By Jody MacPherson
Fort McMurray Express, May 21, 1986
Imagine a dozen beer for only $1.50. Imagine a wine made from ingredients that are all around you. Imagine having complete control over the taste and alcohol content. Imagine an unlimited shelf life.
Does that tantalize your tastebuds?
If it does, you should be talking to the Fort McMurray Brewmasters’ Guild. The local home brewing club has 26 active members, but the club secretary estimated there are about 200 occasional brewers in the city.
Terry Bunce says the club is really a social group and the drinking is just one of the by-products.
“Some new members come in with the intentions of brewing up something that will ‘knock your socks off,’ but that’s not the reason you brew — not to mix up a batch of rocket fuel,” he says.
Bunce says brewing your own beer and wine is fun, economical and very tastey (sic). By changing the recipe slightly, the taste and the alcohol content of the wine or beer can be altered.
“In the winter, I’ll mix up a beer with five or six per cent alcohol content, in the summer, I’ll brew something lighter at around two per cent alcohol,” he says.
By controlling the amount of hops that goes into the beer, Bunce says he can control the bitterness and aroma.
There is one catch. Most of the wine takes up to three months to ferment and the beer takes up to a month. Patience is one requirement for home brewers, at least until their first batch is ready.
“You can always be dipping into your first batch until your next one is ready,” Bunce says.
Bunce says his specialties are an English bitter ale, a barley wine and “mead,” a honey wine.
“Any fruit or vegetable can be fermented into wine,” he says.
At Christmas, Bunce made a wine from mandarin orange. Even dandelions and potatoes can be fermented into wine.
Most of the ingredients can be bought at the local grocery store.
To make things easier for local brewers, the Brewmasters’ Guild orders the ingredients in bulk and sells them to members at a reduced cost.
It costs $50 to become a lifetime guild member. An annual fee of $10 covers the postage and shipping costs.
The club holds meetings every three months to go over the books and to sample each other’s latest concoction. Bunce says their annual summer barbeque offers a chance for members to meet socially and compare recipes.
The guild also has a political function. They lobby for what Bunce calls “real ale in Alberta.”
“We want to see a change in the liquor laws to allow small breweries to supply the pubs in their area, instead of bringing in bland, commercial beers,” Bunce says.
The local club is helping get a group in Red Deer on its feet, he says. It is hoping to establish an Alberta Home Brewers Association, and hold brewing competitions.
“It would be the same as the old-fashioned small town fairs where pie-baking contests were held,” he says.
The club would need special permission to transport their beer to competitions. Bunce says the government has laws which forbid the transportation and selling the homemade spirits.
No license is needed to be a home brewer but there are limits on the amount of wine that can be produced. It can only be made for personal consumption.
The club will not tolerate “moonshiners,” says Bunce. Moonshining involves boiling the alcohol out of the beer or wine to produce a very high alcohol content. He says the law imposes stiff penalties on this and the guild’s charter absolutely forbids it.
Bunce says anyone can brew their own wine or beer. It does not take up a lot of space or require a lot of expensive equipment.
Provided the recipe is followed step by step, and everything is cleaned adequately, he says the results can be very satisfying.
Bunce says a friend made him some ‘stout,’ a thick, dark beer, which he still has after six years.
“It’s incredibly mellow and smooth, and it almost tastes like a liquor,” he says.
But if the equipment is not properly sterilized, the environment is ripe for bacteria.
“A few wild yeasts can turn a beautiful beer or wine into a batch of vinegar before you know it,” Bunce says.