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Brewing Locally: Nickel Brook Brewery

nicklebrook(Article originally published 2012)

In October 2012, John Romano, who is a very busy guy, kindly sat down to explain a bit about Nickel Brook's three fall seasonal ales that used local ingredients.


Why do breweries even bother with short shelf life seasonal brews?

John explained that like any chef, your brew master needs to continuously be inspired and free to try new ideas. Working on new recipes brings energy and creativity to your staff and complements a base line of beer that is available year-round. In Nickel Brook's case it has found its market niche with the Gluten Free Pale Ale, Green Apple Pilsner, and Organic Lager. Like many Ontario craft brewers Nickel Brook's beers are brewed in small batches, without additives like fructose-glucose or preservatives, and are naturally carbonated.

In the summer they released Saison, a thirst quenching Belgian Farmhouse style ale. This was followed with the fall seasonals.  The Pie-Eyed Pumpkin Ale stands out from other pumpkin beers because it uses a fresh crop of pumpkins from a farm on Brook Rd. near the Hamilton Airport rather than canned pumpkin. Each 1000 litre tank requires 12 medium-sized pumpkins that are baked on site. Last year's popularity meant that this year Nickel Brook brewed 2 tanks or 2000 litres.

New this harvest season, Nickel Brook custom ordered locally grown hops to create two ales that make up the Wet Hopped Series. This includes a traditional Scottish ale in the 80 Shilling style called Bertwell 80/ using hops from Guelph, and Underground Pale Ale (which you need to drink carefully at 6.2%) using hops from Flamborough.


How did John arrange for the hops?

Innovative farmers like to try new emerging crops and with the growth of the local craft beer market there is an increasing demand. From the farmer's risk assessment, growing hops is akin to growing grapes. You need dedicated land for the vines so farmers are trying an acre to start. You can harvest about 5 lbs per vine after a couple of seasons. Once they fully mature, the yield per vine increases. These farmers are advertising themselves to the craft brewers. Nickel Brook needed 30 lbs per tank which is the harvest from about 6 hop vines.


So do the fresh hops cost more?

Certainly he said, it's at least 3x the average price of $4/lb. Ingredients, John explains, can vary in cost per recipe, but the real cost of a beer isn't the beer at all, it's the bottle, box and label. Ontario barley is still hard to find, and there isn't a malting plant anywhere locally yet.


What is the taste difference using fresh hops vs. dry hops?

It is similar to using fresh herbs instead of dry herbs. They have much more floral aroma and the hoppy finish has a greater impact. Once the farmer gave the OK that the hops were rain-free and dry Nickel Brook staff picked the crop and started the brew that same day. The fresh "wet" hops are stuffed into fermentation sacks similar to a large tea bag. 1000 litres or 1 tank of each beer was brewed.

Stay tuned for the winter seasonal favs coming soon including Bolshevik Bastard Russian Imperial Stout, Cuvee winter warmer (at 7.75%), and popular Maple Porter made with real Canadian maple syrup.

Nickel Brook has recently undergone an expansion of their brewery on Drury Lane, and renovation of the retail counter to add a refrigerated tap system to fill growlers. Customers can purchase a growler for $5 and then pick their choice of beer to fill it. The cost of a full growler is less than the normal cost of a six pack yet it holds almost as much beer. You can bring back the rinsed growler and the staff will sterilize and refill it. Customers are loving this reusable option and so is John. It brings loyal customers into the brewery more often where they can sample other beers and establish relationships with the brewery staff. Less is more when it comes to responsible reusable packaging. We at BurlingtonGreen certainly agree.

You can find out more about Nickel Brook Brewery by visiting them at 864 Drury Lane (just north of Fairview) or on their website or by following them on Twitter.