2015 Wrap Up – What A Year!

2015 was a busy year for our club! With 2016 now upon us it’s a great excuse to reflect back at what we accomplished together! It’s also a great time to look forward to the year ahead!

Cask Days 2015
GTA Brews Club Members at Cask Days 2015 – photo by Ken Woods

Brew Slam and Summer Showdown

The first thing that comes to mind, is the huge success that was Brew Slam 2015. Our club put together a big competition from scratch this year. Starting up a big annual competition from scratch came with a lot of one-time things that will hopefully  be non-issues next year. Creation of custom medals, creating relationships with suppliers and sponsors, organizing a kick ass awards party, convincing 31 awesome BJCP judges and 9 stewards to lend you hours of their time, receiving/sorting/labelling/tracking 318 entries (~625 bottles). There are countless other things that were accomplished by the whole team. Thanks to Geof Traill, Andrew Kotowick, and Craig Wallace for their help and tireless efforts. Special thanks to Zack Weinberg and Toronto Brewing for their generosity and for acting as our shipping location for the competition. Read more about it in the dedicated Brew Slam 2015 Wrap Up post.

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Back in the first half of the year we decided that we wanted to run some smaller seasonal competitions to help encourage competition participation and to provide a no pressure and beginner friendly introduction for new competitors. We started this idea off with the Summer Showdown competition in July. Thanks for Andrew Byer for organizing and hosting! This competition provided some excellent learning opportunities and also gave us a dry run using the competition software.

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Judges in action at the Summer Showdown

Club Meetings

We had 9 monthly club meetings this year. We skipped June because NHC 2015 in San Diego and CABA’s GCHC were already happening. We skipped November because we wanted people to attend the Learn 2 Homebrew event we organized. We skipped December and replaced it with a holiday party for the club.

January 2015
January 2015 @ Toronto Brewing

The year started off with a bang with our January 2015 meeting at Toronto Brewing. Eric presented about Water Chemistry, and Geof presented about cell counting for yeast.  February, March, and April we took meetings back to member’s houses. Andrew Byer and Tina Schönwetter hosted Feburary, in a snow storm. Mike Adams hosted March, before he moved out to BC. Eric and Rebecca Cousineau hosted April, in his basement brewery. May’s Meeting took place at Noble Hop, hosted by Dave Crum, we brewed a Gratzer with 100% Oak Smoked Wheat Malt. We skipped June. July’s meeting was hosted by Mark Verok in his back yard in the Junction. August took us up north to North York where Alex Angel and Sarah Spach hosted us near Finch subway station.

September 2015 Rainhard
September 2015 @ Rainhard Brewing

In September we decided to break the mould and try a new meeting format. People were getting tired of doing club brews every time so we decided so add a bit more structure. Structured educational components were added, like presentations, workshops, and group tastings. For the September meeting Jordan Rainhard hosted us at Rainhard Brewing, where Eric presented about Finishing Beer and How to Enter a Competition, in preparation for Brew Slam in October. Our October club meeting was hosted by Nick Zubacs at Brew North. We skipped November for Learn 2 Homebrew Day. In December we had a holiday party instead of a club meeting, hosted by Evan Bonsell and Liz Rocchi.

July 2015
July Club Meeting @ Mark Verok’s

We also had a few non-meeting events that fell outside the monthly schedule. Eric hosted a club brew day at his house in May to brew the club gose that was served at GCHC in June. In July Evan organized a Dregs Day, hosted by Allan Busch, where he and Justin went over how to harvest yummy bugs from wild beers to be used in homebrewing. Evan hosted a brew day at his house in September where he invited members to join him. Here’s hoping we can do more of these Brew & A events in 2016!

Thanks to everyone that hosted us this year!

August Club Meeting @ Alex and Sarah's
August Club Meeting @ Alex and Sarah’s

Learn 2 Homebrew Day

Another incredible thing that happened was the Learn 2 Homebrew Day event on Nov 7th, organized by Mark Verok and Rob Carter. Thanks to Jordan Rainhard and Rainhard Brewing Co for stepping in and offering to host the event with only a few weeks notice. This event wasn’t originally on the radar for the Fall, but an opportunity arose for our club to take on the mantle of this long-running tradition in the Toronto homebrewing community. Over the 8 hours that we were there demonstrating the brewing process we had an estimated 100 people come through to check out the setups, ask questions, and get motivated about the hobby.

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Grain Buys

We ran two Bulk Grain Buys this year, one in the spring and one in November as well. We had a total of 305 bags of grain in this order with 88 participants in the Fall, our biggest yet! Bulk Buys are always an “operation” no matter how tightly you steer the ship, the sheer scale of the activity guarantees that something will get mixed up. Usually some kind of pilsner malt! Thanks again to Toronto Brewing for hosting and facilitating the buy. Also thanks to Rob Carter and the other dozen of so volunteers that helped make the two day event less chaotic than ever.

Check out this video Zack Weinberg took during the Fall 2015 Grain Split.

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Late night at the office with @gtabrews

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GTA Brews Advent Calendar 2015

As I write this post, this year’s club advent calendar is almost finished. Check out the recap post to see what kinds of beers were submitted, and how it all went down.

We had two calendars this year, with twice as many participants as in 2014. All of the beers have been very good this year, which shows how fast our club members are improving their brewing skills. Thanks to Jeremy Coghill for hosting the West End swap day, and Eric for hosting the East End swap day. Hopefully we can merge them, and the holiday party, into one big event next year!

