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Highway 666 is One Devil of a Beer

grain bin logoI visited Grande Prairie a couple of weeks ago to attend a music festival (first ever Bear Creek Folk Festival – great time!). Being who I am I took some time out to visit the two new breweries in town, GP Brewing and Grain Bin. I didn’t succeed in an effort to visit with the GP folks (although did pop into their tap room), but did have a great visit with Grain Bin’s Dalen Landis (and his adorable daughter).

I will talk about the visit and the brewery in a future post – I am working on a report of my summer brewery tours. I will say for the moment the beer I sampled at the brewery had me feeling very optimistic about this new brewery; there is no question they are on the right track. While there I picked up a couple bottles of the only beer Grain Gin had in bottles at the time (they are mostly a keg-only brewery).

It was their Highway 666 Robust Porter. Clocking in at 8.8% the word robust might be an understatement. I cracked one of the bottles a few days ago (after my customary travel shock rest). It pours a dark, opaque brown. It looks more like a stout, actually. It creates a dark tan, medium sized head that hangs around for a long time. The aroma offers up molasses, dark chocolate, plum, and dark fruit. I also get hints of coffee roast lurking in background.

The sip begins with a similar strong dark fruit and molasses upfront. The middle brings out an estery sweetness and some alcohol. The finish dries out a bit and offers the quietest touch of coffee roast in the background, just enough to sharpen the beer. The linger is alcohol warming. Overall it has a rounded impression with an assertive ester profile.

I will say straight up this beer reminds me more of a Baltic Porter than a Robust Porter. Its size is the first giveaway. 8.8% is way above the Robust category. (Yes, I know Robust Porter has been erased in the 2015 BJCP Guidelines – but Grain Bin started it with their name and my brain still knows what a Robust Porter should taste like.) It also has the estery characteristics of a Baltic Porter.

I like this beer. It offers a complex array of flavours, especially as it warms up. I found I appreciated the beer more as I sipped it, which is always a good sing. The beer is also a demonstration that Grain Bin is a brewery that should not be trifled with – they know what they are doing. The old curmudgeon in me would have preferred they call it a Baltic Porter, but who the hell in Grande Prairie knows what that is? What I do know is they have created a very enjoyable strong porter that, in my opinion, would score quite high as a Baltic Porter.

Not bad for a beginner!

Welcome to Random Acts of Beerness

A rare photo of me on this website. Photo courtesy of Edmonton Journal.

A rare photo of me on this website. Just Because. Photo courtesy of Edmonton Journal.

When I started this website over 6 years ago (!!) it was with two explicit functions. First,it was an outlet for writing, observations and ramblings that couldn’t fit into my regular columns. Second, and most importantly, it was going to be a website that covered the craft beer scene on the prairies. At the time there were good sites covering B.C., Ontario and Atlantic, but no one was paying attention to the prairies. I decided to step into that void.

At the time the prairies were a sleepy little corner of the beer world. Only a couple of breweries each in Saskatchewan and Manitoba and a handful in Alberta. Frankly the job of covering the scene was pretty easy.

Oh, man, has that changed in the last year or two. New breweries popping up in all three provinces, more seasonals, more events and generally more stuff happening. It has been increasingly difficult to keep up with it all, in particular because this site is a non-paying sideline to my regular life (you know, job, family, hobbies – homebrewing! – and the like). Anything I did had to be squeezed in between all these other things.

Over the summer I have been thinking about the role of the site. I have mused a couple times about the relative value of my regular News Roundups. But I have also been thinking about the sustainability of other aspects, such as my commitment to do up a profile of all new breweries in the region and my ability to keep the Prairie Beer page up to date.

Don’t worry – the site isn’t going anywhere. But over the coming months you will start to see some changes in my approach and what I do here, including – if I can get my act together and/or get some low cost assistance from a designer – a visual re-boot of the site.

The first decision is that, despite some response saying they are valuable, I am doing away with the regular News Roundups. I found them becoming too much work and, frankly, I was starting to miss too much stuff. It is the missing stuff that bothers me the most, since I am shortchanging breweries when I leave out their news.

