolers into MLT and lauter into BK

This gives me two vessels to work with and the need for only one burner. I actually use two burners in case of the need to heat the MLT. The second time I brewed on this set up I didn’t need to heat the MLT but the first time I did.

Here are a few pics of the process…

Mashed into a 50L keggle which according to my calculations would be able to hold 40lbs of grain. It did but it was completely MAXED out. No more room for anything! That was, in fact, my intent with this particular brew: max out every vessel to find out what my volume limits were. I found out. 😉

MLT maxed out

MLT maxed out


Tried a new technique for me this time: fly sparging. It’s just setting the flow of sparge water to match the flow of lautering. Not difficult it’s just that I had never been set up for that before. Discovered it’s the best thing ever! It’s just too easy and there’s really no babysitting of the MLT or much scooping of water involved.

My fly sparge setup.

My fly sparge setup.


I did heat my MLT half way through the rest to bring the temp back up. With the MLT maxed out there was really no room for much stirring so I really didn’t have an accurate sense of the temperature. After emptying the MLT I did see that there was a bit of scorching evident but I’m sure I’ll still end up with beer.




Lautering and boiling were just fine and got to about 80L or so pre-boil. Another new addition to my set up is the plate chiller seen in this photo on the work bench. (The pump and burner are courtesy of Scott.) Sanitizing the plate chiller prior to chilling was dead easy. I just hooked everything up in the last ten minutes of the boil and ran the boiling wort through the system. This dropped the temp a bit and halted the boil for a minute or so but I just kept running the system and the boil came back. Super easy!

Sanitizing the chiller

Sanitizing the chiller


The chilling and cooling in itself was super easy. Once the boil was done I whirlpooled and rested (manually, just by stirring the BK). My chiller was already set up from the sanitizing stage so all I had to do was get my carboys in place and fire it up. With this set up and the water turned on about a half turn on the faucet I was able to cool and transfer the full volume of about 80L in just 10 minutes! You can also see it’s reasonably aerated, not something I’ve worried about a whole lot but it’s certainly not a gentle transfer.

Cooling in

Cooling in


There are a few things that will be changing with this setup and moving to the brew stand: My pumps will be wired in, burners will be in place, less moving of vessels, more space for me to move around. All of this… Soon.

Beer “Festival” in China

Strangest. Gig. Ever.

As a musician for the past 25 years, I’ve done some odd gigs. I’ve marched, I’ve played in extreme heat, extreme cold, rain, strange music, tyrannical conductors… A reasonable gamut. This gig was strange.

While in China we were playing at concert halls where there was always a “promoter” in charge of the hall and the performances. In this one case in Xuzhou the promoter was also heading up a beer festival just outside of town. We were asked if we would be willing to come and play for 5-10 minutes at the beer festival in exchange for beer. This is a no-brainer for brass players!

The timing was tight for getting to the festival as it was about a 40 minute drive there. We were asked if we would be willing to cut the timing on our concert a bit to accommodate the drive time. Again, no-brainer!

We finished the concert, got on the bus, and headed out of town. City quickly became outskirts which quickly became darkened factories which quickly became not much of anything. We were well more than 40 minutes on the bus and folks were quietly becoming slightly peeved and I was personally wondering if we were just going to get dropped at an abandoned factory and left there.

After an almost endless hour of driving we finally approached a small town and drove a little ways into it all the while wondering about the numerous bright lights shining into the sky. As we got closer we saw that that was indeed the beer festival with a very large and well lit stage. (Unlike the audience which was only half lit… ba dum crash.) We were seated in the very front row at tables that were right in front of the stage and speakers. There was some sort of Chinese cultural performance going on which gradually morphed into women in white tie and tails with top hats and canes. We were off to fantastic start!

There was another act after that while we sat around at the tables waiting for beer (after you play, we were told.) During this time there was much glad handing by local folks and a LOT of picture taking of us as we were likely such an oddity at a festival like this.

We were finally told it was our turn to play so we quickly got our instruments and music and approached the stage while at the same time an equal number of women in bright red and gold costumes also mounted the stage. We were told that since we didn’t bring our music stands (not enough time or space to load them on the bus) that these women would be holding our music. Weird, but okay. We played and they stood in front and to the side of us and held our music. We also had a couple of our own family members (my daughter was one) helping to hold the music.

