10 Feb After Hours Series Getting Craft with Head Brewer Chris Long
by Ellen Egan
A day in the life of a brewer isn’t exactly what you’d expect. From hauling kegs and managing staff to scrubbing floors and tweaking recipes, there’s so much more that goes into running a brewery than “taste-testing” beer. Go figure.
And for PEIBC’s Head Brewer, Chris Long, it’s his passion for the craft and a desire to innovate that makes the laborious aspects all the more worthwhile.
We sat down one afternoon in late September to talk about everything from where his love for craft beer first began and how he stays inspired to continue honing his craft, to what it takes to stay fresh and thrive as a big brewery in Atlantic Canada.
A Natural Progression
Originally from PEI’s North Shore, Chris Long became interested in the different beers of the world when he was in his late 20s. He says he loved seeing the diversity that was out there for beers and learning where the various beer styles developed from.
“I’m a bit of a history but and I found it really interesting to learn about the different beer styles we have now and how they all developed in different locations for different reasons,” he explains. “Whether it was the ingredients that were available or the types of socializing that people were doing, they all have a history of how they came to be.”
And although it was never an industry he’d considered working in before, he ended
up landing a job in 2009 at the original Gahan House Brewery on Sydney Street in downtown Charlottetown.
“I started out cleaning floors, cleaning tanks and kegs, and stuff like that at first. Then slowly I learned all the other jobs in the brewery, like kegging beer, transferring beer, and filtering, then eventually brewing,” he says. “And if you make yourself useful, they’ll let you stick around.”
His hard work did pay off, and he eventually stayed on as the lone brewer at The Gahan House for about two and a half years. Once they opened the new Prince Edward Island Brewing Company on Kensington Road, however, he moved there and took on the role of Junior Brewer.
“A big part of what I was doing was figuring out the new Brew House, trying to figure out how to get the most out of it,” he explains. “I then became Head Brewer as a result of knowing how to operate it and striving to get the best beer out of it.”
Experimenting with New Brews
Quality and consistency are absolutely essential to producing really good beer. And aside from sanitation and timing, it’s the knowledge of how the ingredients interact together that is so crucial. So once they dialed in the large Brew House process, they eventually found a way to balance their huge batches of mainstay beers, like Sir Johns A’s Honey Wheat Ale, Island Red and 1772 IPA, with a smaller, more experimental series.
This series appealed to the brewers’ curiosity and the market’s interest in more “out there” brews. Aptly named “After Hours Series” for beers that would otherwise be brewed—you guessed it—after hours, it enabled them to experiment with creating new, delicious brews on a smaller pilot system.
“When you’re doing the same brews every day, you’re bound to get curious,” he says. “You might be out there brewing a Honey Wheat Ale and you start to wonder what it would be if you added 400 kilos of raspberries and made it sour, weird stuff like that.”
Learn the Rules So You Can Break Them
And although he says there are no limitations on what you can try, there are definitely limitations on what people want to drink: “If you know a lot about how beer works and how it’s made, it gets easier to play with the rules and twist them a bit, and still end up with something tasty.”
He continues. “The After Hours Series brews, to me, are really stuff that is extra funky or crazy or difficult to pull open . We’ll do more wild stuff as part of this program and then test it on a few
of our taps. The hope is that eventually we’ll try to scale it up if it goes over well.”
And even though the temptation to ride certain trends can be strong, Chris says they tend to bide their time and do their own product development before they release anything to the public.
“When we come out with something, it’s never a half-hearted attempt. It’s going to be super high quality and that takes a lot of patience, modifications and understanding of the technical side.”
You don’t get a beautiful thing unless you’re willing to put the work in.”
For more information or to find out where to purchase your own After Hours Series Beer, visit afterhoursseries.ca