It’s no secret that Canadians love their beer. Each person of age glugs 77.1 litres of beer per year, according to 2016 data from Beer Canada. And which province loves beer the most? Newfoudland and Labrador has the highest consumption per capita at 96.3 litres, followed by Quebec with 83.3 and Alberta downs 78.9. Also in 2016, the number of brewing facilities Canada-wide was at an all-time high: 775, up by more than 100 the year prior. With that, we look at three different uniquely Canadian breweries to learn what it is they love about malting barley and how it’s utilized in their breweries.
Craft Breweries and Canadian Malt: Annex Ale Project in Calgary, Alberta
Andrew Bulled is the co-founder of Annex Ale Project and he says the top reason he prefers Canadian barley in his beer is proximity. “It’s right there in our backyard,” he says. “There’s no reason not to use what’s grown locally. It’s a giant agricultural product in this part of the world so it doesn’t make sense to use anything else.”
Alberta produces, on average, the most malting barley of any province in Canada with Saskatchewan in second place. Annex has three core beers — a North American Bitter, an XPA and a Pale Ale — alongside a rotating door of more than 40 different seasonal offerings that are always heavy on the malt.
“We don’t have to worry about the approachability of our beers,” says Bullied. “Our goal is to assist in the brewing scene a little bit. Utilizing barley, being aggressive in our hops and brewing style sets us apart a bit.” They also refuse to cut corners. It’s 100 per cent grain all the time, sometimes with oats, but always with barley. Why? It’s obvious. “It just tastes better,” says Bullied. “We want the flavour that comes from using 100 per cent barley as our initial starch source.”
Canadian Malt and Medium-Sized Breweries: Phillips Brewing and Malting in Victoria, British Columbia
Matt Phillips loves malting barley. A lot. So much so that he and fellow staff at the Victoria, B.C. brewery decided to have it grown on contract for their beers. Then, they took it to another level. “Malting is highly energy-intensive,” says founder Matt Phillips. “We started thinking about how we could reduce that energy input and that led us to create our own malthouse and be more responsible for our barley. We were shocked by what incredible quality we could produce on Vancouver Island.”
By cutting out steps and integrating barley directly into their day-to- day operations, Phillips is much closer to the grain. He sees firsthand the power of fresh malting barley. “It’s really about what kind of flavour you want to make,” he says. “If you want to have a full, rich, craft beer, there’s really no way around it. You need to use good ingredients and that comes from barley. We have some fantastic farmers that are doing a really great job for us. There’s great barley in so many places in Canada and that’s why we love the homegrown product. It’s not just a commodity.”
Today, the brewery produces more than 70 different beers annually. To have that kind of variety, you need a good starting point in addition to the hops, yeasts and water. Phillips uses all kinds of specialty malts, in addition to his high-quality Canadian base malt, such as Munich, for added depth of character.
Large-Scale Breweries Use Canadian Malt: Moosehead Breweries in Saint John, New Brunswick
For a big brewer, consistency is the key to success. At Moosehead Breweries in Saint John, New Brunswick, that could not be truer. As Canada’s oldest independent brewery, the people at Moosehead have a commitment to being authentic for its clientele and that starts with quality ingredients.
“Canadian malt is a great quality product,” says James McDonnell, manager of brewing operations. “Canada has the ideal growing region for quality malting barley. The 100-day season from seed to harvest is about the right interval, the soil is fantastic, and you have lots of great, passionate farmers out there with excellent ability.” With more than 20 Moosehead brews to sip on, the quality and diversity of its malt is showcased in many ways. McDonnell is not surprised with how well Canadian malt interacts in the company’s beers because of the time and attention it receives from day one. “The care the maltsters put in right from barley selection through the malting process and analysis, they know how to pick the best barley,” he says. “They know how important it is for us and they’re very focused. It allows us to make a consistent, high-quality product.” Soon, Moosehead will be exploring even more possibilities with Canadian malting barley as it prepares to open its new 20-barrel brewhouse. The smaller batches will allow for greater control and increased flexibility when it comes to experimentation with the beer.