The Contract Brewhouse: Is this the future of craft beer start-ups?

IMG_1847.JPGWe all know that there is a huge boom in the craft beer industry. The market tastes have shifted from the mass-produced, pale larger to a wide range of flavourful beers made by a host of small brewers. Many beer enthusiast, home brewers, and business people are getting in on the growing market share that is craft beer. But breweries are expensive. The average beer lover can’t afford a brewery, nor have the financial backing to raise the capital that would be needed to set one up.

But what if you see that opportunity? What if you have a sound marketing plan and a great recipe? What if you’re afraid of getting yourself into that much debt? Enter the contract brewhouse. Businesses such as Brew Hub will make your beer, for a cost, but they float the overhead. Sure its not the same as owning your own brewery, but you can be a professional brewer with distribution to the beer drinking public.

It almost seems too easy. It wouldn’t do the industry any good if the market got flooded by bad beers from people who have no business to be brewing. On the other hand, this would be the opportunity for some really good brewers to get started. It could also be a way for many small established breweries to move beyond their regional boarders. I might be afraid of losing control of my product. I can control what happens in my own brewhouse, but not necessarily a third-party. You would have to rely on someone else’s idea of quality control and consistency.

Like it or not, this seems like a business model that will be here to stay. The lure of getting your beer produced without taking all the risks will be to great of a draw for many aspiring professional brewers. And why wouldn’t it be?

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Double Trouble Brewing – Fire In The Rye

IMG_1758.JPGDouble Trouble Brewery is a small start-up that was undertaken in 2012 by a couple of longtime friends in Guelph, Ontario. They had both been brewing for years and decided to start their own craft beer brewery. With their first three brews in the can, we can only hope to see more from them.

From the brewery: “Un-filtered and single hopped with centennial. Our Single Hopped, Roasted Rye Pale ale has landed! Fire in the Rye combines the smouldering aroma of rye with the floral notes of centennial hops. Landing at a flavourful 60 IBU’s, this is our boldest beer yet! We hope you love Fire in the Rye as much as we do. “

And what did I think?

Appearance: The appearance is a beautiful amber-brown colour, a bit cloudy. There is an off white head that has big, fluffy bubbles and is long lasting with good lacing.

Aroma: The aroma is mostly malty. There is a bit of a sweetness that comes through as caramel and there is a slight floral note from the hops. Also, there’s a bit of peppery spice (likely from the rye) and some hints of grainy, bread.

Taste: The flavour is malty with a little spice and hops. There is a perfect balancing bitterness to the beer. Nothing is too overpowering or heavy. There are some underlying hop flavours – a bit of citrus and pine – but those hop flavours are restrained for an IPA – maybe not as dominated as one wold expect, however they let the other flavours shine through.

Mouthfeel: The body is medium with an expected level of carbonation. There is a slight slickness to the mouthfeel, but nothing to detract from the beer – likely a result from the rye.

Overall: I liked this one. There was enough of the rye to let you know it was there, but it wasn’t dominating to the point of taking away from the other elements – it’s balanced well. This is one I will buy again.

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Picaroons – Upstream Ale


IMG_1858.JPGReleased in support of the Atlantic Salmon Conservation Federation, Picaroons Traditional Ales of Fredericton, New Brunswick has again released their Upstream Ale. This limited release is unique in flavour and help to support conservation efforts for wild salmon in Quebec and Atlantic Canada.

What did I think?

Appearance: This beer is crystal clear, and golden in colour. With only a very slight head.

Aroma: The aroma is malty, with hints some dark malts (despite its light colour). There are some notes of wood or smoke.

Taste: The flavour is toasty and unique, with a slight smoke-like/phenol flavour. There is a bit of sweet malty flavour with some grain/bread. Even though its a light beer it still has a somewhat richness in the flavour. Unique.

Mouthfeel: The body and carbonation levels are both light to medium.

Overall: Not like anything I’ve had. Easy drinking and light, but bold at the same time. Its worth trying and you can fell good about supporting a great cause, but get it quick, this is a really limited release.

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Selling your soul for beer money


IMG_1728.JPGWe all know that the economy is still “recovering” and some places are harder hit than others. Small towns are some of the hardest hit by the recession, often relying on seasonal moneys from what little industry they have of tourist passing through. Its a hard way to survive, but would you sell the town for a little bit of money?

Crested Butte, Colorado, with a population of only about 1,500 people, did just that. The town will be transformed into “Whatever, USA” by Anheuser-Busch for a Bud Light ad – they literally have painted the town blue – all for a donation to the town of $500,000 and a few days work for the locals. There will be a concert and AB is flying in 1,000 randomly selected people from bars – mostly 21-27 years old – to participate. But many of the towns residents are not happy, some are even leaving town for the event. AB say they’ve come for the scenery, but the residents of this quaint town say that they are more about the environment and not a “party all weekend” kind of place.

