Interview – Colin Enquist,

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So, yesterday I decided to do something a little bit different.  Rather than interviewing a brew master or someone trying to open a new brewery here in Manitoba (though that is coming), I decided to sit down and chat with Colin Enquist of 49th Parallel Group.

For those of you who do not know Colin, he is a 30 year old graduate of the creative communications program at Red River College who aspires to someday be a screenwriter.  For now, he has the very interesting job of being the territory manager for 49th Parallel group here in Manitoba.

49th Parallel group is an agency that specializes in the marketing, selling and promoting of craft beer in Western Canada. Representing 20 breweries across North America, the goal of the group is to help spread the wealth of craft beer into various marketplaces and dealing with all the red tape that comes along with it.

Colin, like most of us, started off not really liking beer.  It wasn’t until he moved to Edmonton where he really got into beer. He was out one night and wanted to have a drink, so he grabbed a beer, “It was a Kilkenny Irish cream, not a great beer but it was new to me”.  From that point Colin says that he was hooked on trying new beers.  When he moved back to Manitoba he started meeting people who were into craft beer and growing his interest.  He met his good friend Adrian Trimble, with whom he hosts the great podcast “Pubchat”, and eventually had the opportunity to work for 49th Parallel group representing craft breweries here in Manitoba.

Colin started off doing this gig part-time while he went through the creative communications program.  When he graduated he was offered the job full-time and has been working there ever since.  For about 2 ½ years Colin has been working hard to try and get craft beer onto the shelves of the Manitoba Liquor Marts.  This mostly entails making sales calls to the LCs, being the contact if there are problems or questions, doing tastings and training and most of all “trying to educate people about craft beer”.  It also involves writing beer themed recipes and doing a “beer and book” pairing from time to time as well.  You’ll have to follow him on twitter @49thparallelmb to get the beer and book pairings.

I asked Colin about the biggest difference he notices between provinces.  Colin told me that it’s what sells.  Here in Manitoba we are mostly a “can market”.  Beers in tall-boy cans seem to sell better here than in other markets.  “This may have to do with the cabin lifestyle” Colin told me.  This is different in other provinces “In Alberta it’s mostly 6 packs and the 650ml bottles do really well”.

We also talked a lot about craft beer, obviously.  Since Colin is someone who has the opportunity to drink so many beers I wanted to know his favorites.  He told me that Stouts are his favorite style of beer and that right now his favorite beer is probably Ten Fidy Russian Imperial Stout made by Oskar Blues. When it comes to breweries he’d have to list Flying Monkey’s, “I love pretty much everything they do”, and Oskar Blues out of Denver.

Colin and I also talked about the red tape and all the challenges in place to getting the beer on the shelves in the province of Manitoba.  When you compare our craft beer market to that across Canada we are really quite far behind.  When you look at a city like Vancouver with over 1000 breweries compared to Winnipeg where we have two, (three if you count the Brewing and Malting Barley Research Institute), you can see the vast difference in growth.  While there is progress being made, it’s slow but Colin did say that he noticed a huge difference in the knowledge of attendees at this year’s Flatlander’s beer festival compared to the last two years.

We are also seeing for the first time an upswing in potential breweries opening.  With Peg Beer Co, and Barn Hammer Brewing Company announcing their plans to open, we are seeing progress here in Manitoba.

Since I was sitting down with the Territory Manager I figured I should ask what we might be seeing coming in the near future.  Colin told me that we should be seeing:

  • Rogue Double IPA and Kolsch
  • Phillips Barn Stormer Saison IPA and the Phillips Anniversary Beer
  • Parallel 49 Cornhop IPA

So, keep your eyes peeled for those as well as the rest of the awesome stuff they bring to the shelves.

I have to say, it was really great to sit down with Colin and chat with him about beer.  His knowledge about beer is just phenomenal.  As someone who is passionate about beer and brewing it’s also nice to sit down with someone who has that same, if not higher, level of passion.  It’s great to know that there are people like Colin and the 49th Parallel group working hard to get craft beer into Liquor Marts and to help these breweries thrive.

So, be sure to check out the beers at your local liquor mart, check their website for the new products arriving and be sure to follow Colin on twitter @49thparallelmb to get the latest news from the source.  You should probably also follow me on twitter @beerwinnipeg if you haven’t already.

