Darkside Brewing is another in a growing number of Atlantic Canadian beer related blogs. The blog covers off homebrewing and the Halifax beer scene and with references to Guns N’ Roses and House of Pain mixed in. Here’s the Q & A with the guys behind the blog, Earl and Drew.
Atlantic Canada Beer Blogger (ACBB): Describe your blog.
Earl: Darkside Brewing is place for us to share our experiences with homebrewing and beer in general, with the latter focusing on, but not limited to, the Halifax area. Local beer reviews have become a big part of what we do, and seem to gain the most traction with the community. The blog also serves as kind of a creative vehicle for us, leading to some pretty random stuff (i.e. an apology letter to a beer we misjudged after destroying our palates with potent IPAs and spicy nachos) and a distinct pop-culture tilt to most of our material (i.e. the development cycle of our Rye IPA, ‘Rye Hard,’ was presented in posts following the arc of the Die Hard films). I think that one thing that’s really important for the blog is accessibility – there are a lot of really great books and blogs out there, and a lot of people whose beer and brewing knowledge dwarfs ours, but we try to present things in a way that (we hope) is interesting to both experts and more casual beer drinkers or brewers. Another key point is humility – we aren’t experts, and don’t pretend to be; we’re really learning as we go.
ACBB: Tell me about your background in homebrewing.
Drew: My experience with homebrewing goes back quite a ways – I used to help my father with wine and beer kits as a teenager. My first solo effort came as more of an experiment. After learning that wine was fermented grape juice, I figured I should try something else, and unfortunately went with oranges. It really was terrible, and I’m surprised it didn’t drive me away from homebrewing altogether. Although we did end up drinking all of it. More recently I got back into making wine, and then when Earl started talking about trying beer, I was all for it.
Earl: My development has been a bit more rapid. After Drew’s failed orange wine experiment, it’s amazing that I even considered taking up brewing… and also that I still have my vision. That stuff was pretty nuts. I had helped Drew with a couple of wine batches over the past couple of years, but wasn’t overly impressed, as I seemed to just end up stirring stuff.
Drew: He was a very belligerent stirrer.
Earl: I have a background in science, and spent a lot of my university years in labs – stirring wasn’t doing it for me. I needed more control, to be able to really get involved with the process and understand what was going on. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the seeds for getting into all-grain homebrewing had been sown.
Drew: It didn’t take long for those seeds to germinate. After one beer kit, we dove right into all-grain. We’ve completed 10 batches so far, with the first three being total failures. It was our fifth batch, an oatmeal stout, which was the first beer we made that was genuinely good.
Earl: That one kit we made was pretty disgusting. Well, Drew drank it all, anyway. But he used to drink a lot of Coors Light, so his credibility is suspect at times.
Drew: The kit wasn’t that bad, but with my history, I guess it’s evident that I’m less selective than others.
ACBB: Why did you decide to get into both homebrewing and blogging?
Drew: We both really started getting into beer about a year and a half ago, maturing from a somewhat standard practice of drinking a case of Coors Light while playing Rock Band on Friday nights.
Earl: I feel I need to interject that I was never super keen on Coors Light. Granted, it was highly conducive to mass consumption over extended periods of plastic instrument fueled debauchery, but I was more into English/European stuff at the time – Newcastle Brown, Heineken, Carlsberg, etc. We both have a strange fascination with Alpine in camouflage cans, though. I don’t know why, but their marketing department is to be applauded.
Drew: We’re both into focusing on local stuff, so we were naturally drawn to Garrison and Propeller. That really opened the door to enjoying beer because it was good, and not just because drinking it was something to do. This new fascination with beer eventually morphed into wanting to try to make our own, so we jumped right in.
Earl: Really getting into local beer, and craft beer in general, was a huge part of us getting started. I think another big part was finding something that we could do that involved hanging out and (often) drinking that was a bit more productive. I mean, you can only play so much Rock Band. We also wanted more control over what we produced, especially as we really like hoppy and more complex beers.
Drew: There is also something very satisfying about making a good beer and being able to share it with others. I’ll admit, our first drinkable batch only seemed good compared to how awful the previous ones had been, but friends and family choked it down and provided support regardless. They actually ask for seconds now, which is a good sign that it isn’t just us who thinks our beer is improving.
Earl: As for the blog, it came about for a few different reasons. First, we weren’t great at taking notes early on, so a blog would provide a nice archive of our brews and experiences. Second, as I touched on above, it would also provide a creative outlet for us. We have often discussed wanting to write something together, and even started a novel at one point, but a blog fit better into our lives and schedules.
Drew: I still think our book about were-squirrels was an excellent idea!
Earl: It was were-gerbils! We were going for vampire fiction satire. Anyway, back to the genesis of the blog – another key factor was that we thought if anything ever came from our brewing and we got involved with the industry in some capacity, it would be neat if our development to that point was all tracked on the blog, and people had followed along with us and been part of that development. We both have a connection to a webcomic called Penny Arcade, which is something two guys started because they enjoyed doing it, and has now become a huge commercial success. A big part of our connection with this site and these guys is that we were able to follow them from early on; it just seems like we understand them and can relate to them, and we hope that people who read Darkside Brewing can build a similar connection.
