Sean Dunbar

All posts tagged Sean Dunbar

Grimross Brewing Co. is the latest entry to the Atlantic Canadian brewing scene.  They’ve just launched their first beer, a collaboration beer with Picaroons.  I’ve recently exchanged emails with brewery owner Stephen Dixon in order to complete this Q & A.

Atlantic Canada Beer Blogger (ACBB):  How did you decide to get into brewing professionally?

Stephen Dixon (SD): Primarily it is because I want to share new good and interesting beer with others. For years I have enjoyed bringing others beers to gatherings of family and friends and doing tastings to expose people to something new and interesting. Combine that with my own interest to create and craft new and interesting beer, I couldn’t imagine not doing it. For me it has been more a matter of when, not if.

ACBB:  Do you have a background in home brewing?  If so, approximately how many different batches have you brewed?  Have you been / are you involved in any home brewing clubs?
SD: Yes, I have been brewing for almost 20 years. I think I made my first malt extract beer when I lived in Vernon British Columbia, it was a Porter if memory serves. I really can’t say how many batches I have brewed, I never really kept track until recently when I started using brewing software to track the details of my recipes and brewing. I have had some periods where I did very little brewing for various reasons, but I would say it is somewhere in excess of 200. For a time, I moved to brewing fruit wines made from locally picked berries, mostly chokecheery, elderberry and cranberry. Other than the cranberries, I picked all my chokecherries and elderberries. I make wine from them and incorporate them into some of my beers. I have an Elderberry Ale conditioning right now. Yes, I am currently a member of the New Brunswick Craft Brewers Association. It consists of homebrewers from around the province, but most members are in Fredericton. The NBCBA holds bi-weekly meetings to share knowledge on brewing and there is also periodic brewing competitions. It is made up of very knowledgeable and experienced brewers and complete beginners. Oh, and we do a little tasting as well 😉 
ACBB: What styles are you planning on brewing?
SD: This is a bit of a tough question for me. For the benefit of others I usually say Belgian (and it’s somewhat true) because it gives beer knowledgeable people a reference point. But another aspect of Belgian beer is that many Belgian Brewers were somewhat irreverent to style. They would push the envelope with ingredients (spices, vegetables and fruit) and fermentation (spontaneous [open to the air], wild yeast [mostly brettanomyces] and bacteria [lactobacillus, pediococcus]). So I think it is fair to say that my “style” is more inspired by the Belgian sense of adventure, exploration and attitude than necessarily a particular say BJCP style. I will say though that lately I have been very intrigued with “sour” beers, particularly Brettanomyces (Brett). Although Brett on it’s own is not usually associated with sour per se, it certainly contributes some interesting acidic, tart and funky tastes and aromas. I’m currently experimenting with 100% Brett fermented beer and early indications are good! 
ACBB: Did you have any assistance from any other breweries in setting up your operation?
SD: That’s easy, yes, Sean Dunbar of Picaroons (Northampton Brewing Co.)! Actually, I’m not sure if Sean would remember, but about 15 years ago, I approached Sean (and Andy) for advice on starting a brewery of my own and they were both very positive. It didn’t happen for me at that time for a variety of reasons, but they were certainly supportive. In my experience, Sean’s attitude has always been to support and grow the craft beer movement in New Brunswick and now Atlantic Canada and Canada. In my current venture Sean is helping me by allowing me to brew my beer in his Brewtique Brewery on 422 Queen St in downtown Fredericton. Given the capital intensive nature of brewing, you can imagine this is a significant help to me. Sean has also been very forthcoming on advice on things he has learned during his “pioneering” as a craft brewer in New Brunswick. I am very grateful for his help and support. Wendy Papadopolous of Big Tide Brewery in Saint John has also been very supportive. Last year Wendy invited me to Big Tide to brew a Stout with her. It was a great day of brewing and talking about brewing and I learned a lot from her as well. I have also been invited to do a collaboration beer with Microbrasserie Charlevoix in Quebec. Being a huge fan of their Belgian inspired beer, I am really looking forward to that. I think it’s fair to say that craft brewers are a good lot 😉 I hope to be able to pay it forward when it is my turn. 
ACBB: Where will you be brewing short term and what are your long term plans for a facility?
SD: As I mentioned, the current plan is to brew Grimross beer at the Picaroons Queen St. Brewtique brewery. Plans for my own Grimross brewery are already underway. It’s difficult to nail down a specific timeline, but I will be happy if this time next year we are talking about “the new” Grimross brewery here in Fredericton. 
ACBB: In what format are you planning on selling your beers?
SD: In the short term, while operating from the Picaroons Brewtique, Grimross will be sold in growlers and kegs from the Brewtique and to a few bars in Fredericton. As per our brewery plans, we intend to do the same plus bottles from day one.
ACBB: Do you have any accounts lined up to by your beer?
SD: Yes, we have a few Fredericton bars who have agreed to try our beer when it is available. Customer demand will dictate if Grimross beer stays on tap 🙂 We certainly hope our unique beers will find a niche.  
ACBB: Can you tell me about any Atlantic Canadian supplies or equipment you are planning on using in your brewery?
SD: Yes and no. Supplies are hard to pin down in Atlantic Canada right now. Local malted barley is not consistent at this point, but when it is I am a big proponent of buying local. We do have some fresh hops available and I certainly plan to incorporate them if supply is available. I have been using local wild berries for some time, in particular, chokecherries and elderberries. I hope to incorporate them into some of my beers. On the equipment front, we have been in discussion with a certain Atlantic Canadian Brewery Equipment Manufacturer. 
ACBB: What are your favorite beers?
SD: To me that’s akin to asking me which of my children I love the most. Sorry, but I can’t say just one. One of my go to’s is La Chouffe from the Ardeenes. My favorite Picaroons, is Mans Best Friend (other than Monster Mash-Up;-). I’m a big fan of Brasserie Charlevoix, their La Dominus Vobiscum Brut is wonderful. Oude Geuze Boon from the Boon brewery in Belgium. I like to have an Orval at least once a week and right now on tap in my garage, the Blonde Duivel, a Semin-Sour Belgian blonde finished with Brettanomyces Bruxellensis, yum. I could really go on and on, but I’ll stop here. 
ACBB: Any other interesting facts about your operation that you’d like to mention?
SD: I don’t like to be hemmed in when it comes to crafting new beer, so people should expect the unexpected from time to time 😉
Grimross Brewing can be followed on Twitter ( @GrimrossBrewing ) and also has a Facebook page