Next for me is I’ll be sitting down with Nicole Barry of Peg Beer Co to chat with her about opening a new brewery here in Manitoba.  I also hope to be able to sit down with the folks at Barn Hammer, and of course, I’ll be posting about the progress of my homebrew and reviews of beers I try.

Thanks for reading.

-Beer Winnipeg

Summer Time – Brew Time

Well, I’ve been pretty terrible.  With May and June being absolutely crazy at work and having to also try to fit in time working on my Master’s Thesis, I’ve neglected this blog far too much.  I’m sorry.  I have more free time now so I will try to get back into the groove.  That begins today.

With this free time I’ve decided to try my hand once more at home brewing.  One of my favorite beers I’ve had was a Spruce IPA that was put out by Half Pints a couple of years back.  It was tasty and I really loved the spruce.  It also happens that Picaroon’s does a “Christmas tree IPA” which is very similar.  So, I decided to try my hand at this.

The recipe I used is as follows:

2kg light malt extract
1lb Crystal Grain
2lb Two Row Pale grain
1 oz Nothern Brewer hops (bittering)
1 oz Cascade Hops (flavouring)
1/2 oz Williamette Hops (flavouring)
1/2 oz Goldings hops (finishing)
1/2 oz Godlings hops (dry hopping)
1/2 oz Williamette Hops (dry hopping)
American Ale yeast
1 1/2 cups of fresh spruce tips – Added with bittering hops at beginning of boil.

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So far everything is coming along nicely.  I’ve got it in the secondary to allow for some clarifying and aging as well as the dry-hop part of the process.  I ended up with less than I expected.  Using a new pale I must have mis-measured and have 20 litres instead of 23.  Will see what impact that has.  You learn from your mistakes and I’ve certainly made sure I will not do that again.

I’ll let you know how it turns out.  It’s been quite a long time since I’ve brewed from scratch and I’m excited to getting back into it.  I’ve already started working on the recipe for my next beer,

Interview With Fort Garry’s Brewmaster Matt Wolff

I got the opportunity to meet with Matt Wolff, the head brewmaster of Fort Garry Brewing Co.  I had a conversation with him about brewing in Manitoba and the future of craft beer.  I’ve been curious about Fort Garry’s take on the direction our province is going. As the largest brewery in Manitoba I wanted to see what plans they have and how these changes have impacted their brewing.

History of the Brewery

Fort Garry is Manitoba’s oldest Microbrewery and really does have a storied history.  Established in 1930 by B.W. Hoeschen it produced two brands of beer to start; Frontier Beer and Frontier stout.  These beers gained recognition when they won best in class in England against other commonwealth breweries.

In the 1960s Fort Garry was sold to Molson and was brewed under the label Molson’s Fort Garry Brewery Co.  This company ran for 30 years until 1990 when Molson merged with Carling-Okeefe and closed the facility that was Fort Garry Brewing.

Bringing it back into the family, Richard Hoeschen, the great-great grandson of the original owner, who Matt Wolff describes as “a true visionary”, and John Hoeschen Sr. resurrected the brewery under the original Fort Garry name.  As well original beers like “Frontier Pilsner” they also introduced a family of full flavor beers to the market.  At this time really starting to crave something besides the status quo.  To keep up with demand they built a state of the art facility at 130 Lowson Cresent in 1998 taking up a full 25,000 square feet. This facility was unique as it was built to be a brewery rather than a warehouse space renovated to fit the bill.

In 2001 Richard Hoescehn passed away.  Under his leadership Fort Garry had become a household name.  Matt told me that there were some struggles at this point within the brewery but people wouldn’t stay quiet long about their desire for something different.  In 2006 the President of Russell Brewing in BC sampled some of Fort Garry Dark and fell in love with the beer.  He was sol captivated by the quality of the beer and the love Manitobans had for their local brew that in 2008 Fort Garry Brewing amalgamated with Russell Brewing Company with a goal to build on the legacy of the Hoeschen Family.

