What is your occupation (outside homebrewing)?
I'm a Chemical Engineer that works in Technical Sales selling adhesives and tapes. Structural acrylics, double-sided tapes, hotmelts... anything sticky.
What got you into homebrewing?
Like most kids in university, my beer drinking capacity was limited only by my (very minimal) budget. So I decided to take matters into my own hands and brew beer myself to save some dollars at the Beer Store. This egregious use of the shared kitchen in our student housing really pissed off my female roommates, and also didn't save me any money. But it did generate enough passably drinkable beer to fuel many beer pong tournaments, it ignited some interesting conversations, and it kicked me down the long, rewarding rabbit hole that is the art & science of fermentation.
What are your hobbies/interests outside of homebrewing?
How long have you been brewing and how many batches last year?
I started brewing in 2012 and have been pretty consistent with it all these years, albeit at a small scale. I typically did about 5 or 6 batches a year, however last year I managed to get in about 15-20 batches.
Do you have any favorite styles you like to brew?
One of my worst brewing habits is the tendency to never brew the same recipe (or even style for that matter) twice. I'll jump from style to style if I hear an interesting brewing podcast episode, have an inspiring pint at a local bar or buddy's house, or wake up on the wrong side of the bed. This has made it very hard to dial in any specific style, but it's given me very broad brewing experience and a diverse and delicious tap list at home. That said, if I had to pick a favorite it would probably be a Belgian Dubbel - Belgian beers ferment like a fat cat on two hits of premium-grade catnip. It's amazing to watch.
Do you have any certifications related to beer and/or homebrewing (BJCP, Cicerone, etc.)?
I once sunk a beer pong trick shot that bounced off a moving ceiling fan, into the back wall, and into the last remaining cup to win the game. Crowd went wild. I chase that feeling every day. But I also recently became a BJCP judge and have done some sensory training at Little Beasts Brewing.
What kind of setup do you use?
Most of my brewing career has been spent in painfully small condo kitchens with makeshift equipment and DIY contraptions. I usually have to modify the sink plumbing to get a workable immersion chiller going. This often results in a partial flood of the condo (which in turn helps to clean up the boilover from earlier).
My equipment has mostly stayed with me this whole time: the immersion chiller was built by twisting some copper piping around a paint can (it works great). I invested early in a STC-1000 temperature controller to install into an old minifridge which was also a great use of funds. My mash tun is a blue camping cooler with a ball valve and braided hose, and my primary fermenter is the same plastic bucket that came with the first beer kit I ever bought. Some of the fancier items I use are a 10 gal Blichmann boil kettle (I love it), Blichmann propane burner and a homemade 2-tap kegerator. I've also recently invested in a 3-roller Monster Mill so I can crush
my enemies my own fresh malt.
What is the best beer you have brewed?
My best beer is probably my most recent Northwest IPA, affectionately known as Areola Grande, which just brought home a gold medal at the Winnipeg Pro/Am. This beer was super smooth despite a whopping 14 oz/5 gal of hops added, and was made using all the techniques I've slowly gathered over the years.
What is the worst beer you have brewed? What did you learn from it?
Hands down the worst beer I've made is my first one - a light lager from a kit, probably several years old, made in my parents' basement. It tasted like corn syrup, vodka and apple-cider vinegar left out in the sun. But it was bubbly and it was alcoholic, so overall a huge success. I learned a couple things:
a) Brewing is a bit more complicated than the kit instructions would make it out to seem - after doing some research though, I found there were really only a few simple steps I needed to take to make a beer 10x better with a similar effort (namely fresh ingredients, larger pitch rates, and some form of temperature control).
b) They shouldn't make or sell light lager kits - why would they set me up for disaster like that? Pretty rude.
What is a change you have implemented that you feel made a big improvement in your beer?
I believe that making better beer is the sum of dozens of tiny improvements, but if I had to choose a big one it would probably be to focus on the yeast. Bigger pitch rates and good oxygenation will solve a lot of problems.
What advice would you give to a new homebrewer?
- Follow your gut. Don't worry too much about what people are saying on the internet forums. If you search long enough you'll find 10 reasons to do something and 11 reasons to not. Use good resources (books and your local homebrew club) and some intuition and you'll be ahead.
- Enter competitions (for objective and structured feedback - medals are fun, but they're just icing).
- Don't buy the light lager kit.
What is your favorite yeast, grain and hop?
- YEAST: Saflager W-34/70 is an incredible yeast even if you bully it (ferment warm, forget to aerate, don't rehydrate, call it names, etc.)
- GRAIN: Briess Special Roast seems to be a nice way to get some of that extra chewy breadiness that I love.
- HOP: Nelson Sauvin - my favorite type of wine is a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, and this hop captures some of that light, fruity, tropical, delicate essence.
What is your white whale, one that you've been chasing to perfect?
My life will be complete when I can brew a Hefeweizen like Weihenstephaner, a Helles like Hofbrau, and an Irish Stout like Guinness.
Do you have a name for your homebrewery?
Not yet... but I'm working on a new brewing related website called AmateurAlchemy.ca which will hopefully be published in 2023 (nothing released just yet). Stay tuned!