As part of this years GTA Brews Summer Showdown 2021, we were honoured to be able to sponsor a first-of-its-kind award category that recognized the accomplishments of new brewers entering their first competition. The New Brewer Award. For our first year, I am super excited to say that Michelle Bondy is our winner and will receive a $300 gift card! CONGRATULATIONS MICHELLE!
Just the act of entering your beer into a structured competition like Summer Showdown moves your brewing ahead by a quantum leap. The confidence you gain coupled with the positive and constructive feedback will elevate your brewing much more than the compliments from friends and neighbours ever will. Hearing from trained BJCP judges about the right and wrongs of your brew, and in many cases how to improve or overcome issues is critical to improving your skill as a homebrewer.
In Michelle's case, it is interesting to learn that she won medals for 3 of her entries and that none of these were brewed specifically for this competition. Instead, she selected them from her "inventory" of on-hand beer and entered them. Wow.
Here is a short interview we did with Michelle, and I think it is important to note how skill and patience play a far greater role in her brewing award winning beer(s) than does expensive equipment and huge set-ups, and those key traits are far less expensive to acquire!
Homebrew: As the winner of our first ever New Brewer Award, the first logical question to ask is how long you have been homebrewing for and was there a particular event that got you interested in homebrewing in the first place?
Michelle: I started homebrewing in the summer of 2018. When I was a student I thought beer was boring and not very good. I grew up in a house that only drank macrobrews. When I moved to Toronto more than 10 years ago, I discovered the huge variety of beer that was available. I easily found styles that I loved, such as saisons, Trappist ales, porters, and stouts, and basically anything from Belgium. One of my coworkers at my first job in Toronto was also into beer, and invited me over for a homebrew session. The beer we brewed was a raspberry porter, and I thought it turned out quite well, so I started thinking I should try this at home. After doing research into what kind of equipment was needed I found some all-in-one brewing systems, which was more appealing to me than extract brewing, or using the coolers that a lot of people use for all-grain brewing. At the time the Robobrew was relatively new (at least in Canada), and one of the more affordable options, so I decided to go with it. I have been happily brewing with it ever since.
Homebrew: You won 3 medals in this competition as well as the New Brewer Award. Did you brew specifically with the competition in mind, or were your entries beers that you had on hand?
Michelle: The beers I entered into the competition were ones I had on hand. I brew roughly once every couple of months, and have (too much) beer in my "cellar" (it's a closet in my spare room), so I usually have three or four different beers in bottles ready for drinking and sharing. I chose what I thought were the best three of the ones available for this competition.
Homebrew: Is there a beer you brew that is your favourite, whether or not it was one of the styles you entered into the competition?
Michelle: My favourite style is saison. Over the years I've done several varieties in addition to the classic style, including with Ontario wildflower honey, a dark saison, and some fruited versions. One of my favourites that I've brewed every year, is a saison with local rhubarb. I'm currently fermenting a saison I intend to add local peaches to in a few days.
Homebrew: Can you describe your brewery setup, such as the type of system you use, fermentation control, etc?
Michelle: I do all-grain brewing on a Robobrew v3. Fermentation is done in a glass carboy in my "cellar" (see above), without any temperature control other than blankets and an occasional heating belt. I love using kviek strains because of my lack of cooling equipment, especially in the summertime when I can't do much about my closet being more than 22 C. I bottle my beer and store boxes of it in my closet until it's ready to drink and share. I get a lot of help from my husband on brewing and bottling days with equipment setup and cleaning. All of my supplies are sourced from The Homebrew Beer Academy -- thanks Dean!
Homebrew: If there was one piece of equipment you were able to add to your brewery, what would that be and why would you want to add it? To simplify your brewday, improve your process control, or solve a particular issue you might have identified?
Michelle: I would love to keg my beer instead of bottling everything. The process of cleaning and sterilizing and bottling 36+ bottles every time is my least favourite part of the brewing process. At the moment I don't have the space for storing kegs at the correct temperature, but once I do, that'll be the first thing I'll change.
Homebrew: Given your success in this competition, would you be inclined to work on these three recipes and enter them again in a future competition, or enter completely different styles?
Michelle: I think I'm going to continue to brew what I want, when I want, and if a competition comes up, I'll just enter the best of what I have on hand. I'm definitely going to make the same styles again, so I will take the feedback I've received and try to improve similar beers. I don't usually use the exact same recipe over and over again, but instead tweak recipes as I go, so having my beers formally judged has given me some very useful information.
Homebrew: Finally, do you have any brews planned that you are especially looking forward to, either because of the technical challenge they present, or just the desire to master a style?
Michelle: I'm looking forward to trying this year's iteration of my rhubarb saison, which is due to be ready for sampling this weekend. I'm also excited about the peach saison I'm currently fermenting since all my research into fruited beers indicate peach is not always the best fruit to use; I love peaches, so I really want to see what the end result will be like. My biggest problem is that I can only drink, store, and share so much beer at a time, so I have to be selective about what I'm going to try for the next brew. I have a long list of ideas for variations on my existing recipes, and for brewing some styles I haven't tried my hand at yet.