Member Profile: Matti Cowan

Matti Cowan

What is your occupation (outside homebrewing)?

I'm both an entrepreneur (Silly Sir Brewing Co.) and a supply teacher with the TDSB. It's perfect because affords me lots of flexibility to simultaneously (attempt to) run a business.

What got you into homebrewing?

I started homebrewing in the winter of 2015 with a homebrewing kit from Magnotta (really just prepared wort in a bag, and a packet of dry yeast). I was just bored, I think. I was probably seasonally depressed. My first beer was an Irish red ale, which despite being over-carbonated, tasted pretty good. I quickly graduated to all grain brewing after a couple extract batches, and have been hooked ever since. My love stems from the blend of art and respect for science that's required in brewing.

What are your hobbies/interests outside of homebrewing?

When I'm not homebrewing, I'm running, cycling, or playing video games. Or being annoying to my partner Sara.

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

I've been homebrewing since 2015, and last year I targeted two brews a month.

Do you have any favourite styles you like to brew?

I seem to have become obsessed with mastering German hefeweizen beers - they're really easy to brew but tough to do right. I also love me a good IPA on draught in my apartment, as well as a good Czech pilsner.

What kind of setup do you use?

I've got a 38 litre Igloo cooler with a bazooka screen for my mash, and and a 30 litre stainless steel pot as my kettle. I ferment in standard 23 litre glass carboys, and control temperature in a mini-fridge. I auto-siphon pretty much everything.

What is the worst beer you have brewed?

The only keg of beer I ever felt the need to dump was a pale ale that was high in acetaldehyde (a green apple off-flavour) that I suspect was due to packaging too early. In my first couple years, I had some beers that were less than stellar, but that I managed to "get through". Mediocre batches still happen from time to time, but usually only when I'm being experimental (currently have a "Noble Hop" NEIPA fermenting... we'll see about that one).

What did you learn from that worst beer?

In researching the problem, I learned about the different ways one may avoid acetaldehyde.

What is the best beer you have brewed?

I'm particularly fond of my "Breath of the Kveik" black IPA I brew every winter. My best batch was fermented with the "Hornindal" Kveik strain of yeast which can ferment clean at ridiculously high temperatures. It's not everybody's favourite style, but even black IPA haters seem to enjoy this beer:

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

I'm of the mentality that no one variable will lead to a big improvement in your beer. All variables are incremental and improvement takes time. When people claim variable-X led to an improvement, I usually think 'yeah, but you've also got another beer under your belt". You're more experienced. I found there were no clearly defined lines as I've gained experience where I thought, "Ok, now the beer is tasting good". Your overall quality just goes up over time as you chip away at variables and learn more about brewing. It's a very active process.

That being said, a very important triad to focus in on would be your:
1) cleanliness & sanitation
2) yeast health
3) minimizing oxygen exposure.

What advice would you give to a new homebrewer?

1) Brew. Iterate. Brew.
2) Keep learning, reading, researching.
3) Don't worry too much about which variable you're tweaking, just ensure you're constantly working on some aspect of your process.
4) You do not need the fanciest equipment to brew great beer - it's all in your process and how you use the equipment you have.
5) If your beer's not good, it probably has more to do with your process than your recipe.

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

I'm a BJCP Certified beer judge, and have taken a couple off-flavour courses. Developing a vocabulary and for what's off, out of place, or out of balance is an important part of developing as a homebrewer. You can't fix what's wrong if you have trouble identifying it.

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

This is a very silly question, and I refuse to answer it, sir.