Get to know a Brewery: Picaroons

20 Questions with Picaroons’ head brewer/owner, Sean Dunbar

dog beer

If you noticed my Twitter feed over the holidays (which, if you’re reading this, you might have) you noticed a lot of Picaroons beer being consumed. Now, its very hard for me to say I have a favorite brewery right now, but if I was pressed to choose one, it would probably be these guys.  Maybe its the attachment of being an East Coaster myself, but I’m not so sure. Picaroons has received numerous accolades on the national stage, perhaps most notably, in taking home brewery of the year at the Canadian Brewing Awards in 2011.

beers

Picaroons offers numerous regular and seasonal beers, all made in small batches and consistently drinkable. Located in New Brunswick’s capital of Fredericton, the brewery has slowly but surely become ingrained in the city’s culture. This is supported by the fact that I waited in a line of about 65 people for close to an hour to get my hands on one of their holiday one-offs – a very sweet honey, cinnamon and vanilla infused winter warmer named “Bees on Earth”.

the Line

So, given my feelings on this brewer, I thought it only natural to make Picaroons the first installment of “Get to know a Brewery” – despite being a Toronto-centric blog. Fortunately, Picaroons’ head brewer and owner Sean Dunbar was nice enough to entertain my 20 questions, providing some insight into craft beer in New Brunswick and showing that a brewing education doesn’t have to be found at the likes of Niagara College.

Q. Where/How’d you learn to brew?

Never really did.    My original brewing partner spent a week at Shipyard in Portland.    Then he passed it on to me.  I’ve never home-brewed or taken a course of any kind.   On the job, I guess.

Q. When and why was the Brewery established?

Originally brewed our first beer in Oct. 1995.   Went out of business in 1999.   Back in business in 2001 or maybe 2000.     Seemed like a great way to make a living.

Q. Northampton Brewing Co. or Picaroons?

Northampton Brewing Co. Ltd. is the legal name.   Picaroons is, I suppose, considered a brand name.   Sort of like Anheuser Busch and Bud.   Give or take a few billion dollars.

Q. Why Fredericton?

That where I lived at the time.

Q. What was the craft beer scene in NB like when you started?

Non-existent.   One had started and failed in the 80s.    Moosehead had released Clancy’s but lost the listing due to poor sales.   No brewpubs, even.

Q. First establishment to sell your beer?

Long story.   Dolan’s Pub was our first.  We built a brewery onto the end of the pub so they were our only customer.  Then we fired them and I think the Lunar Rogue was our first real account.   We started with Best Bitter,  Stout,  Blonde and an aled version of an Octoberfest style.

Q. First beer that got into Alcool NB Liqour (NB’s LCBO equivalent)?

Hmmm.   I think we listed Irish Red and Best Bitter.

Q. How has Alcool NB Liqour been as a partner in promoting local craft beer over the years?

Well.    Time for some diplomacy.   The attitudes of ANBL are infuriatingly erratic.   Overall,  they’ve come a long way but it could have been much easier if they were consumer-oriented or even had one beer geek at head office.    After a promising couple of years, the attitude has again shifted to anti-local just this past Fall, for example.   It’ll come back again, but, like I said, it should be easier.

Q. Craft beer is booming. How has New Brunswick embraced it compared to what you’ve seen elsewhere?

I think NB is keeping up with the rest of Canada and the US.    If NB drinkers had access to more craft beer, they would drink more.

Q. Picaroons has become part of the culture in Fredericton. How long did it take to catch on?

In a way it was gradual but in a way the beer and the brewery were embraced from the start.   Like a big hug that goes on and on and gets tighter and more intense as you go.   There are times when we feel we can’t breathe.    But we realize it’s an act of love and accept it.

Q. How would you assess the quality/choice of craft beer on the east coast?

Quality is a tricky word that I won’t touch.    But I’d have to say all of the micros down here are producing good beer and most of us are producing great, interesting beers.     Most of us are producing more styles than we should have to just to keep giving consumers what they want.   We’ve got, what ?,  a dozen beers in production at any given time and the most asked question is “when are you going to do something new?”.    We could use more choice, for sure.

Q. Plans for any collaboration with others?

We’re open but nothing specific right now.  Most brewers are pretty much maxed out.

Q. Picaroons has dabbled in the Ontario market.  Any chance we’ll see your beer in LCBOs on a regular/semi-regular basis?

Ah,  I don’t know.  We haven’t really dabbled.    Right now,  I think I’d go there is someone asked, but we won’t push it.

Q. Anywhere else we should be looking to get Picaroons in Ontario?

Nope.

Q. This year saw the return of 12 beers of Christmas at your Brewtique in Fredericton – 12 different beers each day between December 11 – 23. I imagine this adds stress to the holiday season. What prompted the effort?

As you might guess,  we drink together at meetings.  This was one of those things that comes out of those meetings.   Started as a joke.   And it is stressful, for sure.  But lots of fun in the end.

Q. What was your favorite of the 12 this year?

I really like the way the spruce tips (we pounded them with a hammer and then boiled them up) worked with our Yippee IPA.   It was almost like the spruce insinuated itself in there as another hop flavour, like a really sprucy Chinook or something.    Not likely everyone’s favourite, but I thought it was great.

OC IPA

Q. Any other ideas people should look forward to in the short term?

Tons of ideas, but it never seems like enough time so I’m not promising anything.

Q. Best beer bar in Fredericton/New Brunswick?

Fredericton – Garrison District Ale House

Moncton – Marky’s Laundromat

Saint John – Saint John Ale House

If you’re just talking about beer.

Q. Favorite beer/brewer right now?

Locally,  I still like the consistent products coming from Propeller.  I tend to like everyday-drinking beers, not shock-your-friends beers.    Across Canada,  the immaculate, yet fascinating beers from Frederick Tremblay at Brasserie Charlevoix seem to stand out, but there are alot of really, really good beers in this country.   They’re everywhere.    I’d love to do a beer festival here that has beer from every brewery in Canada, all in one place.     Then I’d pack it all up in big truck and replicate it all across the country, province by province, inviting in all the brewers wherever we go.  Just a big travelling beer circus,  barn-storming beer drinkers from Quidi Vidi to Whitehorse.     Maybe that’s the retirement plan.    Might need some help on the provincial liquor regulations.

Q. Favorite place for beer?

That’s one of those “it depends” questions, eh?   Best beer I ever remember was a pint of cask-conditioned Hart served by an ex-pat Brit named Stan at the Swan, on Fall Down Lane in Carp, Ontario.   We pulled off the highway looking for gas on our way to Carleton Place to buy a used fermenter from Lorne and Keith Hart and stumbled upon a pub.    Ended up having pints of this amazing beer with the locals.  One of the guys sold us some gas from a spare jerry can he had in his truck and then led us to Carleton Place through the back roads to avoid, um, detection.

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Categories: Beer Business, Beer Tourism, Get to know a Brewery

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