Chatting with Zoei Thibault of Olds College Brewmaster and Brewery Operations Management Program
The Olds College Brewmaster and Brewery Operations Management program is one of the country’s leading programs of its kind and students come from all over Canada to study here. We chatted with Zoei Thibault, a 2nd year student to hear her thoughts on the brewing world.
By Shira Kogut on Feb. 06, 2017
How long have you been making beer and what got you into it?
I got into brewing when I lived in Victoria back in 2014. I was living with a friend of mine who is a very avid homebrewer and it’s really thanks to him that I got introduced to the craft beer world at all. I’d help him with some of his projects and he’d show me exciting new beer styles I had never tried before. After a while I started taking on projects of my own. I’ve been hooked ever since.
Besides your own beer, what are your favourite beers to drink?
My tastes change pretty frequently, depending on the weather, my mood, what’s been going on that day, etc… With that being said, there’s rarely a time when I’m not in the mood for an imperial stout.
What is your favourite beer style to make? Why?
It’s always a pleasure to make hoppy beers. The aroma that fills the brewery during the boil is delightful. It is certainly a nice bonus to the brew day.
What new brews are you working on?
I’m juggling a few new brews currently. The first is an old German style called a Kottbusser, it’s a collaborative brew between all of the women in the Brewmaster program at the college. Besides that, I’ve got a pale ale and a nut brown on the go and a long list of brews planned out for the future.
If you could collaborate with one brewery, who would it be and why?
That’s a really tough question. There are so many good ones popping up in Alberta right now. I’m a huge fan of the work coming out of places like Dandy and Bench Creek. The crew at Cold Garden is great and I think it would be fun to create something beautiful with them. Four Winds out of BC would be a really great brewery to work with too. On an international scale, I’d say Brouwerij De Molen is near the top of my wish list. They’re one of my all-time favourite breweries and it would be a real treat to have an opportunity to pick their brains and see how they operate.
Who are some of your industry role models?
In the local scene, I’d say Rob Walsh, Brewmaster at Brewsters, is definitely one of them. The man’s been in the industry for a while now and is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to brewing and the brewing industry. He’s so open to sharing what he knows with the rest of the community (none of this hiding-behind-closed-doors mumbo jumbo) and has been extremely influential in a lot of brewing students’ careers. How can you not feel inspired by that?
What beer creation of yours are you most proud of?
The creation I’m most proud of has got to be my Belgian Chocolate Stout*. It was the first beer I made when I started the program. I entered it in the Mountain View Homebrew Competition last year and it won gold in its category and bronze in best of show… Not bad for a new beer on a new system! I’ve received a lot great feedback and there are only a few minor adjustments that need to be made before it’s exactly where I’d like it to be.
* I’ve tried the beer and it is sensational!
What quality control measures do you have in place before the product goes out?
At the college brewery, we conduct a variety of tests. Obviously we do our daily duties, such as checking the gravity and pH, as well as sensory analysis. On top of that the students who are on quality for the week will conduct other tests such as forced VDK, IBU, SRM, turbidity, membrane filtration, etc.
Do you use online platforms for beer such as untapped, rate beer, Just Beer? If so what do you like about them? Dislike about them?
I have yet to test them out, although I’ve heard some pretty good things from friends and colleagues who use them.
What advice would you give to new brewers?
Don’t be disheartened by the mistakes you make. They are lessons that are meant to help you learn and grow.
If you were not brewing beer, what would you be doing?
Wasting away my days crafting uncontrollably, most likely. I’m a huge DIY person and love taking on new projects. If I wasn’t busy with all of this school and brewing, I’d probably be knitting nice socks and making furniture or something… and camping. Lots of camping.
What is a typical day for Zoei?
As of late? Wake up, make coffee, fire off some emails and work on assignments for school, eat breakfast, go to class, go to the gym, come home, eat dinner, work on some more projects, knit or read for a little while, and then off to bed. Then repeat that whole process over again the next day. Ah, to be a student!
What is your vision for the future of the Alberta Craft Beer Industry? Canadian Craft Beer Industry?
It’s no question that in the next few years, Alberta will be saturated with craft breweries. These new businesses will need to take a more unique approach if they want their products to stick out on the shelf. Not only that, but there will be a greater emphasis on the importance of quality assurance and quality control. I foresee a lot more start-ups containing labs and more rigorous testing regimes for all of their products.
The Beer Industry has been known as a men’s club, have you experienced any issues as a female brewer? If so, how did you deal with it. If not, tell me about some positive experiences.
I have never dealt with any major issues as a woman in Alberta’s brewing industry. On the contrary, the brewing industry has been incredibly welcoming to me, since I moved here in 2015. I believe it’s quite a large misconception that, because the brewing industry is predominantly populated by males, women struggle to find a place in it. Obviously I can’t speak for everyone, but I certainly don’t find myself missing out on any opportunities because my gender.
Do you see women playing a bigger role in the industry in the coming years?
Absolutely. It’s pretty plain to see right now that there’s more and more women getting into brewing. Projects like the Pink Boots Society’s Big Boots Brew that happens every year on International Women’s Day is a really great opportunity to meet females new to (or already established in) the industry and bond over a common interest.
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