Friday, July 8, 2011

Pineapple Express! An Adventure to Hawaii with Spearhead Brewery

Spearhead Brewery is a new operation based out of Toronto. They represent a cool business case in the beer industry because, believe it or not, they don't actually own their own brewery.

There are generally two ways to go about making beer without a brewery of your own. One, is to pay someone else to do it at their own brewery and to pick it up and sell it when the beer is done being made. You hand over a recipe (or get them to write one for you), fork over some cash and there you have it. This is known as contract brewing. This happens all the time in the industry as brewers try to fill excess capacity to make money. If your equipment isn't being used right now to make your own beer then you could be making money brewing someone else's beer.

The second way this is done is quite similar. Guest brewing is pretty much the same thing as contract brewing, except you do all the tinkering in the other company's brewhouse yourself. This is for those who have the expertise to produce the beer themselves and don't want to put this delicate work into the hands of another. Guest brewing is often called contract brewing anyways although they aren't precisely the same thing.

A number of great beers are (or have been) brewed this way. Some notable examples are Denison's Weissbier many of Brooklyn Brewery products. This also happens all the time in big brewers through licensing agreements. This isn't necessarily good or bad for the quality of a beer. Brooklyn and Denison's are certainly excellent beers.

The Spearhead crew was clearly happy and excited after two years of planning, tweaking and hard work.  They were spread out across the bar in animated conversation with patrons. They looked happy. The patrons looked happy. Their glassware was evident across the bar and patio space of Gambrinus Bistro.

The debut beer on offer was their Hawaiian Style Pale Ale, a beer brewed with pineapple. Having read up on this in advance my curiosity was piqued. I had never had a pineapple beer before and it was certainly a bold direction to go in for a debut product. My glass arrived and I was not disappointed. Bold was indeed a good word for this beer.

Despite the pineapple addition, it was first and foremost a pale ale. This announced itself in the nose with a forceful air of pine and fresh seaside air. If you put a hop farm on a Hawaiian beach then you have the smell of this beer nailed. The orange colour of the beer took on a tropical kind of glow to it too.

The pineapple was very subtle and blended with the hoppy aromas nicely. It is worth noting that the juice is a late addition in the brewing process. This means that it is primarily being used for flavouring purposes. This is a lesson in fermentation and flavour. Fermentation changes the flavours of things in unpredictable ways. Not allowing an ingredient to undergo fermentation means that it will have flavouring effects more in line with the tastes we are accustomed to. Honey and maple syrup are good examples. Maple syrup tastes especially different once fermented out than it does when added late.

Tomas Schmidt and Martin Villeneuve, the brewer and CFO, were both gracious and passionate about the questions peppered at them by the patrons. There was a mix of beer geeks and people who came that day unaware of the launch. All were approached. Everyone seemed genuinely curious about the beer which is always a pleasure to see.

This was a solid beginning from a group that is clearly committed to hard work and trying new things. I wish them all the best in their Adventure, no matter where it might take them next.

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