Editor’s Note: Some of the dates in the below post have been corrected.
The New Brunswick Craft Brewers Association is a home brewing club based in the Fredericton area. I’ve exchanged emails with the club’s President, Richard Bennett, to complete the following Q & A to learn more about the club:
Atlantic Canada Beer Blogger (ACBB): Tell me about the background on the club.
Richard Bennett (RB): The club was started by two of my good friends — David Savoie (the original President), and Kyle Zelmer (the original VP). I wasn’t in the area at the time (2009), and things were pretty slow to start out. Kyle moved to the Presidential role in late 2010, before passing the torch to me last year. As the club transitioned to a more formal organization, those who had made a defining contribution in its early stages (John, Peter, Thomas, Kyle and Dave) joined me as Charter Members. The club was originally intended to cover just Fredericton, and provided a time and place for people to both share and discuss craft beers. Most meetings were dominated by tasting sessions, with members providing feedback on each others’ efforts; very little has changed in that regard.
The club is dedicated to the betterment of the craft brewing hobby, existing to pursue this goal through:
● Purchase Power: Providing group purchase power to enable procurement of supplies and ingredients that might otherwise be more expensive or less obtainable.
● Trading: Enabling the sharing of craft supplies amongst members, for the benefit of members.
● Expertise Building: Facilitating the growth and dissemination of brewing knowledge among club members.
● Social Networking: Providing venues for members to share, improve, and enjoy their craft online through forums and in-person through bi-weekly meetings.
● Promoting the Craft: Fostering a local brew community that respects members no matter their level of experience or approach to brewing.
● Promoting Responsibility: Encouraging moderate, safe, and responsible enjoyment of craft beer.
● Promoting Community: An overall ethos of sharing and cooperation.
ACBB: Tell me about the club today.
RB: When I came on the scene, I offered to improve the web presence, as we were holed up in a pretty basic freebie web account. We fairly rapidly found ourselves getting members from all around New Brunswick, and total around thirty-five dues paid members at present. We have considerably more members on the site, likely due to our more nation-wide appearance, and the value/scope of the knowledge already available in the forums. While we do not have regional chapters at present, we encourage those in other cities to form clubs and will offer assistance to them. More recently we’ve been doing bulk buys of grain and hops, since grouping together for such purchases gives us much better opportunities for leveraging economies of scale. We’ve also started doing competitions, and are looking towards getting some of our members certified as BJCP judges in the future to add value to this effort.
ACBB: How many and what type of events does the club typically have in a year?
RB: Generally we hold four competitions each year, each targeting a particular style. We didn’t initially try to match this with the BJCP guidelines, but lately have decided to move to a stricter format in that regard. There’s also the “mash-occur”, where a bunch of the members descend upon one willing participant’s home (to date, thanks to the ever-hospitable JQ and his long suffering wife) to brew up a whole bunch of beers while enjoying some good food. There are of course the bi-weekly meetings that are the backbone of the club, and these range from just a few people to epic gatherings depending on the direction the wind is blowing. I’ve noticed in particular that the meetings tend to get very large during the colder months. Members will occasionally organise ad-hoc meetings with others in the club, as of course there are a lot of like-minded people under the NBCBA banner.
As applicable, club business is done at the beginning of meetings. This is followed by any organized workshops, for example, intro to using the yeast library, equipment workshops, technique demonstrations, or tasting sessions. Following the formal aspects of the meetings, attendees share beer, knowledge, and community.
ACBB: Do you have any interaction with the Brewnosers or any other home brewing clubs?
RB: We have occasionally contacted other clubs with an eye to locating supplies such as kegs and grain, but as yet we’ve not crossed paths en-masse with other clubs. I suspect the future holds inter-club competitions, and I’d certainly welcome members of other clubs to join our forums.
ACBB: Can you give me an overview of the website?
RB: This year I moved us from a simple forum to a more comprehensive setup, and at present we have news, club history, By-laws, Charter, information on how to join, the forums (definitely the most lively part of the site), a wiki and brew-blog. Members are given write access to the wiki and brew-blog sections. If I’m being honest, the Wiki hasn’t seen much use yet as people are still in the habit of posting most of their information on the forum – however we’ve started a process of canonising the more useful information, recipes, etc. to the Wiki. The brew-blogger allows people to design and catalogue their recipes, which I think is a very useful feature for most brewers.
ACBB: How does someone join the club? What geography do you need to be in to join?
RB: Just check out this page on the website: http://www.craftbrewing.ca/index.php/join – members must be from New Brunswick – for now 😉
ACBB: Are any professional brewers part of your group / Have any members started within this group and gone on to brew professionally?
