Monday, 3 October 2011

Iron Brewer 2011 and the Long, Dark Voyage to Uranise

On Friday, September 30th, I had the privilege of taking part in the 2nd annual Iron Brewer competition put on by Paul Dickey and the Ontario branch of the MBAA.

Held at the Black Oak brewery in Etobicoke, Ontario, the event featured 16 brewers, from all across Ontario, and from varying levels of experience, ranging from home brewers all the way up to brewers from the big Molson plant here in Toronto.  The vast majority of entrants were from craft breweries across Ontario.

The event is much like the Iron Chef you see on TV, except for instead of having a "feature ingredient", the brewers are given two "mystery" bags of malt, hops and other special ingredients to create their brews.  Once given those bags what they did with those ingredients was up to them.  Basically you could create whatever style you wanted...a brewers dream!

We were given our bags just over a month ago, so we had sometime to cobble together our brews.  I was one of the first people to pick up the bag and once I got back to the office, it took me about 5 minutes to decide what I was going to do.

I looked through the bag and saw a wide array of dark malts, some belgian candy sugar, a few spices and an oak spiral.  And seeing as I'm somewhat partial to the dark ales, I elected to brew an Imperial Stout spiked with Star Anise (one of the spices included in the bag).  No point in half assing it, throw the whole kit in and make a malt bomb.  Also, we only had to bring 10L with us to the competition, so I was going to have some left over and figured I might as well make something I would want to drink afterwards.

I went home that night and put together my recipe and by later that week I was brewing my beer up at the Niagara College teaching brewery.  I wanted to get it brewed and have at least 4 weeks for the beer to mature on the oak spirals, a beer this heavy was going to need that much time if it was going to pick up any of those wood characteristics.  Also, this was going to be a somewhat strong beer, so it was going to need some time to calm down and mellow.

The OG on the beer ended up being 20P, which was a little lower than I wanted, but hey it'll do.  I brewed it to 100 IBU (completely theoretical, there was going to be a lot of residual sugars so I needed to balance that with a big bitter kick) and 2.57 billion SRM (again completely theoretical, but more on that later) It fermented out over the next week down to 5.2P, so I was left with a beer about 8% abv. Not bad.  I moved it from the primary ferementer into a secondary and threw in the oak spiral.  Then I waited.  And waited.  And waited until earlier this week when I decided to taste it and see how it was coming along.  I like it, but it was missing a little something.  I had originally thrown in some star anise in the boil, but that "licorice" flavour was getting lost in all the big, roasted, chocolate malt flavours.  So I brewed an "anise" tea and added it to the secondary. It didn't overpower the brew but it gave it a hint of anise, just enough to let you know it was there.
The next day, I kegged the beer and then bottled it the day before the competition.
I went home that night and tasted a bottle.  I was duly impressed about how it turned out.  It wasn't overpowering in any particular way, it was nicely balanced.  I mean, you knew it was 8% but it was still drinkable.  The addition of the belgian candy sugar probably helped out there.  Also, the oak and the anise flavours blended quite well with the strong, dark malt profile.
And seeing as this was going to be a Sawdust City entry, I had Shannon put together some lables, which I had to put on by hand, but they looked so great, I had to have them on the bottles.  And here they are, first the front label -

And then the back, which if you can read it, tells the story of the Long, Dark Voyage to Uranise (get it?)

 So there you have it, my entry into the Iron Brewer 2011, Long, Dark, Voyage to Uranise!  So about that 2.57 billion SRM, well it also happens to be the shortest distance between Earth and Uranus.  (I had to tie the whole thing up in a nice little package.)

Anyhoo, I showed up at Black Oak on Friday with no real expectations for my beer.  I liked it, but hey, it was mine so that doesn't really count.  Also, I knew some of the other brewers that were coming and I knew that they would be creating some amazing brews themselves so competition was going to be tough.
I staked out my table and waited for the attendees to come in and sample my beer.  People slowly trickled in and made their way from table to table sampling beer after beer, many coming by and tasting the Long, Dark Voyage and mostly to positive reviews too.  I poured out the samples and gave the schpeel about the beer and Sawdust City, it was a good time.  Then I put down the bottle and went out to try some of my compatriots beer.  The one right next to me brewed by Luc at the soon to be Bellwoods brewery was a Berliner-weiss.  A pretty out there and under appreciated style and it was quite fantastic.  Doughy, cheek puckeringly sour and with a hint of saltiness and at only 3.5% it was a real drinker.  Also, it showed the absolutely enormous style variety available at the competition.  Everyone was given the same two bags, with the same ingredients, but each brewer came up with his own ideas and his own unique recipes!  And here were two booths side by each and basically were at opposite ends of the beer spectrum, Luc with the light and sour berliner-weiss and me with a black as pitch, over the top, heavy Imperial Stout.  Ain't beer is awesome.

I then made my way around the room tasting as much beer as I could.  The quality of beer there was ridiculous, each brewer brought their A-game and it showed.  Styles ranged from a rye/vienna lager, to spice induced ales, to black and tans all the way over to Weizen dopple was beer heaven.
With all this great beer and all these great brewers, it really showcased how far the Ontario brewing scene has come in a few short years.  It was truly exciting.

Unfortunately I had to leave early and wasn't able to hand out my beer for the last few hours of the competition.  But duty called.  Such is life.

I found out later that James Thein of Muskoka had won with his excellent version of a hoppy American style Wheat beer.  It had a fantastic lemon profile that made it ludicrously drinkable.  Jaime Mistry came in second with his overtly sessionable dunkels (wonderful beer) and Michael Hancock came in third with his amazing Weizen Dopple Bock, closest thing to Aventinus I've ever had.  And what of Sawdust City and Long, Dark Voyage, well I came in a very respectable 5th place, which considering the competition I'm very happy with.  That being said, I wonder if I could of done better had I stuck around to pass my beer out for the last few hours of the competition.  We'll never know.  But I have to say, as far as labels go, I think Sawdust City had that one all wrapped up.  Well, we were the only ones with actual labels, but still, awesome job by Shannon.
Either way, it was tonnes of fun and I was proud to take part in such a fantastic event.  Congrats to James, Jaime and Michael and all the rest of the brewers for making such fantastic beers.  And thanks to Paul Dickey and the Ontario MBAA for putting together the event.  Can't wait until next year and Iron Brewer 2012.
For those of you with a Facebook page, head over to the Sawdust City page and check out the video we shot while at the event, it will hopefully give you an idea of how great it was.

Anyhoo, that's about it for this time.  Until next time, keep the beer in your mug and the sawdust beneath your feet.

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