In its place I am going to start a regular feature called Random Acts of Beerness. In Random Acts I will discuss observations of what is happening around the region, highlight interesting news bits that caught my eye for one reason or another and draw attention to upcoming stuff that seems cool. In short it will be a less structured, more haphazard version of the news roundup. No promises to anyone on what will make it in. It will have more commentary and will likely engage a bit more policy-oriented stuff as well (as you people seem to like that stuff – wonks all of you!). I am not sure how frequently it will appear, but I am hoping it will, to a degree, cover the ground the roundup handled but without the stress and guilt that came with it.

Without further ado, here is my first incarnation of the Random Acts of Beerness (albeit abbreviated because I rambled on so much to this point):

Breweries, Breweries and More Breweries

You would have to Continue reading Welcome to Random Acts of Beerness

Caravel to Create European Inspired Beer

Caravel_Craft_Brewery_Logo_MainIt takes serious commitment to be a homebrewer in Moldova, a former Soviet Republic sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine. But Vlad Covali was up to the challenge. “There was no brewery supplier,” he reflects. “We had to go to farmers to get barley. We germinated and dried it ourselves. We went to the local big brewery to get yeast.” He brewed European styles. “At the time we wanted something German. IPA, what was this?”

Covali emigrated to Calgary six years ago. Canada was the perfect choice. “I wanted to live in Canada. It has great opportunity.” He worked as an electrician, although he was a psychologist by training back home. He continued to homebrew but started to wonder if something bigger might be possible.

One of the things driving him was that he simply didn’t take to the beer being brewed here. “From when I arriving in Canada I couldn’t find a beer I liked. There was no craft beer on the market that I would grab on to,” he admits. “The European styles were all imported and so not fresh. I started to wonder, why not brew in Calgary, make fresh European beer?”

He started researching the potential of opening a brewery. But three years ago, with the government’s minimum production capacity things didn’t look good. But then the policy changed.”I read on your website about the changes [blush!]. No longer a minimum,” he says. “I had looked at it but said, I can’t afford that. But after the rule changes I started looking seriously.”

Around the time Covali was getting serious he stumbled across Chris Travis, both electricians at their workplace. Travis shared his passion for beer and the two decided to get together. Travis shifted the focus of the brewery, explaining that his North American influences have had an influence “Me and Vlad, we are a synergy of old and new,” he points out. The result of their partnership is Caravel Brewing, which is hoping to begin production in early 2017, joining the quickly crowding Calgary beer scene.

The two are setting out to create a brewery that emphasizes traditional European styles but with a North American influence. They are building a 30hl brewhouse with, to start, six 60hl fermenters in a location in Northeast Calgary near the airport. The initial line-up includes Captain’s Lager, a traditional European pale lager, Dead Ahead Irish Red Ale and Hazy Horizon Hefeweizen. They also plan regular seasonals that will span a wide range of styles.

“Our target is quality,” says Covali. “We want to win some medals. If we have to sacrifice profit for quality we will.”

The name is connected to Canada’s history. The Caravel is the type of ship John Cabot used to explore North America. The name of Cabot’s ship is controversial in historical circles (most think it was the Matthew), but there is no question it was a caravel, which is a small, fast Portuguese ship perfect for exploring new lands.

Which is what Caravel hopes to do. “The theme of our company builds around the exploration of new tastes, but bringing an old craftmanship to the beer, like the ship itself.”

At first they will be offering only kegs and growler fills as well as an on-site tap room, but Covali hopes Continue reading Caravel to Create European Inspired Beer

Going Overboard on Session Beer?

beer101logoEarlier this summer in a couple of my columns I mused about the expanded use of the term “session” and whether it really was appropriate. You can read the Beer 101 column here or, if you prefer the Planet S/Prairie Dog version here.

Session ale, of course, has a long and valid history. Some reports (although the history is somewhat murky) suggest that the term arose in Britain in WWI when pubs were restricted to two 4-hour windows of operation, called “sessions”, and patrons opted for beer that could be easily consumed during those windows without creating unreasonable intoxication. As a result, the beer tended to be lower in alcohol (which may have also been a consequence of wartime rationing).