Sure, there will be a cash injection to the town. A 1,000 extra people plus the crew from AB will need places to stay and food to eat. There probably will be a spin off — for a couple of days. But will these Bud Light drinkers visit the Eldo Brewery and Taproom or Brick Oven Pizzeria & Pub for some craft beers? Will they tell their friends if they do? Can there there be some craft beer goodness come form Big Beer coming to town? Maybe they will come back in March 2015 for the Taste of Crested Butte festival for some local craft beer and food. I’m betting that won’t be part of the Bud ad.

Stunts like this by Big Beer will surely produce some kind of economic spinoff, but it will be limited, whereas craft beer can be the beer that keeps giving. As reported by Forbes, in Texas the annual craft beer sales are $76M, almost doubling year-over-year, and could be contributing as much as $5.6B by 2020 ( Also, craft beer accounts for about 51.2% of Texas’ brewery jobs.

By buying craft beer not only are we drinking great beer, but we are contributing to economic groth. And unlike Big Beer, the small breweries are known as “craft” breweries for a reason – they generally care about the product they’re producing above the cost, this may be why craft beer cost more (those quality ingredients don’t come cheap), but its the same reasons we are more than will to pay more for it. I for one am proud to support craft breweries, especially my local ones – I like my beer well made and my economy booming.

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Great Lakes Brewery – Canuck Pale Ale


Building on the popularity of its signature pale ale, Great Lakes has become one of Canada’s top craft brewers, winning Canadian Brewery of the Year in 2013 and 2014. This summer, the brewery relaunched and rebranded the ale. Launched in 2010 to dovetail with the Vancouver Olympics, it was originally known as Crazy Canuck and brought the West Coast pale-ale style to eastern Canada. “While the name and branding change, the wonderful liquid inside the can remains the same,” says brewery owner Peter Bulut Jr. “Our version of a West Coast ale has been turning heads since we launched it in Ontario in 2010 and because it’s a serious beer, we wanted to give it a new look more in line with our increasingly popular Tank Ten series.”

From the brewery: “It’s been said that ‘Canada is the only country in the world that knows how to live without an identity.’ This beer doesn’t help much with that crisis. From the fiercely irresponsible stereotypical image on the front of the can to the distinctly American style of the beer inside it we’ve really made a mess of things. What have we done? Sorry.”

Appearance: Rich golden colour, hazy; thick, creamy head.

Aroma: A slight hoppy nose, with whiffs of fresh grapefruit peelings.

Taste: A nice refreshing hit of grapefruit-citrus at the start, but not as much as your nose tells you to expect. A dry hoppy finish, which stops just on the right side of overpowering. The taste stays with you, but that’s fine, because odds are good you’re going to drink another one anyway. It’s that kind of beer.

Mouthfeel: A little soft for my taste, but not under-carbonated… I’d just prefer a bit more.

Overall: This is pigeonholed as hot summer-day beer, but don’t let that stop you from trying it this fall. Its flavours are nicely layered and balanced. It’s a crisp, refreshing beer. Easy and pleasant to drink. Potentially deadly—you could drink a case of this and not notice it until you tried to stand.


Guest reviewer Trevor J. Adams is senior editor with Metro Guide Publishing and the editor of Halifax Magazine. In 2012, he published his first solo book, Long Shots: The Curious Story of the Four Maritime Teams That Played for the Stanley Cup (Nimbus Publishing).
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Axe Grinder: Hoppy pale ale for the coming cool months.



IMG_1825.JPGAs the nights start to cool and I find myself shopping for the little one’s school supplies, I know that summer is ending and fall is closing in on us. Late August is hop season. This is the time of year that the hops on the farms and in the backyards of the very avid home brewer are maturing and are ready to be picked for beer. I don’t have a hop farm or even a rhizome or two in the yard (yet), but I do love hops. The fall, to me, signals the time to brew something hoppy. Though, admittedly, I am not as big of a hophead as some of people (I’m looking to you on the West Coast), but I do love that big hit of hop flavour and aroma. I love a great balance beer with big notes of citrus, pine, and even a bit dank.

So, whats left to do, but brew a hoppy pale ale.

I worked out a recipe a while back, but never got to brewing it until recently. I was looking for something that was moderate in strength (mid-5% or so) and moderate in bitterness, but big in hop flavour and aroma. I always like to try new things and my local home brew shop started to carry Falconer’s Flight, a blend of Pacific Northwest hops from Hop Union – loads of citrus, tropical fruit, and floral notes, by all accounts – so I thought that would be perfect for a pale ale.

Brew day was two weeks ago and went great, no problems or anything. The beer was fermented at 19 C and was finished up in about 10 days. I gave it a couple of extra days and then chilled to 2 C for a day or so before putting it into a keg.

Since its fresh in the keg I will give it a few days to get carbonated, but I can say that out of the fermenter it was pretty awesome. The aroma was almost pure grapefruit, so much citrus with just a touch of the grains. The favour was much as the aroma, loads of citrus – grapefruit, lemon, and some tropical hints. With a pretty solid bitterness and just enough of the malt backbone to keep things in check this beer is balanced nicely.

