Greg Koch of Stone Brewing

Greg Koch of Stone Brewing on Bar Towel Radio

July 28th, 2017 Posted by Bar Towel Radio, Feature No Comment yet

In this episode of Bar Towel Radio we have a beer with Greg Koch, Executive Chairman and Co-Founder of Stone Brewing of San Diego, California. With special guest host Jason Fisher, Founder of Indie Alehouse, we have a wide-ranging and lively conversation with Greg about his recent visit to Toronto and the beer scene in Ontario, Stone’s foray into Europe, the evolving beer scene of southern California and more.

You can listen to this episode of Bar Towel Radio below or on iTunesGoogle Play or Stitcher:

Mike Shatzel and Cass Enright

Chatting Buffalo Beer with Mike Shatzel

July 15th, 2017 Posted by Bar Towel Radio, Feature No Comment yet

Last week I visited Thin Man Brewery, the great brewery and restaurant in Buffalo, New York and had a beer on Bar Towel Radio with owner Mike Shatzel. Mike, who could easily be nicknamed the “Beer King of Buffalo”, oversees eight bars in the city, including the legendary Cole’s, Moor Pat, Colter Bay, Allen Burger Venture and more.

In this episode we chat about the beer and brewing scenes in Buffalo and Ontario, Mike’s history in the bar and beer industry, how Thin Man got started and about their beers, and some other beery reminiscing and storytelling including the now-legendary Bar Towel Bus Trip to the Blue Monk.

You can listen to this episode of Bar Towel Radio below or on iTunesGoogle Play or Stitcher:

Cass, Mike and Peter

Great Lakes Brewery Reflects on 30 Years of Beer

June 27th, 2017 Posted by Bar Towel Radio, Feature No Comment yet

Recently I sat down for a beer and a chat for Bar Towel Radio with Peter Bulut and Mike Lackey of Great Lakes Brewery, as they celebrate the 30th anniversary this year. In this episode we chat about their favourite GLB and collaboration beers from the past and present, some memorable stories from the brewery’s past, their new pilot brewing system, and their thoughts about how the Ontario beer scene has evolved and where it’s going.

You can listen to this episode of Bar Towel Radio below or on iTunesGoogle Play or Stitcher:


As a part of their 30th anniversary celebrations, Great Lakes Brewery will be doing a Tap Takeover of the Brewer’s Backyard on Canada Day, this Saturday, July 1st at the Evergreen Brick Works, from 11am until 5pm. They will have six booths set up with almost 20 beers available. Check out the full tap list below and we hope to see you on Saturday!


Marc Rauschmann of BraufactuM

Talking German Craft Beer with Marc Rauschmann

June 13th, 2017 Posted by Bar Towel Radio, Feature 1 comment

In our newest episode of Bar Towel Radio, we go continental with a conversation with Marc Rauschmann, Master Brewer of BraufactuM in Frankfurt, Germany. Marc was recently in Toronto to launch a number of his beers at beerbistro, which will be available on draught in Ontario. During our chat we discussed his background and the beer scene in Germany, plus his beers coming to the market here, including the smoked wheat Roog, pale ale Palor, IPA Progusta, weizen IPA Indra and saison Soleya.

You can listen to this episode of Bar Towel Radio below or on iTunesGoogle Play or Stitcher:


Elliott Brood

Elliott Brood on Bar Towel Radio

June 3rd, 2017 Posted by Bar Towel Radio, Feature No Comment yet

At Toronto’s Festival of Beer Spring Sessions a couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to have a beer with the Juno Award-winning band Elliott Brood. In this episode of Bar Towel Radio I chat with band members Casey Laforet, Mark Sasso and Stephen Pitkin about their favourite beers and breweries, some of their beer memories from the road and what’s coming up from this great Canadian band.

You can listen to this episode of Bar Towel Radio below or on iTunes or Google Play:


Santa Monica Yacht Club

Introducing Santa Monica Yacht Club

May 11th, 2017 Posted by Feature, Importing No Comment yet

Santa Monica Yacht Club LogoWe are thrilled to announce the launch of Santa Monica Yacht Club (SMYC), a boutique agency for the drinkers of Ontario, representing imported craft beers, wines and spirits. SMYC is a re-imagination of Bar Towel Imports, the agency brand created by The Bar Towel.

