Home brewers find a taste for success

Ryan Palmer and Lee Nickerson’s cranberry wit ale selected as winner of Gahan House contest

Dave Stewart dstewart@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on June 22, 2014

Ryan Palmer, left, and Lee Nickerson, centre, came up with the winning flavour in the first annual Gahan House Home Brewer’s Challenge with their cranberry wit ale. Chris O’Keefe, right, general manager of the Charlottetown pub, says it’s been one of their best sellers since it went on tap on June 11.

©Guardian photo by Heather Taweel

Ryan Palmer and Lee Nickerson have tapped into a successful business venture.

The two Island men captured top prize recently in the first annual Gahan House Home Brewer’s Challenge for brewing their cranberry wit ale.

A sessionable ale at 4.3 per cent, the cranberry wit is made with corlander and orange peel with cranberries added during secondary fermentation.

Twelve teams entered the contest. Winning means Palmer and Nickerson get to brew a full-sized batch of their beer on the Gahan system with brewmaster Trent Hayes, and is currently being served on tap at Gahan House.

“When they announced that they were going to do a home-brewing contest, Ryan texted me that we had to get in on it and be a part of it,’’ Nickerson said. “We had been doing it a bit off and on and it thought for sure.’’

Palmer said they brainstormed the types of beer styles they might try and come up with, hoping to find one that would match with what Gahan House already had on its menu of beers.

“We knew that the blueberry was going over well, especially at the new larger brewery. We wanted to do something in that vein,’’ Palmer said. “We wanted to figure out what sort of P.E.I. 2014 spin would could put on it since it’s such an important year for tourism.’’

“We wanted to make it a P.E.I. taste, if we could,’’ Nickerson adds.

Palmer said the solution was to use P.E.I. ingredients. By doing that it would make the craft beer stand out even more.

“With most craft beers made just about anywhere, they’re hard pressed to use anything locally. Typically, none of the ingredients are local. We wanted to come up with some ingredients that were local and blueberry was already taken. So, we did a bit of research about what else grows in large numbers in P.E.I. and we thought about using cranberries.’’

Palmer and Nickerson combined that idea and blended it with a prior recipe for Belgian wit beer “because it already has a lot of citrus flavours’’.

Wit beer refers to the type of wheat used in making the beer.

Chris O’Keefe, general manager of the Gahan House, says he and Hayes decided in January they wanted to connect with home brewers in P.E.I., coming up with the contest to do just that.

“We kind of expected to get three, maybe five entries. We ended up with 12, which was unbelievable,’’ O’Keefe said.

The list was whittled down to the top five. A judges panel took it from there, choosing the Palmer/Nickerson flavour.

“It was thrilling. It was such a huge honour,’’ Palmer said. “We were up against some pretty stiff competition. I was truly humbled.’’

Palmer and Nickerson have since been informed that their brew will be sold in Halifax pubs.

O’Keefe said sales of craft beer have been growing 10 to 12 per cent per year while more traditional flavours have been shrinking in sales by one to two per cent.

“Peoples’ pallets are definitely growing,’’ he said.

As for the cranberry wit flavour, O’Keefe says out of the 11 beers Gahan House has on tap the cranberry wit flavour is a top-five seller.

Gahan House will be selling it while quantities last.

O’Keefe speculates the competition might get a bit harder next time, with Gahan House telling brewers what flavour it wants ahead of time but they haven’t decided that just yet.

Palmer and Nickerson are already thinking ahead to next year.

“It will be harder next year. We just have to figure out how to win,’’ Palmer said.





Types of craft beer that have been sold in P.E.I. (not all are currently available):

- Honey Brown Ale.

- Blueberry Ale.

- Cranberry Wit Ale.

- India Pale Ale.

- Iron Bridge Brown Ale.

- Island Red Premium Red Ale.

- Sir John A. Honey Wheat Ale.

- Pumpkin Ale.

- Sydney Street Premium Stout.

- Beach Chair Lager.

- Lobster Ale.

- Premier George Coles Cream Ale.

- Colonel John Hamilton Gray Brown Ale.