Note: post updated March 10th, 2018 with batch 2 revision and notes.
Writing to you live from Silly Sir Brewery/a tiny apartment somewhere in Toronto it's me again - here to share with you the fantastic learnings we had drinking beer and visiting breweries in Berlin and Munich, Germany. Yes: we went to Weihenstephan and and sampled fresh Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier and yes, it was the best part of the trip.
We were stoked when Doug Appeldoorn of People's Pint Brewing Co. asked us to take part in their annual Small Batch Beer Festival – Sept 23, 2017.
But how is this different than another Toronto beer festivals?
With small batch, mostly homebrews, this is exclusive stuff! Only 5 gallons exist. That means once it's gone, it's gone. It's not mass produced. There is a certain charm and craft that goes into small batches. You can really taste the love in each drop, can't you?
A couple weeks ago at my BJCP Study Group we sampled various IPAs from the United States and Canada. One of my favourites was a limited release Black Rye IPA from Amsterdam called Demon Host. It was bright and complex with a touch of roast with a very slight spicy heat that I really enjoyed. As such, I was inspired to try my own interpretation of a Black IPA and submit it to competitions for feedback. I was happy to learn that I received a score of 36.5 at the Cowtown Yeast Wrangler's Homebrew Competition. While I didn't medal, I consider that to be a good score for a first go at the style. I fermented high with a kveik strain, and was pleased with its surprisingly low phenolics and pleasant rummy profile.
The Pickle Tournament was initially envisioned by myself and a couple close friends as a way of having serious fun in a very silly environment. The event fits perfectly into the bizarre world of Silly Sir. Initial tournaments were held in my parent's basement in Scarborough and have since expanded to being held in my parent's not-basement in Scarborough (i.e. their back deck and living spaces, the poor old fogies).
Until recently, the label design quality of my beer was more consistent than the beer itself. This is in large part thanks to the incredible effort and skills of my girlfriend Sara who is a designer, and who can adapt and adjust my label sketches in all the right ways to make them look great. She's taught me everything I know about what makes good homebrew label design. As I continue to perfect my brewing methods and upgrade my equipment, our beer quality has continued to improve and is now falling in line with our great labels.
Note: I originally wrote this piece for the Neat Pour audience. Though it's not quite my style (part of my goal with Silly Sir is to make great beer appealing to casual drinkers by avoiding describing it so much), I think it makes for a pretty interesting read.
In the Beginning...
I started drinking beer when I was three-years-old. A curious miniature me demanded a sip from my mother's can of Budweiser. “You won’t like it!” she insisted. She was right. It was here, at this early age, that I learned beer tasted like piss and vinegar. It was an awful substance, and I couldn’t understand why grown-ups liked the stuff. I swore I’d never drink beer again–in hindsight, I realize that this sentiment was exactly what my mom wanted to hear.
If I were to take a random sampling of my readership audience I'd wager a bet that at least 90% of you are white men. Of this group, 75% of you have pretty legendary beards, and if you don't it's probably because your beard growing capabilities are sub-par. Of the remaining 10%, half of you are white females (probably not bearded), and the rest of you are from various ethnicities (though you're most definitely blokes). The GTA Brews Homebrewing Club - of which I am a member - is the biggest of such clubs in Toronto. Toronto has one of the most diverse populations in the world, and yet GTA Brews struggles to broaden its base to appeal to women and minorities. We're trying though. Amongst the rarest in the group, it seems, are black, and Asian people.
If you've been following the blog of late, you're aware that I'm in fact currently backpacking across Southeast Asia with my girlfriend, Sara. She's of Malaysian descent and technically a GTA Brews member - whaaaaat?! We started our travels in Singapore, flew to Indonesia, then hit up Malaysia and Sri Lanka before landing in Thailand. Sadly, the variety of beer in these countries has been quite limited. I can only occasionally sniff out craft beer, and when I do it's usually in obscure pockets of big cities. Even still, the beers at these niche bars are usually imported from Europe or North America and (almost) never locally brewed…
Many hobbyists in the homebrewing community feel as though the craft brewing market is saturated with brewpubs and microbreweries that it's inevitably slated for collapse. Some argue that opening a brewpub or brewing company is not worth the risk, and that it's current rate of growth is unsustainable. By this same logic, New York City's massively successful Shake Shack burger joint would probably never have opened since there were already hundreds of hamburger restaurants in the city at the time, and the burger market share in New York was spread so thin. In 2004, Shake Shack took off.
Through my travels (I'm currently doing a half-year trip around Southeast Asia) I've had lots of downtime at airports and on buses to reflect upon these apocalyptic predictions and to consider the risks involved in my own brewing ambitions. Opening a Silly Sir brewpub and/or brewing company is a daunting, high-risk task that will require intense dedication, long hours, and serious commitment and consideration if it is to become the bustling hangout I envision. At this point, my role is almost exclusively that of a sponge - soaking up as much information as I can on how to successfully run, market, and sustain a viable business. Here's what I've learned so far in listening to podcasts, reading books, and skimming websites on the matter.
Most Malaysians go absolutely crazy for this perplexing, stinky fruit called durian. Its creamy fruit centre is encased in a hard, spiky shell, and its distinctive sulphuric stink immediately envelops its surroundings in a foul, garbage-like wave of offence. It is said that consuming alcohol and durians together will result in an instant death. Sara's younger cousin insisted that I not drink any beer while consuming the controversial fruit as I'd immediately keel over and die.
I was skeptical. Being the experimental brewer that I am, I bet against this notion and almost took it as a challenge. 'I'll show you!' I thought, 'I'll even craft a durian beer to in order to falsify this silly myth!' (though I'd give it to the suckers in my local homebrew club to try first, of course, just in case).
Sara and I are currently in Bali, which is home to our new favourite Southeast Asian beer thus far: Bali Hai. We stumbled upon it at a knock off 7-11 (Mini Mart) in Ubud, and were thrilled to finally find a beer that wasn't Heineken or Bintang (Indonesia's favourite beer). I bought a small can of it for the equivalent of about $2.40 CAD and proceeded onward to the Alcoholic Monkey Forest.
This one passively pawed at it, but I would not let go...