St. John's Wort Beery Musings And Amusing Beers

Tag Archives: Paul Dickey

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!

So You Want To Be A Brewer: St.John’s Wort/Cheshire Valley Manitou

When I went to middle school, we used to have week long trips to a property that the school owned out near Georgetown, Ontario. They would attempt to teach us important things about biodiversity and the life cycle and nature photography while we squirmed in our seats, happy for once to be out of our uniforms. Whoever had the misfortune of attempting to hold our attention with owl pellets or raccoon tracks had to compete with the all-consuming strategizing that would go on for that evening’s session of capture the flag.

There was one day that I remember in particular, though. It was winter, and for some reason that curriculum had gotten around to living off the land. It was pointed out to us that in a survival situation, there were actually a couple of things that you could make tea out of in order to fend off scurvy. This was before the days of omnipresent references on the internet to the zombie apocalypse, and it was after the fall of the USSR and the end of the cold war. I’m not really sure which Armageddon they were preparing us for. It might have been good old fashioned Canadiana. “Gather round children and learn how Burton Cummings and Alden Nowlan took down Louis Riel and Thomas D’arcy McGee with just a pile of moose dung and a stick of pemmican. Stan Rogers wrote a song about it, while John A. MacDonald slumped in the corner of a sod house.”

This is Sumac. It's ugly and fuzzy and sort of purple. Kind of like Grover.

The two things were, incidentally, spruce needles and staghorn sumac. It turns out that these things were instrumental in getting early settlers through Canadian winters. Cartier’s crew didn’t exactly thrive, but some of them benefited from this knowledge. I remember standing there, with six or seven other bored looking thirteen year olds, as we waited for the ingredients that we had harvested to steep in little metal pots. Mostly, I think, we were willing the stuff to infuse faster so that we could get back to the vitally important business of riding inner tubes down a very steep hill.

Nearly twenty years later, I ended up writing about beer. A couple of years ago, when I was just learning about the various styles available, people started brewing more Saisons in Ontario. Saisons are traditionally Belgian or French, with some minor distinctions between them. I usually claim that they’re Wallonian, but that’s mostly because that’s a pleasing word to say. Go ahead. Try it. Wallonian. The Walloons like a Saison (Almost as much as John A. MacDonald would have).

It struck me at some point when I was learning about Saison and Witbier (and other beers that contain subtle spicing), that it might not be a bad idea to look around and think about what was available as an indigenous ingredient in Ontario. We don’t have a lot of native fruits. Hops were transplants. Sumac, on the other hand is everywhere. It’s a relative of the cashew and the mango that grows from rhizomes (not unlike hops, actually). It’s not only edible, but steeping it in warm water gives off a pleasant bitter lemon and pepper kind of flavour that’s a little like a peppery pink lemonade. If you put it in really hot water, it can get properly tannic properly quickly.  Unpleasantly tannic. They use some varieties to make moroccan leather.

You can't actually buy Sumac. I had to poach Sumac. Sumac scrumping.

So, for a couple of years, at events when breweries would bring out one-off beers they had made, I would say to them “I have an idea for you: Staghorn Sumac.” No takers. I talked to the Dieu Du Ciel guys. I talked to Steve Beauchesne about it. I may even have mentioned it to Garrett Oliver when he was here in June. Folks mostly didn’t know what I was talking about, and I’d have to explain what it was. And that it had never been used commercially (that anyone was willing to admit, anyway. If it had been used, the results were potentially so bad that no one is willing to own up to it.)

Let’s face it. It’s a hard sell.

The idea didn’t go away, though. I’ve always wanted to do a Staghorn Sumac Saison. Heck, the Quebecers are doing a Spruce Needle beer.It’s just that I’ve never made a Saison. I needed help doing it, and this month I got lucky. Most of the beer writers in Toronto are preparing for an event that’s going to happen during Toronto Beer Week. The upshot is that every beer writer who wanted to participate has been paired with a brewer. I was lucky enough to get Paul Dickey from Cheshire Valley. He’s the kind of guy you want to brew with. He knows his stuff.

Portrait of a Man and his Kettle

I present to you:

St. John’s Wort/Cheshire Valley Manitou

When we started out, we were going to make a Witbier. Unfortunately, the recipe was pretty bad. It turns out the reason that no one uses Bullion Hops is because the blackcurrant flavour you get from them is really harsh. I told Paul I thought that it might sort of work. He was skeptical. So we sat there at Bryden’s, eating chicken wings, until I floated the sumac idea that I’d had kicking around for a while in the back of my head. Astoundingly, I had found someone who wasn’t going to smile and nod quietly at the idea while slowly backing away. It might have been because he still had four wings left.

We developed a new recipe for it (well, mostly Paul developed a new recipe for it) and we had our brew day last night. Mike Lackey from Great Lakes was kind enough to share his Saison yeast with us. Paul took the whole locavore concept I was going for with the sumac to its logical conclusion by sourcing Ontario malt for the majority of the barley. It ended up being a more complex malt bill than I would have designed. I would not have thought to use rye, for instance. It feels like it’s also fairly conservative, which is good. Paul reined in my natural exuberance a little. This is a good thing. The new recipe contains Saaz and Cascade hops, coriander and about a liter of sumac-ade that we had extracted from several bobs worth of berries.

Nearly a litre of sumac-ade. That stuff played hell with the colour of the beer.

I hasten to point out that if this works out we’ll be the first people I’m aware of to have brewed with Staghorn Sumac commercially. Both Paul and myself will look like we always knew that this would work out and we’ll stand there quietly nodding and accepting praise. If, on the other hand, it fails miserably, I’m quick to point out that it was all my idea and that it should in no way tarnish Paul Dickey’s sterling reputation.