I can’t wait to see how it is in a few days, but I think I may have hit on my perfect “house” pale ale recipe after more than a few tries. Stay tuned for some tasting notes in the near future on this one. Click here for those who want to try it check out my recipe for the now named Axe Grinder.


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Who would have guest a nation would tire of flavourless beer?

There’s a lot of talk these days about the shrinking beer market in Canada, but a rise in craft beer sale. I’m not sure how this really comes as a surprise considering what there is as an alternative – flavourless, pale lager being pour down our throats by mass-marketing, flashy ad campaigns.

Canada, like the US and much of the world, has been inundated over the past few decades (a generation or more) by the macro brewery producing a same old pale, adjunct filled, flavourless lager. The Canadian beer market has been dominated by Molson’s (partnered with Coors), Labatt’s (owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev), and Budweiser, with Moosehead being the largest Canadian owned having 5.5% of the market. Together this is 90% of the market. Sad.

The good new, people are waking up and are realizing this is not a bad dream, but really what they have been sold as beer and wanting something better. We are growing up and our palates are as well. We are looking for something better and in many cases that is something other than beer (hence, the shrinking beer market). In other cases some of us are making our own – board with what was available and too far from good craft beer, what choice do some of us have? But more and more good craft beer is popping up, all across the country. BC is leading the way, but the rest of the nation is quickly catching up. With actual good beer becoming more readily available its no wonder the craft beer market share is growing hand-over-fist.

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Rare Bird – Full Steam Stout


IMG_1740.JPGRare Bird brewery, located on Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore in Guysbrough, is one of Nova Scotia’s newest breweies, but is already receiving rave reviews. Full Steam Stout is a dark, roasty coffee stout – one of their regular offerings made with Authentic Seacoast (the maker of Rare Bird) Full Steam coffee.

From the brewery: “Here’s a hearty brew built for the Authentic Seacoast. Take our nicely hopped East Coast Stout with notes of licorice, chocolate and roasted malt, add our freshly roasted certified organic, fair trade Full Steam Coffee to the brewing process and you have a richly flavoured, creamy coffee stout that pours black as a starless night, capturing the unique seacoast spirit of the Maritimes. “

And what did I think?

Appearance: As a stout should be, this is a pretty dark beer – dark with ruby highlights when put up to the light. Nearly opaque, but not quite.

Aroma: The aroma is somewhat mineraly. There is also some fruity and dark roast (coffee and dark chocolate) aromas coming through.

Taste: This first thing that is apparent are the alcohol notes. At 7% this is a strong beer and those notes come through, but fade as the beer warms (probably best drank at an elevated temperature). There is a bit of fruitiness and some hops. Not as roasty or as much dark roast/coffee character as would be expected. There is also a slight licorice flavour that appears after the second or third sip.

Mouthfeel: The body is lighter than it looks – light to medium body. Light to medium carbonation.

Overall: Not too bad. Light and easy to drink – not heavy on the palate. Better as it warms, I would place this one on the counter for a bit and not drink it right from the fridge. Probably would be a great one to age for a few months or years. Also, theres a nice buzz from that hit of coffee.

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Sea Level Brewing – Southern Cross IPA


IMG_1552.JPGTravelling through Nova Scotia there are many small villages, fishing outports, and quant towns. Port Williams is one of those small villages and home of Sea Level Brewing. Adjacent to the small town of Wolfville (not as small when Acadia University fills up in the fall, not as sleepy either) they hold that small town feel and state-of-mind. On my recent visit I was treated to great hospitality by the staff, including an impromptu tour of their small brewing facilities.

From the brewery:”Inspired by a funky New Zealand Hop and CS&N song called “Southern Cross”. It is layered with resiney spiciness that gives way to a fresh squeezed citrus aroma with subtle pine notes”

And what did I think?

Appearance: Golden with orange and caramel highlights. Creamy but not long lasting head.

Aroma: The first thing that is noticeable is a very sweet note, like candied cherries. There is a bit of orange and grapefruit, but it’s not nearly a dominate as the sweet aroma. The aroma is fragrant, but I can’t place it as hop or malt dominant – very nice, very interesting, and unique.

Taste: The bitterness is right upfront. As the bitterness starts to fate in the palate the hops come through as pine and resin, with notes of orange peel. The bitterness starts to lighten by the second sip and becomes softer and the malt shows a bit. The sweetness is there from the nose, but the bitterness keeps it in check. There are also hints of leather.

Mouthfeel: Medium body and medium carbonation (which is pretty great considering the growler travelled a bit too long with me back from my Nova Scotia vacation – so many great beers). The hops add their oiliness to the palate and a drying sensation on the tongue.

Overall: A pretty good beer. Honestly, with the sweet aroma I was expecting more of the malt to show through it maybe more hop flavours, but I can’t say I was disappointed with the beer either. It certainly is balanced towards the bitter side, but it’s also quite drinkable.

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