Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Canada: Zero Degree Brewing?

Are you a Canadian craft-brew drinker with romantic ideas about brewing your own beer? Do you think taking an accredited course (even getting a degree) might be a good way to get a foundation in brewing?

Yes? Well you'd better scrape together your savings and book a plane ticket (Icelandic volcanic eruptions permitting), because you aren't going to find a course like that anywhere in Canada.

I've toyed with the idea of home-brewing for a while, read a few books, even looked into the plastic versus glass carboy debate. This afternoon, on a whim, I decided to look for a local brewing course. Finding nothing in Victoria, I decided to call Rick Green of the Craft Brewers Association of British Columbia to see what my options are.

Me: Hi. I'm a beer blogger. I'm looking for brewing courses in BC. Victoria would be nice, maybe somewhere close to my house?
Rick: How close do you live to California?

Rick was happy to chat — he also finds it baffling that the world's second biggest producer of barley isn't too interested in learning what to do with the stuff (FOOD AND AGRICULTURE ORGANIZATION OF THE UNITED NATIONS 2007.) So what? You might say. So long as someone's putting that barley to good use. Well, according to the Canadian Wheat Board, 90% of Canadian malting barley is exported to China — where it ends up as Tsingtao, Yanjing, and other macro-lagers. That's perfectly fine if you like that sort of thing, but it's not exactly a vibrant craft-brew industry (although some Chinese brewers use bitter melons instead of hops, which is at least interesting.)

Is it a problem that there are no college or university courses on brewing in Canada? Most brewers will tell you that home-brewing and experimentation are the best ways to learn the art. And besides, says Rick, there are lots of craft-brew associations that are generally happy to teach newbies to mash and sparge with the best of them. The standard of Canadian craft-beer suggests that the know-how is passed along quite efficiently without the help of tuition fees. I admit there's something earthy and good about the fact that brewing has retained a somewhat folksy character in Canada. After all, it is one of the world's finest "oral" traditions...

Footnote: after literally minutes of ceaseless googling, I managed to identify a brand new college course in brewing in Canada. Starting this year, Niagara College Canada, Ontario, offers a two-year course titled "Brewmaster and Brewery Operations Management." They claim that their course, which is run in association with the Ontario Craft Brewers Association, is "a one of a kind program not available anywhere else in Canada." I will try to get hold of a representative and find out more about the course and brewing education in Canada, and then report back.


  1. Siebel also has a Montreal campus: http://www.siebelinstitute.com/montreal/

  2. Just buy the basic equipment and an extract kit for your first time. By the 2nd batch you will be brewing decent beer, and you will vastly improve each batch. If you have even basic cooking skills you can brew a decent beer. I don't understand how people can be so into beer, but don't brew their own...

  3. Yeah, just diving into it is a great way. There are some schools, that I can't remember the name of, that offer 2 or 3 day sessions that give you some foundations on brewing. There are many good books out there as well.

  4. Well, the only two things stopping me brew my own beer are:
    1. I live in a small apartment with my wife and 2-year-old
    2. My wife thinks I'll flood the place.

    We're moving to a new house in May, and it has a large downstairs laundry room with a drain in the floor and its own sink. I've also half-succeeded convincing Joyce that it'll be much cheaper than our current beer habit...

    I'll be blogging my experiences as and when they start.

  5. Yeah, an apartment makes it tough, although it can be done.
    Price wise it works out to be very cheap in the long run even if you do all grain brewing.

  6. I found the same problem a few years ago - Brewlab in the UK isn't exactly local, but it's probably the most reasonably priced of the programs abroad, if you're still looking!

  7. Niagra College offers a program as of 2010. So there is hope for you yet!

  8. Olds College partnered with Niagra to bring their course to Alberta next fall.

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