SMYC is meant to be an open importing agency, one where we involve the drinking public in what we do.  We call ourselves the Santa Monica Yacht Club as we think of ourselves as a collective of passionate beverage enthusiasts, providing drinkers with access to premium products and unique events, and providing breweries, wineries and distilleries with creative representation and distribution within the Ontario marketplace.

If you are a drinker, we invite you to Join the SMYC, and we’ll keep you in the loop for the latest releases, events and opportunities with our importing partners. We also want to want to hear about the best beer, wine and spirits that you wish you had access to in Ontario, and we will endeavour to import them. If you are a brewery, winery or distillery and would like to expand your business in Ontario, we would love to discuss this with you. We are a full-service agency and can work with you across sales, marketing, events and branding in Ontario.

We are very excited to also announce a partnership with À la Fût of Quebec for representation in Ontario. À la Fût is a renowned brewery with numerous sour and barrel-aged beers, and has won Beer of the Year in the Canadian Brewing Awards, World’s Best Kriek at the World Beer Awards and has medalled in the World Beer Cup. We are in the midst of some initial plans for À la Fût in Ontario so please join up so we can keep you updated about the debut of this great brewery here, along with our other partners including Hartfield & Co. from Kentucky and Ruhstaller from California.

We look forward to enjoying some interesting and unique beverages with the drinkers of Ontario!


A Beer At…La Quinta Brewing Co.

May 9th, 2017 Posted by Bar Towel Radio, Feature, On The Road Reports No Comment yet
La Quinta Brewing Co.

The La Quinta Brewing Co., and palm trees.

The Bar Towel continues our series entitled “A Beer At…”, where we feature a single bar or restaurant, have a beer or two and get a feel for what makes it special. This visit is to the La Quinta Brewing Co., located in the Coachella Valley of California.

Good beer is everywhere. From big city to small village, it seems nowadays that there’s a small brewery there now, and thriving. This is no different in the desert region of California, where although the heat can be unlike anything we see this side of the border, plenty of good beer is available to help cool things down.

In the Coachella Valley, probably most well known around these parts for the music festival named after it, contains a row of small cities including Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Indian Wells, La Quinta and Indio, about 130 miles inland from Los Angeles. It was here recently where I spent a few days in La Quinta, a golfer’s haven and home to the La Quinta Brewing Co. which I was able to visit.

La Quinta Old Town Taproom draught lineup

The draught lineup at the Old Town Taproom.

La Quinta Brewing Co. is actually comprised of two locations, the actual brewery which includes a taproom, and a second, non-brewing taproom. The brewery is located in an industrial area just off Interstate 10 in Palm Desert, with the views of the Joshua Tree mountains in the distance. The brewery’s taproom has about a dozen beers available – during my visit there was a wide range of styles including a blonde, amber, honey wheat, brown, American IPA, coffee porter (plus the bourbon barrel aged version, which won the gold medal in the Wood and Barrel Aged Beer category of the 2016 World Beer Cup), session IPA, blood orange ale, maibock and Irish red. The brewery taproom was a cozy spot with samples, flights, glasses and merchandise available.

Their second location is in an area of La Quinta called Old Town, a quaint little walkable area with shops and restaurants. Walking into the Old Town Taproom is a respite from the usual heat that is common in the region, with a direct line right to the bar, where the orders are taken. Similar to the brewery taproom plenty of beer options abound here, as La Quinta eschews traditional seasonal choices for a wide range of styles, as it’s always hot here. There was much overlap from the offerings at the brewery taproom, but with the additional of eight guest taps accompanying the house beers, including offerings from Pizza Port, Anderson Valley, Hangar 24 and others.

La Quinta Old Town Taproom.

The Old Town Taproom.

It’s a simple place, made for drinking. It’s a fairly stark interior, marked by a concrete floor and metal tables and chairs. But it’s a warm spot, where’s a long bar around the taps, communal high top tables, TVs and board games. It has the definite feel of a locals place, with folks at the bar on a weekday afternoon chatting about happenings about town, tales from working at the local resorts and previous nights at the taproom.