Drew: Agreed on all fronts. Both brewing and blogging are excellent creative outlets, and with a day job that can drive me nuts sometimes that’s important. Also, it’s great to do both as a team. My grammar and spelling definitely benefit from Earl reviewing what I right (Earl note: I didn’t correct ‘right’ to ‘write’ so that you can see what he’s talking about, but it’s not normally that bad), and I help keep him slightly grounded when it comes to recipe development. I don’t think the world is ready for a beer with five different base malts and over 200 IBUs.
Earl: I’m sure those beers exist! We’re probably not quite ready for them, though. One thing I find really interesting is how the blog has evolved to include local beer reviews. Our first review, of the Propeller/Hart and Thistle Imperial ESB Collaboration Ale, just kind of happened because we were really blown away by that particular beer and wanted to share our thoughts and excitement. The response to that review was really positive, and helped us to build a bit more of a following. This prompted our next review, of Garrison’s Spruce Beer, which is still the most viewed post on our blog. With these reviews, it seemed like we were able to tap into the collective excitement in the community surrounding these releases. A lot of people would comment on new beers via Twitter or Facebook, but no one seemed to be putting out detailed tasting notes (at least locally), so we kind of filled that vacuum. Not to say that our reviews are any kind of authority, of course, but we try to provide an element of perspective to help people decide if these new brews may or may not be something they enjoy.
ACBB: Are you members of any homebrewing clubs?
Drew: We regularly lurk around the Brewnosers forum, but we haven’t made it to any meetings yet. They seem like a really great group though, so we do hope to get more involved.
Earl: Definitely. They really know their stuff, and even though we’re kind of fringe members, they’ve always provided really great input and advice for any questions we’ve posed.
ACBB: What are the best resources you have access to for homebrewing knowledge?
Drew: John Palmer, both through his book and website, was our primary source of knowledge in the beginning, and he proved to be a great resource for beginners. I’d also like to give a shoutout to Ron at Noble Grape in Burnside; he’s been a great sounding-board for our recipe ideas and his knowledge of all-grain homebrewing has really helped us.
Earl: The Brewnosers forums have also been a great resource. We’ve asked about a few things directly, but have also learned a lot just from reading the various posts. In terms of recipe creation, Beersmith software is pretty great. There are some nuances we still don’t really get, but it provides a really nice guideline for whichever style you’re looking to make. Beyond the software itself, I like the Beersmith blog posts a lot. They give general overviews of different styles, so essentially the framework for a given recipe, but still leave some latitude for you to tweak it to your particular taste. Of course, other beer blogs are a great resource, as well. Meek Brewing Co. and Hoptomology are two that I like to check out pretty regularly.
ACBB: Describe your homebrewing setup.
Drew: All of our brewing takes place in the kitchen of my condo using equipment we’ve bought or pieced together ourselves. We made the mash tun out of a round cooler with a false bottom and a ball valve to regulate flow, but it’s still a work in progress, as we’re not always getting the efficiency we’d like out of it. Our brew kettle is a 30 litre aluminum pot I picked up from Big Eric’s in Halifax, which is a great place for getting such things. Unfortunately we have to use my stove as our heat source, so that can make for really long boil times. Conversely, we picked up a really sweet copper chiller from Noble Grape that cools the wort in no time.
Earl: And a kegerator! Spurned by failed attempts at bottle carbonation early on, Drew invested in a kegerator for his condo, which is basically a small fridge with a single tap. It can hold two 19 L kegs, which is handy. There are those who prefer natural carbonation over forced carbonation, and I get the appeal, but at this point in time, I really enjoy the consistency that comes from the latter. Also, I think it’s important to acknowledge Drew’s self control in not drinking all of our beer, which is conveniently on tap in his laundry room.
Drew: I’d like to thank Earl and the rest of the guys for getting me the kegging equipment for my birthday last year. It really made the whole kegerator thing work! Another batch lost due to lack of carbonation would have probably ended the entire endeavor.
ACBB: What are your favourite types of posts?
Drew: I really liked Earl’s post on beer travel, but unfortunately we don’t get to travel to awesome places (like the Czech Republic) to drink beer all that often. I like writing about our homebrewing, as it’s always a learning experience and it’s nice to document what we’ve done, both for ourselves and for others.
Earl: I’ve come to really enjoy the local beer reviews. We follow closely the releases from the local breweries, so there’s an element of anticipation to try these as soon as they become available. Sitting down with a new brew, comparing tasting notes, and then putting together a review is something we both really enjoy. This is magnified by the excitement about these releases in the local community, as I touched on above. I also like the home brewing notes and random posts like the apology letter and Deadliest Brew, that don’t get the same response as the reviews, but I think allow us to express our personalities a bit more.
ACBB: What beer related festivals are you planning on attending this year?
Drew: Well, we have two festivals currently on the radar: the Saint John Beerfest in mid-April and the (Halifax) Seaport Beerfest in August. We’ve attended the latter regularly over the past few years, but this will be our first trip to Saint John. We’re really looking forward to it, both for the beer and for the opportunity to meet some of the people up that way. We will definitely be blogging about it in the near future.