Tag Archives: beer

Interview with Kjetil Jikiun, brewmaster at Nogne O, Norway

I caught up with Kjetil at a tasting of eight of Nogne O’s beers at the Beer Bistro in Toronto on April 29, 2013.

He talks about how to succeed as a global craft beer brand, Norway’s evolving beer terroir, his brewing philosophies of “diversity” and how he draws the line between following a pure beer style and experimenting with new recipes and ideas in the brew house.

The most exciting thing I learned is that Kjetil is spending a couple of days collaborating on a beer with husband and wife team, Vlado and Liliania Pavicic who own the boutique beer and spirits import Roland & Russell and have quietly launched their own contract brewery, Bush Pilot.

The beer? An eisbock which will be aged in some rare and fancy barrels… no big deal. But we’ll have to wait at least seven months to taste it.

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May 1, 2013 · 8:05 am

Ron Pattinson, beer historian, on the quest to recreate ancient ales

ouat-east-india-pale-ale-1879

Before I started writing about beer, I wrote a bit about history. As an undergrad and Masters student in Canadian history, I spent weeks in local archives scanning microfiche for clips on dirty hippies, draft dodgers, student protestors, Canadians fighting in Vietnam and vagabonds thumbing it across Canada.

I even made a road trip to the National Archives to access some files, most of which turned out to be useless, although I bet those blackened bits might have been interesting.

So I got all excited when I got to chat with a fellow history hound, primary-source sleuth, just-the-facts-man — Ron Pattinson, author and amateur beer historian for my latest Hopped Up column in The Grid. He devised the recipe for Beau’s All Natural Brewing Company Dubbel Koyt — a medieval Gruit made with  50 per cent oats — it’s on tap at a bunch of Ontario bars until Thursday or later if the keg hasn’t run out.

I read Ron’s blog, Shut Up About Barclay Perkins, from time to time, but even I have to admit, after scanning a few recipes for one particular historical style of beer brewed in a region, in a specific time period, my eyes glaze over a little. (Perhaps that lack of attention to detail is why us beer writers tend piss Pattinson off so much).

But I’m guessing, from spending time deep in the archives, immersed in a subject I was passionate about — that Pattinson’s own eyes probably glaze over a little after a few hours of photographing old brewing records and sifting through dusty files and microfiche. Yet the English-born, Amsterdam-based Pattinson has been at it so long he’s become the guy that the world’s top brewmasters go to when they want advice — or even a recipe — for brewing a historical beer style, or even a defunct beer from their own storied brewery. Most historians never get to see their ancient fascinations in the flesh — or taste them when they’re brought back to life — Pattinson does — and that’s just fascinating. So I’m posting our whole chat here:

How and when did you get into brewery history?

The thing that really started it all off was Porter. I wanted to know what Porter had been — it’s this legendary thing — I bought all these books and read about it and all the information was contradictory. And if you don’t know what sources they’ve used, how do you know whether what they’re saying is right or not? So I had to go to the primary research. I started looking at old brewing records. The London Metro Archives are amazing — it has brewing records from four of the large London breweries, and really long sets for three of them — for Whitbread it has a run of records from 1815 to 1975 — the complete set. I looked at almost all of them, almost every year.

Fullers have let me look at their records, I’ve been to Lees in Manchester, so I try and collect as much stuff as I can. I’m obsessive about all the primary information, I just had someone send me some more brewing records this week.

That is pretty obsessive. I didn’t realize you’d been at this for so long.

Yeah, I joined CAMRA on my 18th birthday in 1974, so I got interested in beer really early on. I bought my first Michael Jackson book and that really inspired me, in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s I started going around to places that Jackson had visited. He really taught me about whole foreign beer thing and when I moved to Amsterdam in 1988 and started reading in different languages — German and Dutch — I was able to access even more sources.

So, I know you also write beer guides for different countries, which you sell on your website — do you also have a day job?

Yes. Michael Jackson is the only person who’s ever made a full time living as a beer writer and historian. I have a normal job in IT that pays me enough that I can live.

label-dubbelkoyt

So, last fall Beau’s Brewing asked you to come up with any Gruit recipe you wanted and then flew you in to brew the beer and talk historical brewing at their Oktoberfest. You chose the Dubbel Koyt — why?

