Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Good Robot Brewing - A Piece of Ottawa On the East Coast

Nova Scotia is possibly my favourite place in Canada (granted, I haven't been to the West coast in about 14 years). I spent a weekend in Halifax recently, and stumbled upon some of the newer breweries in the city. There is a lot of great new stuff coming out of Halifax on the Craft Beer front, but the brewery that stood out the most was definitely Good Robot Brewing Co (GRBC). The beer is amazing, the guys running the show are cool - and obviously huge geeks (which is great) - and the atmosphere is second to none. Allow me to paint a picture:

You walk past what used to be an old garage recessed back off of Robie Street, and you notice that it is most definitely no longer a garage. First of all, there is an astroturf lawn out front with a couch and bean bag throwing game set out so that as a prospective customer you don't feel rushed by walking into a store front that may be overcrowded, getting served, and then feeling awkward like you need to leave. You can just chill outside so that others can get in for a taste. When you roll up to the entrance there is a giant (30bbl) bright tank sporting the Good Robot logo. Conversation starter? Probably. The brewery is also pretty open concept, so you can rubberneck and check out the fermenters, brew kettle, malt mill, and mash tun. If you show interest, one of the guys will likely bring you back to the brewery and regale you with their origin story and tell you about the brewing process.
Kira, focused, pouring some samples

That brings me to the guys in charge. These guys met at Dalhousie University while getting degrees in Engineering. They parted ways after school to become, well, engineers. From what I heard from Josh and read on the Web site, engineering got dull, and the guys all reunited to start Good Robot. A pretty awe inspiring tale, if I've ever heard one! Josh was our host for most of Friday night, and he is from Ottawa. That's pretty neat. Josh is the director of marketing for Good Robot, and he does most of the social media stuff, from what I'm told. Doug is the head brewer, and Angus is the company's president. You can get the full bio for each of the founders on the Good Robot Web site. From what I saw, everybody brews, which is not only cool, but practical. Even Kira, who was working the counter the second time I came in, will be learning to brew. Seems like a pretty sweet gig to me.

The Brewery.
Last, but definitely not least, is the beer. When I went to the brewery the first time, they had a trio on tap: A steam beer dubbed Crown on the Ground, a Gose, aptly named Goseface Killah, and an American Pale Ale known as the Burban Legend. Luckily, on the second trip there was also a stout. And oh, what a stout it was. Tom Waits for No One is the name, and it's delicious. Great chocolate and coffee flavours, but with the added smoothness that I think was added by a little bit of nitro, although the mouthfeel could come from the 7.9% ABV! Come to think of it, each of these brews was pretty amazing. The Burban Legend is hopped with my favourite - Falconer's Flight, and is a vey well balanced APA. You don't see many people brewing a Gose these days, but GRB nailed it. It's refreshing, but still pleasantly salty. The steam beer was interesting, not just because it wasn't called "California Common", but because of the subtle spice of rye malt that is used in the recipe. Four great beers, five measly bucks, not a bad deal at all!

The next step for GRBC is to open their own tap house. They are currently renovating a piece of their building which was not part of the brewery in order to get their very own licensed tap house in which to serve their beers. It seems like there are some exciting times ahead for Good Robot Brewing Co., and for the Halifax craft beer scene as a whole. I'm excited about the prospect of coming back out to Canada's east coast and finding the GRBC tap room in full swing. There are great people running this brewery, and I definitely recommend stopping by if you're ever in Halifax!

Until next time.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Beerology: A Book Review

Enjoying a good beer and a good book while my baby hop plant looks on.
Mirella Amato is one of the foremost beer experts in Canada, if not THE foremost expert. I had the pleasure of meeting her at La Mondiale De La Biere in Montreal, Quebec in 2014, where she was selling - and signing - her book: Beerology. I picked up a copy, got it signed, and got to reading. I re-read it a few days ago, and decided to spread the word. What better way than by giving it a proper review?

Beerology is written with a certain passion that is tangible throughout the entire book. From the very first page, Ms. Amato makes her intentions known: "This is my crusade: I want to live in a world where everyone has the same basic understanding and appreciation for beer as they do for wine." That line by itself got me pretty stoked to read the rest of the book. The introduction provides an overview of Ms. Amato and her achievements, which can also be found at her Web site, www.beerology.ca. You can also find various beer tasting tools at the site, as well as in the Glossary and Tasting Tools section at the end of the book (spoiler alert!)

Once you get to know more about our author, she takes you directly into the brewing process. It's quite obvious that she has a solid grasp on the brewing process, and explains - in a briefly detailed manner - how barley, hops, water and yeast (and sometimes other stuff) become tasty treats enjoyed the world over. One of my favourite parts about this book is that Ms. Amato explains how to best store beer. I learned a lot of lessons in storage the hard way, so seeing a section just on storage and cellaring was fantastic. After brief lessons on brewing and storing beer, we move into serving and tasting beer. In the section "Perfect Presentation", we look at types of glassware for serving beer. If you have read my blog in the past, you will know that glassware is very important to me! One aspect of serving and tasting beer that is near and dear to me is temperature. Ms. Amato mentions that stemmed glasses are useful for beers that are served too cold, as you can comfortably fit them in your hands to warm the beer and release aroma and flavour that gets hidden by the chill. All of the aspects of tasting - appearance, aroma, flavour, mouthfeel, and finish - are covered as well.

