Category Archives: homebrewing

Will It Grow? Part 2: We Rise! We Live!

So, remember when I bought a Cascade hop rhizome, planted it, and then told you folks that I’ll let you know how it goes?

Well…the hops grew.

They started to sprout after a couple of weeks and then once it was fixed up so it had some support to get up on the frame of my porch the vine grew incredibly fast. Thankfully, up here we’ve been getting a lot of rain and sun in equal measures this summer, so they were pretty low maintenence. The cones didn’t start forming until about three weeks ago and every week they seem to get bigger. They make my porch just that much more beautiful.

While the cones are pretty big, they aren’t ready for harvesting yet. Apparently the time to do it is when they actually start to give off that wonderful, citrus-like aroma that I love so much.

As for what to do with them after harvesting…I’m not sure. I originally was thinking of using them to dryhop a homebrew (since I don’t think I got enough hops for a full batch [which is TOTALLY okay because apparently in the first year you don’t get many cones]), but I’ve been in talks with someone who is also growing Cascade hops and there are talks of maybe doing a beer with them. We’ll see!

But so far…I’m really happy that I decided to pick up a rhizome to try out and will definitely be picking up more next year. And even for the beer lover who doesn’t brew their own, hop vines are an incredible decoration for your home.

But anyways, I’ll let you know what happens with these little guys soon. Stay tuned.

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Toronto Festival of Beer

A lot of times when I don’t like something, I tend to say “it’s not for me”. Although I do slip in to it now and then, I believe that as a writer I should inform, rather than set a standard. “What might be right for you might not be right for some”, as the song goes. We’re all individuals with individual tastes and I like to embrace that.

So with that in mind, the Toronto Festival of Beer is not for me.

I was invited to stop by for a “Home brewing 101” panel, put on by Toronto home brewing group Brauhaus and part of Niagara College’s Brewmaster Series, a series of tented events within the festival to educate people about beer.

The panel was wonderful. Led by Doug Appledoorn, co-founder of Brauhaus, my learned fellow panelists (Erin Broadfoot and Pietro Caira) and I talked about our good and bad experiences with home brewing, answered questions, and handed out samples of our own brews. I supplied my Manor House Intrigue Chamomile Brown Ale, which I made back in February with the help of the Brauhaus mentorship program. The whole thing went really well and we got a good amount of applause from the packed tent. Hopefully Brauhaus will get some members out of that!

The rest of the festival was…not too great. If it wasn’t for the marvelous company of my longtime friend Cheryl, I probably would have left soon after the panel. A few one-off beers stuck out, but everything else was stuff that was available at the LCBO. It wasn’t that unique and, well, I can’t say that I wasn’t warned.

But I do believe it has its place. It’s a chance for smaller breweries to win over the affections of the coveted Bro Market, the group of people for whom beer shots, competitive vomiting and dancing to dubstep is a way of life. And don’t get me wrong, it is a popular market. In an effort to get drunk these folks buy 24 packs like there’s some kind of shortage and they need to stock up. I recognize why a business would want that. It should be noted, however, that the smaller breweries are still competing with the bigger ones. Budweiser, Coors and Smirnoff Ice tents were present and huge, with their own dance floors and booth babes handing out stickers and various other bits of swag.

And while I don’t know how successful the festival is at converting the Bro Market to craft beer, I can’t deny it has an effect. “I normally drink Molson Canadian,” an attendee told us. “But then I go to a festival like this and drink a Molson and anything here after that tastes so much better.” And really folks…that’s all I hope for. I don’t really care if a person likes Bud Light Lime Mojito or beer that, to me, tastes like water. As long as they know that there’s something else out there.

My biggest problem with the festival was the way it was run. I really got the impression that the festival encouraged drunkenness, which didn’t appeal to me. Tokens were $20 minimum, which gets you 20 tokens. 5oz samples were around 1-2 tokens each, which doesn’t sound like much, but take a group of people who are used to 4% abv beer and put them in a festival of 6-9% abv beers, well…you see how it can get out of hand. Oh sure, you could use those tokens for food, but I didn’t get the impression that people were doing that. Visions of festival-goers nearly falling down getting more beer poured in to their glasses were pretty frequent and the security guards, god bless them, were kept very busy breaking up fights and carrying people to water stations.

