What is your occupation (outside homebrewing)?
I’m a brewer at Amsterdam. I came to Canada in 2013 with a vague notion of taking a short career break from my investment consulting gig back in Scotland. My first thought moving here was – where am I going to get my homebrewing supplies? After some Googling, I found Toronto Brewing was the only game in town at the time. I sent an email to Zack telling him my deal, and within a day of landing I was hauling around homebrewing supplies, weighing out hops and whirlfloc. It was an awesome culture there but I remember feeling like a kid in a candy store, having easy access to all these ingredients. I started homebrewing like a maniac; I remember one week were I brewed a batch every single day, and I’d have something like 10 kegs of different beer on at the store. I entered pretty much every competition going and achieved the dubious honour of being one of the top three homebrewers in Canada.
Eventually, I moved onto brewing gigs at The 3 Brewers, Blood Brothers, Junction and then Amsterdam.
What got you into homebrewing?
My political science tutor mentioned it. I didn’t even know home beer-making was a thing so I grabbed a friend and we bought a kit the same day from a shop called Glenbrew in Glasgow, which is owned by the same people who make Fraoch Heather Ale. I was drinking Swill at the time, and the beer I made at home that first time was at least as good as what I was used to. Then the research came after, and I realized there was a whole world of people taking this extremely seriously. I went all-grain shortly after, and a love of craft beer developed in parallel. I started getting involved in the community in Scotland by giving homebrewing demonstrations and starting a club. Trips abroad became centred around visiting breweries and great brewing cultures.
How long have you been brewing and how many batches last year?
Probably 11 years. Countless batches on a pro-scale – probably north of 10,000hl. At home, lately not much unfortunately, maybe a dozen.
Do you have any favourite styles you like to brew?
Lagers, IPA, Gueuze.
What kind of setup do you use?
At home, I prefer the stovetop method, like a 30L pot with an additional kettle element installed. Coleman cooler with a bazooka screen. Buckets, scoops, gravity. I’ve done fancier methods but I prefer the simplicity of stovetop.
What is the worst beer you have brewed?
I remember the first time I dabbled in water chemistry. I didn’t really make an effort to understand it, but thought I’d give it a go anyway. I was making a Vienna/Amarillo SMaSH, and confused the mash pH with the final beer pH. So I added a ton of phosphoric acid to the mash and boil to try and get it down to 4. It was borderline drinkable. I’ve made my share of sours that ended up tasting like nail polish, too.
What did you learn from that worst beer?
Understand what you’re doing before you do it on the fly on brew day. Have a plan and your mise en place. That, and try and forget about sour beers for a year minimum after making them.
What is the best beer you have brewed (share recipe)?
There’s been a few. A recent one is a variation on a triple-decocted pilsner, described here by Weyermann:
I amped up the Saaz hops and used a WLP802. It would always win a gold, but usually as a Classic American Pilsner. For a traditional Bohemian Pils, judges were usually looking for more malt character. But that recipe works great.
Aside from that, I’ve brewed a bunch of IPAs which I’ve been really happy with. I learned that ingredient selection is the real key to this, as hops can vary enormously from one supplier and crop year to the next.
What is a change you have implemented that you feel made a big improvement in your beer?
I think getting to grips with water chemistry is key. My beers started becoming astringent when I moved to Toronto, where the water was probably amplifying a flaw in my process. Tweaking pHs and using salts really elevated the quality.
What advice would you give to a new homebrewer?
- Join a club and don’t be thin skinned when it comes to criticism.
- Brew all the time. If you want to become one of the best brewers, you should be brewing every day. Even if it’s just a one gallon batch to try out a new malt or hop. It’s the only way you can learn what the ingredients taste like.
- Read lots, check out the BA series of books and sign up for the magazines for inspiration. Check out the online forums and FB groups to see what other people are doing. Just be careful of advice you see online as there’s a lot of horseshit and myth perpetuation.
- Pay as much attention as possible to making your yeast happy and healthy.
- Travel lots, especially to Europe and the States and try what people are making.
Do you have any certifications related to beer and/or homebrewing (BJCP, Cicerone, etc…)?
BJCP, it’s not really a thing in the UK so I took the first tasting exam available in New York and again in Chicago to boost my score. There’s a lot of BJCP haters out there but I think it’s a good way to develop your palate.
If you could be a tree frog, what colour tree frog would you be and why?
What’s your favourite Paul McCartney Song?