Last Thursday I got to live out every beer geek’s dream of being a brewmaster for the day. In actuality sub-assistant brew lackey might be a more accurate descriptor of the utilization of my talents but this does not mean I did not have a great time helping out at Steamworks Brewing Co. on a brew day!
The Brewpub, the Brewery and the Beer
Steamworks Brewing Co. is located in historic Gastown Vancouver, BC. The brewery derives its’ name from the steam heating system running through the building. According to their website, Steamworks is the only steam generated brewery in Canada.
The brewpub, liqour store and brewery are all located in one beautiful old building. For those of you who have not ventured beyond the pub the brewery, located downstairs, is a mostly open concept layout where patrons can watch (and take pictures of) the beer masters in action. There are a total of five bars within the facility.
In order to keep up with demand, and the new bottling production, some Steamworks beer (pilsner and pale ale) is brewed off-site by Deadfrog Brewery and brought in for consumption; Deadfrog is currently handling the bottling operations but plans are underway to open a Steamworks off-site brewing and bottling facility.
Steamworks is a little more mainstream and a little less beer geek than some of Vancouver’s downtown beer sites. Much of the beer production focuses on accessible brews like lager and pale ale, which sell well in a tourist heavy location. At the same time, Steamworks has a much-deserved reputation for a stellar seasonal line-up from their Frambozen to their Pumpkin to their JJ Bean Espresso Stout. Within the standard beer line-up the brewers like to mix things up trying different hop in the IPA or different coffee beans in the stout so batch-to-batch you are not always getting the exact same beer.
Food-wise there is not too much remarkable here, pub basics really, but the helpful staff did create an impromptu vegan pizza so I could keep up my keg-hauling strength.
The Beer Guys
Conrad is the head brewer for Steamworks and he has been working at the brewery since 1996. Initially Conrad was studying to be an architect before taking that fateful turn towards beer geekery. Beer wise Conrad is a Belgian and Saison kind of guy.
Tak is the assistant brewer and he has been with Steamworks for seven months. Tak was (and still is!) and avid home brewer who came to the job via a recommendation from Parallel 49 head brewer Graham With. Tak’s beers of choice lean towards sessional brews and Bitters.
Both guys tell me how lucky they are to do what they love for a living, which to me is the greatest compliment one can ever bestow upon their chosen career path.
As some of you may have heard Conrad will be leaving Steamworks soon to open Vancouver’s newest brewery, Brass Tacks, with Nigel from Alibi Room. This new brewery will be located near The Whip on Main Street and will be offering growler fill-up. This should be a great collaboration and I can’t wait to try them out when they open.
The 9 to 5 of being of Brewer
Much like a “regular” person’s work day the brew day got underway around 9:00am. I was pleasantly surprised to find out I was not going to be relegated to the side-lines when I was handed my uniform of safety goggles, rubber gloves and galoshes. Literally I was able to watch or participate in every stage of the brewing process from adding milled grains to the mash tun to sparging to adding hops to the kettle to pitching the yeast.
We began by transferring beer and cleaning equipment in preparation to brew Steamworks Nut Brown Ale. As my blog title suggests navigating around hoses, attaching and detaching hoses, spraying water and any other reasons you can think of for needing a hose pretty much define your day. Overall I was surprised by how routine the day actually was. For some reason I expected more unpredictability in the brewing process but things ran like clock-work.
The fun(?) happens when life outside the brewing process seeps into your day. When I got to Steamworks Tak mentioned they had received a pallet of Parallel 49’s brewing supplies in error so part of my time was spent moving product through the service corridors so it could get back to the proper brewery. Also, Thursday night was the official launch of Steamworks new bottles so I assisted with carting around kegs to the various tasting stations for the evening’s attendees.
Other tough aspects of the job including sampling beer with lunch, and after lunch, to ensure the best possible quality control levels. Based on my expert analysis, it looks like a great year for the espresso stout and the pumpkin ale both of which are coming on tap soon.
A great big thanks to Conrad and Tak for allowing me to be a part of their day!