An Interview With Jeff Broeders and Chris Tuominen Of Indie Alehouse
The following is an interview with Jeff Broeders and Chris Tuominen Of Indie Alehouse
Beer Experiment Tasting Event Info:
Where: Birroteca / Eataly - 55 Bloor St. W.
When: Saturday April 15th 1PM - 5PM
What: 3 different versions of the classic Instigator IPA pitched with 3 different yeasts
How do you get started with Indie Ale House?
Chris: I wanted to leave London, which is a crazy thing to say, but with Brexit and the pandemic I needed to do something new. A lot of my friends moved to Toronto and I got introduced to Indie Ale House and the cool stuff they were doing. I sent some emails, and here we are.
Jeff: I was part of Niagara College’s first graduating class. Jason Fischer, the owner of Indie Ale House, was doing his research development recipes at the Niagara College Brewery. In my student term I was working in the brewery; that's where I met Jason, and we hit it off. I was very fortunate in getting started; employee number one.
For a lot of the big beer producers out there they want to produce one beer, and they want to be able to produce the same beer every single time. What are your thoughts on that mindset versus constant change and expiration while evolving a recipe over time?
Chris: I think every commercial brewery needs flagship beer because otherwise there's nothing to define them. On the flip side, there's also nothing to pay for all the other weird stuff they might want to do; it's about a balance. If you want to make 3000L of fooder aged wild ale, that's not going to sell out quickly, but If you make 3000L of IPA or a nice crisp lager you might be able to sell all of that in a week. So one hand feeds the other; you have to do a bit of both. I have huge respect for people who just want to make one or two beers and make them the best examples of what they're doing. I find it incredible that there's some breweries who have made a beer that tastes exactly the same for 10, 20, 30, 40 years. There's so much expertise in knowledge about those raw materials that they know how to twist and wrangle anything that's thrown at them and still get the same flavor. That's as cool as the brewery who puts out 150 new beers, all great in the same year. At the end of the day, we just want to make good beer. We want to make the best beer possible. To us, it doesn't really matter what the style of it is, if we think we can make it a good beer, we're probably going to give it a go.
Jeff: There’s an art both ways, so I have respect for both. When I got into brewing, I wanted to do as many brands and many beers as possible. As a homebrewer at heart I wanted to keep on doing funky things. Unfortunately, that's not always possible, but I'm happy with where Indy is at, and the opportunities I've been given with the growth. We now have two production groups, so we do get plenty of opportunities for experimentation.
Does a beer like instigator change over time?
Jeff: Over the last 10 years I think we're in the longest stance of it being the same. There was definitely a point in the first five years that it probably changed; a tiny bit every single time. Ideally for the better. If it didn't, we just took it back a step and then went three steps forward and kind of evolved it slowly over many batches.
“Brews that are hoppier, fruitier, aged longer, and weirder barrels”. Obviously a mission statement that is rooted in encouraging exploration of choice. It also highlights that experimentation is super important to Indy, so how do you decide what new things to try?
Chris: If someone has an idea, it's brought to the group though obviously at this scale you have to also think about what is going to sell. A tomato saison could be the coolest idea in the world, but to be worth our time we're going to sell X amount to cover costs. Can anyone In the world sell that amount of that beer? Flavor comes first for us, that's usually what we think about, and then we ask if it's something that's going to interest people enough to buy it or Is this going to end up being like one of those cool ideas to just going to sit around. A lot of it is also left to “the beer gods”; there's only so much you can control. Good beer goes to die in cellars; something that an old English brewmaster told me many years ago, and I think it's very true. You can make the best wort and you might have fermented really good beer but if it’s not aged correctly, you might end up with something that's not worth the time you put into it.
Jeff: How do we decide? From the time Indie started, 99% of all that we made has always been sold out the front door or in the pub. So when we get to a spot where we have an opening, we were always excited that we had the time produce something else. We would sit down, have a couple beers and ask “what are we going to do next week”? We would throw ideas back and forth until we were settled, and we would do that every two or three months. For the first 5 years, that was really fun because we didn't always want to try the same thing. When we started, we always wanted to do barrel aged product, so we got right into it. I didn't know anything about it, other than what I could find and resources, but the best way to learn is just to do it. Going from 80 barrels in the basement at the brew pub with 5 ft ceilings to now, where we have had as high as 250 barrels, and now we're hovering around 150 at any given time. I think we've come a long way.
What would separate someone who's good at cellaring from someone who's great at it?
Chris: I think it's a lot of attention to detail. You have to see where the beer is steering itself. Remembering simple things [which are] beneficial for homebrewers too, like stopping your cold break. Getting rid of the yeast as soon as you can. Not missing your diacetyl rest. Good cellarmanship is to just trust the numbers and trust your senses when something. When the numbers are right and it tastes ready, it probably is ready. You need to trust your gut.
Where does Birroteca kind of extend that mission? Is this a lab for people to kind of experiment with beers and food? How do we see that as part of the Indie umbrella?
Chris: A lot of people that come to Eataly come for that big, out-there experience and I feel like we can provide that because of the focus on matching food with beer. We can use different techniques here because of the smaller scale, same as the original brew pub. We do a lot of experimenting with unique open top fermentations too. There are so many opportunities to experiment with blending beer with wine, that it really captures the spirit of what brought me to Indie in the first place.
Jeff: The focus going forward is going to be exactly that, a focus on beer and food and being more experimental. I mean we have fooders here, we have our open top squat tanks, and the way we gravitated since we built this brewery and production facility was that we're going to lean more into doing funkier belgian style beers in this space. So a lot more farmhouse and fermenting with brett, just kind of a little bit of a playground. Finding a way to sell that is a different mission. Doing more beer and food pairing stuff is on the horizon, which I'm very excited about because that was one of the original reasons I got into beer; I'm looking forward to finally exploring that. It's always been the goal: Good beer paired with good food.
For the tasting event. Is there anything in particular you want people to experience or get a taste for here?
Chris: First of all, I hope that they discovered that Birroteca is right here, in downtown Toronto. I don't think enough people know that we're here. I also think people will enjoy trying the original instigator and I'll look forward to seeing how they'll react to a very subtle change of just one ingredient. With a change in one variable I think we got two quite interesting comparisons to the original one that are unique beers in their own right.
Jeff: I want them to know that we're here and what we're going to be capable of brewing in our production. We always try to stay engaged with the homebrew community. I want to bring homebrewers into the space so they can get the sense that we’re into the same kind of things. For this first event, I'd really like for people to be hanging out at first, and just taking in the importance of these small projects, and see how cool making a small change can be.
With the experiments that we're doing in mind. What would you like to focus on if we're to continue to experiment and evolve?
Chris: I'd like to try just using the Vermont yeast in different batches. Maybe one gets a pre-fermentation dry hop, one gets fermented under pressure, one gets fermented warmer and maybe one gets fermented colder. Just changing one variable on our current recipe, and see what hidden potential it might have.
Jeff: I'm so far out of the homebrew community that I want what They want. I got in the Brewing to learn, man. I think there's something to learn from the new generation of brewers coming in. What do they want to see? What excites them? When I got into the industry 12, 13 years ago, a west coast ipa was the coolest most mind boggling thing. It would be cool to explore the next big thing.