When Shillow Beer Co‘s Bandwagon Raspberry Pale Ale took home silver in the Fruit Beer category of the Ontario Beer Awards this year, owners Ben and Jamie Shillow were proud to say the least, not just because it’s an excellent fruit beer, but also because it’s the only kosher fruit beer available in the country. “It was not only the only kosher entry in the entire competition, which no fault to anyone else, just a cool point, it is literally at this point the only certified kosher fruit beer…at least for now, available in Canada,” gushes Ben.
While their beer is not the only kosher offerings available in the country, Shillow Beer Co. in the midst of planning a kosher-only brewing facility in Ottawa. “We’re in the final stage of fundraising and hopefully that will be completed in the next few months, and we can start looking at real estate,” Jamie explains. Right now, they contract brew out of Common Good Brewing, a brewery that mostly does contact brewing. “Jamie Mistery, the brewmaster at Common Good…he has tremendous, tremendous science and brewing background and he’s a packaging guy. So when you contract brew, that’s kind of the place you want to be.”
It all started with a homebrew kit, a birthday present to Ben from his mother. “We proceeded to brew a couple of extract beers, which were awful,” Jamie laughs reminiscing. “We both come from a restaurant industry background. I was a server and Ben was also a server, but then eventually got into management. He’s a trained sommelier, so we were really into restaurants, food and beverage, drinking beer, and homebrewing just seemed like a fun hobby to start off.
“So it started horribly, with really bad, bad astringent extract beer. And then I decided you know, if we’re going to do this, let’s try to do it properly and at least enjoy the beer that we’re making and drinking. So I started watching some videos and reading the books. I put together a cooler mash tun, and we just started small five gallon all grain batches in our apartment, and the beer was much better. I really enjoyed it. I like cooking and I like baking, so there’s a lot of parallels in there.”
Being in Toronto during their homebrewing days definitely made it easier for them with the large group of people interested in the hobby and the access to ingredients, but Jamie recalls it to be the early days of homebrewing. “I had worked at a really cool beer restaurant called Bar Volo, so some of the regular guys were into homebrewing. But I think when we started, those were the days when Zack [Weinberg from Toronto Brewing] was still selling ingredients out of his house. I remember going to Zack’s house to pick up our malt order. It’s grown substantially since then.”
It was also right around the time Niagara College started their Brewmaster and Brewing Operations Management program. Ben encouraged Jamie to apply for the program, and she got into the program. As the plan to take their homebrewing hobby professionally became more serious, they even incorporated their company while Jamie was still in her second year of school. They started contract brewing just as Jamie was finishing school, brewed right out of Niagara College, an exclusive house beer for the restaurant Jamie was working for at the time.
When they were expanding to more scale brewing, they found their beginnings at Cameron’s Brewing based out of Oakville. However, as Cameron’s was expanding their own line as Shillow Beer Co. was their own, they were running out of space. Luckily, Common Good Brewing was in the midst of being planned, and by early 2016, they were contract brewing out of Common Good.
So what exactly is kosher? “Kosher means it adheres to the Jewish dietary law, explains Jamie. “So depending on the category of food, there’re different rules. There’re different rules for wine, there’re different rules for meat, and dairy, and vegetables. Traditionally, regular beer with just your four basic ingredients is considered kosher without any supervision, any certification, as long as it’s just four ingredients. What’s happening though is a lot of craft breweries are getting creative, and experiment with a lot of extra ingredients.” And that’s when things get complicated. With breweries using ingredients like bacon and oysters that are not kosher, it brings into the question of whether the equipment themselves would be kosher and would be able to produce kosher beer. Beside using ingredients that are not kosher, breweries are also starting to add flavouring to beer, ranging from natural to artificial, which can make it hard to determine if a beer is kosher or not.
The beers from Shillow Beer Co. are certified by the COR, which is a the Kashruth Council of Canada, an organization that does kosher certifications. While they’re still in the process of transitioning all their labels on their cans to reflect that, it still might be a few months before the old can designs are all used up.
While they’re still working on their permanent brick and mortar kosher only brewing facility, Jamie still does test batches on her five gallon homebrewery. “One of the downfalls of not having your own facility is that it’s a little bit harder to develop new recipes. But on a smaller scale, homebrewing still allows me to do that.”
Shillow Beer Co.
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.