About Matt

Matt Wolff is an interesting character and brings a long history with Fort Garry to his role as Brew Master.  When he was just 18 and a new graduate from high school, his brother’s future father in law started the Two Rivers brewery.  Being essentially a dream job for an 18 year old he started working their part-time.  Starting with remedial tasks he worked his way up to doing the packaging and filtration.

When Two River amalgamated with Fort Garry in 2003 he continued to work there part time while doing a degree in air craft maintenance at Red River College.  When he graduated he took a job at the St. Andrews air field for a couple of years but found that job wasn’t for him.  He came back to work at Fort Garry full-time, this time in the brew house.  Matt uses his skills as an aircraft technician to solve mechanical issues on the fly, “We don’t have to always wait for someone to come fix it, I can usually either do it myself or I have a connection.”

When the brew master and president retired Matt was given the opportunity to take over as Fort Garry’s brewmaster.  This also was when we started seeing the craft beer movements from the east and west starting to make inroads into Manitoba.

Still, it wasn’t until after the amalgamation with Russel Brewing Co. that Fort Garry started coming out with their first new beers.  Fort Garry saw great success originally with its Munich Eisbock which then expanded into the brewmaster series.

With this success and the introduction of the growler bars there was more of a demand for fresh and new beers. This year Fort Garry is putting out 2 new beer every 6 weeks.  A huge step forward in drawing in the demand for new beers.  This isn’t easy, Matt told me that “On top of maintaining our flagship beers, finding time to sit down with the guys and hammer out a recipes is one of the hardest parts of brewing.

About the Brewery

As I had mentioned, in 1998 the location still used today by Fort Garry was built.  This doesn’t mean they’ve stayed stagnant.  The brewery itself is completely automated running on a computer system that monitors the process at every stage of production.  Today they don’t even need to clean the tanks by hand as the computer system will measure out the proper cleaning solution and do an over the top job in cleaning every aspect of the brewing process.  Matt said that “when we are inspected they say we clean as well as Dairy Farms, which is a pretty high standard”.

The brewery even has a lab so that they can do tests on the beer at various stages and make sure that there are no hiccups along the way.  Spot tests are done on the tanks at different stages to be certain that the cleaning was done well and the beer is brewed to the highest possible standards of quality.

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With a 4 vessel system and a 100 hectolitre kettle they can brew 10,000 litres of wort which translates into about 8,000 litres of beer for fermentation.  They have two different fermentation tanks, 15,000 litres and the other at 8,000.  This allows for some versatility in batch sizes.  The smallest batch the tanks can brew is 1,500 litres. This limits their ability to do some niche small batch brews which plays a role in the recipe choices by Matt and his team. “We can’t do something like a Triple IPA, so instead we make a really good IPA”. During peak production time in the summer Fort Garry employs 22 staff incl20150525_145517510_iOSuding part-time and temp staff.  On the brewing side there is Matt and 3 others.

At any given time they have all of their core brands brewing in various stages with seasonals and new beers entering into the mix as needed.  They have a cellar comprised of 21 tanks hold beers in various stages of the brewing process.  The total capacity of this cellar is 2000 HL which means they have a lot of space and gives them the ability to have some in the hopper ready to go.

Growler Bars and Creativity

This is still one of the main reasons I wanted to meet with Matt as well.  The growler bars as we saw from my previous interview with David Rudge have had a huge impact on the ability for brewers to be creative.  Given that Fort Garry is larger and run a bit differently, I wanted to see what the translation was.

One of the hardest things about brewing for Matt is recipe development on top of maintaining a presence with the core beers.  Because they can’t brew batches under 1,500 litres they really need to consider not only creativity of the beer but also accessibility.  They don’t want to produce a beer and then just have it sit on the shelves.  As a company it is a combination of being creative but also being able to sell beer.

It has been really important for Matt and his team to get new beers out.  They want to keep the taps moving and the ability to produce beer without having to worry about packaging and labeling has made this a much easier process.

Wanting to supply the growler station every 6 weeks has really opened up the creativity of the brewing team and has pushed them to be innovative.  The process at Fort Garry starts with brain storming.  The team tastes a lot of other beers from around Canada to find good examples of styles.  They take notes on what they like and what they feel they could improve on.  Matt said that “the ideas often start simple like let’s make a wit, then become more complex like with our Sassy Saskatoon”.

