It’s possible that almost everyone who’s sipped a cold pint on a hot day has wondered if they could make their own beer; after all, it’s really just hops, barley, water and yeast, right? While home brewing has certainly been the jumping-off point for myriad local craft breweries in the last few years, there’s still a lot to be said for experience and education.
Village Brewery’s Larry Kerwin has been making beer or more than 50 years. He’s had a long and winding path to beer stardom in Calgary, and is often hailed as one of the best of the best in the city.
Savour Calgary (SC): It seems there is some confusion about the use of the title “brewmaster.” With half a century in this business, what do you call yourself?
Larry Kerwin (LK): I think the most responsible and senior person in any brewery would most likely be called the brewmaster or Braumeister in most German breweries. Larger international brewing companies require more formal training through a series of examinations by The Institute of Brewing and Distilling which will then qualify someone as a master brewer. I wrote those examinations in 1977 and while I am a qualified master brewer, I am just as comfortable being called the “brewmaster.”
SC: What do you love about being in the beer industry?
LK: I’ve retired three times. It’s just such a fun business and there’s so many good people in it, I find it hard to actually retire. In addition to starting Village Brewery in 2011 with five other former Big Rock colleagues, I have continued to do some consulting for a number of craft breweries in Alberta. As well, I co-founded Eau Claire Distillery in 2014 with David Farran, one of our original investors at Village Brewery. I’ve probably got to retire sooner or later — I’ll be 74 this year.
SC: What makes a GREAT brewer?
LK: There are so many innovative young brewers in the business today, it is hard to know what makes someone successful in this industry. Basically, someone who is passionate about good food, good beer and good spirits. There is a science to becoming a successful brewer and so a working knowledge of food science, chemistry, microbiology and engineering is almost a prerequisite to producing great beer.
SC: What did you study, or what experience led you to becoming a brewer?
LK: I worked as an apprentice brewer in five different breweries across the country before being eligible to write the brewing exams. I have a master’s degree in biology. When the opportunity to work with beer came up I thought, “Wow, this is great! Can you imagine we get to take beer home?” (Beer making is) very technical. I also studied with the Institute of Brewing in the UK.
SC: What do you recommend students do in terms of education or experience to become a great brewer?
LK: Practice. (Making beer) at home (is) a good start but doing it on a commercial basis is a lot more complicated. It’s a big learning curve and … a lot of work. For the serious brewer it is a lifetime of learning!
SC: What do you wish you knew about this career sooner?
LK: I wish I had done it earlier. I soon discovered that it was not just a job or even a career, but really a lifestyle. Once immersed in this business, it is something you think about all the time and as a brewmaster, you are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, as the brewing process is continuous.