Today the term applies to a range of beer styles, generally at 4% alcohol or lower with a fairly moderate flavour profile – although there is no firm rule around this. So far so good. Everyone kind of gets this concept. Lower alcohol beer with more subtle tastes would be well suited for a “session” where one might have a couple pints and doesn’t want to either get too drunk or overwhelm the palate. A range of styles might be seen as appropriate for the moniker.

In recent years, however, the generic use of the term session beer has morphed into a modifier for existing styles. Session IPA (or India Session Ale), Session Stout, Session Pilsner, etc. It is here where the grumpy old man in me surfaces. The intention is to communicate that the beer possesses the key characteristics of the style in question, but just toned down and smaller.

The crux of my grousing is that often these session-ized versions of existing styles bend the style guideline so much as to cross over into a whole new style, or become unrecognizable as the original style.

The most popular version is, of course India Session Ale – a name I have beaked off about before. My problem is not with the beer, which can be quite enjoyable, but with the name. Is it really an IPA anymore if it is lower in alcohol and lighter in its flavour profile? I argue it isn’t. I could claim that it more reasonably belongs as a Pale Ale or a British Golden Ale or even on the hoppier end of Blonde Ale.

sessionaleMy point is made more poignant by the fact that last fall at the Northern Lands Wine and Culinary Festival Phillip’s Brewing walked away with the Best of Show in the beer competition with their Bottle Rocket ISA (full disclosure: I was one of the judges). The issue? They entered it as an American Pale Ale. And as a pale ale it scored very well, in particular for its fruity hop character. So, if it is supposed to be a sessionized IPA, why not enter it as an IPA? Because the smart people at Phillip’s knew it would be dinged for being out of style and felt that pale ale was a more appropriate category.

So why call it a Session IPA at all then? In short, marketing. I understand the importance of marketing in the beer industry. But I get irked when marketing trumps accuracy. And while calling something a Session IPA isn’t strictly misleading, it starts to wander close to the line.

I have similar issues with other types of sessionized styles. A session brown is a dark mild. A session pilsner is merely a leichtbier and a session stout is likely closer to a porter. If we were aiming for stylistic accuracy, the term session would never be applied to these styles. But marketing wins out because those styles are more familiar to consumers and thus easier to communicate what the brewer is going for.

I understand it, and reluctantly acknowledge why it occurs. But I think it is starting to go a bit overboard. And doesn’t that seem ironic? Going overboard on a beer that is supposed to be moderate by design.

My moderate proposal is that we go back to using the term session to apply to a generic category of drinkable beer than to specific styles. I suspect, however, that will be met by silence by the industry.

Does a Canadian Beer Style Exist?

canadaflagbeerA few weeks back I was perusing the 2015 BJCP Style Guidelines (yes, I do that for fun) and reflecting how many styles are anchored in a particular region. Not just the obvious of Germany, England and Belgium, but also places like Kentucky, Finland, Italy and Argentina. Beer styles really have a geographic grounding, even if they are at the same time international (in the sense any style can be brewed anywhere).

I got pondering whether any beer style can be considered Canadian by origin or profile. That pondering turned into a little research which turned into beer columns – for Planet S/Prairie Dog (read here), my Beer 101 column (out any day), and CBC (the topic of my column tomorrow). My answer is “not really”.

Historically, before prohibition, there likely were Canadian styles, or at least distinctly Canadian interpretations of traditional styles. Canadian brewers leaned heavily on either British or German brewing approaches, but local ingredients, water and consumers likely led to Canadianized interpretations.

Alas, that all disappeared with prohibition and the dominance of North American Pale Lager.

The only style we can claim as our own is – ahem – Ice Beer. Yes, the infamous bastard-child of eisbier was born in Canada during one of the many battles between Molson and Labatt in the 1990s. As a mainstream product it only lasted a few years, but it does linger on today in the high octane discount section of the liquor store for those looking for a quick, cheap buzz.

Some claim that Cream Ale is a Canadian-style, and it is true that for a period after prohibition, cream ales were very popular in Canada. However, it was a style born in the U.S. and adopted by Canadian brewers, so I am not sure just how Canadian it really is.