After the basics of beer are covered, there is a very comprehensive list of beer styles to peruse. This section of the book is humbling to me; it is written in a manner that is truly non-presumptuous, inclusive, and judgment free - even when it comes to industrial lagers that some would shun. I guess it's not surprising, as those characteristics are true to Ms. Amato's character, from what I gathered in the half-hour in which I got to speak with her. The Beerology Quadrant is introduced in this section, and it's very helpful for determining what kind of beer you might like based on style (Ale or Lager), alcohol level, colour, and distinct taste (bitter, sour, sweet - at varying levels). Not only does this section contain a style overview, food pairing suggestions and examples of the style, it also has a "fun for" section that explains when you might want to enjoy a specific beer style. This is the largest section of Beerology, and is insanely helpful for those who are just starting their adventures with craft beer.

The last section of Beerology, "Diving In", is my favourite. In this section, Ms. Amato walks us through setting up and performing a beer tasting. This section provides advice on how to set up an environment for tasting, as well as multiple games that make beer tasting fun. One of the standout points in this book is that you should not treat beer tasting as a stuffy, job-like experience, and that you should embrace the fun that is beer tasting and pairing. There are also many beer and food pairing guidelines in this section. Pairing beer and food is one of my favourite things in the world, and there are plenty of helpful hints and best practices for getting the most out of your beer-food experience. To finish off this section, there are various recipes for beer cocktails. My favourite recipe is the Fancy Goat. Delicious.

Beerology provides an epic amount of information condensed into 164 pages presented it in a non-stuffy, yet practical manner. I really enjoyed the book, and I definitely plan to use it as a reference manual to having as much fun with beer as possible! After reading this book, even the most novice beer enthusiast will have the tools and know-how to cellar beer, pick the proper glassware for their beer, taste beer, pair beer with food, and create pretty tasty beer cocktails. Let's not forget the beer trivia located in the sidebars! There are myriad fun facts in Beerology that will provide you with much knowledge and background on where beer came from, which ingredients may be used to add a special flavour, and how certain off-the-wall beer styles came into existence. This knowledge can be used to educate and impress a group of friends (or potential friends) at your local watering hole! Just try not to get carried away!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

2014: My Year in Brewing

My first brew in a 5gal turkey fryer
I was introduced to homebrewing in April of 2013 by a buddy of mine. Initially we had a pretty small setup: mash tun (Gatorade cooler), brew kettle (turkey fryer), fermenter (pail/carboy). We had a separate pot for a hot liquor tank, or maybe it was just a pail? The memory is foggy. Could be that it was so long ago, could be that we were partaking in the goodness that is beer whilst brewing. Either way, the result of our first seven hour session brewing together (my first session, not his) was a potentially delicious Imperial Dunkelweizen. We named it "The Imperious Dunkel Weizenheimer". I say potentially delicious because as the beer was being transferred from primary to secondary fermentation, there was a carboy slip and the brew was lost. We did end up re-brewing a few weeks later, and when all was said and done we had a pretty glorious beer. It was roughly 11% ABV and I remember drinking my last one in May, 2014. It definitely stood up to the test of time.

Apartment Brewing

Apartment Brewing Setup
Fast forward to December, 2013. I was living in a one-bedroom apartment, wondering how I could brew inside without killing myself with CO poisoning. I went out to Canadian Tire one day and picked up an induction cooktop (http://goo.gl/WGH6DV) to do my bidding. I had borrowed the brewing equipment that I had used for my first couple of batches, and wondered why it wouldn't work. I decided to google "Induction Cooking" and found out that you need cookware designed for (or compatible with) induction cooking. Wups. I was pretty bummed out, but on Christmas day I opened up an induction-ready brew kettle! Score. Without further ado, I started re-planning my first solo project: a caramel hefeweizen, the name of which I have forgotten. It was New Year's day, and my brewing setup was quite interesting. My transfer setup was the Gatorade cooler mash tun on a kitchen chair, with the brew kettle sitting atop the induction cooktop on the floor. My hot liquor tank was a series of smaller pots to provide the appropriate amount of water for sparging, all heating up on my stove top. It was definitely an adventure, and the beer turned out to be pretty tasty!

Garage Brewing

Initial Garage Setup
After brewing a few batches in early 2014, I took possession of my freshly built house, purchased way back in 2012. What's the first thing I did? Got my brewing setup back in action, that's what. Having bought a new table and chair set, I put my old chair to good use. I bought a Bayou classic banjo burner, and left my old turkey fryer at my sister's house, so I can brew with my brother in-law without carting all of my gear around. I purchased the borrowed equipment I had been using - at a steal, I might add - as the two co-owners of the equipment now work at Beyond the Pale and Kichesippi breweries here in Ottawa, and now get to play with much bigger kit (the fact that I benefit from their new careers makes me a little less jealous). At this point I had  a pretty small setup in the garage, and I used it to brew eight batches before summer broke through. On the first weekend of summer (the Solstice), and the week after, I managed to get six batches brewed whilst merging my kit and another buddy's kit. This provided us with a whole new level of capability! (Picture of latest brew kit not included, as it is located elsewhere, presently)

Moving Forward

Brewing has become my Zen, and I fully intend to pursue it as a hobby, potentially as a business. Now that I have a decent brewing setup, I am continuously learning more about the brewing process, as well as working on developing a new setup and including as much techno-geekery as I possibly can. I brewed 26 batches in 2014 (my goal was 24), and I'm hoping to increase that exponentially in 2015. I've got a small team of taste testers who give me constant feedback - good or bad, objective and subjective - who I try to keep laden with new beers. I'm always on the lookout for more tasters. I have thought about an Ottawa-based brewery startup, but I am also considering Bancroft, my home town, where I could partner up with my brother in-law, a chef-owner of a local establishment there. For now, I'm just playing with ideas, but the main point is that I love brewing, and plan on continuing to do so for the foreseeable future - hopefully bringing as many of my friends along for the ride as possible.

Mikkeller Bar San Francisco: A Mecca of Sorts

I am writing to you from 36,000 feet in the air, on the long road home from San Francisco to Ottawa, with a brief layover in Toronto. Dur...