World of Wort-craft

After talking about home brewing for a year or so (okay, a few years) it’s finally time to put my money where my mouth and liver are.

Heart set on purchasing a kit, I tromped on down to my local brewing store Prairie Vintner’s & Brewers, who were critical in helping me understand the different types of brewing kits. Like any astute padawan learning a new skill, I built an analogy around the concepts to improve my understanding. This is what I took away from the conversation.

There are a few different difficulty stages in home brewing. Let’s call them “levels.”



Level 1

Like any good video game, home brewing will make you think you’re moderately good at something to rope you into a complicated universe.

Apparently they do.

This is as easy as home brewing gets – other home brewers may refer to this as the Easy Bake Oven (EBO) of beer making. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – I made some badass nachos 20-some years ago in my EBO. Do they even make those things anymore?
The beer kit contains 15L of unfermented barley juice (a.k.a. “wort”) that’s already been bittered and flavored. All you need to do is pour it into a carboy and add the yeast. This is probably where I should have started, were I entirely new to the home brewing game. But then again, I stood around and watched while a buddy of mine made a batch from scratch, so I like to think I’m a step above the typical beginner*. I don’t really do anything the easy way. Let’s skip ahead to level 2.

*I’m probably not.


If this is where you’d like to start, Brewhouse and Northern Brewer make a variety of beer styles to suit any home brewing virgin.


This villain looks like your best friend. Except that he’s purple!

Level 2

Level 2 isn’t too much different than level 1. It builds on your previous successes, and might add in a boss with a few extra horns or something. Maybe it flies. Who knows!

In this type of beer kit, you’re usually provided a packet of yeast and a tin of malt extract that has the hop flavors pre-added. The only other ingredient you’ll need here is a kilo of corn sugar (or “dextrose” if you want to sound smart), though some equip you with this as well. And let’s not forget the all-purpose sanitizer – because no one wants to drink a can of fizzy band-aid flavored water.

$25 HME + $5 dextrose = 23 litres of beer

All you have to do for these kits is boil up the hopped malt extract (HME) with some water and corn sugar. Once it’s cooled, toss in the yeast and let ‘er ferment. Expect more detailed instructions once I’m struggling through these steps on my own.

This is the level that I chose to start – mostly because I’m a penny-pinching skinflint. A tin of HME will cost you about $25, even in Canada’s crappy economy, and will make 60-70 bottles of beer. The level 1 kits will cost $50-80 dollars.


Level 3

Keep grinding (not that kind of grinding).

Maybe you’re bored of using the kits, but aren’t quite ready for the big league. Not to fear – there’s still plenty you can do with a kit before jumping in the deep end.

Consider this the “mini games” section of your video game. Maybe you tried to beat the big boss and failed miserably. Maybe you’re afraid of failure. Now’s the time improve your skills and confidence before trying again.

Use this time to experiment. Keep using your malt extracts, but maybe add in a few grain adjuncts. Dry hop your beer with some cascade, or start playing with oak. Do what you want, I’m not your Mom.

Or just sit in a vat full of hops and contemplate the meaning of life. That’s cool too.

Level 4

Time to face that lvl. 50 Paladin, yo! Now you have the skills to extract the yummy malt flavor from the grains yourself. This tends to be cheaper than using HME, and you also have more creative control. Plus you have substantially greater bragging rights.

I imagine the internet has a few recipes. Or if you’re from a generation that still uses paper books (like myself) check out your local library! I’m quite impressed with the innovative blends in Brooklyn BrewShop’s the Beer Making Book by Erica Shea and Stephen Valand.

Is that it? Have you beat the game? I doubt it.

Expansion Packs

Unless you’re quite confident you have created the most wonderful beer imaginable, there’s always room for improvement. Even if you have, consider the following:

  • Have you crafted your own signature recipe?
  • Can you keep up with the latest beer trends? I certainly can’t.
  • Have you made a caramel latte flavored beer yet (like Calgary’s Last Best)? That actually tastes good?
  • Do you grow your own hops?
  • Have you tried roasting your own malt?
  • Have you started your own brewery? If so, please send me some beer so that I can give you rave reviews. Or give you some “constructive feedback.”
  • Does your aforementioned brewery also incorporate a pub?
  • The list goes on.


If you said no to any of the above questions, your brewing journey is far from over. You can do better.



Passion for the Pint.



Bridge City Business

It seems I’ll have lots to keep me busy over the next few weeks here in Lethbridge. The following are a few highlights of the brewing world I’m particularly looking forward to:

1. Coulee Brew Co. is finally opening its doors in Lethbridge. After a long wait, this city will be home to a brew pub, complete with a restaurant, meeting space, and a growler bar. I had the opportunity to attend the soft opening, and was impressed with the stunning facility, trimmed to the nines with reclaimed wood.

Shipping pallet chic.

The menu was innovative with just enough classic dishes to satisfy the most traditional eaters. While I was disappointed that Coulee Brew’s beer was not yet ready, they do offer a few great pics from other local breweries (Tool Shed, Bench Creek). I’ll be patient. Good beer takes time.

Duck tacos with cherry salsa and goat cheese and some beer cheese soup off of Coulee Brew Co.’s new menu.

2. Theoretically Brewing – a lesser-known (but locally acclaimed) microbrewery that somehow flew under my beer-dar and opened earlier in December. More to come on this topic.