Northampton Brewing Company, the maker of Picaroons Traditional Ales,  is a brewery that has experienced the lowest of lows (closing down its operations) to the highest of highs (being named 2011 Canadian Brewery of the Year).  I’ve recently exchanged emails with Dennis Goodwin, the Information Manager for Picaroons, who consulted with owner / operator Sean Dunbar for answers to my questions and I also referenced some internet sources to complete this profile.

Picaroons was originally opened in 1994 by Sean Dunbar, a recently graduated UNB Law Student, and three other individuals with no background in brewing.  Here’s a quote of Sean’s from the Acorn Organic website to explain why he went into the brewing business:

“I just found the brewery business to be so much more interesting than what I saw in law firms,” Sean says about his choice to give up practicing law to become a full-time brewer.

Craig Pinhey’s excellent article in the Summer edition of TAPS, outlines the history of the brewery.  Here are quotes related to the brewery closing in October 1999:

Even through their beer sales are growing at 40% per year, Picaroons runs out of cash and all the equipment is sold by the receiver.  What brings them down?  “Idiot consultants and our own poor decisions.  It certainly wasn’t the beer’s fault” answers Dunbar.

In 2001, Sean re-opened Picaroons on his own.  Since then, Picaroons has enjoyed consistent growth in sales and added new brands to their portfolio.  While firm plans are not in place, it is likely that they will expand at some point in the foreseeable future to keep up with demand for their brews.

Their Beer
Picaroons produces between 6000 and 7000 HL of beer per year.  Two seasonals, Dooryard Summer Ale and Winter Warmer,  are their top sellers when in season.   Best Bitter is their best seller among the year round beers.

