September 9, 2019: Field Trip to Big Rock Brewery www.BigRockBeer.com
Today's meeting was a trip to Big Rock Brewery.
Approximately 30 of us (25 members, four family members and our incoming exchange student, Margot) gathered in the upstairs tasting room of Big Rock Brewery, where a variety of beers, ciders and, I think, wine were available and appreciated by many.
President Gerry Meek expressed our collective thanks to Bill Tapuska for arranging this event.
This day was, apparently, International Schnitzel Day, so we were, of course, served a lunch of wiener schnitzel with potatoes and vegetables – quite satisfying.
At 1:00pm, we all signed the requisite Big Rock waivers, were issued with safety vests, glasses and hairnets, and began our tour of the brewery operations led by our guide, Nick.
Big Rock was founded in 1985 by Ed McNally, then a retired lawyer, who was seeking a better beer than those currently available. Initially, only one product was produced (Traditional) from the single building brewery. The ’88 Winter Olympics caused a huge increase in the appreciation of, and demand for, Traditional, and Big Rock expanded to a three-building operation, and introduced its second product, Grasshopper.
The brewery moved to its current location in 1996, and is now the largest independent craft brewery in Canada, with breweries in Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto.
Other than water, the biggest ingredient in beer production is malt (a barley base). A base malt is used in all products, with the addition of different malts for different beers. The malt grains are ground, weighed into the kettles, water is added and the sugars are extracted from the resultant mash. Hops are required to provide different flavourings and aromas to the various products – they may provide bitterness or aromaticity – and also act as preservatives to the beer. Since the shelf life of hops is very short, Big Rock purchases them as dried pellets and keeps them in cold storage until used. Different hop varieties provide different earthy, citrus, aromatic or grassy characteristics.
After the liquid (wort) is extracted from the mash, the remaining sludge is sold as cattle feed to beef raisers.
There are only two basic kinds of beer in the world – ale and lager. Which is produced is determined by the yeast selected, and Big Rock have their own proprietary yeasts. The prepared yeast is added to the wort, temperatures are tightly controlled, samples are taken for sugar, alcohol and other analyses, and, when determined to be ready, the product is filtered, ready to be packaged, sold and enjoyed.
Ciders, certified gluten free, are also now produced by Big Rock after a friend of McNally, who owns an orchard in the Okanagan, advised he had more apples than he had customers for them.
Nick gave us an excellent tour and insight into Big Rock. Anyone wishing more technical details on brewing beer can easily find a wealth of information through the magic of Google.
At the end of the tour, we reconvened in the tasting room to sample an assortment of Big Rock’s products. I believe 16 different beers and wines were available. More than enough, thank you!
reported by Duncan Stanners
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