3. And of course, the aforementioned home-brewing adventures. While I haven’t yet started brewing, I have devoted a substantial amount of time to choosing a name for the first brew (soon to be revealed). That counts, right?

I’ve also had a bit more time at home and in the kitchen. As much as I enjoy meals cooked by others, there is a certain satisfaction I get from completing a demanding recipe, especially one I can eat when I’m finished.

I tend to use truffle oil in everything I add mushrooms to. While both the black and white truffle have strong, unmistakable flavors of their own, it’s especially good with other fungus-y foods. I liken it to  – sure they’re expensive, but you really don’t need much to get the job done. If you don’t have truffle oil…that’s really too bad. There is no substitute. You can either shell out the $25 for a bottle of half-decent infused oil, or make a less-delicious version of the recipe below.

They’re delicious, I promise.

Shepherd’s pie is made with lamb. Cottage pie is made with beef. What then, do you call a turkey dish topped with vegetables and mashed potatoes? Suggestions, please.

WARNING: The following recipe makes a great deal of food – make sure to invite a few friends and use the absolute biggest pan you have. Likewise, you could easily divide the recipe in half or prepare and serve it in individual ramekins.

Turkey Mushroom Cottage Pie

with truffle, parsnip, and beer gravy

Obligatory decorative vegetables.

4 large potatoes, peeled and quartered

3 medium parsnips, peeled and coarsely chopped

1/4 cup butter, room temperature

1/2 cup milk

4 tbsp. minced fresh rosemary, divided

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 onion, chopped

2 cups mushrooms, sliced

1 tbsp. truffle oil

2 tbsp. flour

3/4 cup dark beer

2 cups diced carrots (fresh or frozen), steamed

2 cups frozen cut green peas or beans, thawed

2 pounds (900g ground turkey)

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tbsp dried sage

1 egg

1 cup Panko or breadcrumbs, divided

1/4 cup parmesan cheese

Ground black pepper to taste

  1. Combine potatoes and parsnips in a large pot of boiling water. Cook tender, 15 to 20 minutes.
  2. Drain potatoes and parsnips and add butter and milk. Season with 2 tbsp. of the minced fresh rosemary and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
  3. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
  4. Heat olive oil and minced onion in a skillet over medium heat with a pinch of salt. Once the onions begin to release moisture and turn translucent (about 5 minutes), add mushrooms and truffle oil.
  5. Whisk together beer and flour. Add to mushroom and onion mixture, stirring gently. Reduce heat and simmer until the liquid begins to thicken.
  6. While the mushroom gravy begins to thicken, combine ground turkey, garlic cloves, sage, egg, 1/2 cup of Panko or breadcrumbs and remaining fresh rosemary in a large bowl. Combine well to form a thick meat-dough (almost like you were to make a meatloaf).
  7. Transfer meat mixture to a deep, greased casserole dish and press firmly into the pan.
  8. Cover meat layer with mushroom gravy, followed by steamed carrots and green beans.
  9. Finally, top casserole with potato/parsnip mixture and sprinkle remaining Panko and parmesan overtop.
  10. Bake in preheated oven until tops of mashed potatoes are lightly browned and the edges are bubbling, about 30 minutes.


Serves 8

New Beer’s Resolution

Christmas and New Years have come and gone. The gyms are filled with people struggling through their yearly work-out. The stores can’t keep enough kale, quinoa, or other so-called “Superfoods” on the shelves to satisfy the trendiest dieters.

I’m not really one to make New Year’s resolutions. January really isn’t different from any other month, and shouldn’t be the only time we set goals. That being said, I do have one project I’m looking forward to working on over the next year.

I’ll be babysitting a friend’s brewing equipment over the next year, which gives me an opportunity to venture into the world of home brewing. As with any goal, it’s a good idea to start small, and work up to where you want to be.

The first batch will be an easy one from a kit. And maybe adding a bit of personality with some dry hopping or flavorful adjuncts.

Step two will be more complex, brewing from malt itself. Any suggestions for techniques and potential flavours will be welcome, from fellow brewers and beer enthusiasts alike.

These aren’t your typical cookie-cutter sugar cookies.

Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to make and eat cookies (even eggnog-flavoured ones) year round (not just in December). The following is one of my favorites – a successful experiment from last year.

Rum N’ Eggnog Sugar Cookies


Christmas pig never gets invited to holiday gatherings.

⅔ cup butter

¾ cup granulated sugar

1 tbsp. rum or rum flavoring

1 egg

2 tbsp. eggnog

2 cups flour

1 ½ tsp baking powder

1 tsp. nutmeg

¼ tsp. cinnamon

¼ tsp salt

  1. Cream butter, sugar and rum together.
  2. Add egg and eggnog; beat thoroughly.
  3. Sift together remaining dry ingredients.
  4. Gradually blend dry ingredients into creamed mixture.
  5. Divide dough in half and cover or wrap in plastic.
  6. Chill at least one hour before rolling out.
    On a lightly floured surface, roll dough to ⅛” thickness.
  7. Cut into desired shapes with cookie cutters.
  8. Carefully transfer to cookie sheet and bake at 350°F (325°F convection) for 8-10 minutes.
  9. Let cookies cool before removing from pan.


Makes about 36 cookies

Got any tips or tricks for a newcomer to the world of home brewing? Suggestions for a first or second beer style to try? Clever names for new brews? I’d like to hear about it – comment below or get in touch on twitter @theempirestrikesbock