PEI’s Best Brews

BEHIND THE SCENES WITH PEI’S CRAFT BREWERS

CRAFT BEER … BRINGS HISTORY

When I come downstairs at the Gahan House to talk to Head Brewer Chris Long, there’s a lineup. A tourist in for lunch upstairs has caught his ear. A six-year-old girl stands timidly behind her father, as they talk hops, specialized test kits, best brews, and getting it right, each time.

Long is clad from head to toe in overalls and rubber boots, even while the temperatures fly off the radars outside at a scorching 31°C. I’ve chased him from the PEI Brewing Company (where I happily drank a Blood Orange Tangerine IPA while getting an express tour of the 2012 facility) all the way downtown, to ask him what drew him in to the world of craft beer. Long recounts how his grandfather was a blacksmith, and how he’s always been drawn to a traditional trade, one where you can chart your progress, and hone the skill. Craft beer is bridging worlds old and new, and for Long, he’s right in the thick of things, brewing for Gahan since 2010.

I take a peak at the Gahan’s system, a seven barrel system that Chris says is never coming out of there. The small chrome and copper tanks have worked hard since 1997 bringing beers to the people, the blond Sir John A’s Honey Wheat Ale, the Island Red Amber, and of course, Gahan’s unforgettable Blueberry.  I ask him what’s easier to brew, a light beer or a dark beer? Long explains that although the process is the same of balancing gravity with PH, the lighter beers are more difficult to make. “In a dark beer,” Long says, “There’s more to hide behind.”

Brewers have a close relationship with their clientele, and from Long’s easy demeanor, I can tell that the Gahan House is no different. Small breweries are breaking the mold from their larger, more mature production brewery sisters. “Craft breweries are closely connected to the people they’re brewing for,” he says, “In PEI, it’s your neighbors who are drinking your beer.”

Long has seen both sides of the coin on PEI, working with Gahan and the larger PEI Brew Co, which employs about 16 people just on the brewery side, 8 on the brewing team and 8 on the packaging team, bottling, canning and distribution— exporting to New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Alberta.

What inspires Chris Long about the world of craft beer today? “The freedom to use unconventional ingredients, things that are unique to PEI and to our region—there is unlimited opportunity here.”

 

CRAFT BEER … BUILDS COMMUNITY

Barnone Brewery is breaking the molds, too, even in the craft beer world. For brewer Don Campbell from Rose Valley, Prince Edward Island (pop 150), the vision was cultivated on the agricultural side: Don Campbell is a hop farmer. Five years ago, when Campbell planted the hops, he dreamed of being a producer to local breweries. Although getting into the beer business was an afterthought, it was a great beginning to the craft beer scene on PEI for himself with his father and business partner, Hugh.

For ten years, Campbell worked for a company called Diversified Metal Engineering, an innovative Charlottetown based company that produces, sells and installs brew equipment. He says that through self-education and having the opportunity to talk to brewers worldwide, it was clear that Prince Edward Island needed another brewery in the mix. Since 2012, that brewery’s been Barnone.

Personally drawn to the world of hoppy beers, Campbell’s first earthy incarnations were its Summer Session, Pale Ale and IPA brews, all of which were showcased at a beer festival organized through Campbell Webster Entertainment.

Campbell grows four varieties of hops: Mount Hood, Willamette, Nugget, and Cascade, which is the go-to variety for pale ales in the United States. His property is located on the land which my father —from Kinkora, 7 miles north— calls, “God’s Country.”  And Campbell’s not just famous for his gorgeous property or his tall, hoppy garden. Barnone has also brought the community together every Thursday for the five hours a week the brewery is open: Growler Nights.

Campbell’s barn, which accommodates 150, has become home not only to the 5- barrel brew system, but also to weekly bands, growler fill-ups and socializing with Barnone’s loyal patronage. As I arrive, Campbell is entertaining a couple from Ottawa who’ve heard about Barnone’s operation. The man of the duo is British, and confesses about his motherland, “As old as the country is, when it comes to craft beer, they’re light years behind.”

