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Apr 17, 2014

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Durham Brewing Co.

By Robert Hughey

Back in 1996 three guys, homebrewers to the core, kept their day jobs and built a tidy 8 hectoliter brewery, The Durham Brewing Company in Pickering, Ontario. Taking up just 1,200 square feet in an industrial mall unit, the Durham brewers, with a collective 30 years of homebrewing experience, brewed some fine beers at the weekend with the belief they would gradually find a market for them.

With distribution from Oshawa to Hamilton, Ontario, Durham stalwarts, Robert McIntosh, Bruce Halstead and partner Eric Mann, are still going strong as weekend brewers, which they claim they would be doing anyway, so that while no one is getting rich, the brewery is carrying its weight, the bills are being paid and the participants aren't short of a fine beer or two.

The brewery was designed and built with the idea that it could easily be handled by one operator. With that in mind the grist case, which was designed to rest on the lip of the mash/lauter tun, is on a winch and pulley system so that once the mash-in is complete, the grist case can be hoisted free of the mash/lauter tun. The mash/lauter tun is designed to swivel so that it can handily be rotated for removal of the spent grains. In a bit of a turn about, it is the brewkettle, not the mash tun, which receives the attention of the brewer at the end of a brew, as the hop screen in the brewkettle, efficient though it is in collecting the whole hops used, requires that the brewer dig out the hops from inside the kettle. Not as warm as one might expect claimed brewer Bruce Halstead.

And 5 10 hectoliter glycol cooled fermentation vessels with automatic attemperation, 3 jacketed conditioning tanks and a Velo DE filter make up the rest of the brewery.

All beers brewed at Durham have whole hops only and, except as noted, pale malt is 2-row Canadian and specialty malts are from the United Kingdom, and abvs hover around the 5 percent mark.

Durham Brewing Company brews four ales of its own: Amber Ale, Durham's local beer, a North American mainstream ale, though hop flavor and bitterness is far more evident than a standard brew; and three 'downtown beers' with loads of flavor, Durham ESB, the first nitro-keg beer brewed in Ontario, with Target in the boil and Goldings in the finish; Durham Triple X, actually it has developed into an IPA, which has pale malt from the United Kingdom and a whacking great load of Cascade hops for both bittering and finishing, and a notably bitter finish at around the 60 international bittering units mark, but without the usually big flowery hop notes associated with Cascade hops; and the latest addition, Black Katt, a robust oatmeal stout with Willamette and Target hops for bittering and Goldings in the finish, which unfortunately was not available for tasting on my visit.

Durham also brews three beers for the C'est What? Pub, Toronto, Coffee Porter, Mild Brown Ale and Al's Cask Conditioned IPA.

Durham Brewing Company has no plans to bottle and that's just fine with a number of keg clients who buy retail kegs-to-go directly from the brewery.

In Toronto, Durham beers can be found at Rodney's Oyster House, Smokeless Joes and Allen's on the Danforth.

The growth of the Durham Brewing Company has been slow and steady and that's just fine with the weekend brewers. For now, at least.

STORIES BY
ROBERT HUGHEY