Science and sensuality: Halifax professor evolving into local 'beer whisperer'

HALIFAX -- Andrew MacIntosh understands beer in ways few others can comprehend -- on the microscopic level, in its broader historical sweep, and in its sensual appeal.

See Full Article

Though he's reluctant to use the term, he is on his way to becoming Nova Scotia's beer whisperer -- part academic, part business mentor -- using science to troubleshoot the challenges facing the province's "exploding" craft brewery industry.

The professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax is an expert on fermentation, and is also studying to become a cicerone -- the brewing equivalent of a sommelier.

MacIntosh is part of the new Canadian Institute of Fermentation Technology, established last summer to help grow the brewing, distilling and wine industries.

Supported by public and private funding, the institute offers scientific analysis of products using gear that no small business could afford. It also provides help with improving methods of making wine, beer and spirits.

So far, much of MacIntosh's work has been focused on craft beer.

"This is a very exciting area because it is absolutely booming, not only in the quality of craft brewing but also in the selection," he says.

Inside a laboratory stuffed with high-tech equipment, MacIntosh uses a microscope to spy on the tiny yeast cells that convert sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide -- the magical microbiology behind fermentation.

With great precision, MacIntosh is using his skills to instruct craft brewers on how to adjust recipes and improve production.

However, much of what the institute does is top secret -- for competitive reasons.

Among other things, MacIntosh and his colleagues are working on a new method for making sparkling wine. They are also trying to find a cost-effective means of measuring alcohol in distilled products, and shortening the lagering process.

As well, the labs have already been used to improve a Nova Scotia-made device called the Fizz Whiz, which gives craft brewers a high level of precision when adding carbonation.

"It's very fancy," says MacIntosh. "(The inventor) is looking to launch that across Canada."

The institute is an offshoot of the Canadian Fisheries Institute of Technology, a 30-year-old endeavour that continues to support the seafood and nutritional supplements industries.

"Unfortunately, fisheries industry research is heading downhill," says MacIntosh. "So we looked at the other industries that are up-and-coming in Nova Scotia and the Maritimes."

In the past decade, the number of craft breweries in the province has grown from less than 10 to more than 30.

Two years ago, Chris Reynolds became co-owner of Stillwell Bar in Halifax, one of the city's first watering holes devoted to local craft brews.

"It's definitely exploding here, like it is in most places in North America -- but things tend to happen a little later on the East Coast," he says. "So, we're enjoying the beginnings of it. It's a pretty young scene."

Amid the growing competition, craft brewers are turning to MacIntosh and his colleagues to perfect their suds.

"I'm a beer enthusiast and I really like the analytical side," says MacIntosh, an accomplished home brewer who prefers stout with a lot of caramel at this time of year. "Working with these companies has been quite rewarding."

And, yes, he's had to sample more than a few ales and lagers -- for research purposes.

The most unusual beer to enter his lab was an Alexander Keith's pale ale that was -- wait for it -- recovered from an unopened bottle that had been sitting on the bottom of Halifax harbour for more than a century.

Once the ancient brew was deemed safe to drink, he took a sip from a test tube and discerned an "odd, meaty flavour," the acrid smell of a burnt barrel and some "tree fruit notes."

He has tried other surprising brews, including a local ale infused with beets.

"It wasn't as red as you might think, but it had a lot of earthy tones."

As for the best local beer he's ever tried, MacIntosh's eyes widen as he recalls Unobtanium, brewed by Boxing Rock in Shelburne, N.S.

"It was so-named because they could not obtain certain hops any more," he says. "Unfortunately, some of these beers disappear, never to be obtained again."

Boxing Rock, which opened in 2013, described its creation as a full bodied, "intrepid" amber ale that was "mahogany-walnut in colour, with a malty rich backbone supporting some unexpected hop flavours."

Despite the growing workload at the institute and its initial successes, MacIntosh says he won't embrace the mantle of beer whisperer -- for now.

"I can't claim that title yet," he says with modesty. "That is a tall order."



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • With Quebec Liberals on the ropes, liberalism in the province is at a crossroads

    Canada News CBC News
    In the last provincial election, Quebec's Liberal Party suffered its worst defeat in its 151-year history. Even the most optimistic projections suggest the party will fare even worse when the votes are tallied on Monday. Recent polls place Liberal support between 15 and 20 per cent, battling three other parties for second place. Source
  • Food banks and 'care cupboards' are popping up on university campuses. Here's why

    Canada News CBC News
    When Tilova Tul arrived at the University of Alberta from Bangladesh last year as a graduate student, she quickly turned to the campus food bank for help. "I moved here with just two luggages, leaving everything back home," she said. Source
  • Booed in Beauceville: False Facebook post highlights Quebec election online misinformation

    Canada News CBC News
    It was a simple screen grab of a text message, posted to a popular Facebook group. "Legault was in Beauceville today. He went to a restaurant and everybody was booing and yelling at him!" the text said, in French. Source
  • Ukraine's Zelenskyy: No talks with Russia's Putin if land annexed

    World News CTV News
    Ukraine’s president warned Tuesday that Russia’s just concluded “sham referendums” and attempts to annex Ukrainian territory rule out any talks with Moscow as long as Vladimir Putin remains president, and called for Russia’s “complete isolation” and tough new global sanctions. Source
  • Canucks owner's estranged children say he beat and psychologically abused them, court hears

    Canada News CBC News
    Four adult children of Vancouver Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini have all alleged that he physically and psychologically abused them when they were young, a B.C. Supreme Court judge heard Tuesday. The disturbing allegations came to light during a hearing over whether Aquilini is obliged to continue paying child support and covering university expenses for three of his children. Source
  • Russia using referendums 'to conscript Ukrainian citizens,' former Ukrainian ambassador says

    World News CTV News
    Ukraine's former ambassador to Canada says Russia could use so-called referendums in his country to conscript Ukrainians. "We believe the Russians will use it to conscript Ukrainian citizens in the occupied territories into the Russian army," Andriy Shevchenko told Evan Solomon on CTV News Channel's Power Play on Tuesday. Source
  • Judge certifies class-action lawsuit over delayed bail hearings and alleged Charter breaches

    Canada News CBC News
    A class-action lawsuit alleging that the Alberta government breached Charter rights potentially thousands of times by denying people timely bail hearings will go ahead. In a decision filed in Calgary on Monday, Court King's Bench Associate Chief Justice John Rooke certified a class-action suit for individuals arrested between May 2, 2016, and Sept. Source
  • Huge Russia-based disinformation network about Ukraine war disabled

    World News CBC News
    A sprawling disinformation network originating in Russia sought to use hundreds of fake social media accounts and dozens of sham news websites to spread Kremlin talking points about the invasion of Ukraine, Meta revealed Tuesday. The company, which owns Facebook and Instagram, said it identified and disabled the operation before it was able to gain a large audience. Source
  • Ebola deaths in Uganda rise to 23 as outbreak grows

    World News CBC News
    An outbreak of Ebola disease in Uganda is growing. A total of 18 confirmed and 18 probable cases have been reported, including 23 deaths, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday. The agency noted this is the first Ebola disease outbreak caused by Sudan virus in Uganda since 2012. Source
  • Facebook Marketplace seller robbed at gunpoint in coffee shop, Vancouver police warn

    Canada News CTV News
    Vancouver police have issued a public warning after a string of robberies involving Facebook Marketplace users, including one terrifying incident that saw a seller robbed at gunpoint. Authorities said that robbery took place Monday night inside a coffee shop in the city's Kerrisdale neighbourhood, where a Facebook Marketplace user arranged a meeting to sell a designer watch. Source