Thursday, July 25, 2013

PEI Brewing Company: The Unfiltered Story

When you think of Prince Edward Island, what comes to mind? Is it Anne of Green Gables, with her straw hat and braided hair that tourists love to buy, or is it the abundance of fresh seafood, including the best lobster, oysters and mussels you will find anywhere? Perhaps you think of PEI potatoes, or the beautiful beaches full of unique red sand and inspiring vistas. There are many great things about "The Island in Bloom", but would beer be included in those thoughts? Have a Beach Chair Lager and you will think so!

The PEI Brewing Company is an up-and-coming microbrewery located in Charlottetown that is starting to make waves among Canada's craft beer market. Located at 96 Kensington Road, the brewery offers hourly tours of the facility starting at $10 per person. Two of my cousins and their wives took the tour and spoke so highly of it, my husband and I decided to check it out last day on the island.

The man behind the PEI Brewing Company is Kevin Murphy, who established his own brewery in 1997 at a different location. Two years later, he relocated his practice to a historical building in Olde Charlottetown called the Gahan House Brewery, and a smaller brewery and restaurant remain there today. Kevin teamed up with Jeff Squires in 2011 (currently the company's CEO) and formed the PEI Brewing Company, which absorbed the Gahan House Brewery but the name remains on some of their beers. The Beach Chair Lager was created in 2012 and has since gained a large maritime following.

There are four main ingredients in beer: water, barley, hops and yeast. Water is the main ingredient and needs to be of excellent quality. The watersheds in PEI generate pure water, which helps contribute to the high quality of PEI Brewing Company's beers. Malted barley is the starchy ingredient used here. Pilsner malt is used for Beach Chair Lager, barley is used for all the ales, and chocolate barley is used for the Iron Horse Ale (and this barley tastes delicious on it's own by the way!). The hops are used to enhance the flavour and aromas of the beer, and the yeast converts the sugars converted from the barley into alcohol during the fermentation process. Although some breweries will use preservatives and artificial flavours and colours to lengthen the shelf life and improve the flavours of their beers, the PEI Brewing Company only uses the four main ingredients listed above. This gives the beers a much cleaner, more crisp and classic taste, with a refreshing purity not seen in many other breweries.

The barley is stored in a silo until it is ready for use. It is then moved through a system of pipes as it takes it's journey to become delicious beer. The first stop is a mill, where the barley is crushed and cracked to make it easier to access the flavour. It is then held in a grist tank and moved when ready to the mash mixer, where it is mashed (the starch of the barley is converted to sugar in preparation for fermentation by the addition of wort, aka liquid) and then lautered (the spent grain is separated from the wort). The next stop is the kettle, where the wort is heated and all the impurities/bacteria are killed off. The hops are added here, which breaks down the proteins in the wort and decreases the pH level as well. The mixture is then fermented, where the addition of yeast converts the sugars into carbon dioxide and alcohol. Once fermentation starts to slow, the yeast pulled to the bottom of the tank and is filtered out. Some of the beer is then aged and bottled on-site.

While we were there we sampled the Beach Chair Lager, the Blueberry Ale, the Sir John A honey wheat beer and the Iron Horse dark ale. The Blueberry Ale comes unfiltered and real blueberries are used during the brewing process to add natural flavour. Although the ale is a little heavier than other blueberry beers I've had in the past, this one has much more natural flavour and is definitely worth a taste or two. The Beach Chair Lager is crisp and refreshing, with a mouthful of flavour that is perfect for a patio with friends or paired with food. I personally think wings and ribs are a perfect match with this beer! The Sir John A honey wheat is my new personal favourite of all the honey wheat ales I've had before, with the same density as the Beach Chair Lager and plenty of honey flavour without overpowering the beer. My standout favourite, however, was the Iron Horse Dark Ale (now labelled Iron Bridge). This is the perfect beer for anyone wanting to try dark ale but were too afraid. Full of chocolate and coffee flavour, this beer is still light enough to drink more than one of, with a refreshing long finish. I highly recommend this to the beer drinking ladies out there.

PEI Brewing Company is really starting to make a splash in the Canadian craft beer market. Click here to find their beer in the Maritime provinces. Lucky for us Calgarians, Willow Park Wines & Spirits has just received their first shipment and the beers were on the shelves as of last week, and Beach Chair Lager was featured in the weekly flyer as well. Needless to say, we stocked up! Look for PEI Brewing Company beers to be on the shelves in BC soon, as they have just placed their first order with the brewery.

There is a sign in the front area of the brewery that states their philosophy: Dream Big. Work Hard. Have A Beer. Kevin Murphy and Jeff Squires did just that and the result of their dreams and hard work are pure, natural, well flavoured craft beers that will be a tough act for other microbreweries to follow. If you ever find yourself in Charlottetown and you're looking for excellent local food and drink, it's definitely worth a trip to the PEI Brewing Company for the tour, the great local hospitality, and of course, the beer! Special thanks to Charlie, our knowledgeable and friendly tour guide on Monday, July 15. Make the beers a must-try on your list and I promise you won't be disappointed. Cheers!