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Oakes Weekly - May 5, 2005
From Homebrewing and BOP to Microbrewer
May 5, 2005
Written by Oakes
The worlds of homebrewing and commercial brewing intersect and diverge all over the place. Many commercial brewers – especially in the early days – came from the homebrewing community. Many commercial beer lovers get into homebrewing to try their hand at the craft they’ve fallen in love with. And while there are homebrewers who never touch a commercial beer, and certainly microbrew fans who don’t know thing one about brewing, there is a common love of good beer to unite us.
At a few locations in North America, the two are coming together a little more than usual. It might be a stretch to call it a trend, but there are at least five places I know of in North America mixing the two into one entity.
In Canada, a pair of homebrew shops have just recently entered the microbrewing fray. The first was Saskatoon’s Paddock Wood, one of the leading mail order suppliers of homebrew products in the country. Saskatchewan’s beer scene is a strange one, to say the least. In a province of around 1 million people, there are 19 breweries. Of those, 17 are brewpubs. The popularity of brewpubs is not due to any sort of beer culture, but rather due to a government rule that allows breweries to operate beer stores. So bars pop a tiny brewing system in, brew a couple of bargain basement beers, and sell macrobrew by the tankerload from their “brewery store”. The other brewery is Great Western, a regional macrobrewer.
Right now, Paddock Wood is brewing a range of between 10-12 styles and selling bottles at their store. Beers have included a Rye IPA and a porter with brettanomyces.
The other Canadian entry is Better Bitters, a homebrew store and BOP in Burlington, Ontario. They started selling bottled products earlier this year, though I would say they have some kinks to work out.
I remember when BOPs first came to the US. A fairly big deal was made about them in the beer press, and as a Canadian I could not understand why. We’d had them for years, and they weren’t really a part of the craft beer scene. People used them to make crappy lager for cheap, often doing little more than pitching the yeast (especially true in BC).
South of the border, it’s a little bit different. For one, the price differential between BOP-made beer and commercial beer was less significant. At a visit to Gallagher’s Where-U-Brew in Edmonds, Washington, Dennis Gallagher explained some of the differences in his operation. For one, the clientele was more beer-savvy. There is no economic incentive to making cheap beer, so most of what he does is craft beer. That said, several BOPs opened in Washington at the time he did, and they all went out of business. Wine-making accounts for 50% of the revenues at Gallagher’s and that’s what keeps him going.
But beer is the fun stuff, and in the down periods Dennis brews on his system for his tap room and a few local restaurants. The commercial brewing aspect of the business isn’t huge, he admits, but he likes to keep a presence on tap in town to help get the name out there. He keeps six beers on tap at his brewery so that local beer lovers can pop in and have a few while they brew, bottle, or just hang out and chat.
The brewing is done with extract, with grains and hops added. Over the years, regulars have tinkered with the stock recipes and those results often are used by Dennis to supply the commercial end of the business (only he brews the commercial product).
While Gallagher’s bar consists of six taps in the wall and a 2-seater bar in the main brewing room, Ohio’s Brew Kettle is a more sophisticated affair. There is a BOP and homebrew supplies to go, but Brew Kettle also has a smokehouse/taproom boasting 24 handles. As with Gallagher’s, Brew Kettle (aka Ringneck) has a massive variety of beers in their arsenal.
Another Ohio micro, Buckeye, is attached to a BOP called the Brew Keeper. With four beers in the 90th percentile overall and three others in the 90th percentile of their respective styles, Buckeye has some of Ohio’s best beers.
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At a few locations in North America, the two are coming together a little more than usual.
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