Welcome to a new feature on The Bar Towel called Quaff & Ale, or Q&A for short. In a Quaff & Ale we interview personalities in the beer world to get their take on this delicious and booming industry. Our first Quaff & Ale is with Troy Burtch of the Great Lakes Brewery in Toronto.
Who is Troy Burtch?
Troy Burtch spends his days getting people excited about craft beer! Troy is part of a growing sales team at Great Lakes Brewery, the 2013 & 2014 Canadian Brewery of the Year, getting GLB products into the hands of passionate beer drinkers. He also serves as GLB’s Community Manager, is the co-founder of Toronto Beer Week where he oversees the Director of Partnerships portfolio, sits on the Ontario Craft Brewers Conference committee, was once a beer blogger over at Great Canadian Beer Blog, and is an avid breweriana collector (canadianbreweriana.com). Instead of long walks along the beach, Troy prefers the long walk of a good pub crawl. Troy is a proud east-ender, calling the Danforth home.
TBT: How did you get interested in craft beer?
TB: It’s a long story… I was in grade six when I took my first summer job, riding on the back of a garbage truck collecting curbside garbage and recyclables with my Step-Father’s sanitation business. It was north of Toronto, near cottage country, and I remember collecting empty beer bottles that had interesting labels, many from other countries. Growing up where I did, well, people drank either Labatt 50, Molson Canadian, Lucky Lager, Labatt Blue or Coors Light, so many of these empty bottles were new to me and I made a goal to try them all one day when I was old enough. The shelves in my bedroom were full of these old bottles. Moving on past high-school and into college; I was President of the Students’ Administrative Council and part of the duties included overseeing the student pub. I was big into Alexander Keith’s at the time, which was a “big beer” for the Brechin/Orillia area, and one day a sales rep from this brand new brewery walked into the pub to offer us some samples to try. It was Steam Whistle. I remember that first drink to this day. It literally changed the way I thought about beer and it’s beer craft since then.
After college I worked for the OPP and the Ministry of Community Safety before heading to Nova Scotia for a year of fun. I took a job with Labatt, where they trained me at the Beer Institute and that helped fuel my desire to seek out more and more local beers (Garrison, Propeller, Granite, etc). I started the “Great Canadian Beer Blog” shortly after moving back to Ontario where I profiled brewers, bar/pub owners, did bar and beer reviews, interviews, event postings, etc. It’s hard to imagine now, but in 2009 there were literally only a couple of us “beer bloggers” in Ontario. Fast forward a couple years and another stint with the province. The craft beer movement had a hold of me and I couldn’t shake it. I was writing and selling ads for TAPS The Beer Magazine and helping with the Canadian Brewing Awards and in 2010 they made me an offer to be their National Director of Sales & Marketing. How could I say no? That same year some friends and I started Toronto Beer Week, which is now entering its 6th year – all successes.
In 2012 Great Lakes Brewery made me an offer to join their growing family and I’ve been here since as Community Manager and handling east Toronto sales. I also teach the Beer Appreciation continuing education course at George Brown College, sit on the OCB Conference Committee and visit craft beer bars on a daily occurrence.
So, like I said, it’s a long story.
TBT: What’s your favourite beer / beer style?
TB: Really hard to say. Here’s the cliche beer industry answer – It depends on the season, my mood, etc… Whatever. I love West Coast style IPAs and Pale Ales. I’ve always loved Belgian IPAs. And session beers, real session beers. My favourite everyday beer is without a doubt, Canuck Pale Ale. Has been even before I joined GLB in 2012. We always joke that I’ve drank more Canuck than anyone else on the planet. My favourites, in no particular order: Orval, Saison Dupont, Het Anker Gouden Carolus Tripel, Four Winds Brett Saison, Granite Best Bitter Special, GLB’s Limp Puppet, Firestone Walker Pivo Pils, Amsterdam Testify, Benelux Cuda. A lot of those for sentimental reasons as well.
TBT: What’s your most memorable beer experience?
TB. Good question. There are a lot, but really hard to choose.
- That first Steam Whistle that changed my attitude towards beer.
- Drinking a freshly tapped firkin of Granite’s Best Bitter Special at the Victory in 2008 after walking an hour in 30 degree temperature. That beer was simply amazing.
- Staying at the Het Anker Brewery in Michelin, Belgium.
- Touring and tasting my way through Brasserie Cantillon for a day with owner Jean Van Roy.
- Drinking out of the Canadian Brewing Awards gold mug after winning Brewery of the Year award in Victoria, BC in 2013.
- 106 people participating on a Danforth GLB pub crawl last September.
- Having a Canuck Pale Ale fresh off the line each week
TBT: Where do you see craft beer headed in Ontario?
TB. Nowhere but up. There have been a lot of brewery owners, presidents, industry vets who have been projecting that with the new grocery stores sales, when rolled out, that Ontario craft beer will reach double digit growth faster then expected. I tend to agree with that. More and more breweries are opening in this province, which is great, but we need more retailing options to build growth and the grocery store method will drastically help.
