Brewery Feature: Dageraad Brewing (Burnaby, BC)

Ben Coli, owner and head brewer of Dageraad Brewing in Burnaby, BC, was sitting at home, surrounded by family when he heard the news. “Mitch [Warner], who is the other main brewer around here, he went to Halifax to go and see this thing…I was sitting at home. My parents happened to be in town, and the twins were crawling all over me while I’m trying to watch this live stream…It was pretty exciting, pretty fun to have family around. I think they were more excited that I was. I have a practical side to me. We won. I was maybe happy for two seconds, and then I thought, ‘Okay, what does this mean? What do i have to do?’ ”

Dageraad Brewing won best Brewery of the Year at this year’s Canadian Brewing Awards. Established in 2014, with a production of just under 2000 hectalitres last year, they have taken a short four years to acquire that accolade. But Coli’s had a lot of practice before that with homebrewing. “[I started] probably about four years before that, casually at first and gradually more and more obsessively. There were four of us, and we noticed that a five gallon batch doesn’t go very far with four thirsty guys. So we bought a bigger system, and then one of my friends moved away, and gradually the others were less interested that I was, and I found myself not waiting for them to be around to homebrew anymore. So i was solo homebrewing and decided I wanted to open a brewery, and got even crazier about brewing. Multiple batches a week kinda of thing. And then just giving away beer all over the place. I had so much beer coming out.”

Dageraad Brewing brews Belgian styled beers, and is inspired by Coli’s fascination with that region’s beers and punk rock spirit. “Since before I was homebrewing, I had friends in Belgium. Made some friends while I was travelling in SEA years ago, and they’d gone to Belgium several times, and was always super in the beer there. [It] has this exotic quality and complexity and this variety that you don’t see in certain traditional style beers. The craft brewing scene in Canada and the US was creative, but it hadn’t really gotten crazy the way it has in the last five or 10 years. Belgium stuff, and even more so then, just really stood out as being different and inventive, and having no rules. If you want to stick a bunch of sugar in a beer, because you like what it does to the beer, you go ahead and do it. There’s no Reinheitsgebot , or any ridiculous rules that’s stopping you.”

It wasn’t always easy for Coli though. When the brewery first started out, it didn’t do as well as anticipated. “I over estimated the nerdery of my fellow beer fans,” Coli said with a chuckle. “For some reason, I hung out with a lot of beer nerds [and] thought there were more of us.” Besides facing the challenge of their consumers not being familiar with Belgian styles and flavour notes, others were appalled that he would even attempt brewing Belgian style beers outside of Belgium. “They thought it was sacrilegious that we could do Belgium style beers. It’s not properly from Belgium.”

But over time, Coli won those critics over. “We’ve convinced them that we actually do make good beer. I never claim to brew Belgium beer. We’re just brewing beer in that spirit. I almost wanted to say in that style, but there really aren’t styles in Belgium. They don’t brew that way.”

Dageraad Blonde, the brewery’s flagship beer, has some humble beginnings. “I brewed it for a little Vanbrewer’s contest, Vanbrewer’s Challenge [and] got 2nd prize in the contest. I homebrewed that beer, probably between 25-30 times, just making tiny little tweaks in the recipes until I got it just where I wanted it. That’s the basically the beer I opened this brewery for.”

The other full time beer they brew is their Dageraad Amber. “The reason why I came up with that beer, was that I needed another beer to support the yeast for the Blonde. We just started with the yeast and all the beers that we could, to make healthy yeast and basically to support Dageraad Blonde. It’s 7.5% abv, and it’s got some sugar. The yeast isn’t necessarily in prime shape when it comes out that beer, so we try not to harvest too much from it. The third full time beer we brew, is Burnabarian, which we’re never been sure what kind of style to call it. We call it a Belgian table beer, but it’s technically not that either. It’s 4.5% and it’s lightly spiced, a little bit of coriander, it’s got some oats to fill out the body. That beer was basically our yeast starter, at 4.5% ABV, it really makes nice healthy yeast. People have no idea they’re drinking an award winning yeast starter. That beer we’ve won medals for three years in a row at the Canadian Brewing Awards, so we’re doing pretty well.”

Tips for upping your Belgian game

1. Brew them dry
“It depends on the style, but for me, one big thing, I like a dry Belgian beer. A few of them are sweet, but most of them are pretty dry. You might taste raisin, you might taste red fruit. It makes you think it’s going to be sweet, but when you actually finish the taste, it finishes dry. They’re lean beers for the most part. The yeast [attenuates well] and you can play to that by adding sugar. My secret ingredient is dextrose. It goes into pretty much every beer we do that’s over 6.5%, which is a lot of them. We use other sugars besides corn sugar, but corn sugar is just easily digestable by the yeast, and it just ferments out entirely.”

2. Stress the yeast
“Another nice thing about adding non-malt sugar to the beer is that it stresses the yeast. The yeast doesn’t love it, it’s not super high in nutrients. Yeast that is stressed in the just the right way will produce all those lovely esters you are looking for. Really happy yeast ferments cleanly. You gotta make the yeast a little bit unhappy. I find that those classic American ale [yeast], well they’re pretty hardy. But a lot of other strains of yeast including American ale, if the fermentation temp goes too high, everything just goes awful. If you run the yeast stressed, it goes really bad. Belgian yeast is just not like that for the most part.”

3. Creep that fermentation temperature up just a smidge
“The little recommended range that Wyeast put for each strain of yeast? That’s for cowards. Belgian style yeasts can go hotter, and the warmer the fermentation goes, the better your esters are going to be, within a certain range. You can definitly go a couple few degrees. and you’re going to have to feel it out and if you really want to get to know a yeast, you have to brew with it a lot. but you can definitely go warmer than that, especially with lower ABV beers. With highter ABV beers, with a higher strength wort, you’re taking more chances by going a little bit warmer, but you’ll definitely get esters for several degrees above that range, before you’re getting solvent and the rest of the nastiness from a really hot fermentation.”

4. Use European hops
“They’re just more true to style for the beer. and they’re just more subtle and complimentary. The citrusy piney ones, I mean, I like those hops, but they tend to take over the flavour profile. What’s the point of looking for esters from a yeast if you’re just going to stomp all over top of them with the citrusy piney hops.”

Dageraaad Brewing
#114, 3191 Thunderbird Crescent
Burnaby BC
V5A 3G1

The Canadian Homebrewers Association is a non-profit dedicated to promoting and advancing the hobby of homebrewing in Canada. Established in 2018, it currently has more than 330 members across most of Canada's provinces and territories.

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