Dalhousie lab aims to become resource for Nova Scotia's microbreweries

·3 min read
Gianfranco Mazzanti leads the brewing engineering options class at Dalhousie University in Halifax. He'd like for the lab to be a resource for microbreweries in Nova Scotia. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)
Gianfranco Mazzanti leads the brewing engineering options class at Dalhousie University in Halifax. He'd like for the lab to be a resource for microbreweries in Nova Scotia. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)

Every Wednesday when classes are in session, there's a noticeable aroma wafting from the north side of the engineering building on the Dalhousie University campus in Halifax.

Any beer enthusiast will quickly recognize that something's brewing.

The building is home to a teaching microbrewery used for a class where students learn how to brew beer in 200-litre batches.

The brewing lab is a venture five years in the making. The university even has a liquor licence for it.

The finished product is then served on tap at campus bars such as the T-Room or the Grawood under the name TUNS Brewing.

The school used to be known as the Technical University of Nova Scotia, or TUNS, and tuns are equipment used in the brewing process.

Blend of art, science

Duncan Turner, a fourth-year chemical engineering student, takes the class, which is formally known as brewing engineering options.

He's previously done brewing using small carboys. He took the class to learn more about brewing in a larger system as he's interested in working in the beer industry after graduation.

As an engineering student, he was surprised to find that making beer is both science and art.

Robert Short/CBC
Robert Short/CBC

"Yes, we have to be at specific temperatures, but it's not all like, 'This is measured, exactly,'" he said.

"You kind of add stuff until you get a certain consistency. You can't really write everything down. You just kind of need the experience and you need the feel."

Robert Short/CBC
Robert Short/CBC

Helping the students master the feel is Lorne Romano, a veteran of the craft brewing scene in Halifax. He spent 17 years working as the brewmaster at Rogue's Roost, a former brewpub that overlooked Spring Garden Road.

"The whole microbrewery business has exploded, especially in the last 10 years," he said.

There are around 50 microbreweries in the province.

It is a hands-on course, with students decked out in lab coats and taking turns carrying out the duties needed to make a batch of beer. Those include adding grains to the mash tun and mixing it with a paddle, taking measurements, such as the specific gravity of the wort — unfermented beer— and washing equipment.

Robert Short/CBC
Robert Short/CBC

On the day CBC News visited the brewing space, the class was brewing an India pale ale. It's the same IPA Romano has been brewing for 30 years, and the same IPA that was a staple of the Rogue's Roost lineup, which was simply known as the IPA.

"We never had funny names," said Romano. "It was just called by the style of beer."

Robert Short/CBC
Robert Short/CBC

Romano beams with pride as he shows off different beers the class has made, ranging from a Belgian witbier to an American pale ale.

Gianfranco Mazzanti, the course's professor, said he is a big fan of the witbier. A three-hour class means lots of talking in the hot space, leaving him thirsty.

"I sometimes have a little bit just to refresh myself," he said.

Mazzanti has a background in chemical engineering and food science.

Robert Short/CBC
Robert Short/CBC

He said the class is not only meant to be a teaching microbrewery, but he wants the lab to be a resource for the community at large to learn more about beer. Mazzanti hopes microbreweries use it as a place to train personnel and develop and test products.

Nova Scotia's microbrewery community is known for the rampant collaboration among its members, sharing equipment, supplies and expertise to help rival breweries in need of a hand.

"It's been a very interesting experience for me to see this level of collaboration in the industry, so I hope this also becomes a place where they can put that in practice," said Mazzanti.

Robert Short/CBC
Robert Short/CBC

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