Dan Grant, the new head brewer at Dog Island Brewing, can talk about beer-making all day. Or he could if he wasn’t so busy!

Summer is peak demand for craft beers produced at D.I.B., and he’s going flat out.

“Brewing is basically a one-man operation here,” Grant says. “I do everything.”

Grant took over as the top man on the brewing side of things at the beginning of this year, following a three-month probation period. Prior to that, founders and owners Ben Fiddler and Chad Paulson were the brew crew, turning what had been a hobby into a full-fledged and successful craft brewing business.

Sometime last year, Paulson and Fiddler decided they needed help, and put the word out. At the time, Grant was head brewer at a very much smaller operation in Lethbridge, where he’d been for about 18 months. He loved the work, but he says it didn’t pay enough to make a living.

“It was about one-eighth the size of this,” he says, gesturing at the gleaming stainless steel array of tanks in the D.I.B brew house. Not only that, the equipment he was using was more or less home-made, and not very efficient. The brewing system array in Slave Lake made a very enticing prospect.

“It was like (going from the) Stone Age to the 21st Century,” he says.

Nevertheless, it was a bit of a leap of faith. Grant says he didn’t know anybody in Slave Lake or anything about the community. But he liked what he saw, and must have gotten (and made) a good impression at his interview last September.

“It was on a Wednesday,” he says. “By Sunday, I was back and ready to start work!”

One the things keeping Grant busy these days is nursing a batch of lager beer, which takes a lot longer to produce than the more common ales. The goal is to have it ready for an Oktoberfest event that is being contemplated to coincide with the eight-year anniversary of D.I.B’s founding.

Otherwise, lots of the more quickly-produced (two weeks, generally) ales are in the works all the time, as thirsty customers line up for the various editions. The most popular of all, Grant says, is the Saints & Sinners IPA. Meanwhile, he’s introduced one or two of his own creations in the time he’s been with D.I.B., and has more innovations in mind. ‘Bird Dog Pilsner’ is one example.

According to a blurb in Canadian Beer News, Bird Dog is “made with jasmine rice to keep the beer crisp, light and crushable. It also includes Czech Saaz hops and Swiss lager yeast.”

How Grant got into brewing in the first place is a tale worth telling. Like his bosses at D.I.B., it started as a hobby, launched a few years ago when he was a student at the University of Lethbridge. He was there hitting the books for kinesiology and computer science – in both cases, he says, still trying to figure out what sort of a career he wanted. This was after getting a degree in engineering from the University of Alberta.

“I decided early on engineering wasn’t for me,” he says. “But I was already in my third year, so I decided to finish my degree.”

Grant took an assistant brewer’s job at the small Lethbridge brewery mentioned earlier – not thinking at all that it was a career move. As it turned out, the head brewer quit before Grant had even started, so he was offered that job, as inexperienced as he was.

“But it went well,” he says. “I learned a lot.”

He found he enjoyed it a lot too. The only drawback was not earning what he calls “a livable salary.”

The D.I.B. job, as advertised, was for an assistant, not a head brewer, “but we got chatting….”

A batch of beer at Dog Island amounts to about 2,400 litres, or 650 gallons of product going through the system at a time. It starts by loading grain and water into the ‘mash tun,’ where it steeps for an hour or so, at around 150°F. This breaks down starch into sugar.

Next in the process is to pull off the ‘wort’ (lots of old German words in brewing, Grant says), which is the sugary liquid. It goes into the boil kettle, where hops are added. These give flavour, aroma and bitterness. After an hour of boiling, the whole works goes into a whirlpool, which separates out the solids (called ‘trub’). Hops can be added here too, Grant says, for more flavour.

The material is then pumped through a heat exchanger, which cools it down to about room temperature. It then goes into a fermenting vat, with added yeast, for eight to 10 days. For some types of beer, even more hops can be added at this point.

The beer is chilled to 0C and during this period, more trub drops out. Carbonation is added and after a couple of weeks, it’s ready to be kegged or canned. That’s for the ales, as noted. Lager takes longer.

Dog Island Brewing’s Dan Grant, in the heart of the action.

by Joe McWilliams

This item copyrighted by   AlbertaChat.com / Lakeside Leaader   Slave Lake, Alberta

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