Chris McDonald

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Brewnosers is a group of Atlantic Canadian beer enthusiasts comprised of mostly homebrewers but general beer geeks as well.  I recently exchanged emails with one of the members, Chris McDonald, to learn more about the club.  Chris reached out to one of the original 4 members of the club, Jeff Pinhey, to help out with my questions related to the history of the club.  Here is the Q & A:

Atlantic Canada Beer Blogger (ACBB):  Tell me about the background of the club.

Chris McDonald (BN): The Brewnosers was started by four friends in 1986 in Halifax. Fed up with the lack of good beer available in NS, these friends would swap homebrew and good beer brought back from other provinces and countries. Those original members are still around, two are still very active in the club. The group grew through the addition of friends, co-workers, and beer-enthusiast strangers to the fold, and now numbers over 200 who self-identify as Brewnosers.
One of the reasons the group has been around so long is our lack of formal structure, rules, or fees. The only rule is that you can’t drink shitty beer (unless it’s the only beer on the menu, or it was given to you).
We have three policies that are self evident, in some ways.  We are not just beer drinkers, we are hell raisers – that is, we sometimes function as a beer advocacy group, and that includes responsible consumption. No one likes a hypocrite, and we ask people to know their limits and not drive when they shouldn’t.  We also ask members to take the opportunity, when presented, to advocate for better beer, be it homebrew, or commercial beer. “Don’t be shy” when the media call. And, most importantly, we all try to bring beer home to share with our clubmates when we are travelling.  There’s always another new beer out there.

ACBB: How long have you been involved with the club?

BN:  I’ve been involved with the club for about 5 years, since hearing about it through the Coast (our local weekly alt paper). I went to one meeting with some beer I’d brought back from the US, and was pleasantly surprised that there were others like me: thirsty beer lovers looking to share our knowledge and access to interesting beer.

ACBB:  Tell me about the club today.

BN:  Once a Brewnoser, always a Brewnoser, we say! On our forums and email list, we’ve got over 200 members. Not all of them are in the Halifax/HRM area so they’ve created their own “splinter” groups; there is a strong contingent in PEI (the Aleanders), the Sackville-Amherst corridor (Sackville-Amherst Area Zymurgists, SAAZ), as well as Newfoundland and BC, and parts in between. We also have some members in the US.

ACBB:  How many events does the club typically have in a year?

BN:  During our monthly meetings (second Tuesday of the month), we will typically have 10-15 members come out to share homebrew and special beers from here and away.  We also host a quarterly themed get-together, which will attract 30+ members and friends and family: we just recently had a Rye IPA tasting, with over 20 different homebrewed and commercial Rye IPAs, and will once again host a Hoptoberfest event in the Fall. There is also a good number of members who will partake in other groups events, like Big Strange Brew NB and March in Montreal.

ACBB:  Can you give me an overview of the website?

BN:  The focal point of our website is the forum. There we share homebrewing and cooking recipes, beer release information, BN events and brewpub visits, and general beer-related information. We also have Classifieds for people looking to buy or sell homebrewing or related equipment, and a spot for beer-centric vendors to post about specials they might be able to extend to BN members.

ACBB: How does someone join the club?

BN:  If you can abide by our one rule and policies, then joining the club is as simple as signing up on the forum and saying “Hi!”. Come out to one of the monthly meetings, or get-togethers at the Rockbottom, Hart & Thistle or Rogue’s Roost. Just look for the table of handsome guys and gals enjoying a well-made pint.

ACBB:  Are any professional brewers part of your group?  Have any members started within this group and gone on to brew professionally?

BN:  We do have some professional brewers in our midst, including local brewer Greg Nash (of Rockbottom and Hart & Thistle). We also have members who brew or work at other breweries in the Maritimes (Garrison, Big Tide, etc). The information they give the group is excellent and bring the quality of all our brews up considerably.
While I’m not sure if any of our members have recently opened their own breweries, there are quite a few people who are close, or are going to professional brewing school to make that a reality.

ACBB:  Are there any local homebrewing competitions?  Do any members attend any events in other parts of the country?

BN:  The only BJCP-sanctioned event in the Maritimes right now is the Garrison Brew-off, which wrapped up last month. There is always a strong Brewnoser presence in the finals. We do have informal competitions for members, and will be launching some more shortly (think “Iron Chef”, but for beer). Our members have entered and done very well in competitions across the country and North America, with very strong showings in the Toronto Beer Week competition (look for Tim Gregory’s Dubbel to be released by Beau’s Brewing in the summer).
Newfoundland Member Tony Legge is one of our most prolific competition brewers, putting our name on the map at competitions across the country!
In the past, we were quite active and won the Best Club in Canada in 1996, awarded by the Canadian Amateur Brewers Association (CABA). And as I write, one of our members (and co-founder) Jeff Pinhey is in Montreal at “March in Montreal”, an annual CABA event. He also is one of the invited judges at the Canadian Brewing Awards.

ACBB:   Have any members received or scheduled to receive formal training / certification?

BN: Several of our members are BJCP-sanctioned judges, including a National-level judge. Our members have attended the American Brewers Guild, the Siebel Institute, and will be attending the Niagara College Brewmaster Program. We have a Beer Judge Certification Program exam scheduled for Halifax in early 2013, and plan on ramping up the competition side once we have some more local judged.

ACBB:   What tips do you have for anyone looking to get into homebrewing for the first time?

BN:  If someone is interested in getting into homebrewing beer, my best piece of advice is “Just Brew It!”. Pick a style you like, and try to make that beer. All of the reading of books and forums, or listening to podcasts is immaterial if you haven’t yet made a batch of beer. You can start simple with a canned kit from the grocery store or a Festa Brew from your local homebrew store. After you brew it, share it with friends and family, maybe the homebrew shop where you purchased the kit. Ask, What did you do right? What did you do wrong? After that, you might want to get into adjusting their recipes to your tastes, so a partial mash (steeping grains with added malt) is the way to go.
After you’ve conquered that technique, it might be time to graduate to all-grain brewing, where you have supreme control over the entire process of the beer.
We have members at all stages of the process, and we’d love to help new brewers with any questions they might have.
Besides the Brewnosers forum, John Palmer’s excellent book “How to Brew” is online for free, and has excellent information for new and veteran brewers alike. “Brewing Classic Styles” from Jamil Zainasheff and John Palmer has great extract/all-grain recipes for most every style of beer, along with great general information.