And guys, maybe double up on security to lead people to the bus stop? There were waaaaay too many drunk people roaming in to oncoming traffic. Unacceptable.

So that’s my thoughts on Toronto Festival of Beer. It’s not for me. Aside from a few things that I can’t forgive, I can acknowledge it as a festival that works for some people. I’m just not one of them. Unless I’m invited to another panel, I don’t think I’ll be going again in the future.

But really though, thank you to Brauhaus, Niagara College and my kick-ass friend Cheryl for being the bright stars in this event.

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Will It Grow? Part 1: In To The Ground, My Sweet

So one of the advantages of no longer being in the office (and there aren’t TOO many, but that’s for my non-existent therapist, not you) is that I have time for some personal projects in between errands and freelance work. One personal project is my garden.

I have a raised bed in the backyard which currently has some beet, onion and radish seeds in it. Later to come will be cucumbers (that I intend to pickle) and Hungarian Black Hot Peppers, which I intend to put in dishes and watch loved ones scream in despair when I feed it to them. But those need a little more time yet.

I’m also growing some Cascade Hops, which is the point of this post.

I missed out on purchasing the rhizomes (an underground stem that shoots out roots, basically) last year, but this year I managed to preorder them from Toronto Brewing a few months ago and my little darling arrived yesterday.

I always knew I’d plant it in the front yard, where the hop vines could grow and wrap themselves around my porch frame, which I think will look beautiful and smell wonderful. For those that know me well in regards to beery stuff, it’ll come as no surprise that I chose Cascade Hops, which have a beautiful light citrusy character to them that drives me wild.

My yard is one of those “Weeds everywhere no matter what” places, so this required some digging in my selected place followed by a method of mulching that’s worked for me in the past. Basically getting some newspaper, layering it on the bottom of the hole, soaking it with water and putting a good layer of soil over it. This prevents any weeds from growing and what weeds do get through can easily be picked out. I used basic gardening soil along with a nutrient mix from Urban Harvest that slowly releases all the good things that make for healthy growing.

Apparently there is some debate on exactly how to plant the rhizome. Hops Direct’s youtube series says to plant it vertically, while the book “The Homebrewer’s Garden” by Joe and Dennis Fisher and several other forums and guides say to plant it horizontally, roots down and white “nibs” up, about 2 inches in the soil. I chose the latter method.

In the end it KIND OF looks like I buried an animal in the front yard, but it’s done and the key is to keep the soil moist but not soaking wet and make sure it gets at least six hours of sunlight, apparently. After it sprouts and the vine reaches to about a foot I’ll need to set up a small trellis leading up to my porch frame. Then I’ll have to regularly make sure the little guys get some water.

I’ll be letting you folks know the progress of it, of course. But for now…we wait.

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Homebrewing, Winter Beer Fest, and BlogTO

Okay, so the day job and a slight case of the Cambodian Swamp Virus put a damper on any writing time I had the past week or so. So let’s play a bit of catch-up because quite a bit has been going on.

1. I’ve been homebrewing! Although I have dabbled with varying levels of success, I admitted my weak points (primarily recipe formulation) and the wonderful people from Brauhaus, a Toronto homebrewing club made up of some of Toronto’s most talented and creative homebrewers, hooked me up with Richard Sigesmund (whose brew “Boom Gose the Dynamite” was a hit at their last event) as a way to pilot a mentorship program that pairs off experienced homebrewers with noobs like me. After countless e-mails with me asking questions and Richard patiently answering, a recipe that was in my head was formed and a few weeks ago I brewed it. It’s an American Brown Ale with Chamomile and Lemongrass. Hops used were Warrior, Amarillo and Centennial (dry-hopping with Amarillo and Chinook ). I just bottled it over the weekend and it will now be left for a couple of weeks to condition in the bottle. So far though, the colour turned out perfectly and the chamomile flavours came out pretty well. It also seems to be at 5.9% ABV. With a little luck this will be a good beer to have chilled and at room temperature.

