Amidst the bustling storefront of Grimross Brewing Co. in Fredericton where patrons are quietly enjoying a pint, their stools scraping and glasses clinking over the murmur of conversation, Stephen Dixon’s eyes dance. He is quietly and very animatedly expounding upon the functions of yeasts, lactic acids, and adjuncts, and the characteristics they create in craft beer. This is not a riveting conversation for the uninitiated, but the passion with which Dixon explains it is engrossing enough to make anyone a microbiology nerd for a few minutes.
“I’m self-taught. I started twenty-five years ago as a hobby brewer, like a lot of brewers do, and I geeked out on learning everything from water chemistry to microbiology to brewing recipes and developed some expertise and people liked my beer.”
A love of science, a passion for community and a dash of nostalgia seem to be the cornerstones of Grimross, Fredericton’s own Belgian-style craft brewery. Dixon has earned his geek cred through his eclectic background. His career has run the gamut, ranging from managing the National Altitude Training Centre in Silver Star, British Colombia, to marketing and sales, to a Masters in Biomedical Engineering. “I’ve always been interested in research and innovation, so that has been a common thread throughout most of my life. I think it’s the same here; we’re doing a lot on the science side that most breweries aren’t.”
To prove it, tucked in the back of the brewery is a small room dedicated to one thing: a microscope. Inside the micro-microlab each batch of beer is tested to ensure it has the optimal amount of yeast particles. If you want to the full spiel, just ask him. Dixon is more than happy to explain, although he might tell you more than you can digest in the moment.
“We explore a variety of strains of yeast. Sometimes you get the best results by combining different strains. They create something different and unique, and this is part of what makes us different. We’re exploring the different varieties of yeast.”
“I guess I’m a bit of a geek on the science side. I like to play and experiment with things.”
Recently Grimross hired a graduate from the Niagara Institute’s brewing science program. “Martin brings my self-taught craft to another level, bringing in the science that I might not have been exposed to.”
Dixon explains that their newest projects are to expand, or at least diversify, using casking methods, souring beer with lactic acid, producing beer from wild yeasts, and cultivating some strains of their own with CCNB’s brewing sciences lab, all to top off their already well established repertoire of Belgian style beers.
“Craft beer is different than most products. We’re not so much a product as we are an idea. People love to try different craft beers and share it with their friends. Maybe they want to get a little geeky about their beer and they start to think about the different characteristics about the different beers.”
Grimross have come a long way from their humble beginnings. Their first year and a half was spent brewing on one of Picaroons’ spare systems, making use of the province’s collaborative brewing community.
“We have a good relationship with all the breweries. It’s a pretty collegial attitude amongst the brewers. It’s not so competitive; it’s more collaborative if anything. As a matter of fact, a couple weeks ago we had a Freddy Brewers Collaboration. One of our friends, a fellow brewer from Picaroons actually, has cancer and we’re brewing a beer to raise funds for him to help support him.”
On top of their experimental yeast concoctions and their involvement in the brewing community, they are looking forward to bolstering their business by bringing in local chefs to design a menu to complement their beer offerings. Even without the input of local chefs, he’s got a pretty good handle on how to pair beer and food.
“Take our Pugnacious Porter, take a vanilla ice cream with a really rich dark chocolate brownie in it and then put the Porter right in it like a float. For dinner, our Dubbel at 7%, has dark, rich caramel notes to it. It’s a really smooth beer, low in hops. Take that and have it with scallops sautéed with pepper and butter with asparagus.”
Dixon admits that he’s the one who does most of the cooking in their household, and that he likes it that way. When it came to starting the business though, his wife had a hand in coming up with the name, Grimross. “I was puttering around the house, and my wife was going through place names on the New Brunswick map, and she said Grimross Island. And I thought, “bang, that’s it! I know that’s it.””
Nostalgia sweeps over as Dixon recounts his childhood summers at his family’s cottage on the river. “We did a lot of boating, and quite often we’d end up meeting [our other boating friends] at Grimross Island. It had a nice little beach at the bottom and we’d hook up with other boats and swim and have fun and drink beer. Very fond memories.”
“When I was looking to start this business I wanted it to reflect local. Craft beer and local microbreweries are very much about people having a sense of community and a relationship with their customers. The guy that owns the business brews the beer. These are my friends, my customers. I get to know them, and they get to know me.”
To keep up to date with Grimross’ future innovations and adventures, and to see what’s on tap, visit www.grimross.com.