Category 12 Brewing – Victoria, B.C, Canada

A Grand Day out at Category 12 Brewing

Well, it’s sure been a while since my last post, and life has been the culprit! First, it was law exams. Then, it was catching up with work (that thing that pays the bills). Finally, I turned 30. To mark the end of an era, and to begin a new one in style, I flew back to Victoria, B.C, Canada, with the SWMBO to visit family. It’d been just over a year since I had last visited, and apart from seeing family and old friends I was looking forward to one other thing: Victoria Beer Week.


The second annual Victoria Beer Week was held across a number of venues throughout Victoria to celebrate B.C.’s burgeoning craft beer scene. Luckily, Joe Wiebe (author of Craft Beer Revolution: The Insider’s Guide to B.C. Breweries), invited me along to a home brewer’s workshop at Category 12 Brewing. Not only was this a great chance to catch up with some of the brewers from the island that have played a pivotal role in shaping Victoria’s craft beer scene, but it was also a perfect opportunity to take a look around Category 12’s brewery and meet the head brewer, Michael Kuzyk.

What Time is it Anyway? It’s Brew Time!

Shop WindowThe day started off early. Well, perhaps it was late for me – I was still getting over  jet lag from my 18 hour journey from the U.K. Category 12, a new brewery located in the Keating industrial area just 20 minutes outside of town, was my destination for the day. We were all asked to show up at 11:00AM, and so after a few cups of coffee and a small breakfast I made the drive out there. About 10 years ago I used to work in Keating, so I wasn’t too sure what to expect. Back then, in 2005, there was a couple large office blocks, a machinery and equipment hire shop, and a number of other ‘destination’ businesses that didn’t really draw much traffic. As I took the turn off the highway, and entered the industrial estate, I kept my eye open for  something resembling a brewery. Luckily, I didn’t have to look for long. Category 12 Brewing, located right beside that old machinery and equipment hire shop I mentioned, stood out with a big orange sign in the window proudly stating ‘CRAFT BREWERY’.

I stepped inside the door, and was welcomed by a really nice gal behind the bar. As it turns out, this was Michael’s wife, Karen. Surprisingly, the brewery only has 3 members of staff: Michael (Head Brewer), Karen (Michael’s wife), and Jeff Kendrew (Certified Cicerone and Category 12’s Sales and Marketing Manager). The place looked fantastic, with a bar at the front where you can fill up your growlers with fresh beer, adequate seating where you can sample a flight of their latest brews, and – best of all – a viewing window that allows you to watch what’s going on in the brewery whilst sipping away. I hadn’t been away from Victoria for long, but I knew at that moment that the craft beer scene on the island was going strong.

Making my way into the back, where the brewery is, I was joined by about 20 other home brewers who eagerly awaited the start of the workshop. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Was this going to be a day filled with Q&A, an ad-hoc attempt at introducing people to the joys of home brewing, or was it going to be something else? Glancing to my left, I quickly scoped out two home brew rigs. It looked from afar like one was all electric, and the other gas – both three tier – one using keggles and the other ‘normal’ stainless brew pots. At this point, I knew this was going to be a good day.

Category 12 Brewing
Michael Kuzyk, Head Brewer and founder of Category 12 Brewing

Michael stepped up onto the podium, and introduced himself as the Head Brewer at Category 12. He let us know that we were going to brew two batches of beer, side by side, using the gear mentioned above. He was going to brew one, whilst another home brewer whose name escapes me was going to brew another. Whilst this was happening, we could ask questions and take a wander through the brewery. Michael then started to mill the grains, which were locally grown on the island. How cool is that? Brewing a batch of beer with ingredients grown just down the street! This island has it all.

While we doughed in, and chatted about the equipment being used, I suddenly became jealous. Don’t you just hate waiting for your strike water to heat? I now have the solution: buy a full sized craft brewery. Hot water straight from a stainless steel vessel does the trick in minutes!

We’re Brewing with Science!

After mashing in, I went to the counter to grab a flight of their beers. I was given a Critical Point (Northwest Pale Ale), Unsanctioned (a Belgian inspired Saison), Transmutation (a Belgian specialty ale) and a Disruption (Black IPA). All were excellent, but one of them stuck out: the Unsanctioned Saison. As it turns out, this isn’t brewed using a standard Saison yeast, but rather a Trappist yeast from White Labs. Interesting, I thought, but damn did it work. It struck me that Category 12 brewed beers with creativity.

Grain Milling
Let’s get started! Milling grains at Category 12 Brewing

It’s not surprising that the Saison I tasted exemplified a level of creativity that us home brewers are afforded. Michael had been a home brewer for about 20 years prior to starting this brewery. Not only that, but he has a Doctorate in Microbiology and Biochemistry from the University of Victoria. So, not only can this guy brew a great beer, but when it comes to brewing with scientific rigour and understanding this man has got it dialled in.

