Tag Archives: Commercial

I’m still here

Wow! It’s been almost a year since I last posted something. That’s embarrassing. Let’s get a post in before that one year passes, shall we?

Much has happened over the past year in my many lives to keep me from posting here on this blog but I’m hoping to get back to it regularly in the coming months.

Last year (2014) was a very busy year in many respects. I was busy with my life of playing trombone as I spent a season in the pit in Stratford for Man of La Mancha, teaching at UWO, playing with the HPO and OLC (which just announced their bankruptcy as evidenced by the lovely website. LOL)

Family life was busy with an exchange student here in the fall and another here currently until the end of June. Much accommodation has been made to have an extra body in the house but it seems to be going okay.

Brewing at home was relatively busy last year with a bit of equipment acquisition and figuring out the new (now old) system. It’s pretty dialed in now so a brew day is pretty straight forward. I have even done a double brew day with no problem. (perhaps a future blog post)

The biggest news relative to the topic of this blog is that I am now a full time professional brewer. I returned to the brew house at Grand River Brewing to take over the duties of the former head brewer in late January. I am continuing in that position and thoroughly enjoying it. It’s a steep learning curve but things seem to be falling into place.

It’s quite the adventure and also quite a bizarre life to stand over a boil kettle making large amounts of beer and getting paid for it. Twenty five or so years ago when I first started brewing with Peter there is no way I would have imagined that I would end up where I am right now.

That’s it for this post. Let me try to get back here on regular basis to update you on my own brewing and things I bring from the big brew house to the small and vice versa.

Just tapped a rather pleasant IPA this evening and still have an American Stout… It’s what’s on tap.


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.


Crushed

I had been hearing from a few other brewers recently about the speed at which they run their mills. Hearing about optimum speeds and not full speed or not too fast. I’m sure I had heard this before but probably not paid attention at the time as I was getting my grain pre-milled.

Now I’m milling my own grain on the brew day and having heard these discussions about milling speed finally decided to see what the fuss was about. I did do a bit of reading over at homebrewtalk.com (this thread) and it seems that there is much discussion (surprise, surprise) about rpms vs face roller speed. I also found this quote on http://www.theelectricbrewery.com/grain-mill:

Milling should be done at low RPM (revolutions per minute) to avoid shredding the husks. Somewhere around 150-250 RPM (around 2-4 turns/second) is said to be a good compromise between the time taken and the amount of shredded husk material. At this speed it takes us approximately 2-3 minutes to mill the 15-20 pounds of grain required for a typical 10 gallon batch of beer.

I have to admit, I just wasn’t aware of that. Likely because I spent a fair bit of brewing time not having a mill. Once I did get a mill I just attached my drill and let ‘er rip… or crush, or whatever is supposed to happen.

So hearing about these points I decided to try my own rather non-scientific test to see if there was a difference. I attached my drill and did a run at it’s highest speed and a run at the lowest speed I could maintain. I then photographed the results:

Crush at highest drill speed

Crush at highest drill speed

Crush at slowest drill speed

Crush at slowest drill speed

I don’t really notice a difference.

Now, it may be that if I brewed a batch with a slow crush grist and a batch with a fast crush grist there might be difference in efficiency. It may also be something that is far more noticeable or applicable in larger scales like a commercial brewery would be dealing with. This may be like the many discussions that homebrewers have about hot side aeration.

I’ll leave it to you to assess the results and… Discuss.


Back to the Brewhouse

And here we are again.

Grand River Brewing called me back to do some more brewing for them. I take on the role of second brewer on their double brew days. The head brewer, Rob Creighton, or his assistant, Zach, takes the first brew of the day starting early. I come in midday and take on the second half of the batch. It’s two actual brews but because the boil kettle is half the size of the fermenter they have to do two runs of the same brew to max out the fermenter.

I’ll be in for a refresher training day tomorrow to shadow Rob and then just about on my own for the next couple of days. Next week I will be totally on my own as Rob and Zach are away at a conference. That means the double brew day is stretched over two days. It also means I’m wholly responsible for the brew. :O There’s not much different from one half to the next except for yeast management on the first half. That’s generally been Rob’s domain but out of necessity will have to be turned over to me.

After next week we just go week by week. Scheduling will be pretty random but Rob is super flexible with working around my other life as a bass trombonist. If it happens that I have orchestra services on a day he wants to brew, he will generally shuffle things around to accommodate that. Fabulous!

And also on the plus side, I can buy some hops now with the bit of extra cash! 😀


The Beer Store

Caution: Soapbox

First off, I don’t support it. I can’t stand the place except as the building where I return my empties that I bought at the LCBO. They have very few brands of beer that I’m looking for and the experience is generally dismal.

I read the following couple of articles in the last little while:

http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/politics/article/1306249–cohn-why-ontarians-can-t-bear-the-beer-store-any-longer

http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/politics/article/1304864–cohn-more-reasons-to-end-the-beer-store-cartel

They sort of got me going again. 😦 And then this letter to the editor in the Cambridge Times added fuel to the fire.

http://www.cambridgetimes.ca/opinion/letters/article/1555887–monopolies-like-the-beer-store-poorly-managed-inconvenient

I totally agree with what the individual is saying it’s just that he exhibits the common knowledge that The Beer Store is a GOVERNMENT run business. It’s not! It’s run by the brewers which are ALL foreign-owned.

I’m not pretending that I don’t buy foreign products or even that I don’t buy foreign beer but just go in with your eyes open. If you think that you’re going into The Beer Store as a government run monopoly and supporting Molson as a Canadian-owned brewery. You’re dead wrong. Sorry.

Thank you. I just had to get that off my chest.


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!