I also think that Ontario craft breweries will really need to start focusing on quality control as the growth happens. All craft breweries tend to be painted with the same brush. If someone has one bad experience with a craft beer, when experiencing one for the first time, they lump all craft breweries into that. It’s partially our own fault as we all stand side by side, but as more and more new breweries open up, going from garage style home brew to brewing batches for the public, quality control measures need to be put in place. And fast.
And finally, craft breweries will continue hammering home on the local aspect of supporting neighbourhood beers, continue with all the educationally components of training bar staff and the public through tastings and tours. More and more tap rooms will start coming to Ontario breweries like you see state side. It’s already happening (Royal City, Big Rig, Steam Whistle, Left Field) here, but they will continue to grow helping bring in more tourists, community groups, and new craft beer drinkers.
TBT: What do you think about the Ontario’s government’s grocery store announcement?
TB: As a sales rep for GLB, I get asked a lot. Answer right now is that how can it be bad? More shelf space in a market that is too tightly controlled is nothing but good. Of course there are concerns about what the big breweries will do for “prime shelf space” and distribution methods, but that’s a wait and see. The announcement, or should I say plans for grocery store beer sales, should have been done years and years ago. Once the whole plan is rolled out and is up and running, I think Ontario beer drinkers will appreciate it and craft breweries with enough size to get into the stores will appreciate it.
TBT: What’s it like to be a part of the GLB family?
TB: Interesting. Never dull. Always fun. When I joined GLB in 2012 I knew what I was getting into, but didn’t know at the time who much fun it would be. This is one brewery that drink together, hang out together outside of the brewery, collaborate together, and work well together. Coming up with new names for new beers is always great and one of the best parts of GLB. I have been really privileged to watch, and be part of, the changes made since 2012 when the 25th anniversary series of beers were launched; which kick-started the new branding, attitude and change in direction of the brewery.
TBT: You spent some time in Nova Scotia, what do you think about the beer scene down east right now?
TB: I did. As pointed out in the first question, I lived in Halifax for one year in 2006/07 and worked for Labatt. Almost immediately after I arrived there I started to get to know the dudes at Garrison Brewery and I’m still friends with them to this day. We just brewed a beer at GLB with their Brew Master, Daniel Girard, that will be available in Halifax in August (we are taking over the taps at Stillwell Bar…). Propeller and Granite breweries were also up and running and putting out some great beers. I’ve always kept my eyes and ears on the scene out there (while working for TAPS it was part of the job) and it’s really really exciting to see how far Nova Scotia has come. Garrison and Propeller both have two breweries now to keep up with demand. All these new breweries are popping up and doing some great beers. I love some of the beers from Big Spruce out in Cape Breton. The bars are supporting craft beer like never before, which is hard to do in Alexander Keith’s town, but consumers are thirsty for craft.
TBT: What accomplishment are you most proud of in your beer career?
- Having lunch with Jim Brickman, after he left Brick Brewing, who shared his amazing story over many pints.
- Winning the 2013 & 2014 Canadian Brewery of the Year award with Great Lakes.
- Starting Toronto Beer Week from scratch with sweat and tears…with friends.
- Interviewing and drinking with Sam Calagione (Dogfish Head), Garrett Oliver (Brooklyn Brewery), Daisy Claeys (t’ Brugs Beertje), James Watt (Brew Dog), Jean Van Roy (Cantillon)
TBT: What do you like most about the beer scene in Ontario?
TB: The cheesy, but true answer – the people. That’s everyone from the brewers, to the sales reps, to the supporters (bar staff and craft beer drinkers), to event people and beer media. Everyone is genuinely awesome and passionate about this great industry.
I also really like the diversity of the styles being offered in Ontario. We don’t have a particular style anymore. Yes, safe Golden Ales and Ontario Pale Ales have been done over the years, but if you really look what some breweries are doing these days, it’s inspiring. Amsterdam is doing some killer farmhouse beers. Nickel Brook IPAs and Pale Ales are terrific. Cheshire Valley and the Granite with English style knockout porters and stouts. Our IPAs at GLB. Beau’s and their Germanic styles.
And finally, the camaraderie amongst breweries. While some breweries don’t see eye-to-eye with everyone, most of us work so well together and work to build each other up. At GLB we have great relationships with many breweries and you can see it in the events we collaborate on, the beer we brew together and the drinking we do together when the day is done. It truly is unique.
TBT: What could be improved in the beer scene in Ontario?
TB: I’ve already mentioned more need for quality control as the rapid growth happens. There is no room for mediocre offerings. I heard a line from a brewery owner in the US a couple of years back refering to the huge growth down there with more and more breweries opening by the day. He said something to the effect of “Before you release a barrel-aged, hickory smoked, vanilla bean, espresso stout, learn to brew a fucking solid stout first.” I like that thought.
While it’s getting better and better all the time, due to passionate bar owners and breweries who invest in professionals, another thing that could be better in Ontario is regular line cleaning. Steve Riley, of Better Beers, is a true champion of this and would love to see a Dine Safe type program roll out to bars & restaurants that would monitor the cleaniness of beer lines, facets and fobs. If this was so, everyone’s experience with fresh craft beer would be heightened immediately.
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