They said they wanted something different. And I thought, ‘OK, well what’s the weirdest thing I’ve got? Hey! I’ve got a really dry book about brewing in Holland in industrial Holland and it happens to have some stuff about way the beers were put together in the Middle Ages…’

It was fun choice for two reasons — because I am coming from Holland so it’s nice to have a Dutch recipe, and two, it was a different type of beer. When I started finding out something about beer in the Middle Ages and early Renaissance in Belgium and Holland, the thing that surprised me was the grains that they made beer out of, and the grain combinations they used — a lot of recipes used 50 percent oats, which is quite odd. I mean you’d just have real trouble brewing with it.

And when we were brewing at Beau’s, some of the things I feared did happen. Plus it was hard work to brew with oatmeal. When I saw what the guys went through to brew it I generally felt really guilty. You should have seen what the mash looked like — a big lump of porridge. They had to poke it with a stick for half an hour to get it all broken up.

And you didn’t have the whole recipe handy, just had the grain bill, correct? So you had to fill in the rest of the pieces? 

Yeah, basically I just knew about the  Dutch way to brew Gruits. All a Gruit means in English is a beer that doesn’t have hops in it — so it was wide open to interpretation and I quite liked that because then you don’t have to worry about what the hopping level was, you can just have the herbs in there instead. It was such an interesting grain combination; it was worth doing the thing because it’s simply a beer that people don’t see nowadays.

So given that room for interpretation, how do you know you’re making a historically accurate example?

Normally I work with recipes where I’ve got the original brewing records, but even when you have those, you don’t have everything in there, so there’s always a bit of interpretation and guesswork because none have every single piece of information to reproduce exactly. Some stuff that isn’t there, so when I do a beer with Pretty Things, me and Dann have discussed beforehand about the beer and I explain about the ingredients and stuff, and we come up with a recipe. Sometimes  recipes can be quite vague about the ingredients — it’ll just say sugar — but I know from other things that I’ve read that it was likely this type of sugar, but it didn’t say that for sure, so you just have to make the best guess that you can…

We’re always very careful to say when you do these historic brews, it’s not a clone of the original beer, we’re trying to make it as true to the original as possible and give you an idea of the kind of beer that was brewed at the time.

It seems like a dream gig for a beer historian to be able to bring historical beers to life with breweries around the world — how did that all start with you, and do you work with breweries often?

It started with Shelton Brothers when I got in touch, and pitched idea, and said would you be interested in re-creating these beers, and I got them brewed for me. That was about six years ago, De Molen did those two beers.

Then the Pretty Things owners, Dann and his wife Martha, were heading back to the States and had unexpected layover in Amsterdam. They asked me down the pub for a drink, we got talking and the whole idea of doing some old recipes came up, so we put this thing together. I work with Fullers as well, they’ve got a series of historic beers, so I’ve worked with the brewers and I looked at the records, and that’s been quite fun. And God knows how many people have brewed the recipes off the blog.

So what does it feel like to taste these Ye Olde recipes that you’ve dug up and brought back to life?

It’s brilliant. It gives me genuine pleasure to drink the beer. And the fact that other people are interested is great and it’s nice that a lot of professional brewers are interested in it. That’s why I don’t brew myself because the professionals can make a much better job of it than me. I’ve made a couple of beers with Pretty Things that I’ve really, really liked so much — drinking them brings it all to life.

After all, it’s a whole lot of work with a lot of fairly boring records and I spend hours and hours and hours stuck in archives, taking photos of stuff… So getting to drink some of the beer makes it all worthwhile.

Living in Amsterdam, I imagine you don’t always get to be there for brew day with your collaborators?

No. In the middle of February I’m going to Boston and I’ll get to see Dann brew for the first time, the chance for once to be there when one of the beer is brewed will be great.

What kind of people read your blog?

Two groups, lots of homebrewers, and quite a few professional brewers as well because they’re interested in the recipe formulation and history, it’s how they’re trained. And just general people who are into beer, not necessarily in the trade.

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Charlie Bamforth on Beer & Terroir

Niagara vineyard, Ontario

Dr. Charlie Bamforth, an Anheuser-Busch endowed professor of brewing science at UC Davis, was my first beer guru, and remains a hero of mine. His book, Beer is Proof That God Loves Us: Reaching for the Soul of Beer and Brewing, was the first book about beer that I read. In it he shares decades of knowledge on brewing science, stripping down the jargon and turning up the interesting (salvation for a liberal-arts educated reader). He offers unflinching and educated opinions about the beer industry — many of them unpopular ones — and the best part, his love of the great malt beverage practically sings off of every page, proving that romance and science are not separate entities when it comes to loving beer.

