In December, an installment of All Hopped Up was devoted to demystifying homebrewing by breaking it down to four essential steps. Given the right equipment and some very basic know-how, anyone who can read a recipe can brew beer. What many people don’t know about the drink, however, is that all beer is made with variations on these four steps. Benoit Mercier, the head brewer and owner of Benelux, graciously lent his brew pub and expertise to show that any beer – from Rickard’s to Rolling Rock, craft-brew to homebrew – is made using the same fundamental process.
1. All good beer begins in the mind of a good brewer. More often than not, a brewmaster starts brewing on his stove and upgrades his set-up again and again, until one day he has a brewery. For Mercier, homebrewing was a “super cheap way for a 19-year-old to make 12 per cent beer.” But as craft brewing picked up in Montreal, it caught his interest.
Mercier is fascinated by both Belgian brewing traditions and highly-hopped West Coast styles. The tap list at Benelux aims for originality with creative hybrids like the Semuta, a Belgian saison supercharged with hops from the Pacific Northwest.
2. Today Mercier brewed his West Coast India Pale Ale. Rather than employing Belgian influences, Mercier toned down a recipe for a strong Imperial IPA he concocted when Benelux opened in April 2006.
Like homebrewing entirely with grains, the first step is to mash barley malt and extract all the sugary liquid. The second step, the sparge, is contained within this commercial mash tun.
3. Assistant brewer Philippe Tremblay adds a dose of hops to the brew kettle as the unfermented beer, known as wort, boils.
Though Mercier and Tremblay both deny their status as beer geeks, citing professionalism, Mercier’s eyes light up when he talk about hops. “Pacific hops can be broken down into three categories of taste,” he explains. “For instance, you can taste grapefruit flavors in most big American varieties, but Simcoe hops have interesting resiny cedar flavors.”
4. Still, it’s not hard to at least look like a geek in a brewery. After the wort cools, it is pumped into 900-litre fermenters seen here. One major difference between homebrewers and professionals is the attention given to yeast, held here in flasks. Major breweries will have scientists and labs devoted to culturing yeast and keeping it healthy. Their methods and yeast strains are often kept under tight lock and key.
Keep an eye out for Benelux’s 3rd anniversary bash in April, and for inside tips on the best beers of the bunch, e-mail Joe at to email@example.com.