After several years of brewing at home in his basement for friends and family, avid homebrewer Keith Forbes is now brewing at home in his basement… but for a wider audience, as the commercial brewery Ol’ Biddy’s Brew House. Forbes released the first of his beers this past Friday, with the inaugural batch of his Funktown American Pale Ale delivered to Freeman’s Pizza Sackville, Bishop’s Cellar (for growler fills), and the Good Robot taproom, where he had previously done a Guest Tap Takeover. We traded emails with Forbes in between brewdays and cleaning kegs to learn more about him, his brewing history, his beers, and the future of OBBH.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Open with a hard question will ya? I’m 34, live in Sackville Nova Scotia, have been married to an amazing wife for 8 years and have 3 great kids. I work full time in IT/Telecom; have been brewing for quite a while, have competed against some of the best brewers (now friends) in the province and have a passion for craft beer. I’m fun, easy to get along with, but have been known to be a sarcastic arsehole all at the same time. But I am who I am. My wife is 37, and has lived in Sackville her whole life. She works in Payroll and has tolerated my passion for quite some time. She’s the better half of this duo and we wouldn’t be in this position to launch Ol’ Biddy’s Brew House without her support.
How did you get into the wonderful world of beer?
I started into the world of beer to save a few $$$ (that did not happen) as we just moved into a house; had 2 kids with a 3rd on the way. The first 6 months, it was Festabrew kits (ed: pre-made wort, just need to pitch yeast) which led into a couple Best Case kits (partial extract and steeped grains), after that found the Brewnosers and decided I could create my own beers. I brewed 2 extract batches before picking up a fellow brewer’s Brew in a Bag setup. After that, I was making some good beer. A year after that, I was entering competitions, receiving feedback and dialing in my product.
My passion for great beer and wanting to share my product with everyone is the main reason. I love sharing my beer. Anyone who knows me will agree that if you show up, you’re likely having a beer or leaving with some! I believe the turning point was after the Forbes 500 tap takeover at Good Robot; it was a moment that will stick with me for the rest of my life. It was an event that let me briefly follow my dream. With Brightwood Brewery launching on a small scale I knew it was feasible and I started the process early this year to follow our dream.
Tell us about Ol’ Biddy’s: Where did the name come from?
Ol’ Biddy’s Brew House wasn’t the original name; as much as I love this brand there was a ton of disappointment in having to start over. As for the original name there is a story, but another brewery registered their name in the province and our original was rejected as the names were too similar.
As for Ol’ Biddy’s, we were around 3 weeks on brainstorming to come up with a new brand. We wanted to have a fun brand, be a bit sarcastic, stand out from the crowd and just make and share some great beers. For those who know us, my wife and I are like an old married couple… we should be very entertaining when we actually are an old married couple! She’s my Ol’ Biddy, and now that we are at this point, we wouldn’t have it any other way.
What is the ethos of the brewery?
We definitely believe in sharing and giving back where we can, and look forward to having fellow Brewnosers and friends in the brewery to give them an avenue to release some beers to the public, where it’s at beer events, a release at Stillwell, Battery Park, or one of our regular accounts.
Can you tell us about your lineup of beers?
We plan on having 3 mainstay beers that will be available more often than not. In addition, I have a list an arm long of beers that we plan to release as seasonals. As well, as a thank you to the Brewnosers, I would like to offer up the nano brewery for one-off releases to other members; let them experience the fun and excitement of having a beer commercially released. But back on track…these are the three core beers, I’m sure the ACBB Team is well-versed with these! (ed: Chris and Aaron have enjoyed many of Forbes’ beers during monthly Brewnosers meetings and social events)
Funktown APA: Crisp and Clean, hop-forward American Pale Ale. Heavy on the hops, but clean on the finish. This beer took Gold Medal in the 2015 Brewnosers National Homebrew Competition, and was released during my Good Robot Tap Takeover in November 2016. Future ideas for Funktown include the addition of pineapple, grapefruit, or blood orange.
Even Gooder Coffee Brown: A well-balanced complex Brown Ale with a dense coffee aroma and flavor that finishes crisp, clean and leaving you wanting more. Once described as the “Cocaine and Hookers of Beers” (can I say that?). Knowing who said it, this was meant as the highest of compliments.
We also plan to offer two or three seasonal beers shortly after launch. Likely one of the best beers I’ve ever brewed previously was Moose Milk, my infamous Vanilla Bourbon Chocolate Milk Stout – rich, silky, and creamy with hints of vanilla and bourbon. It’s like chocolate milk for adults! You must try it; it won’t last. It might be going by a new name upon release…
The Orange American Bastard (#Trump) is a beer my nephew and I designed especially for him. Primarily Wheat-forward, with bitter orange peel, coriander and Cascade hops. Fermented with a clean American Ale yeast, it is a true bastard of the Wit Style of beer. It was originally designed as a one-off recipe, however, it has become a mainstay during the summer months.
Being so small, and concentrating on draft rather than packaged beer, I love offering a wide variety of beers I’ve brewed previously. Here are few other beers I look forward to sharing with the public:
- Gail’s Revenge IPA
- Hoppily Ever After DIPA
- Intergalactic APA
- Problem Child Amber (Brewed for release with Peter Lionais of Tidehouse Brewing)
- Even Gooder Nut Brown (Released at Good Robot during the Tap Takeover)
- Ol’ Biddy’s Irish Red
- Alternate Ending Altbier (Brewed for release with Jeff Saunders at Bad Apple Brewhouse)
- Tall Dark & Handsome Robust Porter (Bronze Medal Winner at 2015 Garrison Home Brew-Off)
- Engine 41 Smoked Porter (Released at Good Robot)
- Tilted Kilt Wee Heavy (Collaboration brew with Mike Orr; Gold Medal Winner at the Hammond River Brewing Competition.