When writing this story for The Globe and Mail on whether beer has terroir, I finally got my chance to hit him up for an interview, and despite the fact I only quoted him once, he has a lot to say on the subject, so I’m eager to share it with you here. As you can see, he practically interviews himself:

Does beer have terroir?

”The answer is yes, more so than wine not only in terms of water, but other things as well. Some of the great beers in the world were developed on basis of local water. Burton-on-Trent has phenomenally hard water with high levels of calcium, and the other extreme is Pilsen in the Czech Republic which has very, very soft water. The vast majority of beers are made up of at least 90 percent water. It is a critical component. But the brutal reality today is that you can adjust the water to anything you want, so if you’re interested in making the same product in different places around the globe, you can adjust the water to exactly match the water from the brewery’s original location.

“An accomplished brewer can make the same beer in a huge number of locations by adjusting things like the water so they can achieve real consistency. That doesn’t sit comfortably with some people. We like to tell stories. Winemakers don’t try and tweak things, they just use the local raw materials and tell stories about it, and say, ‘That’s terroir.’ Brewers can do that, but on the other extreme, we don’t have to leave things as they are…  We can adjust the water to whatever we want, for example, Burtonization is in the German Brewing Dictionary, it means adjusting water to match that in Burton-on-Trent.

“Is there terroir? Yes. But can I recreate that terroir in a different location by processing the water? Yes.”

Really, because I know quite a few breweries here in Canada that go on and on about their water as a distinctive aspect of their beer.

“It’s a marketing strategy about celebrating the water. It’s a very powerful marketing strategy, but it’s not true to say that I can’t recreate it. One of our local brewers here in Northern California they take the local water and de-ionize it — they take everything out and build up water composition to what they want. You can even recreate spring water, as long as you know what the content of that water is.

“The debate is: on the one hand we have the opportunity to highly control a process to produce a product that’s very, very consistent time in, and time out. The counter opinion is let’s take advantage of local differences to celebrate them, “Like, hey we’re using local water, grain, and growing our own hops… You can make beer excellently both ways, it’s all to do with passion and emotion.

“I used to work for BASS in the UK, and when I came over here 13 years ago I never drank it over here because it travels such a long way, and the beer goes stale and cardboardy.  These days, it’s brewed in New York they’ve taken the recipe and adjusted the water to meet specifications, but now because it’s not traveled across an ocean, it’s fresher and better than it would have been coming all the way from Burton-on-Trent.

Santiago’s Rothhammer Brewery uses German malts, and English and American hops to make all of their brews

So is the only true terroir in wild fermentation? It’s tough to reproduce those exact conditions.

“Yeah, so there would obviously be specific organisms in that particular beer that would have a significant contribution to the local environment, and that will make a difference — but we didn’t look at ten different places for different patterns of development of the different organisms, so we can’t actually say what the variation would be, but it’d be significant.

“There’s a book I read recently that made me angry, it’s by Alice Feiring, a wine writer, where she basically champions the terroir and importance of it to the extent of rubbishing the concept of adding yeast to a wine fermentation rather than taking advantage of the natural flora. That feeling — that everything should be spontaneous — and therefore we should ignore scientific understanding to achieve excellence every time would be naive.

“Now, it’s not as though I hate the idea of local ingredients and the locavore movement when it comes to making beer — on the contrary, I quite like it. There’s a brewery here in Sacramento called Rushtaller, which I’ve done some work with, and it celebrates the proud history of brewing in Sacramento and it’s working to resurrect local hop industry, which used to be very big. And their beers also use  locally-grown barley.

“The concept is wonderful and very appealing — and it appeals to me as well. There is a real beauty in that story. But when it comes down to could I take a beer from a local place and could I produce a pretty much perfect match for it thousands of miles away if I understand the water the specifications on the grain, the malt, the hops?  Yes, you can recreate the product.

“Do I think there’s anything magical about a given locality?  No.”

Well in terms of wine-making then, you’ve said that brewers have embraced scientific knowledge in the brewhouse in a way that winemakers have not, preferring to champion the terroir narrative. But could you, theoretically then, reproduce a match for a wine grown in a specific terroir?

