Member Profile: Shawn Paul Brennan (Yellowknife, NWT)

Member Profiles is a series featuring members of the CHA, and sharing their story about how they got into homebrewing. If you’d like to share your story or know someone with an interesting homebrew story, send an email to kathy@canadahomebrews.ca.

My name is Shawn Paul Brennan and I am the Northern Representative for the the CHA. I have been a homebrewer for roughly four years now, and brew anything and everything. I fell in love with the hobby thanks to a friend who is deeply into beer brewing, and a Mr. Beer kit that I thought I could mimic his beers with. After that first batch of beer, I realized I needed to try a lot harder if I was going to be able to make a good product for myself to enjoy. That’s when I really started exploring forum sites, listening to podcasts, buying books, and really trying to understand what I was doing. I find in the hobby, the learning part was one of my favourite aspects. Well and the beer! Randy Mosher says it best when he says the hobby has two point of views to look at it from— the scientific view and the artistic view. I try to straddle the line whenever I am brewing. On one side I try to be very precise in my note taking, volumes, and temperatures. But when it comes to recipe formulation, I take artistic liberties with processes, ingredients, and whether or not I am making something that is specifically following the parameters of the BJCP style guides, I just like to have fun and be creative. This has also lead me into the other avenues of home brewing as well—cider, wine, mead making, and non-alcoholic carbonated beverages.

Brennan brewing outside on a lovely, snowy day in Yellowknife, NWT. Photo courtesy of Shawn Paul Brennan.

I am born and raised in the NWT and I think that initially made it harder for me to get into brewing due to the lack of homebrew stores, but not impossible. With the surge of online stores that have been popping up over the last few years across Canada, it has made ingredients and equipment only a click away. Though I would still love to see more local homebrew stores popping up through the Northern Territories, it is not a determining factor for people of the region be able to start and enjoy the hobby.

The North can be a hard place to brew beer as I learned in my first year. I started out with a 8 gallon turkey fryer setup, a strainer bag, and a mission. I started in the spring time, so temperatures were bearable, and over the summer, I got a brew in every couple weeks, honing in my skills and enjoying the fruits of my labour. But when the cold of December hit, I learned the tragic truth that propane doesn’t preform as well in -40°C as it does in 25°C. It was a long, cold, and disappointing day when I couldn’t get my strike water up to temp after four hours, let alone have the ability to boil for 60 mins. The good friend of mine who had turned me onto brewing showed me the wonders of stove top brewing. The batch size had to go down to three Gallons, but on a plus side, I got to brew more often and get into recipe formulation.

As the years progressed, the same friend that had originally got me into brewing was diagnosed with ALS. Being very passionate about the hobby, he went through the same wows as I did through the first winter, but his determination and love for the process never stopped him. After his first visit to the [American Homebrewers Association’s] National Homebrewers Conference, he learned of all the different three vessel systems that were on the market and made the financial commitment to move on to the next step in his brewing progression—indoors! Due to his illness, he slowly lost the dexterity in his hands and made lifting the pots almost impossible. At that time, I started coming over more and more to help him brew, eventually splitting the costs and beer. Today, we have another friend, all three of us splitting the spoils of the system, but more importantly sharing the hobby together. We formed the Aroma Brewealis Homebrew Club in 2016 as a bit of a joke as it was only 3 of us, but as of July 2018, we started canvassing the city in search for other homebrewers and to grow our club, currently with 13 members.

The brew crew. Photo courtesy of Shawn Paul Brennan.

I take great joy in saying that I am the Northern Representative for the CHA as I take great pride in the hobby I have enjoyed for the last four years. I really hope with this title that I can reach out to people in my region and be an asset for them. I want to hear about the struggles that have held them back, the hurdles that are making their growth in the hobby harder and work towards collectively resolving them. I hope that in between my role on this committee and as the President of our homebrew club, that we can organize and execute the first homebrew competition in the Canadian Territories. If you have any questions or concerns, or just want to talk, please feel free to contact me at shawn@canadahomebrews.ca.

Kathy Yan Li is a director of the Canadian Homebrewers Association, and lives in Shilo, MB with her husband and dog Barkley. She is always looking for Canadian homebrewing and brewing content, so feel free to get in touch with her with ideas and suggestions.

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