Today lots of breweries stick the term “Canadian” onto their beer – Canadian Pale Ale being the most ubiquitous. But that is more marketing than stylizing. Is there really anything that makes a Canadian Pale Ale different than other pale ales?

Canadian craft brewers take inspiration from beer around the world. We make beer that people make elsewhere. That is not a bad thing, but it does mean we lack a distinctly geographic grounding for our beer. It is not just because we are a young country and haven’t had hundreds of years to refine a style like England or Germany (atlhough that is an important point). Modern styles have popped up with a geographic linnk – think Cascadian Dark Ale or West Coast IPA. We don’t have such a thing here.

There is no such thing as a Canadian beer style, I am afraid

I realize I am being a bit provocative with this statement; it doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of beer. But Canada has not developed an identifiable approach to beer. In part, I think, this is due to our regional character. It may be more fruitful to look for regional styles, like a B.C. IPA or a Quebec Abbey Ale. I don’t think those styles exist yet either – how different is a Quebec Tripel from a Belgian one? – but if we were ever to have a Canadian style, I suspect we are more likely to spot it in one of our regions, rather than across the country.

And THAT is distinctly Canadian.

Getting Bent Down on the Farm

bentsticklogoFollowing their launch a couple months ago, Edmonton’s new tiny brewery, Bent Stick, has followed up their initial releases with a “farmhouse series”, a collection of three interpretations of the earthy, spicy style.

I must say going with a farmhouse collection so soon after opening is a clear signal that Bent Stick has no plans on doing things the usual way (as if we didn’t know that already). Farmhouse ales pose a few challenges. First, they are a niche but emerging style that are not built for common palates. Odd earthiness and spiciness accentuates a (usually) fairly dry beer. Saisons – just one kind of farmhouse ale – are becoming a “thing”, but many of the more obscure takes on this historical style continue to lurk in the more geeky corners of the beer world. Second, farmhouse ales are notoriously difficult to brew; the yeast strains are fickle and high maintenance and it is easy to get the balance wrong. So, embarking on a full-out, three-beer series right off the get-go is being rather bold, in my opinion.

It was an interesting enough experiment to draw my attention, so I picked up a bottle of each and over the course of a couple of days sampled each one.While I didn’t do a side-by-side comparison (for moderation reasons) I did try to keep good notes and remain mindful of how they compared with one another.

First up was Farm Stock, what they are calling a “sessionable farmhouse ale” at 4.5%. It is light gold with a slight haze. It forms a huge, oversized tight white head. Too much actually, which I am not sure if that is the beer or my pour. The aroma offers light grass, peach, and hints of lemon. I find it fairly subdued overall and noted it relative lack of earthiness.

In the sip I first find light graininess, a delicate stone fruit and hints of berry. Playing in the background is some musty earthiness. Only subtle touches of funkiness – this beer is more about summery fruitiness. It has a dry finish with a honey and earth accent. Overall very light and summery. I find it refreshing,but its saison-esque character is subdued, at best. A good entry point for someone new to farmhouse ales.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

Next up was Dark Farm, in their terms a “Darkish Table Strength Farmhouse”. This one is 5%, so they are keeping them moderate on the alcohol scale. It pours dark, porter-like brown, reminding of cola. It is almost opaque. It has a big, bubbly tan head that does not get overdone. The aroma gives off milk chocolate, a cola sweetness, dark fruit, some caramel, toffee and touches of burnt almond. I quite like the aroma, although, like the first, not as farmhouse as I might expect.

The flavour is nutty chocolate upfront, adding in some raisin, caramel and toffee as backing and sweetener. A vague earthiness pervades, as does a slight yeasty bite that reminds me of too-young homebrew. The finish is moderately dry, with a subtle yeast sharpness and some funky yeast notes.

I love the malt bill in this beer as it really brings out a pleasant complexity. The yeast character is a bit perplexing to me – a bit too sharp and I am looking for a bit more musty, earthy notes. I can’t be sure what happened but maybe the particular strain they used is not ideal for darker malts.

