Breakout Brewer: Blind Enthusiasm Brewing Co.

Spend just a little time in the rapidly growing beer scene in Alberta, Canada, and before long you’ll hear about Blind Enthusiasm Brewing Company with its state-of-the-art equipment, an intriguing backstory, and an eye toward food pairing. It’s actually two breweries. There’s the brewpub in Edmonton and an all-wood and wild facility a 10-minute walk away.

At the Alberta Beer Awards earlier this year, though some of the established brewers grumbled a bit, few were actually surprised when Blind Enthusiasm was named the best brewery of the year. It had been open eight months at that point.

“Well, it doesn’t reduce the pressure,” laughed brewery Founder Greg Zeschuck shortly after the win. “Competitions are tricky, but we’re grateful.”

It’s not a cliché to say it was a long and winding road that led to Zeschuck opening the brewery. He’s been a physician, founded and then sold a video-game company, hosted a beer-and-travel show, and even served as director of the province’s small brewers’ guild, helping shepherd in many of the law changes that have allowed for the current brewery growth.

Having spent time living in and traveling around the United States, Zeschuck was exposed to a variety of beer—notably, he’ll say, the offerings from Jester King Brewery (he called Austin, Texas, home for a time) served as an inspiration for where he is today.

The Brewpub

Located inside the Ritchie Market south of downtown Edmonton is the Blind Enthusiasm brewpub that is part of Biera, the restaurant. Here the kitchen and the brewpub with its 8-barrel brewhouse work together in what Zeschuck calls “casual fine dining.”

It’s got a European feel, with the menu leaning heavily on vegetables, from the cippolini onions served with hot raclette cheese and beer vinegar to the Belgian endive served with a pistachio crème and fermented honey. There’s meat, too, such as house-cured tongue pastrami and steak that is dry aged for upward of five months. It’s rustic and comforting while still coming across as cutting edge.

Because this city of one million residents has only a handful of breweries, it’s up to Blind Enthusiasm and others to not only serve beer but to also serve as educational centers. Thus, the restaurant, with an event space on the second floor, regularly hosts tasting classes, such as beer-and-cheese pairings, that help bring new drinkers into the fold and expand the notion of what beer and food can be together.

“We’re in a time capsule here,” Zeschuck says. “We’re playing catch up.”
The beers are made to pair with the food. Few are over 6 percent ABV, and all are what Zeschuck calls “style agnostic.”

He’s a BJCP-certified judge and knows his styles but thinks that things have gotten a bit ridiculous. So rather than try to wedge a beer into a style, he and the brewers work with flavor components and build beers from that.

He recounted a beer that started off with the brewers asking him whether he liked chocolaty, roast-forward beers. Yes, he replied, but with some stone-fruit flavors thrown in. The first batch didn’t have enough fruit, the second too much chocolate, and they kept working to get it just right—something that can be difficult when specific styles aren’t attached to the final product. All along, they were releasing the versions to the public, soliciting feedback, and looking toward improvement.

“Our customers, our regulars, get it,” Zeschuck says. The beers will have flavor descriptors on the menu such as “An unfiltered and robust wheat beer. Showcases strong banana aroma balanced by a unique noble dry-hop.” Others might call that a hefeweizen, but not here. The drinkers “get what they like, but when we sell our beer to outside accounts—a few kegs leave the brewery to a few places around the city—the first question we get is ‘what’s the style,’ and that can be tricky.”

Then, he has to explain the concept of “mishmash.” The beers are a blend of Old World and New World, blending American hops with varieties from Germany or France to draw out desired flavors depending on the kind of beer that’s been conjured up.

“We’re doing the opposite of what everyone else is doing. We don’t have a flagship. Nothing is permanent. We’ll have beers disappear from time to time.”

Not being in a box helps them push the envelope and helps both the chefs and the brewers come up with interesting pairings. It also gives them the ability to play with the changing seasons.

“We’re just starting our food-and-beer journey, so it’s exciting,” he says.

The Monolith

If you’re able to, when building a brewery, go big. In that sense, the sprawling concrete-encased warehouse down the road from the brewpub is correctly named. The Monolith, which will open later this year and feature a 17-barrel brewhouse along with a 2-barrel pilot system, will be home to Blind Enthusiasm’s spontaneous and wood-aged beers. The Monolith and the brewpub have separate head brewers (Doug Checknita and Rob Monk, respectively) with assistants dividing time between both.

Zeschuck sounds like a kid at Christmas when talking about the beers that will roll out of The Monolith down the line.

“We don’t want beers with super acidity, but we want complexity,” Zeschuck says. All fermentation will take place in wood, never steel. Again, they won’t follow styles, just ideas, and they’ll let the wild yeasts and assembled ingredients do their thing. “It’s Brettanomyces and everything under the sun.”

Despite The Monolith’s size, Zeschuck says the plan is to go only as large as 10-barrel casks for fermentation. “When you get too big a volume, it changes the beer and the aging techniques. At this size, we can control the beers the way we want—or as best we can.”

Because Alberta and Edmonton are still catching up with the growing beer industry, Zeschuck realizes that not every place in the immediate area will be ready for these kinds of beers. Rather than see them languishing on shelves of mom-and-pop shops where they won’t find an audience, Blind Enthusiasm plans to send these beers across Canada and the United States and even to Europe in 750 ml cork-and-cap packaging.

Looking Ahead

Zeschuck knows that there are a lot of eyes on his brewery, and everyone is curious to know where things will go. He gets asked whether they’ll be making hazy beers, “and I say no, but some of our beers are hazy.” They are aware of the gimmicks, the trends, and the fads, but they want to make sure that the beers they produce are ones they enjoy drinking, ones that are inspired by what’s around them and where they’ve visited, and to turn new minds and palates on to the possibilities of flavors.

Yes, there is enthusiasm, but there’s also reverence when it comes to what they do.
“Beer is an every-person drink,” Zeschuck says. “But it’s still special.”

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