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Advent Calendar 2015 – Wrap-Up


Sorry this took so long. I had a great time travelling and am now back and ready for the New Year. It’s a pretty exciting time to be writing about beer. While last year when I started it was all about what might come, it is now about what is coming. I met and interviewed a lot of up and coming breweries last year. This year, I get the opportunity to write about them opening. Like I said, exciting. I’m in the midst of setting up follow-ups and looking forward to Winnipeg’s craft beer community growing.

Once again I’ve been really impressed with the craft beer advent calendar.  While I know there are qualms and concerns with the beers sitting for so long, having a chance to try unique and one-off beers is well worth it.  So, let’s wrap up with some statistics.

  • Once again we had 24 beers, this time from around North America.
  • There were 15 from the USA and 9 from Canada
  • States and Provinces represented:
United States Canadian Provinces or Territories
–          California (3)

–          Washington

–          Massachusetts

–          Colorado

–          Montana

–          North Carolina (2)

–          Maryland

–          New York

–          Connecticut

–          Michigan

–          Kentucky

–          Alabama

–          Yukon

–          British Columbia (2)

–          Ontario (4)

–          Alberta

–          Saskatchewan

  • One of the beers, Evil Twin’s Smoked Pilsner, technically doesn’t come from anywhere in particular as the brewer uses other breweries. That particular one came from Connecticut, but he is based out of Brooklyn, NY.
  • 62.5% of the beers came from the United States and 37.5% from Canada

I’m a bit disappointed that most came from the United States, but I suppose they were the ones who chose to participate. I’d like to see a more Canadian advent Calendar and I’m actually hoping next year there will be enough breweries here in Manitoba I can just build my own local version. Or maybe we will get a collaboration pack for Christmas…hint hint.

Over the 24 days there were some hits and misses. Out of all the beers though, my favorite came to us from:

Spider Bite Brewing Company, Holbrok, Long Island and was Boris the Spider Russian Imperial Stout

Once again it’s been a lot of fun doing this blog-a-thon of beers from the advent Calendar. I brought some pretty interesting ones back from my trip and I’m looking forward to trying those.  As for this blog, I’ll be returning to my focus on beer in Manitoba. I can’t wait.

  • Beer Winnipeg

Day 24 – Du Claw Brewery – Sweet Baby Jesus Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter

Day 24 - Du Claw Brewery - Sweet Baby Jesus Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter

Well, it has been quite a trip.  The beers have been good, bad, and decent overall.  I’ve enjoyed learning about the different styles, reading about the breweries, and hopefully helping you all understand a bit more about the beers and breweries.

This is the last post on this adventure.  I’ll continue to be blogging about the regular goings on in Beer in Winnipeg.  I’ve got some follow up interviews to do with the local folks opening as well as getting a chance to actually blog about their beers.  Looking quite forward to that.

I’m in Hawaii on Vacation and then some work until January. That’s why my posts have been wonky. So, I won’t be doing much or saying much after this except maybe the beers I’m enjoying going out on untappd.

I should also say it’s been just about a year since I’ve started this blog. I want to thank everyone for reading.  I really appreciate it and I hope I’ve been helpful at least in a little way.

So, the last beer is from Duclaw brewery and is called Sweet Baby Jesus.  It’s a Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter and sounds pretty tasty.

In 1996 Duclaw brewery opened its doors in Bel Air.  Within one year it had been dubbed Bel Air’s hippest establishment by a local newspaper. The founder, Dave Benfield, had one central pillar of his mission: to be cool.

Today, Dave and brew master Jim Wagner are the ones responsible for the wide array of craft beers made by Du Claw. Through the experimentation they have created over 35 unique beers and countless variations and blends.  They’ve got quite the write-up on their website, check it out.

Porters are a dark style of beer that was originally developed in London from well-hopped beers made with brown malt.  Originally this style of beer was created by mixing an old ale (stale or soured), a new ale (brown or pale ale) and a weak one (mild ale) to combine and create a new beer altogether than balanced the flavours and left a pleasing beer that was neither like the new nor the old.

Porters and Stouts are of the same stock.  In fact, when Guinness first launched its world renowned stout it was as a focus on the mass-production of Porter.  At the time there were two strengths of porters, either X or XX.  Stout at the time simply referred to a strong or robust ale, it has since developed due to the advent of coffee roasters and many of the malts that they could use to impart both colour and flavor, but originally this was its meaning.  Porters were part of this thread.

