Meet Erica Graholm, brewer with Toronto's Steam Whistle Brewing Company.
Graholm, like many others working in the brewing industry, has an interesting story about how she came to be a brewer. From leaving University early, to working in a brew-your-own shop, to VLB Berlin; Graholm has travelled in interesting path to her current position with Steam Whistle.
She is also part of the Toronto Chapter of Barley's Angels where she is part of a team working together to get more females enjoying beer!
For those that don't know, where is the Steam Whistle Brewery situated?
We are located in The Roundhouse on Bremner Blvd across the street from the CN tower in downtown Toronto.
Can you give us a brief history lesson about the brewery, and the pilsner.
Steam Whistle opened its doors in 2000 when 3 former Upper Canada Brewing employees had a vision of starting their own brewery that would produce Canada's Premium Pilsner. The pilsner recipe was crafted according to traditional brewing methods and using only 4 natural ingredients, adhering to the Bavarian Purity Law. We launched the pilsner in our signature green glass bottle, modelled after the industry standard bottle of the 1950s. In 2007, we expanded from 11 to 14 bays in the St. John Roundhouse, increasing capacity by about 30%. A new 75hL energy-saving brewhouse was installed in 2008. Later in 2008 came our 500mL cans, and then last year we added our 355mL can to the lineup. This year we plan to hit 60,000 hL.
Where can someone find the Pilsner?
At LCBOs, Beer Stores, bars and restaurants across Ontario, BC, and Alberta, as well as select locations in Saskatchewan.
What's new at the brewery?
Our new 6-pack can carrier was launched into Alberta and Ontario in the last few weeks. Also, Steam Whistle is hosting its own Oktoberfest here at the brewery inspired by a staff trip to Europe last year. Seventeen employees who had worked here for more than 5 years went to Munich’s Oktoberfest and then visited around Pilsen & Prague touring 5 different historic and modern breweries. Our Oktoberfest happens Saturday September 17th from 3-11pm in our beer hall. (During Toronto Beer Week)
Why did you get into the brewing industry and where did your passion for it come from?
I left university after my first year, feeling pretty directionless, and started homebrewing as a hobby (to save money!). The more I learned about beer styles and flavours, the more I loved it. My hobby led me to eventually take a job at a brew-on-premise shop, where I would help customers craft their own batches. I didn't think at that time I would embark on a career in brewing, but over the next few years my passion grew. My friends were all graduating from university and getting into the rat race, and I realised how lucky I was to have found something that made me truly happy. Why not go for it?
Have you brewed at any other breweries in Ontario?
Yes, the first brewery I worked at was Magnotta Brewery in Vaughan. There I learned the basics of brewing in a production facility, and I was instantly hooked. Deciding it was time to further my education, I enrolled in the Certified Brewmaster program at the VLB Institute in Berlin, where I spent 6 months. When I came back to Ontario I joined Amsterdam Brewing, and I enjoyed the challenging work of brewing in such a fast-paced and dynamic environment. At the beginning of last year, an opportunity presented itself to join the team at Steam Whistle, and I jumped at the chance.
What is the best aspect of working in the Canadian craft brewing industry?
The people, definitely. The community is really welcoming of anyone who shows a true passion for the craft, regardless of your background, age, or maybe in my case, gender. It's a growing industry filled with people who love their jobs, which I think is pretty rare and wonderful.
What kind of reaction do you get when you first tell people that your a brewer?
People are often surprised, and interested to know what a brewer actually does. If they ask "how is beer made?" I say "how much time do you have?"
You're part of Barley's Angels in Toronto. Can you tell us a little about it?
Barley's Angels is an international network of women-only beer education clubs, an offshoot of the US-based Pink Boots Society. Their goal is to involve more women in the enjoyment of craft beer through various educational seminars, tutored tastings, brewery tours, etc. The Toronto chapter, headed by beer specialist extraordinaire Mirella Amato, launched this year with talks from 4 local brewsters, of whom I was one. We also did a women-only tour of Steam Whistle a few months ago which was a lot of fun. I really enjoy talking about brewing and beer with the women I've met through Barley's Angels, and I think the BA events will help to grow this largely under-recognized demographic.
Tell us something about Steam Whistle that not a lot of people know about.
Steam Whistle uses a decoction mash, a process in which part of the mash is removed, boiled in a separate vessel, and then mixed back in to raise the temperature. This process allows for a more complete starch conversion and ultimately enhances the malt profile in the beer.
To date, what would you say is the highlight of your brewing career?
My 6 months studying at VLB in Berlin. Being taught by top experts in the field, being on-site at a world renowned research institute, attending brewing conferences, and visiting breweries and malteries all over Germany. It was an amazing experience.
Name your favourite non Steam Whistle produced beer.
Best time for a pint?
On a nice patio, in good company.