Luke Van Oort
What is your occupation (outside homebrewing)?
Software engineering at Wave Financial working on our small business banking offerings.
What got you into homebrewing?
The short answer is mirin and Merit SVP.
The long answer is that I made a bit of wine in university and helped my then-roommate Jesse with his meadmaking for a while (some members might remember Jesse’s excellent bochet from the bottles he was wandering around with at the Brew Slam 2019 award ceremony), but I only really got into homebrewing seriously was when I got frustrated with the poor availability of hon-mirin in Ontario and started making choujiu (a Chinese style of rice wine that’s sort of like nigori sake) in the hopes of eventually being able to make a decent substitute. Eventually I progressed into also making fruit wines for turning into vinegar, but I held off on beer due to the equipment requirements.
Luckily, I eventually stumbled upon Lars Marius Garshol’s blog and realized that I could adapt some of the techniques and ingredients that Norwegian farmhouse brewers were using to allow me to brew beer in my condo with absolutely minimal equipment. The final kick to start was having Merit SVP and wishing that I could have something that was similarly low ABV, complex, and quaffable available to drink without having to make my way to Hamilton to acquire it.
I haven’t really chased the SVP flavour profile consciously since my first few brews, but when I brought a can of it home from the Toronto Brewing bottle shop earlier this year, my girlfriend commented that she could taste a definite common thread between it and a lot of the things I brew, so perhaps it made a greater impact than I thought!
What are your hobbies/interests outside of homebrewing?
Cooking, baking, and cycling. Unsurprisingly, I also do a lot of culinary fermentation -- these days its usually just sauerkraut, hot sauce, and dill pickles; however, I’ve also dabbled in miso, vinegar, kasuzuke, kimchi, yoghurt, cheese, nattō, soy sauce, and others. Even when my carboys are empty, there’s pretty much always something fermenting somewhere in the condo.
How long have you been brewing and how many batches last year?
I’ve been brewing beer for three years. Like probably a lot of us, I brewed quite a bit in 2020, filled much of my bottling/kegging capacity, then didn’t brew a huge amount last year – just 14 batches.
Do you have any favorite styles you like to brew?
I tend to brew whatever catches my fancy at that moment, so I don’t really have any particular favourites. I do love putting Styrian Goldings in pretty much everything from German-style pilsner to “IPA” to English bitter to Belgian blondes though.
Do you have any certifications related to beer and/or homebrewing (BJCP, Cicerone, etc…)?
BJCP Certified Beer Judge, Cicerone Certified Beer Server.
What kind of setup do you use?
Robobrew. I’m a big fan of plastic fermenters, so I use wide mouth Fermonsters, PET carboys, and an All Rounder for fermentation. Unfortunately, we live in a fairly small condo and don’t really have enough space for both a fermentation chamber and a kegerator, so I decided to forgo temperature control in favour of being able to keg.
What is the best beer you have brewed?
Judging by how quickly the cask emptied, it might be the bitter my girlfriend and I brewed for David Chang-Sang’s Cask Dave’s last fall. [You can find the recipe in the Club Recipe Database here!]
What is the worst beer you have brewed? What did you learn from it?
I once made a Polaris single-hop IPA that I used a rather questionable pitch of yeast for. Ended up just being an unpalatable mess of off-flavours. Definitely taught me that if you’re unsure about your yeast, don’t bother brewing that day – it’s not worth taking the chance.
What is a change you have implemented that you feel made a big improvement in your beer?
Putting Styrian Goldings in them 😉
What advice would you give to a new homebrewer?
There are a lot of these where people say some flavour of “read more”, “pay attention to yeast health”, or “focus on sanitation,” all of which I agree with, but I’ll mix things up and go with “simplify your recipes.” As homebrewers we aren’t constrained by the practicalities of commercial production, so there’s nothing stopping us from adding a “little bit of this” and a “little bit of that” chasing some notion of complexity or nuance. However as I’m sure everyone remembers from mixing paints in art class, when you add a little bit of a lot of different ingredients, instead of creating a beautiful new hue, you can easily end up with nothing more than a cup of brown paint. So, in order to avoid making “brown” tasting beers, I think it’s a good practise to take a page out of Saison Dupont’s or Pilsner Urquell’s book and pare down your recipes a bit, which, in my experience, rather than making the beer bland or boring, often ends up giving the individual ingredients enough room to showcase their own complexities.
What is your favorite yeast, grain and hop?
34/70 and Voss kveik for yeast (I know that’s two but it’s hard to choose, they’re just both so great). Grain is probably Weyermann Barke Pilsner. Hop is definitely Styrian Goldings.
What beer is your white whale, one that you've been chasing to perfect?
Minerally session beers. I really love table saisons and pale lagers that have a strong minerality to them, but reliably getting that character in my own beer has thus far eluded me. How does Jever do it???
Do you have a name for your homebrewery?