Barley Mowat 

Giving Back to the Community

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Something happened recently which will either serve to validate my nascent megalomania or further separate actual reality from how I perceive it: Granville Island Brewing has requested that I do a collaboration beer with their Brewmaster Vern Lambourne. Usually, collab beers are the brainchilds of two (or more) breweries getting together and figuring “sure, why not? seems like fun.”

These beers are a chance for a brewery to perhaps brew outside their comfort zone or even perhaps distribute further afield than normal. As craft breweries grow both in size and number, we’ve seen more and more collaborations: Storm/Russell Big Smoke, Parallel 49/Gigantic From East Van With Love, Powell Street/Four Winds Dunkleweizen are just three that pop to mind, but there are many more (including the “brewed-by-committee” VCBW beers). Collabs are chances to experiment, share ideas and cross-market the resultant product.

The hangover cause and cure, together at last! Wham: instant best seller! Right, guys… guys?

But why, oh why, would a brewery want to do a collaboration brew with me? Last time I checked, I’m not a brewery. I’m not even a brewer… oh crap, I sure hop GIB and Vern aren’t expecting me to, you know, actually do anything here. I mean, aside from sagely overseeing the brewing process and then attempting to single-handedly consume as much of the resulting product as possible in some kind of self-destructive exhibitionist performance art–that, I’m up for.

The reasons, I suspect, go back to that whole “seems like fun” aspect. Sure, there won’t be lots of this beer made, and sure, it won’t be distributed anywhere but in the taproom on the (soon to be operational) growler station but, you know what? Making it will be fun. Certainly fun for me and–I hope–fun for Vern. And, ultimately, isn’t that what making beer is supposed to be?

With that in mind, I have begun soliciting crazy ideas as to what to brew. The conversation started on my Facebook page, but if you missed that or have a new idea (no Jenn, no cat beer) please let me know below. My hope is to read all these awesome ideas and be inspired to create something awesome-r. I will then take that inspiration and go strategize with Vern (it’s 50% his beer, too; this is a collaboration, not a contract).

Budget, timelines and batch size will likely all conspire to rein in some of the crazier ideas, but I’ve very confident we’ll arrive at a recipe with which we’ll both be happy. Ultimately, we might make something awesome or we might make something awful, but either way we’ll have fun doing it, and isn’t that the most important thing?

Of course, Homer also makes a very valid point

Written by chuck

October 18th, 2013 at 2:05 pm

Posted in Beers

Tagged with ,

Growing Hops for Homebrew

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What follows is the first article from’s new east coast American correspondent: Blake. Blake’s articles will, much like my own, focus on whatever the hell Blake feels like talking about. Today it’s growing hops for homebrew, a topic I briefly touched upon two years ago before giving up, letting Sharon do all the hard work, and never talking about the subject again. Blake seems slightly more competent, so he should add a welcome dose of “not insane advice” to this blog.



If you’re looking to make homebrewing a little more interesting, why not consider growing your own hops? Not only will the characteristics be unique to your growing conditions, putting a more personal stamp on your beer, but you will become that much more in touch with the whole beer-making process. That’s what I decided to do, starting small, with one little hop plant in my backyard.

Three years ago I spent $4 on a Perle hop rhizome because it’s known to be a great dual purpose hop with mild bittering qualities and a clean spicy aroma. The root system of most hop varieties is well-established after three years, so I’m excited to say I got a pretty solid yield (just under 1lb) off my plant this year. Since it will take a few years to pay off, I’m thinking of planting one or two new varieties in the spring.

So how do you grow hops? Once you’ve decided what variety (or varieties) you want to grow there are just a few basic steps you need to follow:

1. Pick a location.

You’ll want a spot with maximum exposure to the sun, with room to grow both upwards and outward.