A side door access leads to a nice patio facing some of the other shops of Old Town, where you can sit at a table and get occasionally misted with overhanging mist ropes. It’s a nice touch when you’d like a little heat and sunshine but with some relief from time to time.

While I was at the brewery I was fortunate to have a quick chat with Mychal Renteria, Sales Representative from La Quinta Brewing about the history of the brewery, what it’s like to have a brewery in the desert and other great craft beer spots in the area. Give a listen to this episode of Bar Towel Radio below or on iTunes or Google Play:


The Coachella Valley area is a great destination – quite literally unlike anything in Canada. It’s a resort community built up from the desert, where it is easy to spend the days taking in the perpetual warmth. But with La Quinta Brewing and the area’s emerging scene, there is now some great beer to savour in the sunshine.

The La Quinta Brewery Taproom is located at 77917 Wildcat Drive in Palm Desert, CA and is open Sunday-Thursday from 2pm-8pm, and Friday-Saturday from 2pm-9pm. The Old Town Taproom is located at 78-065 Main Street #100 in La Quinta, CA and is open Sunday-Thursday 12pm-10pm, and Friday-Saturday 12pm-12am. Note that minors (under 21 years of age) are not permitted, and food is not served at either location.

Aaron Spinney and Cass Enright

Bar Towel Radio with Aaron Spinney

March 4th, 2017 Posted by Bar Towel Radio, Feature No Comment yet

This week we sat down for a beer and a chat with Aaron Spinney, the brewer of the soon-to-open Merit Brewing in Hamilton, Ontario.  Aaron is one of the many nice dudes in the Ontario beer scene, and it is exciting to see his new venture take shape alongside Tej Sandhu and (OG Bar Towel Forum member) Jesse Vallins, two other well-known players in the local beer and food world.

You can listen to this episode of Bar Towel Radio below or on iTunes or Google Play:



Ontario Craft Ingredients: Barn Owl Malt

January 15th, 2017 Posted by Feature 1 comment

In recent years craft brewing has undergone quite the renaissance. Hundreds of new brewers, thousands of new beers and countless loyal craft beer drinkers. Behind the scenes, a second revolution is starting to take shape: The craft growers, cultivators and producers of craft beer ingredients. As part of a three-part series, I’m taking a closer look at a handful of these less-heralded players in the craft beer industry. To finish things up I’m taking a look at a budding malting company by the name of Barn Owl Malt.

Normally when I’m setting out to write one of these articles, I spend a few days doing background research on the ingredient in question. For the previous articles this was fairly straightforward. First you find out who the big guys are using to get their ingredients, then you look into the handful of “big” craft guys. After that you look into the history of the ingredient and try to find as much out as you can about how it’s grown as an industry in Canada. As it turns out, this process didn’t work at all for malt, for a variety of reasons. For one thing, malting is big business. It is well established in Canada, but is also a surprisingly distributed industry with huge facilities operating all over the world. To be honest, I found this pretty daunting. Once the multinational conglomerates are involved it gets pretty tricky to figure out what’s going on in an industry. Luckily for me I happened across an excellent blog post on The Ripley Blog that pretty much covers everything I wanted to cover on the global industry. Heck, he even went and did a great write-up on how malting works for the craft industry. So, continuing to be honest here, I’m not going to write any more about this. If you’re interested, go read it over there.

An old Canada Malting facility

An old Canada Malting facility


One thing I did learn while basically skipping out on all the research I normally do for an article is the craft malting industry in Ontario and Canada overall pretty much doesn’t exist. There are a handful of outfits in Quebec and a few more than that in the US who are trying to bring craft back to malting, but that’s about it. You pretty much never hear about or see malt in shops from anyone other than the big guys. The closest thing to a local malting company I had heard of until I started working on this article was BSG Canada, formerly known as Gilbertson & Page. They’re based in Guelph and have been serving home and craft brewers since the 90s, but as near as I can tell they’re really more of a malt distributor than a producer, outside of their OIO line of adjuncts which I don’t consider to technically be malt. So when I heard that a real craft malt house was opening up outside of Belleville, I was pretty excited.