When I asked Dennis to describe each beer he explained how each beer is important to the company and designed to fit with the portfolio in mind.  “We think that you just try to use the very best ingredients you can, brew it with feeling and good beer will happen.   We don’t try to shock anyone with our beers.    We fail to see the point in that.   I want those people who want interesting beer to drink  to be able to drink it every day.  Each of our beer styles is intended to fill a need in the beer market.   We only make ales and are not likely to stray into the world of lagers, or Belgian styles, etc.   We’ll let other brewers come along,  find the stylistic niches and brew into them.    Our portfolio of beers is not designed haphazardly.   It is supposed to fit together.”

Below is a description of each of the beers that led to Picaroons being name 2011 Canadian Brewery of the year taken from the company’s website:

Best Bitter – A full-bodied, aromatic English-style pale ale. Flavour highlights include notes of caramel upfront, ending with a tangy hop punch.

Irish Red – A hearty meat ‘n’ potatoes Irish-style ale. Its malty sweetness coats the palate like candy, and is offset in the finish with spicy Goldings hops.

Dooryard Summer Ale – 100% Certified Organic Our quirky blend of three traditional wheat beer styles gives the palate a refreshing sunny burst of citrus and spice. Picaroons’ commitment to a healthy environment led to the creation of this “Certified Organic” beer.

Simeon Jones River Valley Amber Ale – Our reverence for the brewing history of New Brunswick culminated in the creation of this medium-bodied lightly-hopped ale. This accessible amber beer is an homage to Simeon Jones, former brewer and Mayor of Saint John, whose beer was known throughout the Maritimes for its robust flavour.

Winter Warmer – Our interpretation of the English barley wine is a big, strong hug of a beer. The intense alcoholic warmth sneaks up on the drinker, who is simply enjoying this beverage’s fruity nose, malty sweetness and mahogany hue.

Blonde Ale – Our Blonde Ale is the result of simple brewing techniques and quality ingredients; Maris Otter barley, West Coast hops, and Ringwood yeast, creating subtle yet complex flavours in a sociable pale ale.

Dark and Stormy Night – This Certified Organic ale is a stylistic hybrid of an English brown ale and a German dunkel weizen. It is dark in colour but light in texture, providing all the rich flavours of a stout or porter with the easy drinkability of a wheat beer.

Man’s Best Friend – This is a well-rounded porter, brewed to be assertively roasty and toasty with an approachably pleasant body; at once, soothing and invigorating.

Maple Cream – This brown cream ale is conditioned as a lager and brewed as an ale. The result is a beer that is well-endowed with rich malt flavours and the bitter/sweet accent of pure New Brunswick maple syrup.

Timber Hog – The classic Irish-style dry stout is the basic background of this aromatic ebony elixir but deviations may occur from batch to batch as we improvisationally wander through variations on the theme.

Yippee IPA – An East Coast-style India Pale Ale that weaves hop bitterness and aroma throughout a blanket of malt backgroung. This beer may change from batch to batch as we explore the various interpretations of the style.

Melon Head – Crisp and delicious, this feisty and flavourful ale is made from the equal marriage of Canadian 2-row barley and toasted wheat. Citrus notes pop with the addition of natural watermelon extract, leaving you with melons on your mind.

The vast majority of their beer is sold in New Brunswick with some sales coming in Nova Scotia.  Dennis estimates that they sell approximately 60% of their beer in bottles and 40% in kegs.

Brewery Tours
They do offer tours on an exceptional basis;  normally only for charity groups who purchase a tour and tasting at, for example, a silent auction.

One of the unique features of Picaroons is the Brewtique located at 422 Queen Street in downtown Fredericton which is open 7 days a week.  In it, Picaroons clothing and collectibles, 500 ml bottles, and growlers of fresh beer are available (they typically have about 5 beers available on tap at any given time).  It also has some interesting books in the store to browse through and some very interesting graphics about the history of brewing.  The Brewtique is a must stop for any beer geek remotely close to the area.

Internet Presence
Picaroons is very well represented on the net.  The have two websites:   the Picaroons website and Picaroons Pub which has member information,  news, their blog, videos, pics and what’s available on tap at the Brewtique.  They also have an active Facebook page and can be followed on Twitter @picaroons.

Community Involvement
Picaroons is heavily involved with their communityThey support a variety of environmental causes and are heavily involved with Arts initiatives in the Fredericton area.  They sponsored the Women Love Beer Too event in Fredericton this past March.