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New U-brew brings all-grain goodness to Greater Trail's beer aficionados
Trail Brewing—a new "from scratch" U-brew located opposite the Safeway on Second Ave. in Trail—will swing open it's doors within a month to offer customers a choice from seven all-grain beer recipes and the option to brew wine from kits.
Customers just pitch the yeast and come back to fill their bottles, said the brewery's co-owner Ryan Arnaud. Better yet for those with an instinct for the easiest, simplest solution, bottling can be eschewed entirely and customers can go home with kegs.
Like many brewers, Arnaud started out making wine from kits and then tried his hand making beer from cans of syrup and malt extracts.
"About four years ago I got addicted to the hobby and wanted to make the ultimate beer," recalled Arnaud, a paramedic who moved to Rossland in 2007. "I went to all-grain." More recently Arnaud and co-owner Petri Raito decided, "Hey, maybe we can sell it, turn it into a job. And now we're here!"
Beer starts out life as a field barley—or other grains, depending how strictly you adhere to Reinheitsgebot, the German Beer Purity Law of 1516 that limited "beer" to barley, hops, and water (and yeast, though it took 346 years and a Frenchman to discover that.)
The grain is harvested, threshed, winnowed, and "malted," a process that involves sprouting and drying the barley to convert starches into sugars. Malted barley is the starting point for all-grain recipes that the brewer must "mash" in hot water to activate enzymes that convert even more starches to sugar.
The resulting sweet "wort," (pronounced "wert") is cooked—like a hell-broth boil and bubble—with hops that lend beer its characteristic bitterness. More hops are tossed in at the end of the boil or later to build the beer's aroma. The wort is chilled, the yeast is pitched and then the beer ferments—for a charm of powerful trouble, MacBeth's witches might add.
"What we're doing here [with all-grain recipes] is the exact same process that any microbrew or brewery would do, just with a smaller batch size," Arnaud said. "We mash our grain and boil it with hops."
By contrast, kit beers begin as a fully cooked wort reduced to a concentrate.
"Our beer's probably better than your average homebrew," he said. "We've got better yeast control and better temperature control. We're a little more precise with those numbers than the average homebrewer."
Arnaud was referring to pitching the correct amount of healthy yeast using carefully controlled yeast "starters." This is a step well beyond shaking in a package of dry yeast and—most beer experts agree—is possibly the most important factor affecting a beer's final flavour. Another factor that competes is consistently cool fermentation temperatures. At Trail Brewing, for example, fermentation takes place in a back room that is kept at a constant 17 degrees Celsius (62 degrees Farenheit).
"Our beer is probably equivalent or better than the microbrew you get at the store because it's so fresh. It didn't travel in a hot truck to get here," he explained. "And the price is right."
Arnaud calls Trail Brewing's simplest beer, "Smash," a basic blend of a single type of malted barley and a single type of hops. By the time a Trail Brewing customer is sipping Smash on the deck on a late Summer's afternoon, the final cost is "just a bit more than a buck a beer," Arnaud said.
Other recipes available to customers are an India pale ale, a stout, a wheat ale, a raspberry wheat, an amber ale, and Trail Pale Ale. Operating at full steam, the duo can produce 160 litres a day in four 40 litre batches, two simultaneous batches every 4 to 6 hours. It's a drop in the bucket for most breweries, but just right for what Arnaud and Raito want to achieve.
"We can experiment with lots of recipes, we can do whatever we want," Arnaud gave as one reason. He added, "We're starting off slow and steady—we didn't invest a lot of money, so we can keep it inexpensive for everybody. We want to do the U-brew thing for a few years, and then the dream is to go full-on and have a brewery, and sell it at the bar and liquor stores. We're working our way up."
They also think it's just a plain good idea to have an all-grain U-brew.
"Each beer is custom to the customer," Arnaud said. "Fresh. You'll be drinking it in four to five weeks, it can't get fresher than that."
Another good idea is kegs. Any homebrewer will tell you that claiming and cleaning bottles is a lot of work, not to mention the hassle of caps and "priming" the beer. Priming, or conditioning, is when a little more malt is added to the finished beer right before bottling. It gives the remaining yeast a little boost, and they crank out a little more alcohol and carbon dioxide, which carbonates the beer in the capped bottle where bubbles have nowhere to go. Priming also leaves a little yeasty sediment at the bottom of each bottle.
Instead, Trail Brewing has decided to keg all its beers, whether you take it home in the keg or bottle it at the store. They carbonate the beer with pressure in the keg and, if you want to bottle it, they have a special "Blichmann Beer Gun" that lets you squirt a fully carbonated beer into each bottle with a simple trigger. No siphon hose, no fuss, no muss.
"It's way easier," Arnaud said. "There's no bottle conditioning at all, it carbonates in a keg. Most people see yeast in the bottom of the bottle and they think 'homebrew' and it doesn't taste as good. This way it's sediment free and it's quick and easy."
(Homebrewers among you may be interested in this YouTube video from the makers of the Blichmann Beer Gun.)
For people who want to take it to the next step, Arnaud said, "We're hoping people take it out in kegs. They can rent or buy a kegerator from us, and I'm actually building a portable kegerator right now out of garbage cans—you can add ice to it and take it wherever you want." A "kegerator" is a small bar fridge that contains a keg or two connected to beer taps on top.
Arnaud was emphatic: "Kegs are the way to go." (And, as a homebrewer who switched to kegs two years ago myself, I couldn't agree more!)
For those who want wine, Arnaud and Raito have wine kits too: "You [the customer] have to be more involved in that process as far as mixing juice and water and the yeast, and a couple other easy chemicals. But it's short, it's sweet, it doesn't take very long," Arnaud explained.
It's still early days for Trail Brewing. Arnaud occupied 1672 Second Ave more than three months ago, but he only started his first brews a little more than a week ago.
"I've been cleaning this dump up," he laughed. "It was a lot of work. There was grease everywhere. I scrubbed it all down, painted, put in ceiling tiles, …"
He's been doing it alone too while Raito works out of town until August. "But he'll be back then and we'll be brewing like crazy," Arnaud said.
The first customers to the mash tun in August will be just in time to brew for the fall harvest celebrations. Arnaud sighed at the thought: "A nice stout or IPA for the fall would be perfect."
Contact Trail Brewing at 250-368-4666. They are located at 1672 Second Ave., Trail, BC.