2. Assess your soil.

Hops need the right soil conditions to grow properly. In the spring, they need more nitrogen to feed the roots, and towards the middle of summer they will need more potassium to feed the flowers. I bought a cheap soil testing kit from my local hardware store and found out my soil was deficient in nitrogen. I read up on fertilizers and found a good 20/20/20 mix (like Miracle Gro) will work just fine to help out a mildly deficient soil. I also found out that my local garden shop expert loves to talk fertilizer – if you have really poor soil they’ll have a solution for you.

3. Plan your infrastructure.

I looked at how the big boys do it, and they all use a trellis system that is about 20’ high for maximum yield. If you’ll be planting more than one of the same variety, they should be spaced 3-4’ apart. Each plant also needs its own dedicated coir, or twine, to be trained upon. If you don’t have room to build a trellis, hops can be grown in pots, but the root system will thrive much better in the ground.

ed: Also, you get to confuse the hell out of your non-craft beer neighbours.

4. Plant.

If you buy a rhizome, like I did, it will come with one or more buds that are pointing up toward the sky. Plant the rhizome with the buds facing upward, and cover it with about 1” of soil. Hop roots don’t like a lot of moisture and benefit from having good drainage, so I created a mound, or “hill”, above each rhizome to allow excess rainwater to run off. Rhizomes are fairly widely available online, but in particular check out MidWest Supplies in the US and Left Fields up in the Great White North.

5. Watch them grow.

After your hop plants get to be about 3’ tall, you’ll want to train them. For the first year, take as many hop shoots that are showing pointy tips, or “leaders” as you can, and wind them clockwise around the coir. After the first year, only train two or three of the stronger, dominant shoots. Prune the rest and make something tasty. This will encourage stronger growth among those dominant shoots and will result in a better yield when harvest time rolls around.

ed: Once they start, they seem to fly up that twine. Don’t leave anything valuable near hop bines or you’ll find yourself cutting it out the next day.

6. Harvest.

I start to watch my hops in late August for signs of browning on the tips (just a little browning – hops will start to turn yellow at the end of their season, and at that point it’s too late). Some hops will be ready earlier and some later; all the hop supply stores have information about growing seasons in their hop guides. Taking some hops and squeeze testing them for a papery feel and sound will give you a good idea, too.

Knowing when your hops are ready takes a little bit of a science, but luckily there are some good harvest moisture calculators out there to help you out.

7. Brew.

Fresh hops right off the bine should be used within 24 hours of harvesting, and can be added at the 15 minute mark for flavoring, or at the end of your boil for aroma. If you want to dry your hops, you can find some awesome hops drying calculators online. I dried some of my hops using a box with a screen bottom, and a fan underneath. It should take a day or two to reach the right moisture content, and I vacuum seal various sized packages to save in the freezer. Keep in mind there is a pretty big difference in weight between fresh and dry hops.

ed: Also, this setup makes your house smell AWESOME.

I’ll try using them in various bittering, flavor, and aroma combinations, utilizing the single-malt-single-hop, or SMaSH method. Making a few different test batches is easy if you pick up a 1-gallon size brew kit and you might as well treat yourself to some other beer-related goodies while you’re at it.

8. Enjoy!

After fermentation is complete, all that’s left to do is sit back, relax, and enjoy the fruits of your labor. It’s always interesting to compare the final brews and see how changing something as simple as the timing of your hop additions can have such a huge impact on the final product.

Written by Blake

October 10th, 2013 at 1:39 pm

Posted in Beer and You

Seasonal Variation

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Consistency in general is hard. Consistency in brewing beer is even harder. This is why seasonal releases often have separate entries for each vintage on review sites. Sure, the brewers sometimes tweak the recipe a bit year to year, but even those that don’t can run afoul of a million different variables that influence the end result beyond recipe.

Sometimes the reason is simple (brew something enough times and you’ll screw up eventually), but often it’s nuanced, complex, and far beyond the brewer’s control. Here are just some things that can make the 2013 version of that 2012 beer a completely different animal.