I’m ready to give it a try.

Rating:  81/100

Appearance: Jet black with a tan head about 1” that fades quickly leaving some lacing.
Smell:  Smells of chocolate and peanut butter. Roasted malt and some sweet caramel.
Taste:  Tastes like chocolate, peanut butter and some bready yeasty notes. It also has an alcohol warming and soft bitter finish.
Mouthfeel: Very fine carbonation. Slightly bitter finish with alcohol warming.
Very tasty. Really lives to the name and is really quite delicious. Not outrageously sweet which is a plus and it is really nicely balanced with full flavours coming at you.
Do I like it: Yeah, it was rather tasty. I think it had a lot going for it.

Interview with Oxus Brewing Company

Manitoba is pretty far behind when it comes to the craft beer scene. Our liquor laws received a complete overhaul in 2014 and the brewery scene has taken notice.  While no one has told me the laws have made it easier to open a brewery, I’ve heard that the attitude of the liquor commission and liquor and gaming authority has shifted as has the appeal.  With growler bars, tap rooms and a clamoring public it is no wonder that there are more breweries wanting to get into the game.

I’ve spoken with Barn Hammer and Peg City Beer Co over the past few weeks and this week I had the opportunity to sit down with the guy behind Oxus Brewing Company. 

The young computer programmer is an immigrant who came to Canada from Tajikistan.  When he lived in Tajikistan they had 4 or 5 breweries that brewed what’s called “Czech style” beer. Despite what you might think, it was not a pilsner but more of a “Russian style beer” as Sean describes it.  It was in Tajikistan that Sean’s desire to open a brewery really began but the process was very difficult and he was forced to put his dream on hold.

Sean has lived in Canada for the past 5 years and moved to Winnipeg in 2012.  Since arriving here, Sean, who is a programmer by trade, has been working at his own company doing software development.  Since living in Winnipeg he has delved deeper into the brewing process. As a member of the Winnipeg Brew Bombers for the past two years he has had the opportunity to learn from some really talented brewers and worked very hard at becoming one himself.  Sean, who has always wanted to open a brewery, decided that now was the time to do it.

Once that decision was made he read every book and blog he could about starting a brewery while also meeting with David Rudge of Half Pints for advice and guidance on the process.  For the past year, Sean has been working out the details and perfecting his recipes with the hope of opening up the doors of a brewery in the summer of 2016.

It is his goal is to open Aurora Craft Brewery debt free and as such will most likely be the smallest brewery in Manitoba.  He’s already purchased the brewery equipment and plans to have a maximum brewing capacity of Aurora will be 1800 h/l, though at opening the capacity will likely be about half that.

The 28 year old says that they will for sure have a growler fill station and two session beers to start.  As it is still very early in the planning process he hasn’t decided on style but he said you can bet on finding hoppy beer.

Sean decided to do some session beers (an ABV of under 5%) because he likes the idea of being able to have a few drinks without knocking your socks off.  He was emphatic that when he says “a session” he doesn’t mean a weak, flavourless beer.  He is also very optimistic that he will be able to put out bi-weekly specials similar to the test batch Tuesday done by Half-Pints.

As this is very early on in the process for Sean, he has not yet chosen a location.  He is looking in the St. James area and wants to secure a site as soon as possible.  While Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries and the Liquor Gaming Authority have both been very helpful, he needs to have a location to move forward with the licencing process.  Finding the space is crucial.

The most difficult thing Sean had to overcome was the fear that he will lose everything.  As with any business, there are no guarantees, but Sean has sunk his entire life savings into this venture and it truly is his dream.  Sean is not only passionate about beer but he told me starting the brewery “wasn’t about money.”  Although he put his savings into this and hopes it succeeds, first and foremost he wants to do something he loves and make good beer that people enjoy. Sean wanted to do something that he could call “the work of my life.”  Sean wants to “dedicate my time to making high quality beer and being part of the community.”

Sean is doing this venture alone: he is going to be the owner and brewmaster. While there might be others on the team, right now it is him and him alone.  With his passion and drive I am optimistic for what is to come.  I asked him what he would say to people who are skeptical with an opening date so far away.  He said that “I want to do something I love and I’ve put my savings into this and I am willing to take this brewery all the way.”

