What is your occupation (outside homebrewing)?
Since the start of the summer, I’ve been a letter carrier for Canada post. Before that, I was a freelancer/stay at home dad, which meant I had a lot more time for brewing.
What got you into homebrewing?
I’ve been really involved in the wider craft beer world through my blog and all its associated projects, so often found myself getting to brew with pros. Then a friend of mine, Matt Caldwell, was getting into homebrewing, and got me interested. After a few brews with him, Mark Murphy and I tried our hand at a YouTube channel on homebrewing, called Brewmance. We had to shelve that when Mandie and Mark launched Left Field, but at that point I felt comfortable brewing on my own.
How long have you been brewing and how many batches last year?
Hard to nail an exact number. I probably collaborated on my first brew 5 or 6 years ago, but I built my own set-up 3 years ago. I go through bursts of brewing, especially when the weather is nice, but it looks like I made about 12 batches last year.
Do you have any favourite styles you like to brew?
Yeah, I’m big into farmhouse style beers. Lots of Saisons, and I’ve made a few Biere de Gardes that have gotten really positive feedback. I also like new world approaches and sometimes blur the lines on saisons and IPAs with things that aren’t really Belgian IPAs, but aren’t clean either. And of course, lots of stuff end up on bugs. I usually take at least 5-6 litres of any batch and throw it on something, even if it was already a Brett influenced beer. I have a Frankenstein house funk blend that I built from dregs of a couple of different beers. There’s sacc and Brett in there, and probably some lacto as it can get pretty sour with the right time and temp.
I also do brew other things from time to time, mostly IPA and pales, but I find farmhouse beers work best with my lazy approach and lack of temp control.
What kind of setup do you use?
All grain, DIY, 40 litres. Mash in a tun I made out of a pair of Rubbermaid garbage bins, fly sparge by hand, kettle is a 50 litre keg, etc.
What is the worst beer you have brewed?
I have a few bottles left of this big hopped saison called Hipster Bitchslap that keeps getting slapped around in competitions, but that some of the brewers I give my beers to said was one of the best beers I’ve made. Does that count? I’ve had batches I’ve pulled the cord on in brewing (once accidentally grabbed gain from a brewery and managed to mistakenly take 11kg of sauermalz instead of 2-row for instance). But if a beer makes it to bottle, it’s usually at least “fine”.
What did you learn from that worst beer?
Not to attach too much emotion to comp scores 😉 Especially if it’s something you like. Feedback can be immensely helpful, but if a beer you enjoy gets a really bad score, shrug, crack one open and keep on enjoying it. If you want to brew to style take that feedback and work with it. If you want to make stuff you like to drink, keep on doing it.
What is the best beer you have brewed?
In terms of trueness to style and over-all comments/criticisms, probably my Ardennes Farmhouse BdG that I made for the People’s Pint event during this year’s TBW.
Ardennes Farmhouse — 40l batch
Barn Owl Pale Malt 6kg
Weyermann Vienna 2kg
Barn Owl Munich 1.5kg
Wetermann Special W 500g
Rye flakes 1kg
Amber candi sugar 500g
Clear candi sugar 500g
28g Merkur (13%) 30m
28g S. Goldings (6%) 5m
28g Strisselspalt (3.3%) 5m
28g S. Goldings (6%) 0m
28g Strisselspalt (3.3%) 0m
28g Spalter (4.8%) 0m
Wyeast 3522 Belgian Ardennes
Minerals and acids:
4.35g CaCO2 mash
8.7ml lactic acid (88%) mash (29l)
5.26ml lactic acid (88%) sparge (32l)
Mash at 152F for 60 minutes
Boil 40 minutes
73% brewhouse efficiency
OG 1.066 FG 1.016 (76% att)
15SRM 20IBU 6.6%abv
Ferment in primary for 2 weeks at ambient temp (19-25C), prime for 3.0 volumes, and bottle condition for 1 month. Longer is better.
So, obviously, this recipe doesn’t fit my advice for beginners. It is sort of an intermediate one I guess. A key to BdG is maltiness and a solid yeast character. The 3522 isn’t as temperature hardy as 3711, etc, but it also isn’t as attenuitive which works out well. If you’re trying it with a different strain, watch your projected attenuation, and adjust your grain bill and/or mash temp. I usually try to push my saisons to the high 20s/low 30s, but kept this one cooler; still it got a solid yeasty ester profile, with some nice spices and fruity things. For beers that are mostly for me to enjoy, I really dig this 4:3 ratio of Vienna and Munich. I tried to stick to spicy/herbal old world hops, though honestly, by the time the 750ml champagne bottles have carbed up and conditioned, most of their impact is muted. Future iterations will mostly play with mash temp, as I’m curious to see what I can do with body/abv.
What is a change you have implemented that you feel made a big improvement in your beer?
I feel like every time I change something the process gets better, or the end product does. Recently, it’s been water chemistry using Bru’n Water, and building proper yeast starters.
What advice would you give to a new homebrewer?
- Read lots, books/blogs etc.
- Keep it simple, start with a recipe with 2 or 3 malts tops, a few hop additions, and a simple fermentation. A Sierra Nevada pale ale clone is a great option.
- Join a club (kind of redundant advice here, I guess), and brew with others
- Go big; when buying/building equipment, get the biggest you can reasonably fit/afford. You can make 20 litre batches in a 50 litre kettle, but not vice versa. And you will quickly find you’re bumping into your production limits.
- Have fun. If you want to do this to win awards, or transition to professional brewing, that’s fine, but it’s a bit like becoming a pro hockey player; you’re going to have to work crazy hard at it, be coached, and spend a lot of time failing. Most people reading this probably want to make nice beer for themselves and have the pleasures of the hobby and its community. That’s like playing pick-up with your friends. Nobody cares if you whiff on a one-timer or give up a break-away on a bad pinch. Everybody still has a good time, and you probably end up drinking beer.
Do you have any certifications related to beer and/or homebrewing (BJCP, Cicerone, etc…)?
Nope. I use BJCP guidelines a lot when I write, but not so much when I brew.
If you could be a tree frog, what colour tree frog would you be and why?
I would be happy just being a less appetizing colour than the other tree frogs on my branch.