Molson’s Andy Preston was crowned Iron Brewer 2012 on the strength of “Awkward Haze,” his lovely Belgian blonde ale.
Last Friday afternoon, 15 Master Brewers from across the province were pouring samples of their greatest beers in an effort to be crowned Iron Brewer 2012.
It’s only the third year of this competition, dreamed up by one of Toronto’s finest brewmasters, Paul Dickey, and this year there were so many entries that a lottery was held to choose the 15 contestants.
The prize is a large silver trophy, but the real prize is much bigger as the judging is done by a jury of peers—fellow brewers and members of the Master Brewers Association of Canada—making this contest the Oscars for provincial brew talent.
Here’s what we learned:
1. Brewers are seriously creative
Each Iron Brewer picked up the same bag of ingredients two months before the contest and could create any beer they wanted using only the ingredients in the bag. These included 11 different kinds of malt, six varieties of hops, four kinds of yeast and raspberry puree, ginger root, and lemon peel.
The resulting beers ranged from a toffee-tastic Scotch Ale, to a “Ginger Belgian,” to an oak-smoked Dunkelweizen. There’s no doubt that brewing allows for more creativity than wine-making.
2. Iron Brewers are an inventive lot
One contestant, Jon Downing, who is the resident brewmaster and teaches brewing at Niagara College, challenged himself to use all of the ingredients in the bag. There were so many grains to use that Downing mashed them continuously all day, (usually beer is made with one mash, lasting about an hour). After each mash (basically wringing the sugar water from the grains) he used a portion of the wort (sugar water) for the next mash. Crazy!
The result was a beer that, rather appropriately, tasted a bit like “everything and the kitchen sink.” The taste and aroma turned out as interesting as his experiment.
3. Commercial and craft brewers should hang out more
Besides the Canadian Brewing Awards, this is really the only event on the beer calendar that brings commercial and microbrewers together. And that’s a shame. The two worlds have much to learn from one another. Microbreweries could use some tips on efficiencies and scaling up, while larger brewers are starting to release seasonal brews and playing around with new recipes.
Nearly every brewer does some home-brewing, so even if a brewer is working at a commercial brewery making the same lager over and over again, their insight goes much deeper.
Plus, the big guys have a pretty good sense of humour. “For my beer, I made a 4.8 per cent adjunct lager,” said Mark Murphy, who brews at Molson Coors. “Oops, wait a minute, that’s my day job.”
4. Ontario may soon have its own variety of hops
A few years back, some wild hops were found growing near Picton, Ontario, and various test brews and laboratory studies have some folks believing that this variety may be a survivor from Ontario’s original pioneer brewing days, when Upper Canada was a barley belt for the Brits.
Named “Bertwell Hops,” they have a floral aroma and a light citrusy finish, and they’re now being grown organically around the province. (We even used some in The Grid’s Street Wheat beer, which will soon be on tap at Toronto’s Indie Ale House).
Mike Driscoll of Harvest Hop & Malt donated some of these hops to the Iron Brewer bags.
5. There is a Susan Lucci of Ontario Brewmasters
And his name is Jamie Mistry. “I’ve come second for the last two years in a row,” Mistry told me as he poured a sample of his toasty Extra Special Bitter.
This year, Mistry got the silver again, getting beat out by Molson brewer Andy Preston. Preston’s beer, “Awkward Haze,” was a lovely Belgian blonde ale spiced with four different kinds of hops. It was a bold brew with sweet aromas of cotton candy with spicy, grassy and subtle tropical fruit notes from the hops.
If we can learn anything from Susan Lucci (and I think we can), Mistry will only have to place second for six more years before he finally takes home the cup.