Matt said they “don’t want to make just another beer they want it to be big and bold while at the same time accessible to a large group of people.”

Their first test is done in their small 20 gallon pilot system and this is sometimes a big flop which means going back to the drawing board.  Once they have something they think it at the level it needs to be they present it to the General Manager, some of their reps and even bring it to the Winnipeg Brew Bombers or River City of Manitoba Brewers for some feedback.  This isn’t a yay/nay process that would impede the creativity, rather so long as they do the best they can do, that’s the goal.  I asked Matt about expansion plans and he said it’s always something they need to look at.  Maybe with the next expansion we will see a small brewing unit for those specialty beers!

Still, with the need to be putting out so many new beers in short times, the growler bars have given them the opportunity to brew new beers but also gauge the success and decide which could be put out in cans as well.  Matt told me that the next two new brews coming down the pipe, Maple Cream and Sassy Saskatoon, will be released in cans and growlers.  Growlers are a lot of beer and “being able to pick up a couple of cans after you’ve tried it out makes the beer more accessible”.  It also allows for you to try multiple different beers at a given time.

This has been really important for Fort Garry in peaking interest in their beers.  Matt said that “when you see the same thing on the shelf over and over it’s easy to want to try something new.”  Fort Garry needs to keep fresh and trying new things otherwise those people seeking new tastes and new beers will grab something else.

At the same time, growler bars have certainly helped to increase sales for Fort Garry and bring people back to them.  I think Manitobans crave good local craft beer and with Fort Garry working hard to deliver I understand why they are seeing an uptick in sales.

They will be tasting there new beers at Flatlanders on June 4th and 5th, and I know I’ll be there with bells on.  I got to see the mock up for the Maple Cream Ale can, and it looks and sounds tasty!

Craft Breweries Initiative

I’ve talked a bit about the new initiatives coming from the province.  With the ability for breweries to open tasting rooms and the confirmation I received from the MLCC that growler bars are here to stay, this opens the doors for more craft breweries to enter the market here in Manitoba without the immediate concern for packing and shipping.

Matt believes that there is still room to grow here in Manitoba and is excited about the breweries that could be opening.  He said that “if we look west and we look east we see how many breweries they are able to support.”  This growth is putting pressure on big breweries to let go of franchise places and allow for craft breweries to move in.  Matt doesn’t believe this is competition but rather “more good beer on tap”.

I think we will also see the breweries will feed off one another and as Matt said he hopes the “complacency will be gone.”  New beers also means we might see more collaboration.  Matt and I talked about the “Brews Brothers” mixer pack from Parallel 49 and how it’d be really cool to do something like that here in Manitoba.

Matt is also a really strong supporter of new breweries in general.  He told me that he “wished I knew who all the players were. I’d love to talk to them and help them out.”  This is really the kind of guy Matt seems to be.  He wants to help people brew beer, something he is obviously passionate about.  He provides space for the Winnipeg Brew Bombers and the River City of Manitoba Brewers, two home brew groups in the city, offers courses and even orders malts and hops from distributors that will only deal with brewers.  So when Matt says he just wants “more good beer on tap”, I believe him.

With Peg City Brewing being officially announced by Nicole Barry and the possibility of a couple of more down the road, Matt says he “wouldn’t be surprised that if in one year there might be 10 breweries”. That would be a sight to see.

I think that a lot of this boom we are seeing has to do with the loosing of laws and the fact that a brewery can now be entirely profitable without sending a single bottle or can out the door. Things still have some movement, but Manitoba is getting with the times in respect to liquor laws.

Overall, meeting with Matt was fantastic.  He was a down to earth and really friendly guy.  Given all he knows and all his work he still finds time to help out the local home brew clubs.  As the biggest brewery in Manitoba Fort Garry still has a passion for quality Manitoban beer and with Matt at the helm of the brewing side they’ve started producing some unique and tasty beers.  I hope that this trend continues and that we see more of what this brewery has to offer.  I for one will be doing my part to support local craft beer here in Manitoba, I hope you’ll do the same.