I learned so much with this one, so it will get a proper post on it’s own once I try the beer. But I wanted to tell you folks that I’m keeping it up and seriously check out Brauhaus and, if you’re a Toronto homebrewer new or experienced, to consider joining up.

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2. The winter (and indeed the dreaded month of February) was made a little less grey a couple of weeks ago at The Rhino’s First Annual Winter Beer Festival, put on by the good folks at The Rhino Bar & Grill and Mr. Greg Clow of Canadian Beer News. The festival was split in to three different times (A VIP breakfast and first shot of beers to a limited 40 people, a standard version of about 100 people and finally a free event where as many people as possible could come in) and featured special beers by some of Ontario’s most respected breweries.

I had been kindly invited to attend the VIP breakfast and to stay for a few hours and I must say I had an incredible time. The Rhino was a perfect venue to have such a festival at as, unlike many beer events I’ve attended at other places, it wasn’t the size of a closet and in no way was I struggling to move from one area to another. It was a spacous, warm, relaxed environment. A wonderful mix of the beer-loving public and industry players mingled and discussed their favourite drink.

Highlights for me were the Rye Pale Ale by Cameron’s Brewing (my only notes for this were “…Sweet Jesus”), Skinny Dipping With Friends by Sawdust City Brewing (beautifully spiced Stout), Alan Never Left by Black Oak Brewing (wonderfully balanced beer with Jalapeno peppers) and, most unforgettably, Martian Mango Pale Ale, a homebrew by Chris Burek of Mom ‘n Hops.

The event, while not without it’s small issues that normally arise with any event (even a first one such as this) was a total success. It was a relaxed and enjoyable day and I look forward to next year’s!

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3. Myself and several others in Toronto’s beer scene were asked where we go to drink by Ben Johnson from BlogTO for the article “10 bars & pubs where Toronto beer experts go to drink”. If you’re in Toronto check it out! There are some great places listed there!

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4. The wonderful and awesome Fabian Skidmore from The Only Cafe taught me the ways of the cellar a couple of weeks ago. I learned how to clean the taps, how the draft system works, how to tap a cask and how to pour the perfect pint. I learned lots about this and can’t thank Fabian enough.

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And that’s all for now! When I get better expect a couple of reviews and other fun bits of news.

Here’s a teaser pic of what’s to come, the Long, Dark Voyage to Uranus by Sawdust City. Photo by me.

…Yes, it’s the alien from Independence Day. Yes, I do own on. And yes, I do enjoy the hell out of that film. Don’t you dare judge me.

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Adventures in Homebrewing: A Thank You

Reader and good friend from New York Mike Millan, out of the kindness of his heart and general awesome demeanor,  surprised me by ordering a Bavarian Hefeweizan ingredient kit and sending it over to me! Thank you so much, Mike!

I’ll be brewing it up when I get my new pot in, which I’ll be ordering at the end of the week. In the meantime I’m pondering what I can do to this recipe to give it a bit of a kick. I’m thinking so far of adding blueberries in to it. Or maybe something else. So many possibilities!

Thank you very much, Mike. 🙂

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I Got a Rock

Happy Halloween from The Thirsty Wench.  Tonight I’ll be watching something scary and cracking open some of my Pumpkin homebrew called Pumpkin Patch Panic.

(The AMAZING label done by Robert Burrows)

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The Coaster & The Pumpkin

Just wanted to mention two personal bits of awesomeness here.

Firstly, look at this AMAZING custom beer coaster that the incredibly talented Mike Rooth did for me!  The man knows I love my Ghostbusters and this is just…wow.  And I’ve been told that the cool thing is that it was drawn with waterproof ink so it could actually be used as a beer coaster!

Wow.  That is…that is just awesome.

Second bit of news is that last week I brewed my fourth beer ever and I have a feeling that this will be the best one yet.  Won’t reveal much until the label is done and it’s bottled, but it involved doing this:

And that’s all from me, my little saplings.  To my Canadian friends, have a Happy Thanksgiving. To My international friends, Happy October.  And to my NYC friends, enjoy NYCC, you bastards.

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