Follow beer writer, Troy Burtch, as he explores the wonderful world of craft beer and the pubs that serve it. Great Canadian Beer is a place to come to catch up on beer news, read tasting notes, check out event listings, and for pub previews and reviews.


Thursday, February 3, 2011

Meet James Yii-Jen Tien: Muskoka Cottage Brewing Co.

James with his grandfather on his 98th b-day..with beer!
Meet James Yii-Jen Tien, head brewer with Muskoka Cottage Brewery in Bracebridge, ON.

Tien has an interesting story to tell; coming to Canada and falling in love with brewing, landing a job with Muskoka and taking over day-to-day brewing duties,  formulating new recipes - including the popular Harvest Ale and the Double Chocolate Cranberry Stout and working through an expansion at the brewery. 

Meet James Yii-Jen Tien 

Where is the Muskoka Cottage Brewery situated and what beers do you currently produce?
We are sitting in downtown Bracebridge, the heart of Muskoka, the greatest Ontario cottage country. Cream Ale was the first brand and currently we had Premium Lager, Dark Ale, Hefe Weissbier, Harvest Ale (seasonal), Pilsner Light, and Double Chocolate Stout (seasonal).

Describe the history behind the brewery
Founded by Gary McMullen and Kirk Evans, Muskoka Cottage Brewery opened for business in 1996. The Brewery began with 3 employees and now employs a team of over 30. The whole building was built by wood and brick with a stone foundation and was used for selling grains and animal feed; therefore, there are 6 silos in the centre of building.

What is your best selling beer?
Cream Ale, the unbeatable crisp and refreshing beer with a wonderful malt and hop balance.

What's new at the brewery?
I am working on the 2nd stage expansion with the 4th BBT and a bottling line set up in order to achieve a fast company growth and marketing needs. We had a great success on the latest seasonal beer – Double Chocolate Cranberry Stout (DCCS). Lots of feedbacks and comments from everywhere. In 2011 there will be Summer Weiss, Harvest Ale and DCCS lined up for a great seasonal selection. Very soon, we will also have a delicious hoppy beer released for all year around.

Why did you get into the brewing industry and describe your passion for it.
Honestly, I hated beer until meeting with my aunt’s friend - JC Jang about 15 years ago, since I tried once when I was too young. My father and his friend used to drink beer often on weekends and I was bugging them for a taste. My goodness, it was an awful beverage I had before. But when JC showed me his homebrew and it was tasted so GooooD! It was an ALE which I believe was my first ALE rather than a light clean lager.

So when I finished my MSc in Food Chemistry and moved to Canada I decided to give myself a try in brewing industry, then here I am. I started in fall 06’ as a brewer then focused on filtration and quality control. Now most of my time is spent on R&D, expansion, and managing the whole production. I am just like any other beer lovers, I collect bottles, coasters, and caps since 15 years ago. I also use the Beer Me! website to help me find breweries and brewpubs when I travel around the world.

Whenever/wherever I travel there is a beer. Besides, creating new beers in the brewery I also homebrew(facility was given from JC when his wife said to him ”Give to James, you are getting old!”) in my apartment where I had ever burned a stove top (then I got a yell from my wife…). Making beer is such a fun work!

What is the best aspect of working in the Canadian craft brewery industry?
People here are great. We share experiences to each other. We borrow and lend materials if our neighbours need, just like you run out salt and gently knock the door of people live beside you. You know, working with these people are awesome!

Where can someone find your products?
People can find MCB products from The Beer Store, LCBO and licensees in Ontario, MLCC in Manitoba, and some stores in Alberta. If you need an assistance feel free to send an e-mail or give us a call.

Tell us something about Muskoka Cottage Brewery that not a lot of people know about.
My brewers and I often have a beer tasting in my office on Friday afternoon. We taste different beers every time. So if you are lucky to see my office full packed with people, do not shy to join with us!

What advantages do smaller breweries have over the big guys?
I personally believe as a craft brewer we are allowed to use all kinds of malts, hops, and yeasts to create a yummy and crazy beer. Plus, we have more flexibility to release some special edition and seasonal beers.

Best time for a pint?
Most of time I have a pint when I cook. I think this helps me think about what I am going to prepare for tonight and cooking my dishes with a bit of beer sometimes adds flavours.

What is the highlight of your brewing career?
2010 was my biggest year. My Rye Pale Ale won a second place in MBAA District Ontario Iron Brewer Competition, also you can find a full article from TAPS Magazine Winter 2010, and my two recipes –Harvest Ale and DCCS were truly welcomed in fall and winter.

Cold clean lager, big hoppy pale ale, or a nicely roasted stout?
All depend on when, whom I drink with, food pairing, and what my mood likes… Like now, a cold white winter I will have a stout rather than a cold clean lager.

Name your favourite non Muskoka produced beer
King Pilsner/Vienna Lager (ON)

How successful have the seasonals been? And what has been your favourite?
We believe people want to try new flavours so either the Harvest Ale or DCCS all worked great. I like Harvest Ale more.


Malcolm said...

"...a delicious hoppy beer...'

ericswanderings said...

The DCCS and the Harvest Ale were truly delicious additions to the Ontario brewing scene. Hopefully they keep up the good work.

And good work on this series, Troy!

i love toronto said...

I just bought a bunch of the Summer Weiss tonight!

Thanks for this great article!

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