- The Good Boy Dark English Mild (Released at Good Robot)
- The Cookie Jar White Stout (Released at Good Robot)
- Lawn & Order Wheat Ale.
- Alternate Releases: Blueberry; Apricot and Blood Orange
- Liquid Gold (Silver Medal Winner at the 2016 Big Spruce Brewing Comp)
- Orange Grove Wheat
- Sackvegas Sour
We are still waiting to see what I can do in terms of distribution; being zoned R1 is tricky. The initial focus will be having a few select tap accounts and then see how sales are. We may provide growler sales in the future, but are waiting to hear on zoning. Worst case scenario, I’ll have the potential to be setup at Farmers markets.
How can folks enjoy your beer currently?
We have already delivered Funktown APA to Bishop’s Cellar, Good Robot, and Freeman’s Sackville. Yesterday (Sunday), Mount Uniacke Pub received our Even Gooder Coffee Brown, and in the next day or two, we’ll be delivering kegs of that and the Chocolate Milk Stout to Battery Park (as well as a pair of the previous spots). Our beer will be dispersed throughout HRM; most areas will only have my beer at one establishment, being a small brewery operation. However, we want to spread the beer out as far as we can to reach the most people. If anyone reading this is interested in taking beer on let us know. We are looking for a few more tap accounts in Halifax, Dartmouth, Cole Harbor, Bedford and Windsor.
Have you had assistance from other breweries or people while you made your way towards opening?
This is a long list and everyone has offered me assistance, guidance or feedback over the years… in the beginning to get started brewing, feedback on beers, friendly razzing in competitions over the years, or just answering questions on the setup process. These are in no order and I apologize if I missed anyone.
- Erin Forbes (My wife and the inspiration behind our brand)
- The Brewnosers
- Jeff Saunders @ Bad Apple Brewhouse (Somerset)
- Greg Nash @ Unfiltered (North Street)
- Jimmy Beaman @ Mad Boocha (North Street)
- Mike Orr
- Shane Steeves @ Hammond River (Rothesay, NB)
- 1029 Brewing
- Brathair Brewing
- Chris @ ACCB
- Josh, Doug, Angus and the rest of the Good Robot Team (Robie Street)
- Jeremy @ Big Spruce (Nyanza)
- Peter and Shean at Tide House (Salter Street)
- Dave @ Everwood Ave (Lr. Sackville)
- Becky @ Sober Island (Sheet Harbour)
- Jonathan @ Best Case (Burnside)
- Matt @ Brightwood Brewing (Dartmouth)
- There are more, but my mind is tired and sorry if I forgot a mention!
With that said, if someone wants to talk brewing, has a question about the process, wants to join us for a pint and just discuss beer we are all ears and encourage it. If you see us, say Hi!
Where do you hope to see your brewery in the next 2-3 years?
I hope to still be having fun with the brewery. Likely in 2 years I’ll have more shiny gear and a few new fermentors. However, I want to keep it small scale for now, keep things exciting, and have friends in to brew. Eventually, I would love to have a tap room in Sackville; have a few main stays and rotate through an abundance of seasonal and one-off beers. Wait and see what the future brings.
Let’s get a bit nerdy for those of us who want to learn more about the beer and brewery specifics:
Tell us about your brewhouse.
I’ve got a fully custom 1 barrel (120 litre) brewery with a pair of fermentors; I built it over the years as funds permitted. There’s nothing standard about this setup, and it’s likely one of the most Frankensteined breweries around. With that said, it’s doesn’t come down to the equipment used, but the quality of beer you can produce.
To start, we anticipate producing 600 litres per month (72 hL per year); in 2 years I’m anticipating growing to 170-200 hL annually. Either way, it’s still small scale; but we are ok with that.
Can you share more about your homebrewing history?
I started 6 or 7 years ago, and found the Brewnosers forums about 5 years ago. I started out with a canned Coopers kit. It was complete garbage, but we drank it anyway. Later, I found Festabrew kits and fermented those for a few months, which is around the time I found the Brewnosers. I moved from bottles to kegs and partial grain kits, and then started producing my own recipes on Jimmy’s old 20 litre setup. From that point, I entered into competitions, where I made some great friends and slowly grew my system over time. Next thing you know, I have a brewery in my basement and I’m looking for a license! Never would have guessed 5 years ago that I’d be at this point.
Do you have a favorite beer style, beer, or brewery you enjoy drinking?
It really depends on the day. I love a good hop-forward, low-SRM beer; just something juicy and delicious when done right. As for favorite local breweries or beers, I’d need to say Bad Apple’s Boxcutter IPA and Unfiltered Exile on North St. are at the top of my list.
How about a favourite style or ingredient to brew with?
No real favourite styles to brew; kettle sours are more interesting. But overall the process is the same, you mash, boil, ferment, keg, and then drink. However, my favourite ingredient to brew with (which I think has a lot to do with my beer) is the salts. Most wouldn’t think water additions would make or break a beer; however it’s single-handedly what makes my beer unique. Looking forward, we are looking to get a barrel and do a few barrel aged beers. Not sure where we will put the barrel; but we will find a space!
Massive thanks to Keith for taking time out of a full time job and full time brewing to answer our questions. The Ol’ Biddy’s Brew House website is currently under development, so the best way to keep track of beer availability is through Twitter and Facebook. Congratulations to Keith and Erin on joining the ranks of Nova Scotia breweries!