“Well, I’m not an enologist, so it’s hard for me to say…

“Theoretically, is it possible to take a grape from different places and achieve a degree of consistency or match? I’d think it’d be worth exploring. If you understand the science of wine sufficiently should you be able to overcome differences from region to region? I would be amazed to think it could not be done. The chemistry of the grape is going to be complicated, but I don’t think there’s any magical molecules that you could get in some grapes that you can’t get in others, so by adjusting the process you should be able to bring grapes from two different places closer together…

“What brewers have done because of an increased understanding of the chemistry of raw materials is to make  adjustments and achieve consistency. The wine guys don’t even try to do that — instead they value the beauty of variation and of local terroir, and they champion and celebrate that — and it’s a perfectly valid approach. Brewing has achieved a far greater sophistication of science, but it’s possibly moved away from the romance associated with wine.

“Do I like the attempts being made by smaller brewers to make beers that exemplify local ingredients? Yes I do, I like that very much.”

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Great Lakes Brewery Celebrates 25 Years


Ontario’s craft beer scene is blowing out the candles on a bunch of anniversaries this year — Mill Street is celebrating their 10th anniversary tomorrow night, and they have a special anniversary six-pack at the LCBO for those not lucky enough to go to the Brewmaster’s dinner.

Peter Bulut Jr., president of Great Lakes Brewery has been celebrating all year, with four limited edition 750ml anniversary releases. Each has been stellar, exemplifying brewer Mike Lackey’s countless hours of brewing, inventiveness and love of bold flavour.

The latest release, an Imperial Black IPA, is the first of this style I’ve ever had from a Canadian brewer, and it’s fantastic.

The aromas are all big, bad grapefruit rind, with hints of chocolate, star anise and a smidgen of toffee. As it warms up juicy mango notes come out, and so does a warming boozy note (it’s 9.5%), after that one-two punch notes of chocolate and roast coffee come in for a dry, long lasting finish, with some of the hops sticking to your cheeks like red wine tannins.

The uber creamy feel of the brew is what makes it sing – a soft, silky body and creamy head lend a lusciousness that screams “I’m worth celebrating.”

But Great Lakes hasn’t always been doing celebration brews, seasonals and the range of one-offs that they are known for so today, it’s been a long evolution from a crisp lager brewery to an outfit with it’s own pilot system and a very big portfolio of brews.

I interviewed Mr. Bulut Jr. in September, 2011, for a story I was writing on the brewery’s evolution. He shared some of the brewery’s history with me, so I’m sharing that interview with you here:

You didn’t start off brewing the big, bold styles that you’re know for today, how did it all happen?

“We changed maybe a little later, at a time when consumers were looking for change. We had blonde lager, red lager and a black lager for a while and they were quite tasty beers but in the retail market we hard to cut through clutter when most beers were very similar to the ones beside them, so we started with a unique flavourful ale which was Devil’s Pale Ale. That started as a one-off, we brewed it at the Brew-Your-Own back then, in 2006.”

Some breweries swear by consistency, but your beers seem to have become bolder in flavour, and sometimes ABV, over the years, would you agree?

“It has gotten stronger. You know some breweries come up with a brand and they say, ‘Here it is world, take it.’ We have been evolving the brands as we get better at them. Like our Orange Peel Ale, we put a hit of essence in it, and  I hated to do it because it had the McDonald’s orange flavours and kept playing with oranges and we found a way to cut out the essence. We improved the Devil’s by tweaking hops and malt slightly, which balanced it out a little better.”

How did you get into brewing?

“It was a family decision. In 1991, my Dad decided to buy the company, I was just finishing up college.”

What did your Dad think about moving to the bigger beer styles?

“My Dad had a passion for business, he had an entrepreneurial spirit and he didn’t understand why we were coming out with these big flavourful beers. He knew beer as a 50-year-old when he bought the company, for that generation it was all mainstream swill, or lawnmower beer, and that’s what he was used to. He understood clean, crisp lagers. But when we started brewing Devil’s and Winter Ale he thought, ‘What is this?  Look at the numbers here, what’s happening?’ With our seasonals we started doubling in growth year after year since 2006.”

What does the future look like?

“We are expanding, in the last year we upgraded refrigeration and upgraded the brewery’s heating system, we have a bunch of new tanks coming in. We won’t be moving anytime soon, as we have enough real estate to keep growing — we’re less than 15,000 HL right now.”

Cheers to another 25 years.

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Beer and Terroir: Samuel Adams founder Jim Koch


Everything about beer fascinates me, but my lastest story, exploring beer and terroir for The Globe & Mail recently, has my head spinning.

