EDMUNDSTON – Collège communautaire du Nouveau-Brunswick (CCNB) is helping microbreweries across the Maritimes and New England make better beer.
For the past four years, CCNB’s Biorefinery Technology Scale-Up Centre has been using its beverage lab to help boost the region’s craft beer scene.
“When I started off, we were just doing recipe developments for some of the startup breweries that didn’t have the equipment to actually do the development themselves,” says CCNB’s Mike Doucette, who is not only a chemist, but also a beer enthusiast.
“So I started working on recipe development with them and we saw a lot of potential because the brewers were asking more and more complicated questions.”
These complicated questions ranged from what equipment to buy to what kind of analysis they needed and how to do it.
“[We’d] look at their water profiles and tell them what they need to do if they want to treat the water or add salts to the water to make certain beers,” Doucette says. “If they have hard questions, we’re here.”
CCNB helps breweries navigate the rules and regulations needed to get into people’s glasses. They also do quality control, including yeast cell counts and spotting bad bacteria.
“That gives them a lot of power and it gives them a leg-up on the competition . . . It’s only the better breweries that will survive,” Doucette says.
So far the college has worked with microbreweries in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, P.E.I, Quebec and Maine.
One of them is Holy Whale Brewing based in Alma, New Brunswick. Before they launch next year, CCNB has been helping them with ABV testing, yeast vitality/viability and microbiology sanitary practices, among other things.
“This is invaluable to a brewery such as ourselves. With our eventual brewhouse being 10 hectoliters in size, we don’t have the funds to purchase the same testing, QA and QC equipment as the bigger microbreweries,” said Holy Whale’s Jeff Grandy. “However, with the help of CCNB and its team, we will now have that ability.”
Stephen Dixon of Fredericton’s GRIMROSS Brewing says the resources CCNB provides helped him create his best product.
“The combination of workshops, access to expertise and collaboration on research has provided me with new knowledge to help improve process and quality for my brewing,” Dixon says.
“It is difficult to find this type of access to expertise and help with research and innovation in a small place like New Brunswick. I consider CCNB’s contribution to brewing and related industries to be helpful and very valuable.”
But their work doesn’t just stop with microbreweries. CCNB has also been doing work with micro distilleries.
That’s right, the hard stuff.
“They’re so much you can do with distilled product,” Doucette says. “Beer is beer, but distilleries can make vodka, they can make rum, they can make gin, whiskey . . . there’s really no limit to what they can do.”
Doucette says they are currently working with a distiller in Quebec to help them create the first 100 per cent Quebec-made whiskey.
“I’m hoping to see that here in the Maritimes too, as soon as the malt producers start, we’re hoping to see 100 per cent local whiskey here in the Maritimes,” Doucett says.
Though people are making their own beer and liquor in the Maritimes, they’re still getting their malt and barley outside the region.
“We’re hoping some farmers here will produce malting barley in rotation with their potatoes and be able to supply the malt houses and they can make malt to produce beer or distilled spirits,” Doucette says
CCNB is the only place eastern Canada that does malt analysis.
“It’s very niche. It’s new and it’s the next step in having 100 per cent local beer,” he says. “Right now, people are calling their beer local. It is, but not all ingredients are coming from the Maritimes.”
Working to create good beer might be the hippest job a chemist could have. But the ultimate goal of the beverage lab’s cool research is to grow the economy.
“That’s why we exist. It’s all economic development and microbreweries are awesome because they are so inefficient. They hire a lot of people . . . and they’re more adventurous,” Doucette says.
“We’re hoping we’ll be able to stimulate the economy from the farm right to the tourism at the end.”