This weekend I made a discovery while looking for things to do while visiting family…OK, my in-laws. Right there in little Stratford Ontario was the Stratford Brewing Company. At the south end of town in a small industrial park area at the back of a building there it was…a van, a man and a set of second-hand brewing equipment making one of the best pilsners I have ever had.
After I got past what looked like an attack beagle, I met Joe Tuer who ended up taking over two hours of his day to tell me about his beer and his business.
I actually came back with the camera and a note pad. I was going to do this interviewing thing right. Looking at my notes now you would think I was sitting in a chilly lagering room in the middle of a Canadian winter fixated on the beer in front of me and chatting with a new found beer nerd fellow traveller. Oh…I was. I did get a good quote after I asked what his challange as a brewer was, which he replied:
I don’t want to be someone’s favorite beer. I don’t want someone to buy our beer religiously. If we’re in your top six – perfect.
This is a two beer operation. The flagship is a 4.9% Czech pilsner – by name of Stratford Pilsner – which has a nice breadcrustiness from the pale malt as well as a easy drinkability from Stratford’s soft artesian well water. Joe also poured me a new 4% porter he decided to add for winter. Chocolate with a nice snap of twiggy hops, this beer relies on a light fruity English ale yeast as well as that soft water. Again, quaffable at the lighter end of porter. The malt Stratford Brewering uses is from Gilbertson & Page of nearby Fergus, the hops from Hop Union and the yeast are from Wyeast.
Brewing lager takes a bit of an investment and a bit of a chance. Lager has to be “lagered” or stored in cold temperatures for a significantly longer period of time than ales. This means you need more storage capacity to produce the same amount of beer as an ale brewer. It also means you have to pay higher cooling costs. But what is smart about it is that you are aiming at a niche that the average southern Ontarian is already used to supping. You have market. Stratford Brewing services a keg market of about two dozen accounts right now which is largely based on local loyalty in town as well as beer lovers in downtown Toronto, about two hours drive east. The town of Stratford has a world famous Shakespeare festival which attracts folk from around the world including many who expect a town to have a local town brewer and who ask for his beer before they even know the name.
After some rejection from banks as a new grad with a business degree, Joe reinvented his business interest in beer while working in Singapore enjoying the ex-pat life. Diligent readers of the archives will be familiar with Brewerkz, a brew pub there visited by Newfoundlander and Asiapundit, Chris Myrick before he moved to Shanghai, land of pineapple beer. Joe got a short course of over the shoulder training from Scott Robertson at Brewerkz which carried him back to Canada a year and a half ago and started him on his search for equipment. What he found was in Cincinnati – a 14 barrel Specific Mechanical system originally from BC shown here.
I will revisit Stratford Brewing (and not only because I visit my in-laws there) from time to time. This is a lager I would return to – and this is from someone who is not a lager fan. I hope to find Joe on a hot August Saturday with a lawn chair each and time to contemplate his work.