One thing that has become clear from these interviews is how much the brewing community relies on and respects one another.  Sean has met with a number of the people behind the other breweries and has echoed statements I’ve heard about how helpful they all have been.  He told me “it’s amazing how much people are willing to help.”  With the amount of beer being produced Sean doesn’t think that he will ever see the other breweries as competition, instead it is an opportunity to put more craft beer on the shelves of Manitoba liquor stores and on tap in Manitoba bars.

Every time I get the chance to sit down with someone and talk to them about their plans I’m excited for the future of brewing in Manitoba.

-Beer Winnipeg

Tree Beer – Kelowna, BC

Photo 2015-04-28, 5 36 48 PM
“In the end, making beer…is like producing a piece of art” – Dave Gorkiet

I had the opportunity to visit Kelowna this past week.  While I was there I took the made my way over to Tree Beer’s Brewing Institute on Water Street as well as their main brewery on Richter.  Kelowna itself is a really nice location with low rain falls and high temperatures.  Once known for growing fruits it has become a bastion of wineries and while wine is good, beer is better.

The first Keg was sold by Tree Brewing in 1996 and the brewery was named Tree to represent the beauty of nature that exists in British Columbia.  I had the opportunity to sit down and have a conversation with Dave Gorkiet, the brew master at Tree.

Tree Beer is a fairly good sized brewery.  The exact production numbers are something not distributed but based on some quick math, the tanks hold about 130 hectolitres each and with me counting 13 of them that’s about 1690 hectolitres. Pretty good brewing capacity.  They are a combination of canning and bottling as well as the kegs and the test batch casks.  They also have the tap room at the main brewery as well as their beer institute which tends to carry some different options.

Photo 2015-04-28, 5 21 35 PM
Inside Tree Beer’s production area

Dave himself is a really interesting guy.  Having gotten a degree in Chemistry he felt that he wanted to do something a bit more hands on.  The combination of science, hands on work, and a little bit of creativity allows Dave to do something that he loves, create beer works of art.  Dave described that the process feels a bit to him like he is in fact creating art, and I think that is really a good definition of brewing.

Dave started brewing at Tree in the spring of 1997 and has been there ever since.  It’s been his only brewing experience at a major brewery and based on what he said about his team it makes sense, why leave somewhere you love to work. Overall there are 25+ people who work as employees as well some sales reps scattered about. Being the brewmaster and not on the marketing side he said it was hard to give a solid number.

I’m always curious what keeps people brewing and what challenges they find with the industry.  Dave stays in the industry because of the people as much as the work.  Loving what he does combined with the fact that craft brewers a great bunch of people are some of the reasons why he sticks with it.  The biggest challenge, as I think many would agree, is being innovative.  Making sure that you don’t stagnate.  Dave said that it can be tough keeping up because people’s tastes develop and change and with the number of breweries in BC, the bar just keeps getting raised.

British Columbia has been just blowing up with craft breweries.  Dave said there is around 100 of them in the province and that the industry just keeps booming.  With really open liquor laws surrounding tap rooms and growlers, it’s easy to get the beer out there and for breweries to open up.  Some follow the model of taproom only and don’t distribute beyond their four walls.

Tree Beer opened a second location in September of 2014, a beer institute.  Part of this was to give a chance to be more creative.  With a smaller 10 hectolitre brewing capacity they sell beer by the pint or growler, although only stainless steel ones (really nice, but a bit pricey), and it’s fully from tank to tap.  Unfiltered and as beer is intended, straight up.  Dave said that this also gives them the chance to test out new beers to see what they might want to do on a larger scale and also lets him and his 5 other brewers come up with new recipes.

Dave and his team also have a small 50 litre franken brew system that they will do small batch recipes in, cask them, and then have them tapped at the beer institute every Thursday.

Tree has about 5 to 6 main beers on their brewing line but they also have some seasonals and some 650ml bombers that they will put out as well.  The beers tend to change beyond their main line which helps keep the selection fresh while still maintaining the stables.  Dave’s philosophy is to always have something in the hopper.  People’s tastes change and so you want to give yourself an opportunity to put out something new.  One of his biggest surprise hits was a Pineapple Heffeweizen that just seemed to explode in popularity, a pleasant surprise but not something that they had expected.

The main lines are distributed as far as Ontario but with various other beers making it different locations.  Dave isn’t involved in the distribution but I know here in Winnpeg the Liquormart currently stocks Hophead, Thirsty Beaver Amber Ale, Cutthroat Ale, their Dopplebock, Stout and Grapefruit Radler.  This year they modified their bottle line-up to do an Raw series of unfiltered beers.  They’ve got HopHead, Knox dry-hopped Brown Ale, and Monkey Pod Rye Pale Ale.  All three are strong beers and I certainly enjoyed them all. The main line of beers are the Thirsty Beaver Amber Ale, Cutthroat Ale, and Kelowna Pilsner along with the Raw Series.

