Follow beer writer, Troy Burtch, as he explores the wonderful world of craft beer and the pubs that serve it. Great Canadian Beer is a place to come to catch up on beer news, read tasting notes, check out event listings, and for pub previews and reviews.


Friday, August 28, 2009

Meet Tim Blakeley: Better Bitters Brew Master

Meet Tim Blakeley, the enthusiastic and talented brewer with the Better Bitters Brewing Company.

Blakeley has been in the industry for over 15 years now and is responsible for the creation of a number of new seasonal products Better Bitters (under the brand Nickel Brook) have been producing over the last couple of years, which include: Maple Porter, Spring Bock, Organic White, Sahti (a Finnish beer brewed with Juniper berries) and Uniek Kriek (oak-aged with sour cherries). Blakeley has also brought some consistency and creativity to the brewery since arriving almost three years ago, tweaking, and improving the Nickel Brook Ale and Apple Pilsner, and producing the recently released canned, and LCBO available Organic Lager.

**Photo - Blakeley on right, Better Bitters brewer Ryan Morrow on left

How many years have you worked in the industry?
The first Toronto Festival of Beer was my first week on the job. So what’s that? Fifteen years, I think.

How did you get into brewing beer?
I tripped over my taste buds and landed in it. Ha Ha. I worked at The Woolwich Arms pub when I first moved to southern Ontario, and fell in love with the beer. Eventually, I drank so much Gritstone that the Niagara rep took me on a brewery tour and bought me steak dinner. After that, I was on a mission. When F&M brewery opened, I badgered them into giving me a grunt job and I would stay after work and hit the books every night. Then I basically spent the next three years grinding my way up the ladder, studying, exploring the different styles and driving everybody nuts with all my questions.

How long have you been brewing with Better Bitters?
Three years on Labour Day

Where were you before Better Bitters?
I’ve kicked around a few places: Gordon Biersch, Neustadt Springs, Wellington, F&M (second ownership), Taylor & Bates Elora and F&M (first ownership).Some beer sales gigs as well. I used to call beer sales “bar hopping for money”.

What is your best selling beer?
The core brands are pretty much neck and neck, but we’ve just released the Nickelbrook Organic Lager at the LCBO and I’m expecting it to take the lead.

How successful have the seasonals been for Better Bitters?
Very successful in many ways. Firstly, they sell well and have raised our profile within the community. Also, they’re invaluable to me for research purposes. Many of the techniques and ingredients I’ve used them to experiment with have allowed me to really fine tune the core brands and overall production. Most importantly, the joy of dreaming them up and then having them in my cellar when I get home has been instrumental in keeping me sane through the last three brewery expansions.

What is it like brewing in Ontario?
I love it. There’s a major renaissance going on among consumers for artisanal brewing. It’s allowing us unprecedented freedom to be creative. Also, the brain trust and talent pool that I’m working along side in the industry is first rate. We all get along great, and swap favours and advice as well as pints and dirty jokes. Any rivalries we have are friendly ones, which only serve to fuel our ambitions for excellence. Overall, I’d stand the Ontario scene beside any brewing region around.

Tell us something about yourself that not a lot of people know about.
I cried when my pet fish, Brain, passed away. It was 4:00 A.M. so nobody saw me. Phew. Thanks, Troy. It’s good to finally get that off my chest.

What's your favorite beer style?
Definitely the Belgian styles, with only a couple exceptions. Not exclusively Belgian styles brewed in Belgium, though. A good chunk of my top twenty are from Quebec. I love what they’re doing in Quebec.

What is your ideal food and beer pairing?
There’s too many to mention, so I’ll tell the most recent one that I’ve enjoyed. I was back home on the Saint Lawrence, and I had a dry Kriekbier with cheese curds and fresh-caught Lancaster perch on a baguette. Heaven.

Pick one Better Bitters beer to drink forever.
The Nicklebrook Cuvee. I make that one especially for myself. Not the most responsible use of company funds, but it sells well and gets good press, so my conscience is clear. Only thing is, it’s best after it’s laid down for eighteen months and I don’t have the willpower to keep it in my cellar that long.

What has been the highlight of your brewing career?
I’d have to say I’m living it right now. This is a very dynamic time for me. The learning curve is immense. Better Bitters is growing exponentially. The technology available for small batch production compared to back when I started is liberating. All of my designs and plans and inventions and dream beers are becoming reality and it all seems to be working. Lots of them have been stuck in my head for years, waiting for a company that’s supportive of my crazy ideas. John, the owner, is down with that. I feel validated and stressed out and excited and overwhelmed. Basically, I’m a kid in a candy store.

Best time for a pint?
Days that end in 'y'

Where do you see the Ontario brewing industry in the next 5 years?
I can see the cottage, craft and micro-breweries scooping up another 20% market share. I think the larger micros will start doing more special releases and seasonals. I’m looking forward to that. As for the more exotic stuff we’re creating, I think it will still be niche market, but I hope it’s a bigger niche. If we keep our beer advertising associated with gastronomy instead of beach volleyball, I think we can pull it off. I want to see brewpubs or brewery/tied houses with fine dining as well. Good times ahead. I can’t wait.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well done Tim...keep up the good about you come down to Australia with a suitcase full of your brews!

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