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Club members taking bottles to assemble their advent calendars

Club Growth and Organization Updates

The club has grown by an extraordinary amount this year. I don’t have any hard membership number for the beginning of 2015, but I believe it was around 400-500 people. As we entered 2016 we had approximately 950 people. Pretty crazy growth, almost doubled in one year!

Back in June we merged with the Toronto Homebrewers Club so that we could have one big club in Toronto to focus our efforts around. This enabled the local shops to support us without feeling like they were giving preferential treatment. It also removed some silent awkwardness that was present with people not being sure which club they were “part of” and not wanting to offend either group. Now that we’re all together and can focus on building and improving our Toronto hombrewing community together.

As our club has grown we have started to take on more projects and initiatives. As things got busier it became obvious that we needed to improve our organization, so some formal roles were created. We started by creating membership hierarchy, including Paid Member which is given to members that have paid their dues for that calendar year. Read more about this on the Membership page. We also created an executive body for the club, with five roles. This helps spread out the load, and also allows us to explore new ideas with more freedom. Thanks to Eric Cousineau, Andrew Byer, Andrew Kotowick, Evan Bonsell, and Mark Verok for stepping up! Read about their roles on this page. We also created a volunteer list, where we will ask for feedback on new ideas, as well as ask for volunteers for certain tasks.

We created and revised a set of Facebook Posting Guidelines for the Facebook group, and appointed a group of moderators to enforce them. If you haven’t already, please read the guidelines!

Lots of new ideas for 2016 so stay tuned!

Cask Days 2015 and People’s Pint Collaborations

At Cask Days 2014 we collaborated with Junction Craft Brewing to brew a Chocolate Orange Porter, this year we stepped it up a notch and got 2 club casks there (plus a bunch more from club members in the Toronto Brewing section).

The first club cask we collaborated on was a Vanilla Coffee Mild, loosely based on the Cinnamon Coffee Mild that Craig Wallace brewed for the Brew Slam Pop-Up Bar. We collaborated with Toronto Brewing to get this cask done. Thanks for your support Zack! It’s about time we start planning for the homebrew section of Cask Days 2016 and get some longer term beers started!

The 2nd club cask was a collaboration with Folly Brewpub. We brewed a Farmhouse Bitter called Point Verde inspired by the old Stock Ales of England that would turn sour in the cask. It was cask #233. Thanks to Christina Coady and Chris Conway for the opportunity! If you haven’t visited Folly yet, get over there soon! They are making among the best Belgian beer in town!

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Folly X GTA Brews beer into the fermenter!

We also had a club keg at the People’s Pint event in November. We collaborated with Zack and Eric Emery from Toronto Brewing. It was an oatmeal stout we coined Cookie Monster Stout due to all the unique specialty malts we used in it (Golden Naked Oats, CaraBrown, Dark Chocolate, and Carafa III Special).

Checking the mash pH on the Cookie Monster Stout
Checking the mash pH on the Cookie Monster Stout

Changes in the Toronto Homebrew Scene

Over the last year the homebrewing hobby in Toronto has continued to accelerate. We’ve more and more new brewers joining the hobby, and many of them appear to be sticking with it. We’ve received a phenomenal amount of support from local breweries and businesses this year, much of it due to the increased awareness of homebrewers. We’ve seen more local breweries opt to run their own homebrewing competitions this year, which is fantastic. I hope that the hobby can keep it’s momentum through 2016 and continue to grow at faster and faster speeds.

Every once in a while I go back and update this blog post with info about all the things homebrew happening in town. The last major update was in August, but since then Noble Hop has closed. In the same location, Toronto Brewing is opening up it’s second location. That is a huge deal for homebrewers in west Toronto and downtown. Toronto Brewing is known for it’s massive selection of ingredients, so having a location downtown will be a huge boon for local homebrewers.

2015 also saw the opening of a homebrew store in east Toronto. Our friend Nick opened up Brew North on Queen St E in Leslieville. He also hosted us for the October meeting. If you have haven’t visited his store yet, please do! He has a huge selection of ingredients and is also a very passionate homebrewer you can talk shop with!

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Coming up in 2016

Sorry for making you read so much stuff before getting to the what’s next section. We did a lot of stuff this year! We plan to repeat many similar events and activities this year, and improve on them using lessons learned. As always, check the Club Events page and the Facebook group for the latest events schedule.

We will continue to have monthly meetings. Going forward we will try to keep the Monthly Meetings at breweries as much as possible. People seem to enjoy the public venue and also the increased focus on specific educational topics. I think that certain people have been missing the group brew aspect of the old-style meetings. We will try to address this by having more frequent Brew&A events, where people can go join in on brew days with experienced homebrewers at their homes.

We will continue to have seasonal competitions throughout the year. This will probably take the form of a Winter, Spring, and Summer seasonal competition. The we will follow these up with the big Brew Slam competition in the fall, where brewers from all over Canada are entering.

We will also continue to have one off events throughout the year like we did this year with the Learn2Homebrew Day event. Bulk Buys will continue, of course. I’m sure there are some other things I’m forgetting to mention, but they will continue too.

Over the last year we have put a lot of effort into developing the website to be a resource for local brewers. This will continue as free time permits.

Cheers, and here’s to a busy 2016 as well!