Friday, 7 August 2015

A closer look at Longslice Brewing

THE BOYS IN THE BAND: The trio behind Longslice
Brewing is, from left, John Peat (vice-president), Sebastian
Lesch (director) and Jimmy Peat (president). At the top
left is the legal intern who will be reading this piece very
carefully and checking for litigious inaccuracies. I will
try my very best to keep that young man employed....
So you wanna be a brewer? Hey, you gotta start at the bottom... no, even lower that that... the basement.

That's where brothers Jimmy and John Peat started as teenagers in Bracebridge, Ontario. Now these brothers had the most noble of all Canadian intentions and that was this. They were underage but still wanted to stock parties hard with beer. I can practically see the Maple Leaf going up the pole when I think about it. But, as it turns out, there is no legal age for buying the ingredients needed to make beer. With the help of a clearly-indulgent father, they did precisely that - cranking out beer after beer in that Muskoka basement.

Now I am getting a little ahead of myself. You see, the beauty of beer festivals is that if it's a smaller operation such as this, you get to socialize with the actual brains behind the organization. That was precisely the case at the recent Burlington Beer Festival when I met the Peat brothers and their partner Sebastian Lesch. Over the course of the three-day festival, I had a chance to talk to the trio numerous times and because of that, it's time to take a closer look at Toronto's Longslice Brewing.
Would this be Arnold Schwarzenegger's favourite beer?
Doesn't matter. He's old. But it was the People's Choice
for Best Beer at the Burlington Beer Festival. Well done!

Now this brewery, at the moment, puts out just one beer (a second is coming - more on that in a bit): Hopsta La Vista IPA. Is it any good? Well, I'm not a beer expert but I certainly am an experienced beer enthusiast and with many fine craft beers under my belt (thus hiding my six-pack abs), I can honestly say this is, hands-down, the best British (malty), West Coast (hoppy) hybrid IPA I've ever tried. There have been several others - both Junction Craft Brewing's Engineer IPA and Stonehammer's Andrew's Second Wish IPA (to be reviewed in the near future) have tried to capture this delicate British-West Coast hybrid with varying degrees of success. Only Longslice nailed it like Canada did when we unloaded Justin Bieber on the USA. (No take-backs. He's yours now. Good luck with that.) It has a malt backbone stronger than a Chuck Norris round-house kick to the face but somehow, they also managed to sneak in 6.5%, 69 IBUs (international bitterness units) into this hot tamale.
I'm not a sinister madman brewer. I'm just
drawn that way, says sinister madman
brewer Jimmy Peat. Attention legal intern:
 litigious words here! However, given what I
know about the law, you have to prove he's
NOT a sinister madman brewer. Good luck.

Turns out I'm not the only one blown away by this beer. It won the People's Choice for Best Beer at the Burlington Beer Festival a few weekends back. More importantly, it captured gold for Best British IPA at the Ontario Brewing Awards this past Spring. Keeping in mind that British IPAs are notoriously malty and not in the least hoppy, how did they even get to enter it in the British category? While their strong use of malts no doubt helped, it may be a one-and-done for the trio. John told me, "I think they're redefining the category next year with sub-sections or whatever so we're not sure where it will be or can be entered next time."

But the beer's winning history goes back even further than that. While the trio, now based in Toronto, were brewing countless different styles, they decided to enter Jimmy's Hopsta La Vista into the 2013 Toronto Beer Week Homebrew Competition. And hey, how 'bout that, it took silver. That's when the guys decided it was time to go pro and setting up a contract-brewing deal with Cool Brewing in Toronto, they did precisely that on March 20, 2014. And that brings us up to the present but hey, how about their past? Well, I had a chance to interview Jimmy during the Burlington Beer Fest and found out what it takes to go from your Muskoka basement to winning Provincial awards. Well, it all started with those crappy extract-based basement beers.

