Beer is a passion of mine that I hope to carry with me into my career and my farm in the future.

Late in 2011 I found myself the job of my dreams… or at least the part-time job of my dreams. I was working for Paddock Wood Brewing, the local microbrewery in Saskatoon, which makes my favourite brew, 606 India Pale Ale, and was conveniently located just three blocks from my house. When applying for a job there, I wanted to spend more time working in the back, learning the ropes of brewing and bottling, but they hired me for covering shifts in the front of house, so I could only work on the bottling line every once in a while, and they didn’t need or want my help with the brewing. Other unnamed complications prevented me spending my time shadowing the brewers and constantly pestering them about how and why they make the beer the way they do. I satisfied these questions by joining the guys for drinks after work, when there was much to be learned about brewing and beer styles while the boys talked shop.

Actually, I learned the most about brewing from working on Saturdays, when home brewers had a day off their regular jobs and came in to buy malted grains, hops, yeast, and brew kits. They also asked lots of questions that I did my best to answer, and with each discussion I learned more and more about making different styles of beer, like the role of different malts in the brewing process, the flavour profile of different types of hops, the timing and temperature of different stages of the brewing process, and which yeast works best with which style and why. I started out answering most questions based on my limited knowledge and had to turn people away when they wanted specific malts or specific hops. But as I learned more, I began to look up and suggest alternative hops or malts that have a similar flavour profile and can play the same role in the brew. At parties, I found myself talking about nothing but beer, which I’m sure was tiresome for my friends, almost none of whom like beer. I talked beer for hours and hours on end, and was unbelievably happy to find myself working with others who had the same passion for brewing and tasting beers.

I did, however, come to the uncomfortable realization that brewing beer is a process that is almost impossible to do sustainably. There are a few breweries in the States and around the world that aim to be as sustainable as possible, and I’d love to check out their set up to get some ideas for my own future brewery (New Belgium Brewing, Alaskan Brewing Co., and East End Brewing Co., for example) . I have some ideas about how I could do it on an ultra-small scale, even as a business, but the planning would take many years, and it still relies on having access to excessive amounts of water, large quantities of local barley that can be kilned with locally harvested wood (a part of the process I have yet to learn, but am keen to) and local hops that can give me the intense flavour I love in my beer. These things are not impossible to bring together into one place, but I may have to bend my rules and import something for the process. Many brewers and books have told me that malting grains is tricky and not worth the effort when the masters have got it perfected and will sell it so cheaply, and I’m not sure that the hops I’ve seen growing so happily in Canada are very potent. The difficulties with ingredients are one problem that can potentially be solved by trading goods and allowing for imports, but water and energy are the biggest problems in the brewing process.

After more than a year of contemplation, I’m quite sure I can cut masses of wasted water and energy by employing permaculture techniques that take advantage of the heat produced during fermentation, the heat and gas produced while composting the leftover malt that is filtered out of the wort (or from composting the manure from the pigs that eat the leftover malt), by using the hot water as an energy source after the brewing process, and by using a cyclical water system that can filter waste water naturally instead of pouring steaming hot water down the drain and using fresh cold tap-water to heat and cool the wort. This is all a rather lofty dream, but I know that it is possible, with some ingenuity. I’d like to set most of these devices up for my future farm anyways, so putting in the ultra-microbrewery will be a subsequent step in the process, once I’ve figured out how they can work with normal farm waste.

What I’m thinking is that my brewery will really just be for the family, but will produce just enough that my neighbours and friends from the community can have me brew them a keg of beer for their Christmas gathering, or a birthday party, or a wedding. I don’t want to get my name on the market as the best brewer in the world, or have my business grow to compete with the microbreweries that are rampant around Canada and the United States. I just want to bring my community together, to support local and sustainable businesses, and to support community-building events centred around real food and drink produced in the community.

For now, I continue to seek out as many local and interesting beers as I can during my travels and to learn as much about sustainable water and energy systems as I can. Cheers to gaining knew knowledge and tasting new brews!