Thursday, 21 July 2016

Improving your home winemaking

Like every home winemaker in the world, I’m eternally striving to improve the quality of my wines. That’s not to say the quality is low; quite the opposite actually. The quality is such that purchasing commercial wines at $12 to $20 on average seems utterly wasteful given that my wines are more like $2.50 to $3.00 per bottle and are easily comparable in quality; and in at least 50% of cases, even better in my opinion.  It’s not a ridiculous claim either, especially when you consider how far wine kits have come.  Many people don’t realize that the juice in these kits is often pressed from the same grapes as your favorite commercial wine; having been grown in the same vineyards.  I won’t go so far as to name names, but it’s no secret that many of the world’s big wine brands  also fall under the corporate structures  of wine kit manufacturers.  It’s a great way to profit from excess supply from their vineyards.  Add this to the fact that before the ingredients arrive at your local shop they have been scrutinized by professionals to ensure consistent quality.  So with a little experience, the home winemaker can achieve results like never before. 

So where do you go when you feel like you’ve reached a point where you’re consistently putting out top quality and stylistically correct wines? And by that I mean your Cabernet Sauvignon tastes like Cabernet Sauvignon and your Pinot Noir tastes like Pinot Noir and they don’t share an underlying similarity with every other wine you make.

Two places you can and certainly should go if you’re an experienced home winemaker are: 1) adapt fermentation schedules to the variety and style of the wine you’re making; don’t just use a cookie cutter approach the treat all wines the same.  While we’re at it, let’s throw various fermentation temperatures into the mix.  Try fermenting each batch at different temperatures according to style.
2) Switch out your yeast.  Most wine kits come equipped with EC – 1118 yeast as a standard.  It’s hearty and foolproof and will produce consistent results, but used across the board, your wines will all have a similar tone.  For the sake of a 99¢ packet of a different yeast strain, you can really make each batch unique.  Plus you can now use your leftover packets of 1118 to make some nice bread. I’ve done it and it’s delicious.

All of this assumes of course that you’re ready and capable of adapting carefully constructed kits to make them your own.  This is NOT a trivial matter.  These kits have a massive input of knowledge and resources and changing them is a bit like modifying your car; you become the engineer.  The original design and function has now been thrown out the window and you run an extremely likely risk of making it worse, not better.  How do you know if you’re up to it?  Do you have winemaking notes and spreadsheets on every batch going back 10 years?  Do you have a strange propensity to smell everything?  Do others plead with you to share your wines with them, or do you have to place it in their hands?  If you meet these criteria then go for it, one batch at a time, changing one variable at a time.


Monday, 2 May 2016

Massive ruling in NB court upholds constitution

This is a HUGE decision with far reaching implications for trade in Canada. The New Brunswick court has interpreted section 121 of the constitution to mean that there can be no restriction, monetary or otherwise, on the flow of goods between provinces. This marks a return to the original interpretation of the clause and a return to the correct understanding of its intent. This is something that we have been talking about at BentleyBrewers for years, so I must admit it feels somewhat vindicating to finally see others talking about it and coming to the same conclusions; though I cannot say that I ever would have guessed it would be challenged in court victoriously within my lifetime.

That being said, the question now is: what now? For the past 90 years or so legislators have built up laws around an interpretation of section 121 that the NB court has now overruled. These laws go far beyond beer and wine. They also deal with controlled markets such as milk and eggs. They in a way formed a basis for the formation of the various provincial liquor control boards as well.

What is to happen going forward? What will happen with regulations that exist based on the old interpretation of section 121? A good example is the IILA (importation of intoxicating liquors act). This act regulates the movement of alcohol between provinces and effectively empowers provinces to set up liqour control boards; something which has undoubtedly been thrown into question with this court ruling. In light of this, one can make a connection to Ontario's recent relaxing of regulations in regard to beer sales in grocery stores. It doesn't seem much of a stretch to assume that the Wynne government saw this coming and it's potential ramifications and decided to adapt proactively.

One thing is for sure: we are at a crossroads here. A moment in time where the status quo has just been obliterated. The real question is: will people notice?   

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Local brewers begin to embrace The Beer store

On a recent visit to my local Beer Store outlet, I was surprised to see how much change has taken place there in the last year. Some of you may recall how controversial the subject of craft beer and The Beer Store network was only a year ago. As one of the first local brewers in the door, Bentley Brewers became the subject of some fierce debate among beer drinkers and brewers alike; with some even going so far as to boycott our brand, believing it conflicted with their ideology.

Fast forward a year, and the shelves of Ottawa area Beer Stores are filled with local brews. I counted at least a dozen at my neighbourhood store. As if that weren't enough of a seismic shift in a short period, while I stood in the aisle admiring/contemplating Ontario's new beer reality, I overheard the store staff speaking knowledgeably and in detail to customers about the merits and history of various beer styles. IBU's, yeast profiles, things that used to be interesting only to hard core beer nerds are now common topics where beer is concerned, supplanting old descriptors like 'smooth' and 'cold'.

What difference from a year ago. One can only imagine where we'll be a year from now.