Stone Crazy Imperial IPA – Parallel 49 and Powell Street Brewing

Stone Crazy - Imperial IPA

Well apparently I haven’t been able to do one a day.  I guess that was a little ambitious given that it was a long weekend and I was travelling.  As well this week is a crazy work week so I would not expect to be able to post much until it’s over.  So, this post will have to carry you through.

Today’s Brews Brothers Beer is called “Stone Crazy” and it’s an Imperial India Pale Ale done in collaboration with Powell Street Brewery.  I’ve already gone over who Parallel 49 Brewing Co is and I’ll just take this moment to thank them for their great mixer pack.  You’ve brought together a great pack of collaborative beers.  So, who is Powell Street then?

Powell Street Brewery is aptly located on Powell Street in Vancouver BC.  They don’t post a lot of details about their brewery on their website in respect to who founded it and why.  What they do tell us is that they are a 4500 sq ft brewery capable of 17.5hl micro brewhouse with a 3.5hl nano brewhouse as well.

They sell a number of different beers ranging from Pale Ales to Porters and do growler fills, glasses and bombers right out of the brewery, something I hope we will be able to see more of here in Winnipeg.  The beer that they’ve done in collaboration is named Stone Crazy.  This entire pack is blues themed and this name comes from the song Stone Crazy by Buddy Guy with his soulful guitar rhythms and voice this beer really captures the smooth and soulful feel of this song.

Essentially what we have here in an Imperial IPA is a double IPA.  The names are fairly synonymous.  The term Imperial tends to come from the Russian Imperial Stout, a style of strong stout that was originally brewed in England for the Russian Imperial Court.  Double IPA tends to be the most common/preferred term and essentially indicates that you have an incredibly hoppy beer on your hands with high alcohol content and good robust malty balance.  IBU on these beers tend to range from 50-120 (although 90+ it’s hard to tell the difference) depending on the brewer.  Let’s get to the beer!

Rating: 87/100

Appearance:  Cloudy golden brown coloring with a good 1” head that retains well. Some sediment at the bottom that needed to be left behind.
Smell: Hoppy, citrus (pineapple at the front with some lemon and some orange) with some sweetness coming through on the backend from malt (some caramel notes).
Taste: Not as big and bold on the hops but not necessarily a bad thing. The hops are definitely there with the sweetness of the malt backbone bringing in some caramel notes to give this particular Imperial IPA a smooth and well balanced taste. The hops bring in their resinous citrus tones to blend in with that caramel malt to give you a dangerously easy to drink 9% ABV beer.
Mouth feel: Good mild carbonation with a smooth mouth feel.
Overall: Nice and smooth double IPA.  Alcohol content is at 9% but not noticeable in this beer.  Sweetness is great to and blends well with the hops which don’t assault the taste buds letting you enjoy all the complexity in this beer.  Overall a very strong double IPA.
Do I like it: Yep.  Big fan of this one. I love IPAs and this one is well balanced and smooth giving a drinkable double IPA that brings some nice hop bitterness that isn’t overpowering. Very tasty.

Little Red Rooster – Brews Brothers Mixer Pack – Bomber Brewing and Parallel 49

Little Red RoosterAlright folks, so I picked up the Brews Brothers 12 beer collaboration pack.  12 beers from 12 breweries.  I’m going to do my best to try and write up a review on all of them.  I can’t promise it will be daily, my day job is keeping me nice and busy these days, but I will do my darnedest.

So, what is this Brews Brothers Collaboration pack anyway? Well, Parallel 49 Brewing out of Vancouver has brought together 12 BC breweries to create a boxed set of 12 blues inspired collaborative beers. Bringing together 12 breweries from BC’s booming craft beer industry was likely a hard challenge. Deciding who to collaborate with and what beers each would make.  The breweries participating in this Blues themed mixer pack are:  Townsite, Steel & Oak, Firehall, Bomber, Persephone, Storm, Rossland, Dageraad, Moon Under Water, Brassneck, Yellow Dog and Powell Street

The collaboration pack

Parallel 49 is a brewery that spawned out of three friends love for good beer.  Mike, Nick and Anthony all grew up about 10 minutes away from where the brewery now stands. Having been avid home brewers and lovers of good craft beer, these three friends quit their day jobs in 2008 and opened a restaurant which quickly became known as a mecca for good craft beer in Vancouver. Wanting to put their money where their mouth was and stop talking and start brewing, they partnered with Graham With, a respected Home Brewer, and Michael Tod, a friend who had the business savvy and experience in the Vancouver craft beer industry, the Parallel 49 brewing team was born.