We played a few tunes (much more than 5-10 minutes) all the while indicating to these gracious women in costume that we had pages to turn and what was coming next. When we were done our scheduled music we launched into an explanation of what we do at beer festivals at home, that is, the Chicken Dance! We had one of the members of the group get up and explain the whole thing in English while pausing occasionally to let our translator translate to the audience for him. When he was done we launched into our “memorized” version of the chicken dance while our family members and lovely women in costume learned and demonstrated the chicken dance on stage.

I don’t know if the audience ever got the instructions for doing the dance but when I looked out to see what they were doing they were all just standing there dumbfounded at this odd group of white people. For all I know they may have thought that we were dancing around to our national anthem!

Once the chicken dance episode was over we remained on stage to accept many gifts. There were gifts for the musicians and family members, gifts for the director, gifts for the tour manager, then many photos. My daughter, who happens to be a very tall, beautiful, blonde 15 year old, was the star for the photographers. They LOVED her!

We finally returned to our seats where our tables had been FILLED with food and kegs of beer and pitchers had been brought out for consumption. Now this part of a beer festival is more familiar. That said, I had no idea of the origin or exactly what the food was so I was a little bit reluctant to eat much of it. I stuck to the boiled peanuts and the edamame. The beer was a winner and welcome after a long night. In my previous post I mentioned about the beer in China and this stuck to the theme: Very light, very macro, very meh, but very drinkable!

Also during this time because we were the last act to perform at the festival and because we were special guests the promoter asked all the entertainment to start again from the beginning so that we wouldn’t miss anything. Crazy!

At our tables we enjoyed much toasting with the locals, many more photographs especially with my daughter, and more glad handing (and toasting) with local politicians. As this was going on much of the crowd left leaving only us and one rather rambunctious table right behind us. They joined in the toasting and then began the drinking contests. Small cups were the initial vehicle for the beer and that contest was for Eric, one of the percussionists on tour. Then one of the Chinese gentlemen brought forth two pitchers and gestured wildly that one of us should participate in a pitcher drinking contest. Somehow I was volunteered.

I always take my work seriously so I jumped right in and participated in what will be known as “diplomatic relations”, that is, I let him win. My colleagues were extremely supportive following the contest and many did declare that much of my competition’s beer went down the front of his shirt. Speaking of shirts, the next thing that happened was the victor removed his shirt. So in the name of “diplomatic relations” I also removed my shirt. There followed much picture taking of which I currently have none of that particular incident but will update the blog as I receive more photos.

I did get some photos of the night submitted by our director, Bram Gregson. Here is me participating in “diplomatic relations”.

I'm on the left, participating in diplomatic relations.

I’m on the left, participating in diplomatic relations.

Beer in China

I just returned from a 2 1/2 week tour of China with a brass ensemble I’ve played with in the past: Brassroots.

It was an amazing time seeing an entirely different part of the world than Canada. The sights, sounds, smells, people, architecture, all so different and new to me.

Of course the main point of the blog is brewing and beer so I would be remiss if I didn’t focus on that small portion of the tour here. In short, all the beer I had in China was macro international lager style. Extremely meh. I tried several different brands but they were virtually indistinguishable from each other.

That said, when it’s 39∘C outside with a humidex hovering around 50∘C I tend not to get too picky about my beverages (except the tap water in China 😉 ). A cold beer or two served with lunch or dinner was definitely a welcome break.

A couple of things about the beer in China: First off, it’s very low alcohol beer. The strongest beer that I had was about 4.3% abv and the lightest beer was 2.3% abv. Definitely not beer that will knock you on your ass.

The other thing about the beer (and many other beverages) is that it’s sometimes difficult to get it served cold. The Chinese apparently are not terribly fond of cold beverages. We found this with the bottled water (room temp.), warm milk, warm juice, hot juice, and often room temperature beer. Many places had beer kept in a fridge but they didn’t usually keep many there so with a group of about 20 adults we regularly cleaned them out of their cold beer.

Some fond beer memories:

  • Hotel near the airport in Detroit having decent craft beer on tap
  • Centennial IPA available in bottles near the Detroit hotel
  • We drank the flight to China dry of beer
  • Buying beer in China for the equivalent of about $.50 for 500ml
  • Many beers named with their degrees Plato prominent
  • Chinese beer festival (this deserves a separate post)
  • Best beer on the trip was a German Schwarzbier given to me by my friend

And a gallery of beer photos for you!

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.)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.