Barn Owl is the result of a lot of hard work from husband and wife duo Devin and Leslie Huffman. After years of travelling and working all over Northern Canada, they decided to settle down on some land just outside of Belleville that belonged to Devin’s grandparent’s, but had been sitting idle for the last 15 years. They actually considered putting the land to use for quite a few things at first, ranging from hobby farm to starting a craft brewery. Looking into the brewery made them realize that craft malting was a largely untouched field in Ontario, which I think was an opportunity that Devin couldn’t help but leap at.

We started looking at the supply chain and we realized that wait a minute, there’s no Ontario grains in this.
Devin Huffman

Starting a brand new industry is an incredibly challenging endeavor, but for a guy like Devin that was part of the appeal. Building something from scratch, in this case not just his own malting system and facility but potentially an entire industry actually intrigued him and as it turns out Devin is a pretty uniquely skilled guy to undertake it. He’s got a background in forestry and plant biology, plus more experience in mechanical engineering, which he needed to build the malting facility by himself. Beyond that he’s also a trained maltster, having spent time at the Canada Malting and Barley Technical Center.

The first step was deciding what kind of maltster he wanted to be. The more common approach is to buy a pneumatic malting system, but that wasn’t something they thought made sense, at least not at the scale (Barn owl can handle about 5 tonnes of malt a week) they were thinking. Instead, Devin opted to build a floor malting system. Floor malting is much cheaper than pneumatic, but much more rustic. To get set up they had to read texts from the 1800s on malting processes since that’s the only place where the knowledge exists. Floor malting is also incredibly labour intensive. With a pneumatic system you can be productive and basically put in regular 9-to-5 hours, but with floor malting you sometimes have to be up at all hours doing hard work. To get a feel for what I’m talking about here, imagine working all day, then needing to get up at 3 in the morning and shoveling your driveway. Well, if your driveway has 5 tonnes of snow on it. I guess it’s more like shoveling every driveway on your street. So yeah, floor malting is rare.

Devin turning the malt

Devin turning the malt


At first they looked into finding a space in Belleville, but that turned out to be difficult due to regulations and red tape. Plus, even with a pre-existing building they’d have to retrofit extensively, so they opted to build their own building instead. As Devin described it building was hard, but not that bad. The biggest obstacle was regulations. It’s hard to peg where in the building code a malt house lives, mostly because nobody has done it before so there’s no precedent. Originally they were classified as a distillery, which would have made the whole operation impossible. For a while they were looking like a grain elevator, which would have crushed them on insurance costs. After 11-12 months of negotiating with the government for permits they started construction in December of 2015. A few months later (I visited them in the summer) they were up and running.

The overall process isn’t actually all that complicated, but as with so many manual processes the devil really is in the details. The floor in floor malting turns out to be nothing more than a polished concrete slab in a climate controlled building. The only real difference between it and any other warehouse floor is this floor needs to be kept clean like any other food preparation facility. The first step in the process is steeping raw barley in a large tank until it hits a target moisture content. Then they drain the tank and spread the barley out on the floor wait for signs of germination, which is triggered by the steeping. The thing that happens during, or just before germination that we’re interested in is the conversion of the starches, which are bad food for yeast, that occur naturally in barley into sugars, which are great food for yeast.

Floor Malting is pretty much what it sounds like.

Floor Malting is pretty much what it sounds like.


The tricky part of a floor malting system is all about heat management. When wet barley is germinating on the floor it gives off a lot of heat. If it gets too hot, you can end up with moulds or off flavours in the finished product. If it gets too cold, germination is stalled and starch conversion grinds to a halt. Getting too hot is the more common problem, Devin says they have to run the AC in the malt house even when the outside temperature dips below 0 degrees. To help dissipate the heat and keep all the grain in the bed moving at the same speed it’s necessary to turn the bed (Devin uses a snow shovel) every 6 or 8 hours. Further complicating matters, it turns out that every batch of barley has slightly different moisture content and other characteristics, meaning that every time they work with a new supply they have to dial in their malting system to optimize it for that specific barley. At the end of the day it’s a delicate balance between turning to dissipate heat, piling more on the grain bed to increase production and not turning too much and damaging the grain.

When the texture of the barley changes they know that the starch modification is nearly complete and they can move on to kilning the barley, which basically just means toasting it in a giant toaster oven. Once kilning is done and the barley (now malt) is cooled, the process is done and it can be packaged and sent off to the brewers to make their magic.

