Daniel Girard darts about the Garrison Brewery plant, sliding down the rails from the top of his kettle, a large steel vat nearing the end of a long boil. He then bounds over to a hose that has a tiny window through which he observes the rushing liquid, making sure it's darkening in colour. His sudden thrusts of energy give the impression this is not only his workplace but his playground.
After joining Garrison last March, coming from Pumphouse in Moncton, Girard released the Grand Baltic Porter, one of Garrison's winter seasonals, late last fall. Last month, it received a gold medal for porters at the World Beer Championships in Chicago.
The Baltic region refers to countries on the shores of the Baltic Sea: from Poland, sweeping northeast to include Sweden and Finland and the three Baltic States, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
He produced his brew using lager yeast and bottom-fermentation, a practice popularized in Germany during the mid-19th century. "Baltic Porter is nine per cent, it's quite a strong beer," he says. Baltic porters are smooth with a slightly roasted flavour, sometimes likened to a German schwarzbier. They're sweet, and malts can contain caramel or toffee notes.
"If it's too bitter, it would be an imperial style," Girard says, referring to another close relative to the Baltic Porter, the Russian imperial stout. While many Baltic porters are made in the "lager style," some use ale yeast and bottom-fermentation, a link referring to English exported porters of the 18th century.
For Girard, innovation within this lesser-known tradition and region came down to a couple of uncommon ingredients. First, molasses: He first heard of the rustic syrup's use in brewing in Quebec City, where he grew up. Girard experimented with it for the first time in New Brunswick when making a spruce beer.
Molasses added to the dark reddish-brown colour and complemented chocolate and licorice aromas and tastes in the Grand Baltic Porter, Girard says. It also brought forward a cherry note. Currants and other darker dried fruits are in the traditional Baltic porter taste profile.
Molasses plays a role in the beer's character over time. Girard recommends storing a bottle or two until next winter. "If you taste the Baltic Porter in a year, it will probably taste different," he says. "That's the molasses. The molasses has a quality that accentuates the aging, not that it ages it too fast, but the character. It gives you the impression that it is a well-aged beer."
"You cannot use kilos and kilos, but I tell you I put a good amount in it."
Second, there were the prunes. He wasn't satisfied with the prunes he found, so prunes became dates. "So I had a big bag of dates, chopped them and put them in the cheesecloth and let them infuse the whole time." Right in the kettle. "I boiled that thing for almost five hours, so imagine the infusion." The molasses went in for about 20 minutes near the end of the boil.
Garrison's president, Brian Titus, recommends pouring the Grand Baltic Porter into a "snifter-type glass---roll it around. The molasses comes through really clear and rich." The dates, he adds, were a smart way to add "fermentables" and depth to the flavour profile. In other words, processed sugar and starch have no place in such a beer.
With a simple plate of strong cheeses, dark breads, even a bitter chocolate---the Baltic Porter is often enjoyed after a meal---this is one to open, Titus says, "with somebody and without an agenda to do things after."