Finally there is Hearty Farm Stock, a “Big and Bold Farmhouse” at 7%. It is dark yellow, again offering a bit of haze and grows a tight bright white head. It forms a significant layer along with some Belgian lacings. The aroma starts with light pilsner malt, honey, a light earthy spiciness as an accent. I also pick up touches of stone fruit, as well as a slightly funky edge in background. This seems the most farmhouse of the three in terms of aroma.

In the sipping I find the front has a honey-like grainy sweetness and some fruitiness. But then the yeast comes in with an assertive earthiness backed by a noted peppery spiciness. The finish is fairly dry and spicy. I like the linger of dirty hay and black pepper.

This one is a full-on farmhouse. It is fairly aggressive for a saison, but fits in the new BJCP guidelines somewhere between a standard and a super saison. Bold flavours backed by a grainy and dry malt are what makes this beer stand out. I found myself wishing I had bought two bottles of this one.

So what to make of Bent Stick’s Farmhouse experiment? First, and maybe most important, it does an excellent job highlighting the range of flavours, colours and balance in this esoteric style. With the popularity of standard saison, it is easy to forget farmhouse is actually a style meant to be broad and diverse. From small beer, to dark beer to big and bold – all are deserving of the farmhouse name.

Second, Bent Stick shows its emerging brewing chops in this series. Hard to brew, in particular when aiming to try three different takes at the same time. The three beer aren’t perfect (what beer is?), but they do an excellent job of bringing out different aspects of the style. I think people will find it an enjoyable educational experience to try these beer alongside one another.

Seems like the four city-dwelling Bent Stick boys know a thing or two about life on the farm. At least brewing on the farm, anyway.


Slave Lake Going to the Dogs (Island)

Dog Island Brewing logoThe list of small town Alberta breweries continues to grow. The latest is Dog Island Brewing (link is to their Facebook page – no website yet) in the northern town of Slave Lake (about 2 hours north of Edmonton; population 6,800). Dog Island got its AGLC licence in mid-July and should have its first beer for sale in the coming days.

Dog Island is creation of Ben Fiddler and Chad Paulson, two longtime Slave Lake residents. And I mean it is wholly their creation. Self-financed, self-built, self-everything (except for the logo which was designed by a friend). Fiddler and Paulson both work in the oil and gas industry. Actually that is how they met, working for the same instrumentation company. They discovered a mutual love of beer and started homebrewing together. “We started with kits, then we built a 55-gallon (208 litre) Blichman system” says Fiddler. To be clear, that is one big  homebrew system (my More Beer system clocks in at about 40 litres).

When brewing on a system that big, the jump to professional brewing becomes a very attractive siren.  “We have been working on it for a couple years – probably a year before they changed the law,” says Fiddler. “At the time we noticed the hurdles and the minimum production requirement and so said, ‘let’s just keep up the homebrewing’. When they changed the law we knew that is when we should start doing it.”

Jumping into the choppy waters of beer was an attractive prospect for Fiddler and Paulson. “We come from oil and gas, which is very competitive. People don’t like each other, everyone is fighting over jobs, outbidding each other” says Fiddler. “Coming into beer world it is so different. It is still competitive but everyone are friends, they help you out. That was biggest factor for us. We were tired of oil and gas and not knowing if you were going to be working next month or next year.”

“And we like beer!”, Paulson adds cheerily.

Both Fiddler and Paulson are still working “when there is work”, however. They have been building the brewery in fits and starts over the past year or so. “Spend one month do this, then we go back to work for couple months. Once it got slow [due to the economic downturn] that is when it really kicked in” says Fiddler. “It kicked us in the butt to get going,” adds Paulson.

Their current AGLC license is for their homebrew system, meaning for now they are brewing 200-litres at a time. They are currently housed in a bay at the electrical shop they are employed with. They see this as just a way to get started however. ” We just want to get the name out there, get product out there, get some traction”, says Fiddler. They will be purchasing a 20hL system in the near future – once finances allow – which will mean more standard craft beer sized batches.

Given the small batches, for now they are only going to offer kegs and growler fills, but they have hopes that once they get a bit bigger they hope to hire a mobile canning company to package some of the product in cans. But that is a fair ways off yet.

