A few weeks ago, I had the honour of being invited by the fine folks at Saulter Street Brewery to brew a beer with their very talented, witty and all around awesome Head Brewer, Tanner. The idea came to be from an in passing conversation I had with the team at Saulter Street about a collab brew I did with our friends in Thornbury at Thornbury Village Craft Cidery and Brewery (a beautiful, spicy saison), and how I’d love to, one day, brew a smoke beer (rauchbier). It didn’t take long for Tanner and I to set up a brew date and I had an absolute blast brewing one of my absolute favourite styles of beer—all in honour of our fine Ontario Craft Brewers for Ontario Craft Beer Week!
If your knowledge on rauchbiers is a bit smoky, their story will surely fire your interest. You see, prior to direct-fired kilns used for malting, malt was heated over open flames or air dried. Because of this, most beer was, by default, at least a bit smoky. However, with the advent of the direct-fired kiln in the 1700s, maltsters were able to malt their grains without (inadvertently) imparting that wonderful smokiness into the final product. However, a small pocket around Bamberg, Germany, kept producing smoked malts. Smoked malts can be used in several styles, but are principally used for lagers like bocks, helles and most commonly, Marzens. But I digress.
Our brew day started with Tanner showing me the malts he smoked, on his own, in maple wood the night before. The malts were smoked for four hours in a regular Bradley smoker, and they smelled SO smoky and made me think of a cold beer in front of a crackling campfire in the middle of Algonquin park. Tanner did a bit of blend with some unsmoked malts and we started our mash.
The smoky aromas from the malts were less evident in the mash, and were BEAUTIFULLY elevated when we threw in to the boil Tanner’s selected hops, the Northern Brewer variety, grown in Germany
In between ushering me along through the brew (this was only my second!!!!), Tanner was also manning the big guns with a brew of Saulter Street’s Riverside Pilsner (we were brewing on the much smaller pilot system). I must say watching that dude do his thing was extremely inspirational—Tanner flowed through the brewhouse with ease and gusto and kept track of everything, seamlessly.
One of my favourite parts of the brew process is being able to try the wort, then the post-boil wort. I actually LOVE the taste of fresh wort, and have always wondered why that stuff isn’t bottled and sold as its own, non-alcoholic, crisp and refreshing nutritional beverage! SO good! We were able to taste along the way and it was interesting to note how time, heat and perfectly dosed ingredients influence what you can anticipate the final beer to be! Tools like Tanner’s brix refractometer were able to test the wort and tell us the sugar content (gravity) of the wort, which dictates our brew’s final ABV.
Something that we at the Beer Bus really appreciate about our partner breweries is the passion that they exude. As within every vocation, there can be a wide variety of motivations behind starting a brewery. It is no doubt an uphill battle, with extreme planning, HUGE expenses and very silly tax systems that make running a brewery business challenging at best. However, what makes our friends unique is that despite all those challenges, they continue to brew with their hearts and passion for their craft.
With our brew done and the yeast (Saulter’s own strain) pitched in, it was clean up time. Tanner reiterated the age-old joke that brewer’s brew only 10% of the time and clean the other 90%. That is pretty close to being true—we had to SHOVEL out all the spent grain from both our pilot system and the main brewhouse (SO much and SO hot), rinse the mashtun and kettle out, hose off EVERYTHING, squeegee everything after and then, of course, disinfect the systems for the next brewday. Honestly folks, hats off to you!!
I really did have the true honour of spending the day with Tanner, Aimee, Rob and Charlotte at Saulter Street Brewery. If (for whatever reason….) you haven’t yet visited these wonderful people for their AMAZING beer, chill vibe and incredible brewery, you’ve had too much smoke beer (and, not enough of ours!!). Saulter Street Brewery is one of our awesome stops and we’d love to show off our friends to you.