St. John's Wort Beery Musings And Amusing Beers

Tag Archives: Jon Hodd

They Send Me Beer: Radical Road Brewing Canny Man

I’m always interested when something I’m not expecting happens. For instance, I didn’t expect the brewers at Black Oak to start up their own label. They’ve been a bit cagey about it as the thing has developed and I don’t think that anyone knew quite what to expect. It was probably last winter I was talking to Simon Da Costa about this development. It must have been, because the pub next to Volo was still Local 4 and we were in there discussing it.

He said he was going to brew a Scotch Ale, that he was going to barrel age it. I looked at him and said something to the effect of “And that’s going to be your only beer? Are you crazy?” He looked at me and shrugged. When he did so, the sleeves of his well loved motorcycle jacket looked like they would probably fall off. He explained that he had worked in Scotland and he thought it would work.

Months later, dozens and dozens of Scotch barrels arrived at Black Oak. Mostly mainland, speyside barrels, if I’m remembering correctly. You’d have been forgiven, based on the number, for putting on your best welsh regimental accent and muttering to yourself “There’s thousands of them.” One week I walked into the brewery and the entire back wall was taken up with barrels.

At one point, I told Simon and Jon Hodd, who worked with him on this, that I thought they were maniacs. Who the hell imports scotch barrels in order to launch a beer? Were all the beers out of their label going to be barrel aged? Were they crazy?

Now, understand that I like both of these people. Simon is talented and funny and unassuming and gets on with the difficult job of brewing. Jon, who I tend to refer to as “Jon Boy” after the Waltons, since he’s so wholesome, is a good brewer in his own right, having come up through Volo. I really wanted to get a sense of what they were doing. I wanted to try their beer.

It was tantalizing. It was a secret project. As far as I know, no one had really tried the thing. At some point in the last couple of months, I wrote an article on Scotch Ales for The Sun and I called around to see if they’d let me try some. It wasn’t ready. Rather than attempt to get national promotion, they wanted the product to be as they envisioned it before anyone got to try it.

Today, I finally got my hands on a bottle. Now, my understanding is that they’ve spent most of the morning packaging the bottles. When you see the following photos, I have no doubt that you’ll understand why.

There’s the brewery label.

It's a Rad enough label to save the President.

It’s a Rad enough label to save the President.

And the beer label.

It's a coaster! It's a promotional gimmick! It's a coaster and a promotional gimmick!

It’s a coaster! It’s a promotional gimmick! It’s a coaster and a promotional gimmick!

And the tissue wrapping.

I'm saving this for Christmas next year.

I’m saving this for Christmas next year.

And the actual cork and cage bottle.

The actual label is sort of austere and impressive. I have liked fancy labels a lot less than this.

The actual label is sort of austere and impressive. I have liked fancy labels a lot less than this.

I suppose if you’re going to make a splash on shelves in Ontario LCBOs, this is not such a bad way to do it. It’s eye catching. It’s a bit like Rod Stewart’s hair. It’s hypnotic, and then, once you realize that he’s got your attention, it’s too late to stop singing along to Young Turks.

Knowing what I know about Simon and Jon, I’m a little surprised by the beer.  Canny Man is 9.1% and comes in what is essentially a champagne bottle. It has apparently been matured for 71 days in the barrels. I don’t know how you decide when enough is enough. I guess you have a sacrificial guinea pig barrel with a draw pipe.

It pours a sort of chestnut brown, relatively aggressively carbonated for the style. The interesting thing to me is that usually when North American brewers do Scotch Ales or Wee Heavies, they build the smoke in. I’ve confirmed with Jon that they used a tiny amount of smoked malt here, so most of the smoke comes from the barrels. The reason that’s interesting to me is that this is sort of what I remember McEwan’s being like. There’s that malt caramel/toffee/fruity middle. That’s what the beer would probably have been like without the barrel aging. It’s a proper wee heavy, which has been subsequently introduced to the barrel.

You can tell that’s what happened because the smoky notes from the barrel linger on the roof of the palate. It sort of separates into a toffee dark fruit middle while smoke wisps over top. It’s odd because it means that it is simultaneously as close to being a real wee heavy as anything I’ve tried in the last year while playing into the North American predilection for adding smoke to Scotch Ales. The effort that must have gone into getting the beer exactly right and locating the right barrels to make it happen is a little staggering, especially for two maniacs in Etobicoke.

I should have listened to Simon when he said that he knew it would work. There are only two criticisms that I can see being leveled at this beer. One is that the packaging is… well, it’s ostentatious. I understand that there is a sweatshop over at Black Oak working into the night on tissue paper wrapping. That’s easily fixed after the first edition makes a splash. It would do just fine with only the bottle. The labeling is pretty enough to sell the thing.

The other criticism I can see is that the molasses seems to have fermented out quite a bit and that it may not be sweet enough for some palates. It’s not like an Innis & Gunn barrel aged beer. It’s drier than that, but not so dry that you don’t get the body.

The impressive thing to me is that all of this activity has closed around Robbie Burns day. Theoretically, it’ll be available in the LCBO sometime this week and it should make an appearance at some Robbie Burns dinners this year.

Canny men, more like.

Has He Lost His Mind: Iron Brewer 2012

What would you do with these ingredients?

