When Kelly Costello started working at Good Robot Brewing’s Gastro Turf beer garden last summer, the pace was hectic. Busy days bled into busy evenings. When things slowed in the autumn, she took stock.
“I thought, ‘I’m here, I work at a brewery, how do I make the most of this?’” she says. Costello started studying while working the retail area to take the Certified Cicerone Beer Server exam, the first step to becoming a Certified Cicerone, a designation for trained beer professionals. Learning about beer encouraged her to learn to make it.
She was hooked after her first brew day last November. “I kept asking: can I use it again? Can I use it again? Can I use it again?” she says. “I was driving [co-owner] Doug nuts.”
Good Robot operates a sporadic program to encourage new and home brewers to brew small batches on its pilot system, and through her keenness, Costello became the program’s coordinator. Since last winter, CommuniBrew has grown into a weekly program, booked months in advance.
Costello works with would-be brewers to refine their recipe and then come to Good Robot to brew the 38-litre (nearly one-keg) batch with her. “It all starts with me asking what they enjoy drinking,” she says. “I believe you should never make a beer you wouldn’t drink because it will probably never sell.”
Lately, the program is attracting brewing virgins. “If someone is completely new to brewing what I’ll often say is here are the ingredients I’m going to use and why,” she says. “We’re going to use oats for body and barley for sugar.” She adds that working with people on their first brew is a thrill. Plus, participating is practically free.
The brewery supplies the ingredients and Costello’s know-how, and in return for four to five hours of brewing time, participants receive a Good Robot gift card, some of their beer to take home, and the bragging rights of having a beer on the tap room wall.
Like Good Robot, 2 Crows Brewing always has a small-batch beer on the board, often more than one. For head brewer Jeremy Taylor, it’s a way to keep brewing fresh while meeting demand for cans and kegs of his core line-up.
“It’s fun for me to experiment with wild yeasts and other ingredients that would take a bit of time to mature and tie up a big tank,” he says. “I can do something that’s slightly out there and I’m not 100% sure that we would sell 4,680 litres of. If I just make 80 litres, I know there are enough beer nerds out there who would get jazzed on trying it.”
Taylor is known in the city for his off-beat Brettanomyces-laced beers (“brett” is a type of yeast that gives beer a uniquely funky aroma and taste) but his small-batch system lead to one of his newest big batches in a popular style.
“I always wanted to try doing a super juicy IPA, but didn’t really have the tank space,” he says. In April, he brewed the 80-litre double IPA Promiseland. It sold out quickly. (But will be back.)
One of the city’s oldest breweries, Propeller Brewing Co., was long known for its small-batch program, the One-Hit Wonder series. Head brewer Cameron Crerar has been tweaking the program (now called the Gottingen Street Small Batch Series) since joining Propeller in April.
“Propeller has always been a conservative brewery that sticks to traditional beer styles,” he says. “The small-batch program still reflects that. We’re looking to showcase classic recipes that have some history and some backstory.” Not all of the styles are well known, like his summer brew of a Hopfenweisse, a German-style wheat IPA, but they fit into Propeller’s theme.
Like Taylor, Crerar discovered one of his first seasonal releases in a small batch.
He brewed two slightly different takes on a Califonia Commons-style beer: one with low alcohol and low bitterness, the other with a higher ABV,more bittering hops, and a selection of specialty malts to bump up the flavour.
“Then we had them in the tap room side-by-side to see what the response from customers was,” he says. “There’s a new direction with the Gottingen Small Batch Series. It’s more about testing recipes and fine-tuning them. We’re creating a demand for a product, fine-tuning it, and hopefully even finding a new release.”
Want to brew at Good Robot? Contact Kelly Costello at Kelly@goodrobot.ca