Like most of the small town breweries, Dog Island’s primary focus will be on selling beer to Continue reading Slave Lake Going to the Dogs (Island)

Nonsuch Brewing about to Set Sail

nonsuchlogo2I think Winnipeg may be the site of Canada’s quietest beer explosion. A spate of breweries have just opened (including Barn Hammer and Peg Brewing) or are about to (such as Torque Brewing), but no one has been talking about it, except me. And even I have been remiss lately (in part due to Alberta’s crazy beer politics recently).

There are a handful more in the planning stages and I hope to introduce you to them soon. First up is Nonsuch Brewing (just a Facebook for now). Nonsuch is the creation of four Manitoba men. Matthew Sabourin is a Franco-Manitoban who spent years working in the film industry in that province and more recently working in the family agricultural company. He is also a homebrewer who got highly involved in the Winnipeg Brew Bombers homebrew club, briefly becoming president. The Head Brewer (and one of the partners) is Mark Borowski, a longtime mainstay in the local club. the other partners are Ben Myers and Tyler Johnston.

I put Nonsuch up first because I think they have the most unique model I have seen on the prairies. They are unique in two ways. First, they are planning to be small, very small. This, in and of itself is not original, but they are the first nano-operation in Manitoba. They plan on starting production before they have their brewery. ” We will start brewing on our pilot system – we are not going have a big brewhouse right away”, says Sabourin. The pilot system is 40 gallons (about 160 litres), meaning at first they will be making about three kegs per batch.

When they build it the full system won’t be much bigger. They aim it to be about 5 BBL and it is “not what you traditionally see. Everything is in one vessel with smaller vessels that can be paired together,” observes Sabourin. “It is ugly as all hell, but I looked into it and it ties into what we want to do. It gives us maximum control and fits our desire to make small batches.”

The second thing that makes Nonsuch unique is the beer they plan to brew. “We want to brew high alcohol European style beer with a focus on Belgian Ales. We want to make beer that is complex, that you will want to cellar,” says Sabourin.”It will be beer you can lay down for 1, 2, 5 years.”

The core of Nonsuch’s project will be Belgian ales that can be cellared. “We will sell it in 750-ml cork-and-cage style bottles. We hope to make all big beer.” Yet Sabourin knows that the key to a Belgian ale is drinkability and a sneaky alcohol. “Mark has ability to make the beer really balanced. It will be a 10% that drinks like a 5%.” No one else in western Canada is focusing on Belgian Ales.

Sabourin is well aware this approach will limit their potential market base, and he is okay with that. “Not everyone lines up for big beer. It will be a premium product, and so we are going to charge premium price,” he says. “I think it will fly off the shelf but there will be a lot less on the shelf to begin”.

They hope to have beer on store shelves in the spring of 2017 and will build the brewer a step at a time. “We are embracing the Lean Start-Up philosophy”. Lean Start-Up is a model that advocates for moving slowly and creating flexibility and customer responsiveness. The bigger brewery will be built once Sabourin thinks they are ready for that next step. “Here in Winnipeg, O think there is a good demand,” says Sabourin. “Outside of Winnipeg,I have a few concerns. However, three-quarters of province lives in Winnipeg”.

As for the name, it is named after the ship that first sailed Hudson Bay in the 1600s. A replica of the ship sits in Continue reading Nonsuch Brewing about to Set Sail

Better Beer Through Blending

Photo courtesy Andrew Ironmonger

Photo courtesy Andrew Ironmonger

In a brewery, sometimes stuff (use whichever synonym for that you wish) happens. The question is what you do with it. In the case of Lacombe’s Blindman Brewing had to answer that very question a little while ago.

When brewing what was supposed to be a Cascadian Dark Ale, a brewing assistant accidentally misread the recipe and added significantly more Midnight Wheat (a very dark yet soft flavoured malt) than called for. I have heard two different versions – that they added 10x the amount (22 kg vs. 2.2. kg) or 4x as the label says.

