Even before setting foot in the building, there’s a sweet smell of malt that engulfs the whole area, but inside the air is cut with a strong string of expletives. It’s the audible expression of a strict adherence to perfection. Today is first day of a collaboration between the Hammond River and Big Axe Brewing companies, and not everything has gone according to plan.
It’s a minor mishap, but it takes a minute for Shane Steeves of Hammond River Brewing to cool down. It’s that dedication to making great beer, and a scientific level of precision, that have brought success to both nano-breweries. After months of discussion and planning a slight variation in the recipe comes as a frustration, “It’ll be the same beer, it just might not be as dark as we’d like it.”
The beer in question is a curious, and rarely seen India Black Ale; all the bitterness of an IPA, and then some, along with it’s distinct colour and a good kick at 7% alcohol. As nano-breweries producing a relatively small batch of craft beer, they have opportunity to be more adventurous in their flavours than mass producers, or even micro-breweries. Their hops can be hoppier, and their porters are a reason to live in their own right. “It’s up there in bitterness: 77 IBUs, which is certainly staying true to my style of beer, and Pete’s as well. It just seemed to make sense to brew an IBA. I’m glad we did.”
Peter Cole, of Big Axe Brewery in Nackawic, is calmly taking it all in. He’ll be repeating the process back at his own brewery in a week, with plenty of time to adjust the recipe. “We have the same equipment. Our grain is a little bit different. Our hops are a little bit different. You have different brand names for different products that are almost the same thing. So we just figured, why not?”
The beer is a product of the first collaboration of nano-breweries in the province, and a fine example of the culture that has been promoted amongst brewers in the province. As the Godfather of craft brewing in New Brunswick, Picaroons’ Sean Dunbar, tells it, “My theory has been that a rising tide floats all boats. The more craft beer, the more variety of craft beer we get into the province, the more the whole sector is going to develop.” It’s an attitude that has resulted in a growing industry, some great festivals, and most importantly, some delicious beer.
This batch of deliciousness will be available in the coming weeks in the Saint John/Quispamsis, and Fredericton areas. Ask for Two Rivers India Black Ale, “We are on St. John River, and Shane is on Hammond River, so we thought it was appropriate.”
As for future collaborations? Shane says, “I guarantee you that we’ll do this again. Pete and I were talking earlier, if this beer is a hit with the customers, and we’re pretty sure it will be, we’ll brew it again.”