Meet the Brewmaster: Q & A with Jason Britton
How would you describe your brewing (and drinking) style? How has it evolved?
My brewing style has changed with the market changes.; Consumers have so much knowledge, they’re more adventurous and are looking for new flavours and beer styles all the time. All sorts of ingredients that haven’t been used in beer before are being used, we’re seeing fusions of different styles… it’s all about flavour and creativity.So as a brewer I try to stay one step ahead of the consumers and have the newest product on the block.
There have been many additions to the CAMERON’S lineup with collaborations, limited releases, etc. What is your motivation behind these and where are you getting your inspiration?
There are more breweries in the marketplace now, and the flavour threshold for consumers is higher than ever, so there really aren’t any rules now when it comes to flavour. So we explore holes in the market to see if there is a product or use of a flavour that doesn’t exist. And collaborating with other breweries, seeing breweries and brewers work hand-in-hand to create something is really fun and inspirational. It’s really a nice chance to let the artistic standpoints and characters come through.
What styles do you favour (if any) and what have you not done yet that you’d experiment with?
Being a commercial brewery with pretty big batches, we have a commercial responsibility to recreate something that is unique but at the same time has some restraint to it, with a good drinkability, balance, and repeatability. Beers are products of moderation, therefore repeatability is key. Using an ingredient that is non-traditional like herbs, spices, maybe something from another type of food category, whether it’s using something like oysters, mussels, peanuts, there are a lot of experimentation to do and many more to come.
How long have you been brewing overall, and how did you start out?
I’ve been doing this for more than 20 years! I started right out of university, with a summer job at the Amsterdam, Rotterdam Brewhouse in Toronto. At the time they only had three employees, but they were changing their license from a brewpub to a microbrewery where they started to do offsales, and the company just exploded. I was in the right place at the right time. Next, I moved to Windsor, Ontario to build Walkerville Brewery, and after 10 years there, came full circle back to the GTA and Cameron’s. Along that journey I won scholarships with the Master Breweries Associations, the America’s, the institute that deals with brewing and distilling in the UK. and completed some course work with Weihenstephan and VLB. I continue to be on active committees to help support the education and science of brewing.
Is there anyone who gave you a chance in your career, whom you’ve considered a mentor?
When I first started in the brewery industry I worked for Joel Manning. He was a great mentor, he taught me a lot and was amazing to work for, his creativity is at the center of the beer scene in Canada. And he’s a tremendous brewer and leader.
Several years later I had the chance to work with Douglas Babstook, the former director of brewing at “Stroth Brewing Company” and other Canadian Breweries; he was a consultant at the time, and he was a really calm and collected brewmaster, who’d seen it all and has a lot of good stories to tell. His experience with brands that he helped develop precede him and are front and center still today.
Any hilarious or outrageous moments in your career that stand out?
There’ve been so many it’s easy to forget them! The thing is, brewing beer is a dynamic biological process, so there’s always something that can happen in the day to anybody and never a dull moment. If there’s one thing, there is a video out there somewhere on someone’s computer of me trying to fix a leaking manway of a 20ft vertical tank holding 8,000 litres of beer, and it wasn’t seated quite properly… I tried to adjust that manway and I just couldn’t get it and 8,000 litres of beer poured out on top of me and just completely filled my overalls and boots.
Tell us a few of your favourite Ontario beers (not including CAMERON’S).
There are so many to choose from, but when it comes to classics, Michael Hancock nails it at Side Launch, and he has a wonderful wheat beer and a “Dunkel” that I really enjoy. The other day I had a Nickel Brook ESB, at one of my locals, very nice and flavourful. At Amsterdam Brewpub, they have a Farmhouse ale, that’s a real wonderful flavourful experience as well.
Do you enjoy beer at home? What’s your go-to beer?
I do enjoy beer at home, now that the grocery stores provide more accessibility to market in addition to LCBO it’s really easy to grab a couple to put in the fridge and try when you’re ready. If I were to look at what was in my fridge right now, a nice Belgian quad, and speciality beer from Quebec Trou du diable. I tend to switch it up, especially according to the seasons, like when it’s hot outside and if you’ve been working hard in the brewery all week, and it’s BBQ time and you’re looking for something crisp and snappy on the palate which finishes clean. And then in the colder months, I’m looking for a different comfort level, darker malts, more flavour that lingers but has nice balance with some toffee and chocolate notes—and a little more alcohol for a warming effect.
When it comes to your approach to brewing, what would you say you prioritize the most?
The flavour is the priority at the end of the day. Everything I work towards in brewing to contributing to the flavour in the end. The recipe is key. All of the ingredients contribute something important that can’t be overlooked; they all have equal weights when it comes to brewing, designing or making a beer. You never overlook the yeast, the water, the hops or the malts.
What do you think makes CAMERON’S different from other Ontario breweries?
Camerons is one of the original craft breweries, and we’ve been at it 20 years now. That’s a pretty big milestone for us, it’s pretty incredible. We’ve been around that long because our yearly lineup is likeable, repeatable, and it shows restraint and balance. It’s beer you can sit down with a couple of friends and be deep conversation, and then before you know it you’ve consumed all that beer and you want another one and you keep on talking with your friends. It’s this real social device that allows conversation, camaraderie and spirit and those are the kind of beers we try to make and that’s what Cameron’s is about.
Have you seen any particular trends in the Ontario and Canadian beer industry?
Definitely. Everything from package trends—originally 6 packs and then single bottles to larger bottle and now driving into cans—to style trends, like a couple years ago when IPA train began, and we were all making IPA’s because people couldn’t get enough of them. Now we’re starting to see session beers, fusion hybrid styles, new styles of modern adaptation of beers such as Belgian IPA’s and India Brown Ale. We’re starting to see the real level of creativity that brewers around the world and Canada are really capable of and the bar is getting raised higher and higher. It’s amazing, it’s inspirational, it’s great to see.
If you had to pick a favourite ingredient to work with, what would it be? [hop, malt, adjunct, herbs, etc..]
I find yeast is the most overlooked because it involves the most planning, and seems limited in what can be produced, but it’s interesting when you can produce different flavours from the same yeast. The other thing I’ll say, is this whole other side isn’t an ingredient per se, but that’s the packaging. There’s a science behind the right kind of package, the integrity of the feel, the liners, the cardboard, and the glue you’re using. I find that all really interesting and usually overlooked because this is a whole other division and responsibility all in itself.
Describe the Brewmaster’s role and responsibilities
Ultimately the Brewmaster is the technical head that is responsible for raw materials through processing, brewing, packaging to finished product to in the trays. But it’s all encompassing when you’re at a smaller brewery and they’re no limits to it. For my role I’m involved in facilities and strategic planning for the company and the branding as well; the more you can get involved and try and articulate to portray your thoughts, then your art—the beer—is front and centre.
What advice would you give anyone who was interested in a career in brewing?
Try volunteering in a brewery first and see what it’s like and enjoy the time you spend there. Get an idea of what it’s like and make sure it’s what you’re interested in, and then try and get some training; you’ll need that brewing education in order to really get a job in a brewery. But beyond that, volunteer a few weeks of service, work in a package line, filtering, logistics delivery, purchasing—learn all of these different departments to get a feel for it and understand what it’s really like. A lot of people probably come out of brewing school thinking it’s all about brewing beer, but it’s about all of those other things too. It’s all rewarding and takes a big team of people in order to make it work.