You know what? If you’re going to fail, fail big. I get the feeling that if I’m going up against other beer writers and the best brewers in the city, they’re going to have some pretty spectacular collaborations. Despite the fact that I addressed my fellow beer writers as “sucka-ass chumps” in an email during the brew day, these are knowledgeable professionals and talented amateurs. I’m hoping that the combination of Paul’s expertise and my uh… somewhat esoteric ingredient choice will give us the edge.  Either way, I think I’m going to track down the poor fellow who tried to teach me about it all those years ago and foist a bottle off on him.

The dregs. Good name for a band, now that I think of it.

Cheshire Valley and Burger Bar

If that were actually a pint glass, it would fall over.

Tuesday, I was invited along to a beer tasting at Burger Bar in Kensington Market. Now, for me, this wasn’t just any beer tasting. Thomas Riley Marshall, former Vice-President of the United States, once opined that what the country needed was a good five-cent cigar. I have always felt that what Toronto needed was a good sessionable ale. Well, we’ve got one now thanks to Paul Dickey: Cheshire Valley Unfiltered English Mild.

Paul, for those of you who don’t know, is the man behind Cheshire Valley Brewing. In terms of the Ontario beer scene, he’s a man of many parts. He has brewed for Pepperwood Bistro and Black Oak. Everyone enjoys a pint of Nutcracker. He created that one; Also the Summer Saison. He’s a Master Judge in the BJCP program. This is a man who knows what he’s doing. If you need proof of that, it’s worth noting that his Cheshire Valley beers tend to be among the first to run out at cask festivals. It’s one thing for a brewery to rate high on the internet amongst the tickerati (raters gonna rate), but it’s quite another to view the evidence of quality displayed by people making a bee line for a mild ale at a festival with high alcohol offerings and one-offs.

The mild is very tasty. It’s about 3.5% alcohol and the flavour is malty with some small chocolate presence. The nice thing about it is that you can certainly carry on a conversation while enjoying it. Some beers grab your lapels and demand your attention. The Cheshire Valley Unfiltered English Mild doesn’t do that, but that’s not to say that it’s not worthy of your attention. It’s complex enough that you can think about what you’re tasting, but not so forceful that you absolutely have to. In a market where IPAs are not only grabbing your lapels but turning you upside down and shaking the change out of your pockets, this is a refreshing change.

It’s only available in pubs, and that’s a good thing. It’s the perfect thing for a civilized conversation. I sat there in Burger Bar with various bloggers and no one ended up with a lampshade on their head. The wonderful thing about a pint of mild is that you can go and do something else after enjoying it. If there were a warning label it might well read, “Please do not operate heavy machinery unless you absolutely have to, although if you give it about twenty minutes, a backhoe is not out of the question.”

Cheshire Valley is interesting in that it’s a virtual brewery. The beer is brewed on Black Oak’s premises, but it’s not one of their brands. It’s very much its own product line. I talked to Paul at Cask Days, so I may have some of the details wrong, but the impression that I got was that he’s only going to brew six times a year for now. The beers on offer will loosely follow the seasons. The mild is the fall offering, but the next one up is a robust porter for when the weather gets colder.

The beers don’t have names. There is no gimmickry. There is only quality. The styles are not outlandish or experimental. These are recipes that have been tried and tested and are solid and dependable. They are the result of a career’s worth of trial and error.

Paul also told me a little about the business model he’s using. All of the beer goes into keg sales, the vast majority of which have been pre-sold. By the time it starts fermenting, it has been spoken for. Now, it’s not a huge number of kegs; maybe 30-33 per batch. That’s not a volume that’s going to make anyone rich, but it’s sustainable. The impression I came away with is that it’s not about making anyone rich. Paul has simply come up with a sustainable way to do the thing he loves doing, and make people happy while doing it. It’s amazing what passion for your métier can accomplish.

Speaking of, I feel like I should talk about the venue a little.

Burger Bar, to me at least, seemed to crop up out of nowhere in early September. I hadn’t heard of it before Toronto Beer Week, but all of a sudden, there it was: Hosting events almost weekly. I talked to the owner, Brock Shepherd about this emergence and it turns out that I wasn’t off by a lot. Burger Bar really has only been around for about seven months.

The concept is pretty simple and the name tells you nearly everything you need to know. The beer is local and of high quality and Brock has already expanded the number of taps available, including bringing in a beer engine with a sparkler for cask. The menu is mostly hamburgers, but they’re of a high quality and the number of toppings makes them nearly endlessly customizable (x=16! and that’s just the additional toppings). I was also pleased to see that Brock hadn’t completely abandoned the previous concept. Some of the most popular rice bowls from Burger Bar’s previous incarnation survived. Why alienate the old guard?

Brock has been bitten pretty hard by the craft beer bug. You know you’re in trouble when you start buying toys and he’s got maybe the only Dogfish Head Randall in Ontario. He’s also got a slightly worrying glint in his eye when he starts talking about his plans. He’s talking about learning to brew his own beers, which would make Burger Bar one of only a handful of brewpubs in Toronto. Burger Bar’s in a really good location to take advantage of the growth of craft beer in Ontario and if his enthusiasm is any indication, I’m going to enjoy watching the place grow and develop.

It’s worth reflecting that the fact the Cheshire Valley tasting was at Burger Bar is not an accident. Paul and Brock have something in common: They have figured out what they are passionate about and they’re both going for it. Paul’s project is the result of a long career in brewing in Ontario and years of practice and refinement. Brock is just starting out in the craft beer world. The motivation, though, is very similar.

If you’re passionate enough about what you’re doing, you’re eventually going to make it work.