Industry News

Beer & Wine The Perfect Pairing

The saying goes that it takes a lot of beer to make great wine. But one Niagara vintner is proving the opposite true.

Beer & Wine The Perfect Pairing

Ed Madronich, proprietor of Flat Rock Cellars in Jordan, is showing that it also takes top-notch tipple to turn out noteworthy suds.

He’s doing it with The Shawn & Ed Brewing Co., the 10-month-old brewery that he opened in an old Dundas curling and skating rink with university buddy Shawn Till.

The venture fulfils a nearly lifelong dream the two discovered they shared while shooting hoops for McMaster University’s basketball team some 25 years ago. And even though the beverage lineup at the brewery, known to locals as “the Shed,” is more hoppy than tannic, Niagara’s influence on this heady pursuit in a Hamilton suburb is undeniable.

“I believe there’s lots of synergies between the wine business and the beer business. I’m leveraging both for this to be successful.”

– Ed Madronich, owner, Flat Rock Cellars

Madronich flouts all those old wives’ tales about never mixing beer and wine with a lager-heavy roster that shows the two to be a perfect pairing.

Take the flagship Shawn & Ed brew, BarrelShed No. 1. This ruby-red beauty has sweet caramel notes and gets its body from aging in Flat Rock Cellars Pinot Noir barrels. Since batch No. 1, some of each BarrelShed brew has been set aside to use in the following ferment. The result is glorious — rich and layered.

“I believe over time, it adds complexity,” Madronich said about the BarrelShed’s secret ingredient. “It has the complexity of wine. BarrelShed is our globally unique beer. There’s nothing like it in the world.”

Niagara also showed up last summer in a vinous spin on the Radler, that German hybrid of grapefruit juice or sparkling lemonade and beer. Instead of using citrus, Madronich had brewmaster Rob Creighton add fresh-pressed Riesling from the Flat Rock vineyards.

Another seasonal brew contained cherry juice from Vineland’s Cherry Lane.

Niagara, in turn, is lapping it all up. Shawn & Ed brews are being poured at Bolete, The Angel Inn, and Jordan House among others.

Even the decision to focus on lagers, soon to be available in the LCBO, shows the kind of patience only honed in the wine industry. It takes nearly twice as along to ferment a perfect lager as it does an ale, Madronich explained.

Lager, like certain wines, is also less forgiving. Ale can also be dressed up with lots of hops, much like Chardonnay can be oaked to give it flavour. A lager’s flaws are impossible to hide, however.

“If it’s not crisp and clean, which is the definition of lager, you will know. It’s like Riesling. If it doesn’t taste good, you can’t hide it.”

-Ed Madronich

Putting all efforts into lager sets Shawn & Ed apart from most other craft breweries. While many small suds operations rush to join the hops arms race by churning out bitter IPAs that leave some of us feeling like we’ve been drop-kicked in the throat, Madronich takes his cues from the big boys and their populist brews.

The biggest selling brands at The Beer Store — Coors Light, Molson Canadian and Budweiser — are all lagers. So Madronich and crew, with their light, regular and dark editions, are making what people like to drink, only better.

“I’m a believer that whether it’s wine or beer, the cost of entry is the quality of product. I want you to buy Flat Rock Cellars wine because it’s the best wine in the world at that price point. I’m applying the same philosophy to beer.”

Given all those “synergies” between beer and wine, why not open in Niagara? After all, it’s home to a newly paved, official ale trail lined with nearly a dozen breweries stretching from Beamsville to Ridgeway.

It’s not that Madronich was opposed to brewing up a new business in thirsty tourist-rich Wine Country. The born and raised Hamiltonian wasn’t compelled by loyalty to his birthplace, either.

It all has to do with the Shed itself, that cavernous old curling and skating rink, which also served as a foundry when it was first built in the 1860s and, later, a bus maintenance shed and furniture manufacturer.

“It really tells the story of Canada through economic development and technology changes. It really is a piece of Canadiana. I love the story of the building. We wanted a cool home. The fact that it happened here was serendipity. Had this building fallen into our lap in St. Catharines, we would have opened there. I’d love to have a better explanation, but it’s all serendipity.”

-Ed Madronich

So does he have a preference between beer and wine, though? Like a good parent, he refuses to play favourites with his businesses.

“Everyone wants me to go, ‘I love beer more than I love wine.’ First thing, it takes a lot of good beer to make great wine. I love the alcohol beverage industry,” Madronich said. “That to me is what it’s about. It allows me to fulfill it in a different way. I love beer. I love wine. Being able to enjoy both is great. There’s no requirement to choose.”

By: Tiffany Mayer

Shared from: Eating Niagara

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