After I finished my flight, I thought it was time to push off – I had to get ready for my birthday celebrations! In any event, I had a chance to meet the brewer, see his lair and taste his creations. I was one happy man. Nevertheless, I knew I wanted to pick his brain a little bit more. As such, I contacted him via email to get a brief interview.

Interview with Michael Kuzyk, Head Brewer and Founder of Category 12 Brewing

So, Michael, how did Category 12 come to be?

I’ve been home brewing since the mid-1990’s when I started during my graduate studies in biochemistry and microbiology. During the previous 5 years I was out of the lab working at a life sciences software company and home brewing became my experimental outlet. After a couple restructuring events at work, an the continual prodding of close friends I decided to start writing a business plan in January 2013. Two years later, here we are!

Do you feel that you background in biochemistry and microbiology gives you an advantage over brewers with less of a background in the sciences?

It depends. It doesn’t help in the creation of tasty recipes. However, it is extremely helpful when it comes to rigorous sanitary technique and producing repeatedly tasty batch after batch of the same beer style. Innately understanding the process at the molecular level is fun, and helpful, however you need to make sure you don’t get lost in the weeds of the details and keep your eye on the larger goal of creating great beer.

Mashing in - Gotta love  hot mash water on tap!
Mashing in – Gotta love hot mash water on tap!

Can you give us some details on the equipment you use at Category 12?

Certainly. It is a two vessel system setup primarily for infusion mashing that has been manufactured locally by Specific Mechanical Systems. It is quite manual – no powered rakes and oars here. Both vessels – the mash tun and kettle – are steam jacketed. So we have the ability to perform step mashes unlike many North American two vessel systems. Our brew capacity is 1,500 L and we typically perform back to back brews to fill out 30 HL cylindroconical unitanks.

Do you plan on building a lab at the brewery? If so, could you tell us a bit about what kind of setup you would like?

Certainly! We already routinely perform microscopy to track pitch rates, count cells and measure yeast viability. The next item I would love to add is a UV/Vis Spectrophotometer, which would allow us to analytically measure IBUs, colour (SRM) and even hop quality (hop storage index, or HSI).

An autoclave would also be helpful for sterilizing media and starting yeast cultures from isolated colonies on agar plates.

Lets get scientific. Can you explain in your own words the difference between alpha amylase and beta amylase?

Beta amylase is quit short lived in the mash and is sensitive to heat. It is key for releasing a lot of easy to metabolize di-glucose saccharides (maltose) from malt starches. These are the easiest for yeast to metabolize.

Alpha amylase is longer lived and remains active at higher mash temperatures. However, it cleaves within the complex starch molecule creating a lot of larger non-fermentable sugars that add to to the body of a beer.

How can you use the information above to help build a suitable mash schedule for a specific style?

Unsanctioned Saison
A beautiful example of creativity

You need activity from both alpha and beta amylase to create a tasty beer. Depending on your mash temp, you can skew your mash in the direction of creating a highly fermentable wort (with a dry, final gravity under 1.010 SG) or a wort that retains some body and residual sweetness (final gravity 1.012 or higher).

Malt bill plays a major role here as well, not just mash temperature. Crystal malts are great or adding body, but they also add sweetness. Carapils is a great malt for adding body without sweetness. Oats and Carafoam are also excellent for adding head retention to a recipe.

How scientific can you get about mash profiles? Is there a lot of trial and error involved in developing the right schedule for a specific beer?

Good old empirical research! Your palate is the ultimate test in creating a balanced beer. I’ll dial in mash temperature for a new recipe over the first couple brew days and blend them to ultimately deliver the beer that I envision for a recipe.

I noted during my visit that all of your beers are unfiltered. What techniques do you use to achieve clarity as best you can without filtering?

This is a balancing act. Luckily our target market is very craft beer savvy and tolerant of hazy beer. We use isinglass finings, and you can’t rush clarification – days spent with the beer at a cool temperature (2-4C) is required.

Thanks so much for answering some questions – but before I let you go, one more thing: you used to home brew, and now you brew on a much larger scale professionally. What is the most valuable lesson you have learnt during you days as a home home brewer?

Take copious notes! You never know when a small observation will be key to reproducing a delicious batch of beer. Also, sanitation, sanitation, sanitation! You can’t sanitize your hands – wear gloves during key steps.

My thanks goes out to Michael Kuzyk and the rest of the gang at Category 12 Brewing for a great day out – make sure to give their beers a try if you have the chance!
Home brew beer fanatic and lover of all things Kölsch. Follow me on Twitter!

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