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Home Brewing on a Budget and Its Re-shaping of Canadian Beer Tastes
By: James Burt

“The thing I love about home brewing,” said Zack Weinberg, proprietor of Toronto
Brewing, a home brewing supply store. “Is that with a little practice, you can brew
beer at home that’s just as good as something that’s produced at a commercial
brewery.”
In an era of so much Canadian brewing activity, Weinberg’s statement is hard to
ignore. While once thought of as an activity for middle-aged men at a local u-brew,
home brewing has shown itself to be a process that yields refined products of
quality. Moreover, it’s something that can be done under a tight budget by almost
anyone.

“You can get started with a good homebrew kit for just fifty dollars that will come
with all of the basics you need to brew your first batch at home,” Weinberg said.
“They are complete except for a few items you’ll need to make the brewing process
that much easier. We always recommend grabbing an extra bottle of sanitizer, a
wort chiller, and a fresh case of clean bottles to ensure a successful brew.”
Home brewing is also a vehicle to make lifelong connections and experimentation
with some creative brewing. Brad Blahnik of Winnipeg’s Grain to Glass home
brewing supply centre learned this first hand.

“I met my partner Paul Tower in my band days,” he said. “We jammed together and
Paul mentioned he home brewed, inspiring me to do the same.”
Blahnik set about getting a brew kit and eventually joined a local brew club that
helped propagate rigorous local brewing competition.

“We were involved with the Winnipeg Brew Bombers, our local brew club, that
always had lots of activities going on. That included the Half Pint Grain to Glass Pro
Am competition where Paul and I took home four medals in IPA brewing.”
As both Weinberg and Blahnik have seen, home brewers have to make
considerations before and after they start to brew. Beginning with smaller batch
brewing kits before going onto larger volumes or complex brewing set-ups is
recommended. Attending a weekend home brewing class or event to get the basics
down is also suggested. Home brewers often encounter common problems in the
brewing process that can result in beer batches going foul.
“The importance of cleaning and sanitation is paramount in brewing,” said
Weinberg. “You’ll always want to make sure your fermenter, bottles, and any
transferring equipment are kept completely clean and free of anything that can
cause infection in the final product. You’ll also want to maintain a consistent

temperature throughout fermentation, as this will produce the cleanest possible
beer. Temperature swings can cause the yeast to produce fermentation byproducts
like diacetyl, a buttered popcorn off-flavouring agent, or acetaldehyde— that creates
the sour apple off-flavour in home brew! With these considerations in mind, you
can easily set something up in your home or condo with just a sturdy stove to brew
on and a cool, dark place like a closet to ferment.”

Some non-home brewers might be surprised in how great of a beer can be made or
what interesting home brewing set-ups can be devised in one’s own living space.
“One man we know re-wired his garage to create his own brewing system,” said
Blahnik. “It’s a one barrel operation, like a nano-operation, and it takes up the whole
garage.”

“I recently brewed a coconut barley wine with my friend Matt Duimering from our
local homebrew club, GTA Brews. We added brettanomyces—a special yeast-type—
for some added punch and aged in on charred oak for six months,” added Weinberg.
“It was pretty phenomenal.”

Blahnik speculated on the possible future of home brewing. In the case of Manitoba,
it has only been since 2015 that the province has allowed brewers to offer half-pints
or to sell small-sized beer batches. The recent changes to these laws have helped
facilitate both home brewing innovation and people’s perspectives on home brewed
beer overall.

“I’ve had so much good homebrew, I have a hard time buying commercial beer,” he
said. “It’s hard to go to the store to buy beer now. Here, people can brew decent beer
for one dollar per pint. Most of the people that got good at homebrew have gone on
to open breweries. The whole climate is changing in terms of quality, people’s
abilities, and the new laws that are more favourable to those that want to brew and
showcase their wares.”