This particular collaboration is done in conjunction with Bomber Brewing.  This small mico-brewery opened in February of 2014 after three good friends put their love of hockey and beer into practice forming a committed crew together to make good beer.  Don Farion, an award winning home brewer, brought not only that talent but 20 years in the hospitality industry together with Cam Andrews’ 20 years of design and marketing experience to create a brand that was unique and stood out from the boom of the craft breweries opening in Vancouver.  The head brewer Blair Calibaba brings experience working with Ambleside Brewing as well as 11 years of experience running a brewery to the table as well as his knack to create accessible and approachable beers.

Together these two breweries have created Little Red Rooster, a Red India Session Ale.  Session ales are essentially any beer that contains no higher than 5% ABV and features a balance between the hop and malt characteristics and, typically, has a clean finish.  According to Beer Advocate the term session likely referred to one of two allowable drinking periods in England that were imposed on shell production workers during World War 1.  The fact that they were highly drinkable allowed for these workers to consume multiples during their allotted time period.  Today, sessions used to refer to beers that meet the criteria but could come from a variety of different styles.

This one, for example, is an American IPA.  Different from a standard IPA and more flavourful than a British IPA it ranges in colour from pale golden to reddish amber.  The hops can tend to have a big herbal flavor or citric notes with a good malty backbone.  This one, as a red session, is the amber in colour and brings some nice herbal and citrus notes in the hop with a smooth balanced malt at the end which eliminates any lingering bitterness.

Onto the review!

Rating: 81/100

Appearance:  Cloudy reddish amber color with a 1” head that dissipates quickly leaving a lingering foam.
Smell: Citrus and some herbal smell which I can’t distinguish but is almost like spruce or pine.
Taste: Good citrus on the front with a refreshing bitterness that doesn’t linger long. Fading at the finish into the malty sweetness with only a slight lingering taste of tannins making for a dry finish.
Mouth feel: Light carbonation, smooth drink, dry finish.
Overall: Very nice.  Good balance of the hops and malt.  More hops would likely showcase the style of beer more but given the accessibility and approachability that bomber goes for that wouldn’t be in their style of brewing. The lower alcohol content is offset by the good hop/malt balance making for decent, if not delicious beer.
Do I like it: I do like it.  It was a good beer to start with and I think that if this is a sign of things to come that this will be a very good collaboration pack.  To be fair, this isn’t anything to write home about.  Falling within my Good range, it was good and I’d certainly be happy drinking it again.

Thanks for continuing to follow along with my blog.  I’ve got an interview with Matt Wolff at Fort Garry scheduled so looking forward to getting that up in the next couple of weeks!  Keep checking back, I’ll be trying to post more about the Brews Brothers mixer pack.

Manitoba Budget – Money for Craft Beer

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The Manitoba Government continues to show that it has an interest in expanding the craft brewery market here in Manitoba. With places like Ontario and BC just exploding with new breweries who are not only bringing in revenue for tourism but also through sales and taxation, it’s about time for the government to push further and open up the market to allow for new entries.

As has been noted before on this blog and in conversation with David Rudge of Half Pints, the changes in laws to allow for growler bars, and hopefully soon, tap rooms, will allow for new breweries to come into the market with lower overheads and increased chance of success.  With the government of Manitoba committing some of the $10,191,000 (Page 5) increase in Tourism and Culture to be put towards introducing measures to “boost Manitoba’s craft brewing industry” (Page 8), we see that they are putting sincere efforts into area of business that will hopefully bring about some changes to the way breweries currently operate.

The increase in funding, the promise to introduce new measures and the Craft Breweries Strategy all give me hope that we will see some opening up of the still very restrictive liquor laws here in Manitoba that will allow new breweries to flourish and bring to Manitoba the same sort of creativity and wealth of options that exist.  Not that I don’t like Manitoban beer…I love it, I’d just like to have more!

On a final note, May the fourth be with you.

– Beer Winnipeg

Tree Beer – Kelowna, BC

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“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.

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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

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