Weather affects the quality of barley and hops

This affects single malt or single hopped beers the most, since there’s no blending going on to hide crops that are not as great. Sure, malting companies often produce a blended product made of many different types of barley to try and get around this, but even this approach lets subtle changes through. Additionally, brewers are increasingly ordering single varietal malts and choosing to blend themselves (or doing a simple grain bill and letting the barley speak for itself).

Changing production volumes changes how you brew the beer

It’s hard to make the jump from homebrewing to commercial brewing because, quite simply, brewing 5 gallons on your stove at home is not in the same league as running 10 hectolitres through a commercial system. Heck, it’s not even the same sport. Likewise, scaling up from 10 hL to 25 hL or more because your brewery expanded is also difficult. Also, simply brewing two batches on your 10 hL system instead of one means more chances for something to go wrong.

Similar to how scaling up your macro lager production
requires a whole lot more goats.

Differences in brewery time tables means a longer/short time for cellaring

Brewing beer is more like a factory production line than you’d like to think. Beer doesn’t just get sprinkled with yeast and then moved straight off to the bottle. Rather, it makes its way through a series of specialized containers in the brewery, the last of these being conditioning tanks in the cellar for ageing. If a brewery is brewing up a storm, odds are there is another beer coming down the pipeline that needs to be in that conditioning tank, and schedule pressure might push a beer out into bottles sooner than last year (not before it’s ready, mind you, just sooner). The result is a different product.

Brewery equipment changes year to year, and can affect the quality

Sounds similar to the volume argument doesn’t it? Well, this is slightly different. Bottling last year and canning this year? That means the beer is now going through the canning line instead. Maybe last year you only sold 50 cases and bottled by hand while this year you’re producing 500 cases and have an automated bottling line. Each bit of kit that touches the beer along the way to retail has its own, small impact on the final product.

Some recent studies even suggest that showering immediately
before swimming in the wort will affect the final product.

Weather affects how the beer brews

What? Rain isn’t just content fucking with my hops, but how it wants to get after my yeast? I built a roof over my brewery for a reason, damnit! Well, that’s the trick, some breweries use open fermenters which allows minor variables like humidity and pressure affect how the yeast lives, breathes and carbonates the beer. Open fermenters also allow outside yeast to interact with the beer, and that produces another layer of variability. The more common closed fermenters dramatically reduce these issues, but this sort of interesting variability is precisely why brewers use open fermenters in the first place.


Okay, so now I’m done talking about the whys and hows of a beer being different from year to year. How about some examples? Sure, I’ll give you one example each of a beer that is a) Much worse than last year b) Slightly worse than last year c) Slightly better than last year and d) Much better than last year. I wasn’t there when these beers were brewed, so I don’t know for sure why they’re different, just that they are.

There will be some surprises and potentially controversy here, so let’s start with the best.

Much Better than Last Year: Hoyne Wolf Vine.
Sean dialled this one in for 2013, and the result is a much smoother, rounder, all-around better product. The core ingredient (fresh hops) is also slightly better. (My best guess as to what changed: recipe + ingredients + time table)

Slightly Better than Last Year: Driftwood Sartori.
I think this is all about the hops, personally. The beer is largely the same as last year, but the freshness and quality of the hops has improved just that little bit extra. (My best guess as to what changed: ingredients)

Slight Worse than Last Year: Lighthouse Siren.
Last year, this beer was balls-out freaking awesome. I raved and raved about it. This year, in the new packaging, it’s merely a very good imperial red ale. I have no idea what changed, and please don’t start about cans tinting the flavour of the beer. (My best guess as to what changed: ingredients (see LH Brewmaster Dean’s comment below))

Much Worse than Last Year: Howe Sound Pumpkineater.
Yup, I’ll say it. This beer has been my favourite BC pumpkin ale for about six years running, but this time around it just tastes like strong pumpkin-flavoured chemicals. I tried it from two separate tap sources and in a bottle, and it isn’t merely not great, it’s downright bad. (My best guess as to what changed: recipe + ingredients)

Written by chuck

October 8th, 2013 at 3:49 pm

Posted in Beer and You