Let’s just say either way that was a problem. They scrambled to do what they could with the brew (adding more base malt, re-calibrating IBUs, etc.) but after fermentation declared it far too roasty and sharp. One option would have been to dump the beer and be done with it. Instead they decided to get creative.

They decided to blend the accidental creation with some of their other offerings to see what the could do with it. After testing a variety of options they settled in on 40% Mistake Beer/40% Session Ale/20% Longshadows IPA (CHECK %). The resulting beer reminded them of a hoppy brown ale.

And thus their one-time American Brown Ale was born!

I could cite sayings that include pig’s ears and silk purses or lemons and lemonade, but I am pretty sure you get the point. Instead let’s give the beer a try and see how it worked out.

The beer pours dark mahogany brown with a slight haze. The head is tightly formed, bubbly and light tan. In the aroma I get soft chocolate, nuts, a bit of a cola sweetness and a dark fruit character lingering in background. I also pick up a some fresh citrusy hop aroma lurking menacingly ready to pounce on your tastebuds.

The front flavour starts with a chocolate and nut sweetness along with some some cola sharpness that I can’t quite work out. The middle brings out a light roast note but just enough to sharpen the profile. At that point we also start the hop ascent. It starts lightly grassy and grows as the beer moves back until it becomes more noticeably grapefruit and pine. The linger has a strong, pleasant hop flavour, but with a touch of rough roastiness lurking in the background.

Not bad for fixing a mistake. I would say this honestly fits into the American Brown style. For me the hop character is the highlight, bright and citrusy. However, I find the  flavours don’t really meld properly. There is a lingering, underlying sharpness and astringency that refuses to go away and distracts from what the beer is trying to do. As a result it is not as smooth as I would like.

I don’t think this should be seen as a criticism. It was salvaging a mistake. When considering that context, they did a pretty damned good job of it. They created a very drinkable beer out of ingenuity, stubbornness and a good palate.

Lakeland Spreads Good Beer Gospel to St. Paul

LBC LogoI have quickly gotten used to being surprised when I hear the location of a new brewery on the prairies. It seems it doesn’t matter how small or large the town, there is an opportunity to brew beer for the thirsty residents. And, encouragingly, those residents seem enthusiastic to embrace their local suds.

The latest in the parade of small town breweries is Lakeland Brewing, who officially opened in St. Paul two weeks ago. St. Paul is a town of 5,500 about 2 hours northeast of Edmonton. Until Lakeland launched, St. Paul was most famous for its UFO landing pad. Needless to say, it is the first brewery in the history of St. Paul.

Lakeland is the creation of Colin Porozni, a former pharmacist and pharmacy owner (as the logo makes obvious) and lifelong St. Paul resident. Porozni homebrewed in his younger days. Opening a brewery has been in the back of his mind for years. “I looked into it a few years ago but the prohibitive rules around production stopped me”, he says. “Once they dropped the [minimum production] rules I said lets do it. Time for a career change”.

Lakeland is intentionally designed to be small. “I see it being a local little brewpub. I have no intentions of distribution elsewhere”. His brewhouse is 3bbl with four 3bbl fermenters and four 6bbl serving tanks, with room in the cold room for four more. He says with a laugh he is already regretting “not going with a 7bbl system right away”.

The reason for small is that he wanted manageability and control. “I have worked 60 hours a week before. I didn’t want do to that again”. As he has already had a successful career, Porozni’s goals are modest. “If we can pay the bills and cover expenses, I will be happy”, adding jokingly that “I didn’t put a lot of thought into profitability”.

Porozni sells himself short with that comment. Once he decided to do it, he took online classes at Seibel and a short stint a UC-Davis to learn the science and technical aspects of brewing and then “kicked around” Portland for a while to learn more practical aspects of the business.

While he has a Class A license for the tap room (a full-service bar license), he plans a low-key affair. “We will have a limited menu, 16oz glasses and taster flights and the only offsales are growlers”. Although he says he did find room in the 75 seat space to “squeeze in two virtual golf screens”. He just wants to be a place where “people of area can come after work, socialize, have a beer and be on their way”.

He wants the beer to be just as “honest and simple.  I want the beer to be Continue reading Lakeland Spreads Good Beer Gospel to St. Paul