RB: That’s a yes on both counts – Steve Dixon of Grimross Brewing was a member before he started his professional efforts, however as I understand it his experience goes back quite a bit longer than the club. Other members have dreams of pursuing various ventures centered around brewing, so my guess is that we’ll see more.
ACBB: Have any members received or scheduled to receive formal training / certification?
RB: As of yet no, but we’re looking to address this in the near future – It’s somewhat more difficult in Canada than the US to get the certification. The rigidity of the BJCP does help to give structure to competitions, and the process which judges must undergo in order to be certified is great to ensure proper objectivity and accuracy in their critique. On the other hand, I don’t believe that the only path to such prowess is through the certification program: experience is the best teacher, regardless of the source.
ACBB: What tips do you have for anyone looking to get into home brewing for the first time?
RB: I’d especially recommend the classic “The Complete Joy of Homebrewing” by Charlie Papazian, and “How to Brew” by John Palmer. After that – join a club, or at least a forum, and make use of the spectacular array of knowledge available to you through your fellow brewers. Most brewers will be willing to talk your ear off on any given subject, from trouble-shooting to recipe formulation.
Avoid “just add water” canned kits, as these are often stale or use poor-quality ingredients. Some are redeemable, but require the same techniques as you’d use in a liquid-malt-extract (unhopped extract) brew. By far the lowest effort versus quality of return are the full-wort kits (or nearly full wort); for example Brauhaus or Festa-brew. Many beginners are disheartened by the poor quality of the kits in cans and never continue with the hobby, so I always recommend the full-wort kits to beginners to make sure they are able to see good results.
Attending a meeting as a guest is a good way to see the potential of home brewed beers.
Get a grip on temperature control – too cold and your yeast won’t operate, too hot and you’ll end up with something tasting like a cross between magic markers and a fruit bowl. Around 16-18C works well for most ale yeasts.
Get fresh ingredients – make sure your supplier uses containers that are sealed to the atmosphere. All of the ingredients that go into making beer go bad fairly quickly if they’re kept too warm or handled improperly. The best way to find out good local sources for fresh ingredients is to ask other brewers.
As for styles, the two most popular seem to be IPA and Stout – these are particularly good for beginners because they are both replete with very strong flavours, which can cover up small defects you may encounter. Many of the lighter-flavoured styles require considerable finesse to avoid off-flavours, so aren’t entirely well suited to beginners.
Finally – don’t be put off by failure. We’ve all had bad batches (those who say otherwise are either extremely lucky or not entirely honest).
ACBB: What do you think would move someone from being a craft beer drinker, to a craft beer brewer?
RB: I think there are pretty much three main reasons why people embark on this hobby: cost, curiousity, creativity, or some combination (alliteration entirely accidental). Craft beer is expensive, and those who drink it are often moved to brewing due to the potential to save money. Craft beer connoiseurs may also look to brewing as a means of understanding the beers they already appreciate on the surface, but wish to know what lies beneath. Others still are not satisfied with the beers available to them either locally or globally, and are interested in pushing the boundaries of style; nothing gives you that kind of creative control over beer as brewing your own. Regardless of the reasons they got into the craft, most will end up citing all of the above after a while.
ACBB: What do you think of the craft beer movement in general?
RB: The craft beer movement tends to be populated with creative people from very diverse backgrounds coming together to appreciate the art and science of a well made product. While New Brunswick is just beginning to embrace gourmet beer, all around us is a tremendous wealth of craft beer availability, knowledge, and enjoyment. Craft beer drinkers and brewers, irrespective of geographic region tend to enjoy an immense amount of knowledge sharing and community. Commercial craft brewers and specialty pubs often assist local communities of beer aficionados’ in pushing the boundaries of the craft. The movement is positive on all fronts, good for business, good for elevating beer in the public perception to gourmet quality, and ideal as an anchor point for a truly rewarding lifelong hobby. I’m very happy to endorse local trailblazers such as Picaroons and The Garrison Restaurant for their contributions to the club and to craft beer in general – but I would like to think that they are only a taste of what is to come in Fredericton and Atlantic Canada.The nature of economies of scale has led beer down a rather bland path in the past, especially in North America. I know that there is a significant animosity within the craft beer movement towards the brewing giants that were responsible for that shift, but realistically it is in the hands of the beer-drinkers themselves to change the market for the better. I have in the past been asked to recommend the “top five craft beers”, and I don’t think that’s the right approach to take. Craft beer is about quality and variety, even if one beer is more popular than others. Support your local craft beer establishments and they will thrive – which can only lead to bigger and better things in the future.
Editor’s Note: The following pics are from club events in 2011 and 2012: