Brew & A: Bryan "m00ps" Canavan

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Brewing is a miracle of nature, a triumph of the human condition. Our world is one of exploration and communication, with emphasis paid to the victories of our species.
Grain, water, yeast, beer. Through trial and error we have found a way to harness the power of nature and force it to bend to our will allowing us infinite ability to explore the world before us.
To be human is a powerful thing. So powerful in fact that we have taken this concept and applied it to our lives in scales never imagined by those that came before us. Just like brewing, medicine has evolved as we sought to answer the questions that compel us all. Why are we here? How do we make it better? How do I live through the ages?
Although I won't pretend to know the answers to those questions, I will offer the following. Bryan "m00ps" Canavan wasn't supposed to walk again. He wasn't supposed to come out of the coma he was in. He wasn't supposed to brew again, yet today he joins us for Brew & A, and allows us a moment of introspection into what it is to be human, and at the end of the day what really matters. Although our lives are unique, although we all struggle through this thing called life, we brewers worship at an altar immutable through time, and through this we find our commonality. Through this we find our humanity.

Austin: How did you start brewing?
Bryan: I had a friend in college that started brewing. During the last trip I made to visit him, I got to go through the whole brew session (all-grain) with him. I was immediately hooked. I just needed to wait until after I graduated from college to start since I moved 6 or 7 times during my undergraduate career since I had 3 internships. During my last semester, I needed enough credit hours to be a full-time student and I stumbled on a class about brewing beer. It was on Friday afternoons and we basically were allowed to drink beer in class.
Austin: What's your favorite beer?
Bryan: Tough one. I know my favorite style by far is saison. Right now, I'm really enjoying this beer from Off Color Brewing in Chicago called Apex Predator. Its a 6.5% saison made with just pils, flaked wheat, and honey malt. I love the crudely drawn art of a lion with an x-ray on its stomach showing a tiny mouse inside drinking a beer. On the label they also list "Secret Techniques: Free-Rise Fermentation, Prey Selection." It's just such a great example of a saison. Bone-dry, but with a soft mouthfeel, peppery yeast character, and a surprising bubblegum/clove thing going on.
Austin: What do you like about saisons?
Bryan: I think it's a number of things. Belgian beers are by far my favorite broad style. I love their yeast-driven profiles and their complexity. I like saisons in particular because they are so crisp and refreshing. I wouldn't really feel like having another pint of a Belgian Strong Ale right after finishing, but I can't get enough of that zippy saison yeast character. Saisons also give you so much room for interpretation. You can have hop-forward saisons, spiced saisons, malty saisons, etc. I also feel like they are one of the more "extreme" beers you can brew in terms of techniques. What other style could you mash in the mid 140s, toss in various wild yeasts, and ferment so warm that it's higher than your own body temperature?

Austin: What's one piece if your brew setup you can't live without?
Bryan: Up until about a week ago, I'd probably say my stove. I do 5 gallon batches on my old gas-fired stove. It's barely able to get the 6-7 gallons of wort to a boil. If it couldn't, I'd be outside and have to completely change my whole process. I just bought a condo and moved over last weekend. My new place has an electric stove which I know is never going to be able to pull that off. So... good excuse to upgrade my system.
Austin: What are you going to get?
Bryan: After researching around here, I decided on an electric BIAB Brew Boss system. It looked like exactly what I needed to suit my brewing process. I got a deluxe version that has its own mesh recirculation container which eliminates the need for a grain bag. It came with all camlock fittings and a stainless Chugger pump which I am absolutely loving after a hundred batches of relying on gravity. I also decided to splurge on a plate chiller and whirlpool device which have both definitely been worth it so far.
Austin: What's the worst product you've ever used?
Bryan: There really aren't too many bad brewing products I've personally come across. I never tried out kits, so I thankfully avoided those awful misinformed instructions that I hear usually come with them. The only useless piece of equipment I can think of was the little bazooka screen I bought with my kettle. The wire mesh was just too coarse to filter out anything I intended it to. I probably should've realized it would've been useless with my setup since the mesh on my grain bag was finer than the bazooka screen. Of course anything that makes it through the bag is going right through that screen.

Austin: Why do you homebrew?
Bryan: I guess cause it makes me happy. Everyone needs some hobby or fixation to look forward to and brewing beer gives me a lot of that. I look forward and enjoy basically every part of it aside from cleaning up. The first time the prospect of brewing came across my mind was eating a malted milk ball one day while drinking some random beer. I had seen peanut butter, crme brle, and bacon beers floating around. Is there a malted milk ball beer being made by some brewery somewhere? Well from looking around a few years ago, it didn't look like there was. Maybe I should make one...
Austin: Why haven't you?
Bryan: Haha, I did... three times. I waited until I got around 10 batches under my belt so I would feel confident in building the base recipe and had sound brewing techniques before trying out the beer that made me start brewing. I ended up using cocoa powder for the chocolate and 3 whole containers of Carnation malted milk powder for the malt ball character. Later versions used some lactose, vanilla beans and cacao nibs to round out the whole flavor better.
Austin: What's your homebrewing style - extract, partial mash, all-grain, BIAB, or ?
Bryan: I do all-grain BIAB in 5 gallon batches. I jumped straight into designing my own all-grain recipes. Definitely a steep learning curve, but it just made that first good beer I made that much more gratifying to sip. I figure I probably had a bit more background knowledge than most new brewers though. I like the level of control that all-grain gives you. Plus, you can't beat that smell of mashing in. I'm a huge fan of cooking too, and I take a similar approach to that as I do with brewing. I don't feel like I really made a meal myself if I'm mixing a bunch of Hamburger Helper packages together on the stove.
Austin: Any tips for beginners looking to start AG?
Bryan: First, I'd say I understand that it can be daunting making the jump, but it's definitely worth it. You have much more control over the whole mashing process and a greater variety of malts at your disposal. Plus, it just smells amazing when you mash-in.
For advice, I say pay close attention to your mash temp. When I first started, I didn't think much of maintaining a certain mash temp. I figured 154F vs 150F - what's 4 measly degrees going to change? Turns out it changes a lot.

Austin: Tell us about one of your most memorable homebrewing experiences.
Bryan: I've got two. The first one was at a wedding for a friend that I actually met through my brewing. There are a number of festivals in my town that take place downtown right where I live. I usually like to use the opportunity to get some feedback on my beer. I was doing a small tasting with a few people when one of the guys tells me he's getting married in 2 months and asked if I'd be interested in catering his wedding. Cut to me scrambling to get six batches brewed in time for the wedding. I remember in my haste that I accidentally switched the hop bills of the Pale Ale and the Hefeweizen I was making and immediately panicked. Anyway, it was all worth it to see a room full of 200 people s***faced on my own beer. At the time, I didn't know that there would only be my beer and home-made sangria available.
The other experience starts with me waking up in a hospital bed. I slowly learned that I had been in a car accident about a week ago on the way to work one morning and was taken via helicopter to a trauma unit in the next state over. Once I got to see my family, the first thing on my mind was what happened to the five 5 gallon batches I had fermenting at home. I didn't want to hear about why I had tubes coming out of my lungs or why I wasn't going to be standing anytime in the near future. It turns out they all got dumped by my friends as they were cleaning out my place for me. I partially blame myself for not educating them enough about brewing. They figured the batches were liable to explode. It was pretty sad, especially the loss of a Brett-spiked saison that was going on 4 months, but at least all my yeasts were safe in my fridge.

Austin: Why would they dump it? Did they throw out everything your fridge too? Did you demand an explanation?
Bryan: Haha yeah, even sedated as I was, I managed to freak out pretty bad in the hospital trying to figure out what was saved. I don't really blame my friends. None of them brew, and they've only seen me do it a few times. I tell them tidbits about each step of the process and I guess they weren't too educated on fermentation. They were worried that the pressure in the fermentors would build until they exploded, so all my batches got dumped before I even woke up. They were just trying to help out. But then when I heard that they emptied my fridge of all perishable items I got seriously worried about my yeast collection. My entire vegetable drawer is filled with 20 or so different yeasts that I harvest. Some of them are farmhouse blends that I wouldn't be able to reproduce too easily. Luckily, all of my yeast jars were still there. They said my hops looked rotten so they tossed them. I don't keep hops in my fridge....turns out they thought my Balsamic Stout glazed Brussels sprouts were giant hops.
Austin: Do you remember anything from being in the coma? It seems oddly specific that you came-to questioning about your brew.
Bryan: Not really, I only have hazy, short, dreamlike flashes of someone being at my bedside, or of the nurse slapping my hand away as I tried to pull the breathing tube out of my throat. Apparently they took me off the paralytic meds to get me to wiggle my toes or give a thumbs up to make sure my mind was still alright.

I think my homebrewing came to mind because the last thing I really remember was kegging a DIPA the night before along with some whole cone citra hops. None of my kegs got touched, so looks like I kegged that one just in time. Side note: a 4-month dry hop in the keg makes for a spectacular IPA.
Austin: Describe the perfect beer - style, aroma, flavor, etc.
Bryan: Definitely a saison. My favorites are typically 6-8% ABV, highly carbed, super dry, and driven by yeast character. I've found that saison yeasts can vary from more peppery and earthy to more fruity depending on strain and fermentation temperature. I usually like them a bit more fruity to go with the hops I use. I love a bit of funk in the nose, but not as much in the actual taste. I'm obsessed with making the perfect one for my tastes. I've got 8 different saison yeasts or blends taking up space in my fridge's vegetable drawer. Right now, I've got a favorite blend picked out and I'm experimenting with adding some Brett to the mix.
Austin: How many saisons have you made in total?
Bryan: Looking back at my brewing logs, it looks like 16 so far. I've made all sorts of types of saisons, from a simple Pilsner SMaSH to Black Saisons, Brett Saisons, and even a Cucumber Mint Saison at the request of a family member.
Austin: What's your dream brew rig, and how would you assemble it?
Bryan: I actually just sort of purchased what would've been my dream brew rig a week ago. I decided to give myself a present after my hiatus from brewing and got a deluxe Brew Boss E-BIAB system. I just got it assembled the other night after a few hiccups with some missing parts. All the connections are cam-lock, which I am loving after dealing with barbs for so long. I knew I wanted a pre-configured system as opposed to getting a switchboard and wiring everything myself. My days of toiling with circuits in EE are too far gone.

Austin: What is the one piece of advice you wish someone would've given you when you first started?

Bryan
: I would have to say that fermentation temperature control is much, much more important than a new brewer realizes. It can make or break the beer, regardless of how good your brewing process was beforehand. Looking back, I realize that nearly all the new equipment I've acquired is all "cold-side." Over the past 2 years I've gotten a chest freezer and STC-1000 for a fermentation chamber, a rope tub and aquarium heater setup for saisons, a brew belt, a kegerator, and even a thermal map of sorts of my home to find the best place to put fermenters. On the other hand, I got my 9 gallon kettle for BIAB with an immersion chiller when I first started brewing and didn't purchase anything else until I finally upgraded to the Brew Boss system.
***
Accidents happen everyday. Life throws the unexpected at us and we are left to make the best of what we're left with. Good, and bad are just words that identify our temporary understanding of the situation.
Bryan's story is unique. Although a terrible thing happened to him we can all look for inspiration. In his recovery, in his brewing, and in his ability to keep moving forward. Bryan's tragedy becomes our inspiration, so today we raise a grateful glass to the latest brewer to sit down for Brew & A, Bryan "m00ps" Canavan.
Salud!
Austin

 
I've had a couple of questions now that maybe I should clear up. Bryan can walk. He made a total recovery. It was touch and go, and for anyone that's ever had to live through something terrible like this or watch someone that has that's a glorious thing to be able to say.
 
The lesson here is to teach everyone you know about brewing and fermenting so something like this never happens to anyone ever again ;)
Congrats on the recovery m00ps. If you're ever in town I'll buy you a beer.
 
Inspirational stuff, never made a saison ;). Thanks for putting this together Austin. Thanks for doing the interviw Bryan. Great job. Glad to hear your making a full recovery.
 
Good stuff. Glad to see you're making a recovery. I remember reading one of your posts a while back about a 4-month dry hopped IPA, but you never mentioned the reason for such a long dry hop.. Now I have that answer.
 
Thanks everyone! In case anyone's interested, a cute girl at this local radio station ran a story about me recently after running into me. I was passing out beer, of course.
http://wkms.org/post/paducah-homebrewer-awakes-coma-only-worry-about-his-beer
Now that I'm getting my reserves built back I'm thinking about looking into swapping with people...
 
That's one heck of a story! Good to hear you fought your way through it. My wife was in a bad shunt several years ago, & had to fight her way back to walking again, let alone internal injuries. So I can understand your struggle. Saisons are a good brew to experiment with. Gotta brew some more myself. Maybe we could swap some beers sometime?
 
@m00ps
I have had a fear of the same thing happening to me...
I dug up this old post to prove it!
https://www.homebrewtalk.com/showpost.php?p=3547857&postcount=176
 
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