Member Profile: Chris Saunders


Chris Saunders

What is your occupation (outside homebrewing)?

Currently I'm a brewing student in my 3rd semester at Niagara College's Brewmaster program. Prior to that I was a software developer and wasn't super keen on what I was building or the industry. Right now I've mostly be focusing on the "less fun" parts of brewing like QA/QC, cellaring and filtering.

What got you into homebrewing?

Back when I was a kid my old man was brewing some of those malted syrup extract kits he bought from a homebrew shop in Ottawa. That memory plus my own developing love of craft beer got me really interested in trying to make my own beer. After chatting with my partner Virginie (aka V) about it (and warning her how our place would be super smelly) she got me a copy of How to Brew for my birthday.

What are your hobbies/interests outside of homebrewing?

I flip flop around a lot of things but feel like I've gotten fairly consistent in a few of them. I really enjoy camping, road tripping and hiking, which I'm hoping to do at least once a year. Last year we road tripped around Newfoundland and this year we road tripped around New England to hit up breweries.
I'm also super into boardgames though since moving I haven't played them as often as I'd like. My preferred style of boardgames are Euros like 7 Wonders, Le Havre, and Agricola. I have a pretty broad collection, but I'm re-assessing it to make room for some things related to brewing.
Finally, I like to play video games but on more of a social level. I meet up with buddies quite often to hang out online and play whatever our flavour of the month is (right now it's Overwatch). I also really enjoy playing video games in the same room with people such as beat em' ups and party games such as Drawful.

How long have you been brewing and how many batches last year?

I got my copy of How to Brew by Palmer in January of 2011, and started actually making beer in March or April of that year. We started out using a 21 quart canning pot to do partial extract batches on our stovetop.

It wasn't until fairly recently that I started taking really good notes and record keeping for actual batches. I think I might have done 20 batches of beer last year.

Do you have any favourite styles you like to brew?

I really like brewing malt and microbe forward beers, such as Hefeweizens, Lacto Sours (Berliner Weisse, Gose) and English style dark beers (Browns, Porters, etc.).

What kind of setup do you use?

I have a "3 vessel" setup which consists of a 10 gallon Gott cooler, 8 gallon stainless brew kettle and 32L aluminum HLT that I heat with one of those submersible heat sticks. I recently upgraded over to a 30 plate chiller from OBK and grabbed a centre-inlet chugger pump to drive it. I'm fairly happy with it, though my pump ended up mostly being used for CIP (Clean in Place). At least I get to see some really nice trub cones near the end of transfer 🙂

What is the worst beer you have brewed?

About a year or so into brewing I decided I was going to make a super bitter IPA that I'd tastelessly called Challenger Explosion. Lots of bittering hops in lots of places and lots of crystal malts. We tried a few and couldn't handle it so we ended up dumping all of it.

What did you learn from that worst beer?

Moderation is key and a little bit goes a long way. Also there's more to a beer than just it's estimated number of IBUs

What is the best beer you have brewed?

I recently made a German Helles that I'd done split batch on. It was based on the Sitzung Helles recipe from the AHA, though I used Aromatic Malt instead of Biscuit. One half of it was a regular Helles, whereas the other half I'd added a bunch of hops during the whirlpool and for dry-hopping. I didn't really like the flavours I got from the aromatic malt, but I found the hopped version to have similar flavours to the Beer Geek Helles by Jacks Abby:

Chris Saunders' German Helles

What is a change you have implemented that you feel made a big improvement in your beer?

I don't really know, it's probably been a combination of things plus some good "workplace safety" changes. The big thing has probably been investing in a temperature controller and mini-fridge. Inkbirds are so affordable and easy to use, that there's really no excuse not to use one.

As for the safety bits: don't drink while you are brewing, try not to carry around large amounts of liquid manually (especially if it's hot), Fermcap is your brewday BFF and there is no such thing as downtime during the brewday (something surely has to be cleaned, clean it now!)

What advice would you give to a new homebrewer?

  • Put together a brew day checklist for your process. It should tell you in point form what you should be doing next. If you need ideas you can take a look at the one I have up on my blog.
  • Use software for figuring out your recipe and your brew day, but have a brew day sheet where you track everything. Software really sucks and it's easy to accidentally mess up a recipe.
  • It's OK to start small and upgrade to a bigger kettle if you find yourself really liking the hobby. The best thing is, if you don't have enough time or end up not liking the hobby, you don't feel as bad about it.
    • The other bonus is if you do upgrade you can sell your equipment to someone else interested in starting the hobby (one of us! one of us!)
  • There's no such thing as a mickey mouse or bush-league setup. I know people who make amazing beer using perma-stained coolers and ugly looking immersion chillers.
  • Don't worry too much about efficiency. At a homebrew scale the difference between 70% and 80% efficiency is counted in dimes.
  • If you don't like a beer just look at your brewday and fermentation notes, write down some tasting notes and dump it. We learn more when we fail than when we succeed.

Do you have any certifications related to beer and/or homebrewing (BJCP, Cicerone, etc…)?

Aside from my provisional rank for passing the online BJCP exam I don't really have anything.

However I did take the Level 1 Prud'homme Course last year and did some off-flavour classes with Mirella Amato back in 2014.

Of course, if all things go right I will have a Brewmaster diploma in April 2017, which includes a bunch of beer related things (sensory training, lab work, etc.)

If you could be a tree frog, what colour tree frog would you be and why?

I don't think tree frogs come in Olive Drab, so I'd have to say a super bright green. I'm really just a fan of green, but in the wild it would tell most predators that I'm deadly. Though, lots of people associate frog-licking hallucinations with brightly coloured frogs so I might be in trouble there.