Base malts:

Muntons Marris Otter

Dark Bohemian Pilsner Floor Malt

CMC Superior Pale

Specialty Malt

Oak Smoked Wheat Malt

Dark Bohemian Wheat Floor Malt

OiO Barley Flakes

OIO Wheat Flakes Toasted (Torrified) OIO

Brewers Oat Flakes (Quick)

OiO Rye Flakes Toasted

Thomas Fawcett Chocolate Malt

Best Malz Chit Malt

Franco Belges Caramel 120 Malt


Specialty items:

Raspberry Puree

Lemon Peel

Ginger Root

Whirlfloc Tablet



– Amarillo

– Challenger

– Legacy

– Magnum

– Willamette

– A certificate for whole Bertwell hops



Safale US-05

Saflager S-23

Mauribrew Weiss

Safbrew T-58

Possibly a new cask yeast


If you’re anything like me, you’d have to look up exactly what chit malt is and what legacy hops taste like. If you’re a professional brewer, you’d probably still have to look up some of them. After about fifteen minutes of staring in positive befuddlement at the list, you’d probably have a pretty good idea of what you could do with some of the ingredients; of the kinds of flavours that you might be able to coax out of them. You might shout “Eureka!” or if you don’t want to picture a damp, naked, Archimedes combing the streets of Syracuse for a writing implement, you might get that faraway look Hugh Laurie gets when he realizes exactly which disease the patient has.

The Master Brewer’s Association hosts an annual event that facilitates this kind of improvisational whimsy: THE IRON BREWER. It is a popular event these days; so popular in fact that this year’s 15 competitors were chosen from a lottery of nearly twice that many applicants.

Master Brewer and all around nice guy Paul Dickey served as Emcee for the proceedings. Here he is pictured humouring a photographer.

Brewers like the ability to improvise, especially when they get the opportunity to do it for a small audience of likeminded individuals. One of the significant components of the event is that no two brewers will look at the list of ingredients and come up with exactly the same beer. Everybody has different tastes and skill sets. Fortunately for the audience, all of the competitors are highly trained.

I’m moderately trained. Looking at those ingredients, I might have come up with something like this RASPBERRY PORTER type of thing. I would assume that you get some body from the oats and rye and the caramel would bring a touch of nuttiness, although at 120 Lovibond, probably more color than anything. The Chocolate malt is almost exclusively there for color and to provide a small backbone for the raspberry to play off. I went with Legacy hops because the raspberry might work well with the blackcurrant notes and I went with Willamette to give it an English feel (fuggle variant). I chose US-05 because I’m scared of the T-58. It’s mostly for bottle conditioning.

Alternately, I’d be tempted to try this GINGER LEMON WHEAT BEER. I don’t know whether that has enough diastatic power to get off the ground, but it’s worth a shot. The chit malt will give it a touch of green barley character and the oak smoked wheat malt… well, you’ve got to use it, haven’t you? It’s the big shiny red button. Challenger is a relatively neutral Northern Brewer style bittering hop, so I feel the Amarillo will really come through on the nose with the ginger root and lemon peel.

I don’t actually have a joke here. This is just a good picture of Alan Brown and John Hodd.

I should tell you that no one really did the same things that I would have. They did much more interesting things.

Michael Hancock, for instance, did a Ginger Ale called Flirting With Ginger. If I understand the explanation correctly, he created a starter for the beer that incorporated the ginger root in order to drag as much flavour as possible out of it. Like me, he was tempted by the Smoked Wheat Malt and used every bit that was provided to him. The result was a one off smoky ginger beer where the ginger came through right in the middle of the palate. As he notes, it’s not really enough ginger to be an authentic Ginger Beer. Pretty tasty, though.

I’ve made this one zoomoutable so you don’t gotsta squint.

My Co-Author Mark Murphy decided to brew an Oatmeal Brown Ale. It was pretty thoroughly drinkable if a little buttery. I think with a little revision, I could see that one on tap. He left some of the ingredients in the box, but you have to brew what you feel. You should buy his book. Heck, you should buy my book. It’s the same book, so I’ve just saved you at least a single mouse click. (I’m starting to feel like Jay Sherman.)

Mark Murphy is a very organized man. You might think he labelled those jars just for the competition. You would be wrong.

Dan Unkerskov and Scott Pautler from Lake of Bays worked together to create something closer to the ginger/lemon beer that I would have gone for. Wisely, they eschewed the smoked wheat malt. Somewhat oddly, they put the lemon peel and ginger root in right at the beginning of the boil. I’ve always figured that aromatics go in towards the end, so I was surprised to see the ginger and lemon come through to the extent they did. Possibly you could do both. It was nice to see the specialty ingredients used in a straightforward way with a clarity of vision. This is probably why they took third place. Either that or people were voting for Dan’s moustache.

I feel like I should point out that all of the ingredients were optional. Jon Downing from Niagara College didn’t feel that way about it. He made three beers and used all of the ingredients. In order to get around the fact that you were only really meant to brew one beer he made all three with a continuous mash, essentially using the second runnings of the first mash to brew the second beer and so on. A brewing centipede, if you will. It’s a pretty neat concept, and quite virtuosic if a bit muddled. I think the best part about this was the first beer, which was sort of like what a Berliner Weisse might be like without the Lactobacillus. Educational and interesting, which is, let’s face it, his job.

Jeffrey Woodworth. If heart were legs, he’d be the tallest brewer in Ontario.

In the end, everyone represented themselves very well. Special mentions go to Jeffrey Woodworth (drinkable yet challenging), Jamie Mistry (flat out drinkable) and Chris Williams (who would have gotten away with it if he had had a Saison yeast.)

Your winner is Andy D. Preston Esq. He will be appearing with Ted “Theodore” Logan at some point in the future.

The sure, confident gaze of a triumphant master brewer. Bask in the magnificence! Bask, I tell you!