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Monday, April 11, 2011

Meet Viv Jones: Great Western Brewing Co.

Viv Jones - Brewmaster, Great Western 
Meet Viv Jones, Brewmaster at the Great Western Brewing Co. in Saskatoon, SK. 

Jones got into brewing like a lot of other brewers - a background in chemical engineering before developing an affliction for the product. From there it was off to the University of Birmingham Brewing School, which kicked off the start to an ongoing 30+ year brewing career.

Meet Viv Jones.

Where is the Great Western Brewery and what beers do you currently produce?
Great Western Brewing is located in downtown Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. We produce four brands of beer: Original 16 Canadian Pale Ale; Great Western Brands (including Lager, Light, Pilsner, and Pilsner Light); Brewhouse Brands (including Pilsener and Light); and Value Brands (Olympia Beer, Gold Strong, Gold Extra).

Describe the history behind the brewery.
Great Western Brewing Company was founded more that twenty years ago. The brewery’s previous owner, Molson, had slated it for closure. Sixteen employees decided they weren’t going to let that happen. They pooled their savings, purchased the plant, and saved a Western Canadian brewing tradition. The brewery was renamed Great Western Brewing Company, and began producing high quality beer. Since then we’ve been growing as a company and winning awards around the world for the quality of our beer.

What is your best selling beer?
Great Western Brewing’s best selling beer is Brewhouse Pilsener, which is a Slovakian-style pilsener. It is smooth and well balanced with no aftertaste. Brewhouse is available across Western Canada.

Original 16 is a new Great Western beer. What's the story behind it?
Our Original 16 Canadian Pale Ale celebrates the spirit and dedication of our company’s original founders - sixteen employees who saved the brewery when the previous owner had slated the facility for closure. With determination, commitment, passion, and the personal risk that came with taking on such a large-scale facility, they saved the brewery.

Original 16 honours their legacy. It is a perfectly-balanced, exceptionally smooth-tasting Canadian Pale Ale with a delicate citrus hop flavour and fruity aroma. It is refreshing, highly drinkable, and will leave a sparkle on your tongue.

Why did you get into the brewing industry and describe your passion for it.
My first degree was in chemical engineering. As a graduate, I did the usual rounds of interviews trying to find a suitable career and employer. I saw an ad in the local newspaper for a brewer and applied, knowing plenty about the product but nothing about how it was produced. At the end of the interview, I asked how the interview went. To my great surprise they said: “great, can you start Monday”.

After twelve months the company paid for me to attend the University of Birmingham Brewing School and one year later graduated with a M.Sc. in Brewing Science. I was on my way.

That was almost 40 years ago and I have no regrets. I have travelled extensively in that period and have brewed for breweries - both large and not so large- in the UK, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Canada.

What is the best aspect of working in the Canadian brewery industry?
All countries have their own brewing traditions, some ancient, some relatively modern. The biggest advantage in Canada is that there is relatively little government interference, at least on the production side of the business.

Where can someone find your products?
Great Western Brewing’s home province is Saskatchewan and we are a household name there, known for our Great Western Lager, Light, and Pilsner brands. Our Brewhouse brands are popular in Alberta and Manitoba. Our newest brew, Original 16, will be available right across Western Canada. You can find Original 16 in select privately-owned cold beer and wine retailers, and in select restaurants, pubs, and lounges.

Tell us something about Great Western that not a lot of people know about.
People do not realize that all the malted barley we use is grown and malted in Saskatchewan, and that the province’s barley is recognized as the best in the world. Beer is only as good as its raw ingredients. We have very limited malt storage on site at the brewery, but the finest prairie malt is just an hour’s drive away. Some might see our lack of onsite storage as a negative, but we look on it as a positive: it means we’re always brewing with the freshest malt in the industry.

What advantages do smaller breweries have over the big guys?
Smaller breweries have more agility in their decision-making and a much closer identification with the final product. Quality is where we are very competitive, and at Great Western Brewing, quality is job #1.

Best time for a pint?
Anytime, this is not just a breakfast beverage! My own preference is after work where a good beer can help me unwind after a tough day at the office.

What is the highlight of your brewing career? 
I have had many highlights in my career, but I must admit I do get a kick from winning beer awards. Over the past three-four years we have won 25 awards in international competitions. I was particularly pleased to win the World’s Best Standard Lager (Light Beer) in 2008 and 2009 at the World Beer Awards in London, and Gold in the Canadian Brewing Awards for Brewhouse Light in 2008 and 2010.

Cold clean lager, big hoppy pale ale, or a nicely roasted stout?
I much prefer draught to bottled or canned beer and have many favourites in all categories. It depends on my mood and where I am. I prefer to drink local beer because there’s every chance the beer will be fresh. What I look for in a beer is balance between body and hop flavour. Too often brewers brew to a given recipe rather than create a recipe to meet the final flavour intended for the finished product.

Name your favourite non Great Western produced beer.
I have many favourites from both large and small breweries. The list would be endless but I will name a few: Samuel Adams Boston Lager, Tetley Bitter and Tetley Imperial, Guinness, Bittburgher Pils, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Anchor Steam, and Newcastle Brown Ale.

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