Longslice Director Sebastian Lesch and Vice-President
John Peat pose happily with their Hopsta La Vista at
the Burlington Beer Festival. What could I possibly say
about these two that could be considered remotely
litigious by their legal intern? One of them stole a bike.
Not even a 10-speed. Like a tricycle. That's what I heard.
When will Hopsta La Vista be available? Hopefully (let's

cross some fingers here) September in LCBOs nearby...
Says Jimmy: "You (started with water), added the extract and boiled it. You added more water to top it up, then you added the yeast. When it's done, you put the sugar in the bottles and then you cap it. And sometimes bottles explode; sometimes they don't."

So what did it taste like?
"Oh, it tasted like (effing) crap, that's what it tasted like but it had liquor in it so for us, that was a real draw. We were like 17-18 and like, who cares, man? But when I think back, it wasn't that much worse than the available domestic stuff."

When do you brew your first good beer?
"A few years ago, like three, four years ago. I went to a You-Brew place and it was using the exact same stuff (I was already using), the same extract. I was like I did this at home in high school and I was thinking there's gotta be a better way to do this."

So what spurred you guys on?
"This was the time now when craft beer was picking up pretty hard so I thought what do I do to make this better at home? So I built a mash tun out of a cooler and I learned you just buy barley from everyone, (as well as) hops.
Okay, this shows the boys have some serious comic
book cred, using Star-Lord (aka Chris Pratt) from
hit movie, Guardians of the Galaxy, to promote their
beer on their Facebook page. Next time, it's Groot!
Then you can make IPAs and stouts and all this stuff which I really didn't know about. I mean, I knew they existed, I just didn't know how they (brewed) it. So I started looking at recipes. Say I wanted to make an IPA at home, I'd look at 10 different recipes and check to see the common thread between them all. What do people do? So (at the beginning) sometimes I'd use still the extracts but add the caramel malts. It's like a stepping stone between the (extract beer and real beer). If you get a cheese-cloth and wrap the caramel malts in that, it'll add a lot of depth to the beer..."

The trio became to tinker with different styles using actual ingredients (and not the extracts) before deciding Jimmy's IPA recipe was the one they wanted to initially hang their hats on. And from there... well, you've already read that. (If not, go back to the beginning. There will be a pop-quiz.)

From there, the conversation went on to other company's beers, notably Spearhead Hawaiian Style Pale Ale and Collective Arts Rhyme and Reason Extra Pale Ale. Those two beers are an ongoing argument between me and Beer Bro Glenn with me favoring the former, him the latter. (Actually, I enjoy the pair equally - I just like prolonging the argument because pointless banter can be fun.)
Way back in the days before Longslice was
even a dream, this is the beer that Jimmy
and his bartending buddies used as their
craft yardstick: Muskoka Mad Tom IPA.
Turns out Jimmy had his favourites, as well.
 "I love (the Spearhead), too. I think it's great. Actually, (Muskoka Brewing) Mad Tom (IPA) was my favourite for the longest time. I used to be a bartender and me and my friends in the kitchen used to be big Mad Tom drinkers. (Mad Tom) was like the rock. Either another beer was better or was worse but that was the rock that I judged (other beers by). It was the line in the sand."

But a bit more research on these guys showed the trio have brewed up a pretty big initiative on their own for Ontario craft brewers: the creation of The Ontario Brewers League. In an informative (and very well written) article published on June 25 for the online Ontario Beer Network by Doug Appeldoorn, TOBL was described as "exactly what the craft beer industry in this Province needs... a cooperative organization that works to the benefit of its members." Since, like Spearhead and other small brewers, Longslice does not have its own brewery, contract-brewing out of Cool Brewery, the first tenet was membership wasn't restricted to "bricks and mortar" breweries but rather all Ontario craft breweries, licensees, promotional companies, basically "anyone who generates income from the commercial production of beer in Ontario."
When Beau's All Natural Brewing started
a Coaster War on July 19 at the Burlington
Beer Festival, it was expected that there
would be casualties. Coasters would be lost
in battle and even though it didn't happen,
according to our mothers, someone could
have lost an eye. That said, it was a lot of
fun as Beau's, Samuel Adams, Cool, Goose
Island and Longslice engaged in one of the
most wicked coaster-frisbeeing wars ever.
A lost Longslice coaster got wedged here.

