So thank you, Facebook, but I'll add my friends the three traditional ways - 1) they are actually someone I know and like; 2) at the recommendation of trusted friend or 3) completely by accident and to my horror because I'm still a Smartphone newbie.
Clearly, this one lady named Kathryn is a trusted friend because I did add someone at her suggestion. Granted, it was a bit of a no-brainer as his name was Liam Mckenna (so obviously a Scotsman and it's good to have a few of those as friends so you aren't sitting in that burning abyss alone) and, most importantly, he is a brewmaster.
|Cheers from the east end of the country as Liam|
McKenna hoists a pint of Robert The Spruce,
the brewery's spruce tip ale. Beers like this,
which the Vikings originated but the Scots
perfected, are right in Liam's wheelhouse...
After getting to know Liam, I finally asked how he knew Kathryn. As it turns out, they attended the University of Guelph together, a place they affectionately refer to as U of Goo. (When my brother went there, we called it Moo U because it has Canada's best agriculture program.) But long story short, he asked her out, she laughed in his face and thus a life-long friendship was born. I feel ya, bro.
|Here's some Wexford Wheat, Liam's first brew,|
coupled with a split baked rainbow trout and a bed of
rice. Am I the only one who just got really hungry??
Graduating as a microbiologist, Liam spent years as a professional brewer and beverage consultant in North America and Europe. In fact, the beer he created in Dublin between 1996 and 2000 was so good that Guinness actually paid publicans not to stock it. Looking back, he chuckles at the memory. "It was more about inducements, shit like no or low-interest loans in exchange for tap exclusivity. They did not want to allow us in. Fair play. If I had that sort of power and control, I'd do the same. To them, the thought of someone else brewing a stout in Dublin was anathema."
|Liam hangs at the Public House bar with Craig Flynn, who|
owns the brewery with his wife, Brenda O'Reilly. When the
couple approached Liam asking who might be a good
brewmaster for their new brewery, he suggested himself.
Landing back in Toronto, Liam was mostly a beverage consultant (while brewing on the side) and made friends with John Maxwell, the owner of the hugely-popular Irish pub Allens on the Danforth ("He remains my biggest fan.") Through Maxwell, he met Craig Flynn and Brenda O'Reilly, board members of the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association, who had plans to open YellowBelly Brewery in St. John's. With a strong nudge from Maxwell, when the couple approached him looking for a brewmaster, "I suggested me. I needed to stop the peripatetic life of consulting. I had a 10-year old (daughter named Isobel). I love Newfoundland. My talented wife, (Janet), who works in communications was ready for a change. It required little thought. I do not miss Toronto, save the multicultural food."
|I haven't even had tried this beer and I already know their|
Fighting Irish Red Ale would be my favourite. Liam calls
it "our most complex beer" with its big malty flavour.
Now before we continue with Liam's story, a quick look at the brewery's colourful name because it has a distant connection to me. It harkens back to the Irish immigrants who entered Newfoundland between 1750 and 1830. The Yellowbellies were an Irish faction hailing from County Wexford who famously tied strips of yellow cloth around their stomachs during hurling matches. Following their victories, King George III is said to exclaim, "Well done the Yellowbellies!" My connection? The Redmonds hail from County Wexford.
Once landing in YellowBelly, it was time to start brewing but where to start, what style to begin with? In the end, it was the Wexford Wheat.
|The last of the brewery's four mainstay beers|
was the St John's Stout. which Liam says is full of
complex, burnt, "roasty" flavour. We're sold...
"All, except for the wheat, have significantly migrated from their original design and recipe launch points. I am comfortable with where they sit right now. (I make) small tweaks now and then but that's just my ADD."
But while he brews that Core-Four for the taps at the Public House, as well as sale to the public, brewmasters all have that creative mad scientist thing happening and that means lots of experimentation and one-offs. Of particular interest to me is the Deep South IPA, a west-coast style weighing in at 6% and 60 IBU (international bitterness units), introduced in August and made with both American and British yeast and Pacific Gem (New Zealand) and Mosaic (Australia) hops. The first batch sold out almost instantly so Liam is back at the tuns and kettles with another batch "back by popular demand."
|Created for St Patrick's Day 2015, Liam brewed up his|
Paddy's Pale Ale, a malty traditional British style IPA.
But another that caught my eye was his Spruce tip ale, Robert The Spruce. Liam spent considerable time in the Spring and early Summer, harvesting Spruce tips for this 5.5% specialty beer. He took 4.5 kilograms (10 pounds) of the spruce tips and suspended them for 20 minutes in a boiling kettle of 1,100 litres (290 U.S. gallons) hopped wort. As with any new experiment, he "approached the project with great trepidation. I've had too many spruce beers that taste like Pine-Sol floor cleaner." Using citrusy Cascade hops to balance the spruce, in the end, he was happy. "The Spruce was present but not cloying but... there was a berry element there that I couldn't seem to articulate." The brewer offered up a free pint for anyone who could. I wasn't there but I'm throwing boysenberry out there in case that pint was never claimed.
But here's the thing. I was a journalist for more than a couple of decades and you never ever use just one source, even one as reliable and trustworthy as Liam.
"We went in for dinner on a weeknight. Like 99.999% of this city's population, everyone is super-friendly. (The Public House has) a dark, cozy ambiance with a glass wall separating the brewing equipment and the bar area. We sat at the bar for our meal and met Peter, the bartender. He was Asian and this becomes relevant in a second. He said, 'Just shout if you need anything.' I said, 'What if I just shout 'yo'?' He said, 'That works as well but my cousin's name is Yo'." Tommy said the ladies had the fish and chips while he had the filet mignon with veggies. "Both were incredible." As for beers, Tommy stayed true to the Fighting Irish Red through several visits ("Tasty and dark") while Nicola alternated between the Wexford Wheat ("Refreshing") and his Apple Cider ("Crisp, tart and sweet.")
|If you happen to land in St. John's, Newfoundland, what|
can I say? This place comes very highly recommended.
Now the one thing I always ask brewers is what is the next big beer style since IPAs are riding the wave now. I told Liam that one told me he thought sour beers; another said barrel-aged beers. So, as a brewer, what does he think? "Fuck sours! That may be a bit strong. Hah! I have been at tastings where the presenter was all poetic about a particular sour beer. Fast-forward to my notes, saying things like, 'Wet ass, shitty diaper, cheese, vomit, dog breath, horse blanket, mouse shit'. I could go on. I wish I was kidding. Obviously not a fan. The pendulum swings. I like the re-emergence of milder styles. I love malts just as much as I love hops. I do not like wood on beer except on rare occasion. I would rather have a decent pint and (then) lick a plank. It would be generally more enjoyable."
So what then? "I like to think the next wave will be well-made, balance, drinkable, shelf-stable beers. As a brewer, I think we make liquid bread."
|Here's the paddle of YellowBelly's Core-Four forward and|
then backwards. The Wexford Wheat, YellowBelly Pale
Ale, the Fighting Irish Red Ale and the St. John's Stout.
He closed out by noting, "It is a fond hope that we may some day share a pint or two. I know that would be great. You are always welcome here in St. John's." Sweet. Now on the Bucket List between "fly a helicopter" and "die in bed in the arms of a Las Vegas showgirl." Okay, this one may be a little easier, actually. Liam, we will meet... and drink YellowBelly beers. Next up, I promised young Megan that I would do the East Coast Challenge before Summer was over. I started with Liam for the east coast angle and now I have two days to do Megan's portion before Summer is over. Put me on the clock! But guys and dolls, that's it, that's all and I am outta here!! Until next time, I remain...