Part of the magic for Campbell is the creativity that the brewing method offers. “It’s a malleable process,” Campbell says, “I might get half way through a brew and realize I’m out of 2-row malt, and well, a new beer could be born,” he says with a smile. “It’s like the life of an artist, every time I have a new life event, I have to make a new beer for it.” He hopes that together, the craft breweries on PEI will expand the palettes of the people for new and interesting twists on traditional ales.

What inspires Don Campbell about the world of craft beer today? “All the opportunities for collaboration,” he says. He describes the motivation for his latest beer, Island Sol— it’s named after the title track of Cape Breton musician Keith Mullins. “Sharing the experience with as many other people as you can is what spreads the love,” Campbell says of pooling resources, “Combining beers across platforms with foods, people, music or art is what ignites the passion fires for craft brewers.”

 

CRAFT BEER … BRINGS INNOVATION

 It’s strategy hour at Charlottetown’s latest digs, Upstreet Craft Brewing. It’s one back office I don’t mind barging into, because I’ve seen the place get built from the ground up. Full disclosure: I am married to Upstreet’s President, Mitch Cobb. And although I’m usually dragging babies and empty growlers and tiny animal crackers into the brewery, it’s only Brewer Mike Hogan I want to bother today, with my glasses tipped down on my nose and my pens and my questions ready.

Hogan, who’s affectionately known around the brewery as “The Beer Engineer”, came to his post through an absolute fervor for the beverage: an insatiable desire to declassify the nuances of craft beer. A home brewer himself for ten years, Hogan recalls the early years of Atlantic Canada’s craft beer industry: the Granite Brewery in Halifax, The Henry House and Ginger’s. He says while being attracted to the flavors and the pints, he was also attracted to the enterprising aspect of the breweries, and today he is a co-owner of Upstreet.

Craft beer became a boundless passion, and Hogan’s first beer kits soon escalated to a major portfolio in the techniques of home brew. Even the tiniest variance in temperature, timeline, or replacements in malts, yeasts or concentrates drew major differences in textures, spice, and color of ale. Hogie was hooked, and it all started with a love affair with Pilsner, the Czech style lager, one of the styles that Upstreet now carries.

As we chat, Hogan mixes three giant bags of hibiscus, coriander and orange peel. Take my Christmas wassail cheesecloth spice pack— and multiply it by a thousand. “It’s like a giant tea bag,” Hogan says, “for the Rhuby Social we’re making today.” Five short weeks ago when the brewery opened, the Rhuby was one of the flagship beers unveiled in production: a twist on the classic witbier with PEI strawberries and rhubarb.

While Upstreet is still in its first season, the brewery plans to begin bottling by the end of 2015. Although their first twenty accounts in Charlottetown demand consistency, Hogie dreams of introducing smoked porters and peppery twists on English bitters. “In time,” he says. “We have to bring the history of beer to the people before we start expanding their horizons with new styles —sours or barrel-aged beers.” He says that he can’t wait to help grow the beer community on Prince Edward Island, and that the brewery’s taproom is an ideal incubator to really stay in touch with Upstreet’s fans.

What inspires Mike Hogan about the world of craft brewing today? “The coolest thing about craft beer drinkers is that they’re open to anything – there’s a hunger for new flavors there which allows brewers to respond in innovative and experimental ways.”

What’s the best way to get into craft beer? Head to the brewery! You can visit the Gahan House at 126 Sydney St. in Charlottetown, or tour it’s bigger sister at the PEI Brewing Company on Kensington Road. For Barnone, head to a Growler Night or drop in on Don in Rose Valley. To see what all the fuss is about at Upstreet, check out their taproom Monday to Sunday, noon to midnight, and chances are Hogie will be stirring his brew. They’re located at 41 Allen St.

 

 

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