Appeldoorn wrote that TOBL "bringing both new and established breweries together isn't just wide-eyed idealism, it's actually pretty smart and something that can benefit the (craft beer) industry as a whole." Noting that the long-standing, established Ontario Craft Brewers association would continue to do its job, promoting and lobbying on behalf of the province's craft brewers both nationally and internationally, as they have long done, TOBL would work in tandem but on a grass-roots level, trying to create an organization that benefits members directly. The creation of a group health benefits since small groups of, say, three brewers cannot do that but larger groups of many more absolutely can. As well, TOBL will be looking at shared distribution and transportation of beer to LCBOs and Beer Stores, which is now allowed under the recent Beer Reforms created by the Ontario Liberal government. And if the craft brewery industry in North America has taught us nothing else, it's that the industry had more governmental red-tape hurdles that some guy just trying to brew some good beer can fathom. To that end, TOBL is looking for some shared legal advice and the input of those breweries who have somehow already jumped those same hurdles.

Concluded Appeldoorn, "there really is an amazing number of things that can be achieved with (TOBL). Kudos to the (Longslice) guys for starting it up and taking on this task. Overall, if they can keep it a transparent and collaborative organization, it can only mean great things for craft beer in Ontario." Right now, it's pretty hard to disagree with that and also, that's some solid writing, Doug.
So wait... if drinking Longslice's Hopsta La Vista is the
same as listening to The Beatles, is watching The Beatles
drink a beer, say, in the movie, Help!, the same as having
to listen to the Longslice boys sing? Heaven help us all...
But as I like to do, we are finishing off this tribute with some fun. Turns out the Longslice boys put out their own You-Tube commercial just prior to winning that gold at the Ontario Brewing Awards. Now, when announcing their gold medal win on Reddit, Jimmy noted that "we are Longslice Brewery. We posted that ridiculous beer commercial last week." After announcing their big win, he went to say "thanks to Toronto for being such a great city to us!" That commercial opens with Jimmy introducing the brewery and closes with... well, you'll have to see that yourself but watch for the disclaimer on the bottom right at the end of the 51-second commercial. But I noticed at the 12 second mark, John can be seen driving a car, eating a banana and reading some fan mail because distracted driving be damned! (I dunno... maybe - ask that legal intern.) It's only on the screen for two seconds so no way you can read it. Unless you pause it... which I did.
Don't we all? And the boys at Longslice Brewery will
continue to crank that out. After their award-winning
Hopsta La Vista. next on deck for the trio is their John's
Loose Lips Lager based on John's penchant for spilling
state secrets. He can't help it. Too much good craft beer.

Ridiculous, Jimmy? I think not. 
The letter reads: Dear Longslice Brewery, I love your beer soo much. Drinking your beer is like listening to the Beatles. I must know your secret. What makes Hopsta La Vista soo good? Also, are you guys single? You must be the most handsome gentlemen in the world. I spend my evenings fantasizing about waking up beside you. Will you marry me? Yours truly (with little hearts.)

Coming up is more "A closer look at" blogs with South River's Highlander Brewing Co. next and Old Tomorrow after that. I plan on continuing the "A closer look at..." as an ongoing thing, interspersed with the usual weirdness that is the hallmark of this spot. Maybe I'll even tell you about my last date which went pretty much the way they all do. After dinner, she excused herself to go to the washroom. That was in June. (She'll be back.) But that's it for this edition. Here's that link for that silly but fun Longslice You-Tube commercial right: HERE... SO ENJOY! You'll feel like you know the guys! And maybe fantasize about them. But that's on you. Guys and dolls, that's it, that's all and I am outta here! Until next time, I remain...