Lots and lots of malt

Lots and lots of malt


Because they have to dial the system in for each batch of barley, they prefer larger farms. In the Western provinces a maltster could buy directly from a grain elevator, which tends to sell very uniform and high quality malt. Unfortunately in Ontario there are no grain elevators and most barley is grown in smaller batches, normally just a few acres at a time, because it’s not a common crop here and it’s hard for a farmer to justify growing it as their primary crop. Barley growers face a lot of obstacles, especially in Ontario. Typically farmers who grow barley do so without a contract, meaning there’s no guarantee that they sell their product at the end of the year. Before Barn Owl came around, the only way to sell their crop at the end of the year was to take it to a big malt house like The Canada Malting Company. Canada malting is very strict with their quality standard, which they need to be to produce a consistent product. 20% is the average selection rate, which is not very appealing for Ontario farmers. In the prairies if they couldn’t sell to a malting company they could at least unload it to an elevator for feed and recoup some of their costs. Here, they pretty much have to dig a hole and bury it.

A big part of our business is working on facilitating that barrier to growers
Devin Huffman

It’s worth pointing out that Canada Malting and the other big malt houses actually do make a very good product. It’s very consistent, very predictable and for those reasons lends itself very well to producing repeatable batches of beer. There’s nothing wrong with that, but one of the things I really like about Barn Owl is they’re not just trying to repeat that model with the craft moniker on top. Instead, they’re embracing that other 80% of malt for it’s variety and the more complex flavours it imparts. This involves creating a modified standard of quality for craft malting. Because their system is so hands on and individually managed, Barn Owl can work very well with barley that isn’t up to industry standards.

What we’re looking for, what we’re trying to highlight with a malt house like this are annual variations, the terroir of Ontario grains.
Devin Huffman

Working with smaller, more variable batches has advantages. Variations in batches from farm to farm and year to year should produce unique qualities for each batch. Where the grain in a bag of malt from a large malt house might have come from ten or twelve farms, every bag of Barn Owl malt will be single-origin. This allows ambitious brewers to match recipes to specific batches of grain, or more importantly select a malt with specific characteristics they are looking for.

As with most other small producers, the key for Barn Owl is finding brewers who are willing to work with them to make the most of local ingredients. Many breweries have shown interest so far, with the strongest demand coming from the nearest breweries in Prince Edward county. This is a natural partnership, since these breweries are best positioned to take advantage of the marketing benefits of using local ingredients. With a couple of hop growers popping up in the county its becoming possible for brewers like Church Key, Barley Days or the MacKinnon brothers to make a beer from entirely locally-sourced ingredients.

Hands on brewers are best!

Hands on brewers are best!


Devin is able to kiln malt to more or less any level of darkness, but the plan in the early days is to focus on a brand of “pale malt” which would be suitable for lighter beers and pale ales. They’ll make a lot of the flagship, but probably offer special runs of darker stuff on special request from brewers. He plans to eventually expand the lineup to include two or three base lines and get to the point where he can make any ind of malt a brewer demands.

We try to avoid identifying with and comparing to base malt. Base malt is bland and it’s just about getting the gravity up. Whereas our malt, we’d like to be able to have extraction levels, conversion times and enzyme levels that are comparable to base malt but really it’s a stand alone barley that you could make really nice ales with a single one of our barleys. There would be enough flavor in it, enough profile and character and colour.
Devin Huffman

In what has become a trend for craft producers, Devin values the homebrew market. This is partly because from the very beginning home brewers were among his biggest supporters and were eager to try out his stuff. He views home brewers as an outlet to do things a little more creatively. That could help them develop new kilning routines to come up with his version of say, a crystal or maybe a smoked malt. Barn Owl have already found their way into homebrew shops and they say they intend to set aside a certain percentage of their capacity specifically for the homebrew community. I recently got a bag of their pale malt myself and I was very impressed. Tasting it raw I could immediately tell this stuff has a lot more character than your typical bag of 2-row. I used it to make a hoppy pale ale that came in around 4.8% alcohol. In brewing it behaved exactly as other malts I’ve used, but the beer had a very satisfying body without any adjuncts.