For Dave, making balanced beers is the holy grail of beer making.  He has managed produce some very solid and balanced beers that were really impressive.  I got a chance to try all 8 beers that they had on tap at the main brewery.  They covered a great range including the grapefruit radler.  I got to taste Cutthroat, Thirsty Beaver, Kelowna Pilsner, Hop Head, Knox Brown Ale, Pineapple Heffe, Monkey Pod Rye Pale Ale, and the Grapefruit Radler.  Overall I wasn’t dissappointed with anything I tasted.

the Amber and the Pilsner (Thirsty Beaver and Kelowna) were really tasty with the Hophead and the Monkey Pod ranking as my favourites.  The Grapefruit Radler was a big surprise for me, being 50/50 grapefruit juice and beer I wasn’t really sure what I’d think. It was really nice, fresh and a great summer option that won’t bog you down.

The pineapple heffe and the cutthroat ale would be on the low end for me, but this wasn’t because of the quality but because I don’t like pineapple and I’m not a fan of lighter beers, so it was hard to get past that for me. These beers were good, still, but not ones I would typically choose to drink. The brown ale was incredibly nice with a good malt/hoppy balance and I really enjoyed the dry-hop nature to it.

The eight beers I got to try.
The eight beers I got to try.

I’m not going to rate all of the beers individually here. I had a chance to basically run the gambit of the beers available for consumption and gave many of my thoughts on the beers in the comments above.  Based on the creativity of the beers, the passion that is obvious from Dave, and the fact he let me sit down with him and fed me beer (that’s how you get a good rating folks…not really), I’d give the brewery a rating of 90/100.  A really top shelf brewery for me with some strong entries into the various craft beer categories.

There wasn’t a bad beer that I tasted.  It was all good.

Inside the taproom at Tree Beer
Inside the taproom at Tree Beer

Craft Beer Advent Calendar – Day 14

Beer 14

We are now on the 14th day of the beer advent calendar.  I wanted to take a minute to remind you that I will be travelling and so I will not be reviewing the last 5 beer until I return from my trip.  I will be having the opportunity to try some unique beers and will be taking notes on them so that I can blog about those as well.

For today’s beer we have flown back across the ocean and have arrived in Austria.  The brewery Loncium, located in the village of Kötschach-Mauthen, Gailtal, Carinthia, near the Italian border has produced the beer that we will be trying today.

The brewery itself was founded in 2007 and has been expanding since then.  They are far away from being any sort of corporation and take to heart the nature of craft beer by producing small batches of what they like to call “artisanal beer.”

They don’t provide many details of themselves on their website but they do talk a lot about craft beer and the importance of it.  They even go into its history and paint a wonderful picture of small batch brewing.  The beer that we have the pleasure of trying today is the Imperial Schwarze Gams or an Imperial Dark Bock.

Bocks are a style of beer that are dark in colour, malted, and lightly hopped.  They were first brewed in the 14th century by German brewers.  Originally brewed in Einbeck, the style was named for that town.  When it spread to Bavarian region the inhabitants mispronounced the name as “ein Bock” (a billy goat) and thus was born the beer we now call bock.  As a visual pun to this mistake, most bocks have a goat on the label.

In Austria, where this beer is from, Bocks are typically only brewed at Christmas and Easter time which makes its inclusion in the advent calendar no coincidence.  I’m excited to give it a try, so let’s get to it.

Rating: 80/100

Appearance:  Pours a clear dark brown with a short loose tan head that diminishes rapidly leaving a thin skim.
Smell: Mild smoke, floral notes, chocolate, vanilla, and liquorish notes on the nose.
Taste: Sweet taste that combines well with mild smoke and bitterness to provide a complex flavor profile that includes the vanilla and chocolate notes as well.
Overall: Body is a little light for a bock but the sweetness and balance make up for that.  The beer is an excellent addition and is great for these cold winter months. Good example of a bock from Austria.
Do I like it: I’ve really grown to appreciate bocks.  There malty flavor profiles and complexity bring a lot to the table and are very flavourful.  This one does not disappoint and I did rather like. I would be happy buying this one.