The subject is only beginning to be explored by craft brewers, and I think that brewers are in the midst of redefining terroir in beer — as such, there are a lot of ideas, disagreements and some serious philosophising happening among beer drinkers, makers and marketers.

I tried to touch on the thrust of the debate in my story, but inevitably most of the indepth commentary from the people I spoke to had to be left out. So I am going to share the interviews here, beginning with a question I posed to Jim Koch on a visit to Samuel Adams brewery in Boston last week. (Note: I asked Koch this question after the story came out as it’s just so damn interesting).

Koch has a compelling take on the subject, with his outer hippie on full display.

The question: “Do you think that beer has terroir, and if so, does Samuel Adams have a particular terroir and what would that be?”

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What variety of pumpkin is best for beer?

Pumpkin Beer Canada

I wrote a story for today’s Globe and Mail on our growing obsession with pumpkin beer in Canada. I started by talking to world-famous pumpkin grower, Danny Dill, who grows the giant pumpkin variety — Howard Dill’s Atlantic Giants — invented by his Dad, a farmer/mad scientist, in the ’70s. Dill Jr. also grows 50 other pumpkin varieties, and he doesn’t necessarily think Giants are the way to go when it comes to making a beer.

Here’s his advice:

“Well I really personally don’t think that Atlantic Giants are as good for pies or beer-making, they’re not as flavourful. But it depends on everything else you’re going to put into it.

“I grew a variety of pumpkin this year and it should be the top pumpkin to do stuff with, I’m already starting to hear some rave reviews. It’s called Winter Luxury, it’s a little larger than a pie pumpkin size, and it’s not really orange, but a tan, buff colour with netted skin, it’s an old time variety from 1862, and just the reviews of it convinced me to grow it.

A blind pumpkin beer tasting I did for the story

 

I get people coming here to buy pumpkins specifically for pies…   we have a dessert contest every fall and it lets people put pumpkins to the test. One chef told me it was incredibly awesome to work with these pumpkins.”

 

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Spring Beer

Wet grass, new buds on trees, the return of bees and birdlife to the city all signal one thing to me — the return zingy, grassy spring beers.

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A sampler of Olde Stone Brewing Company's four regular brews and their seasonal — a Cascadian IPA, in Peterborough.

This year’s LCBO haul of 15 spring beers is impressive, the buzz among the beer nerds is that it’s the best LCBO release in memory. I have to agree. I wrote about six of my favourites for my Hopped Up column in The Grid last week. In fact, I love Microbrasserie Charlevoix’s Sainte-Reserve Lupulus so much I’m serving it instead of champagne for the toast at my upcoming wedding this May.

Being a beer writer, I’m obviously into serving the stuff at my wedding — we’re pairing an Ontario beer with every course, and I’m thinking of having the cake designed to match a sour beer I like, instead of the other way around. Booze first, food later. I figured I wasn’t the only bride thinking this way, so I dug deeper into the craft beer wedding trend and came up with tons of stories from beer-loving couples — I’ll post a link here when it’s published.

I should also explain my lack of blogging — I’m designing a new website and blog that will be devoted to beer writing and drinking, so my attention’s been diverted over the last few months. Hoping to launch it within a month or so.

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I’ve also made a pilgrimage to Buffalo with my beer club to drink at the Blue Monk, shop for American brews and watch one of our members take on the Buffalo Bandits (Go Colorado Mammoth!)

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And I’ve been eating and drinking my way through nearby Port Credit, Kleinburg and Peterborough (great beer city!) for an upcoming Toronto Life guide called Neighbourhoods.

Barley's Angels Toronto Chapter

A real highlight was meeting a bunch of female beer enthusiasts, experts and bloggers at the Toronto chapter of Barley’s Angels last Sunday — we drank two litres of imported beer from McClelland Premium Imports, paired with traditional fare from the kitchen of The Town Crier.

 

Affligem Dubbel, my favourite beer of the night at the Barleys Angels beer pairing dinner with Guy McClelland

Tonight I’m off to The Mugshot Tavern in the Junction for a talk by a local hops grower and researcher, organized by one of my beer club dudes.  And I’m thinking ahead to Thursday when I’ll hit up Bar Volo’s total tap takeover by Beau’s Brewery and drink some of the beers that brewmaster Matt O’Hara recommends, including the gimmicky Peanut Butter Stout — I’m a sucker for a gimmicky beer that actually tastes delicious — and there’s only one way to find out.

If there are this many spring beer events, I’m a little terrified of summer.

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