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“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”
Benjamin Franklin

Headache or Handshake?

After initial light contact with Jeff Chcoski Owner & Brew Master at Niagara Brew Club, he tentatively agreed to give me a guided tour of the business.

When I first asked him he looked at me like I’d just invited him to go to the dentist.

First impressions are important.

In hindsight I was lucky, it never occurred to me that he may not want me poking about in his place asking questions.

Maybe I should have asked for an introduction first.

Back Story

Jeff has been in business for over twenty years and developed long-term relationships with clients.

What have I brought to the table in terms of value?


To get beyond any initial wariness I simply relied on honesty and transparency. In my opinion, this strategy goes a long way in the learning process, however, this approach has its limits and could fail despite the good intentions.

If the gatekeepers of the information you want to learn don’t trust you – forget it!  You must provide or find an incentive for them to do business with you.

Are you are looking for an ongoing relationship or a tumultuous one night stand?

Read on.

Insert Foot In Door – Not In Mouth

When it comes to learning, I’ve honed my craft to razor sharpness.

Long ago I got over the fear of asking questions and got over the hump of feeling guilty for wasting a teacher’s time.

Others can and will benefit from you asking intelligent and considered questions but you should expect to give something in return for this privilege.

It’s hard to learn without some planned participation.

The Best Course In Town

I once took a tour of Niagara College Brewery.  After many FREE beer samples, a friend and I went in with a guide and looked around at all the stainless steel goodies.

Another anonymous homebrewer tagged along for the ride.

Normally I have found tours hit or miss, and often you are at the mercy of the guide, especially one falling into the category of a sales representative with all the canned answers.

Fortunately, the guide was a “down-in-the-trenches” beer student and he had no qualms about getting his hands dirty with letting us know how it works.

I love students of the brewing process.

Liberated, I felt comfortable asking every conceivable question, which, in turn led us to the darkest bowels of brew heaven. It’s a philosophy of learning out loud.


“Coles Notes” of The Experience:

1. Learning is always better with free beer.
2. Niagara College hosts up-and-coming micro brewery startups in the form of contract brewing (more on this later).
3. Students learn on pilot systems, and then move up to larger brew pub sized units. Initial idea that led to blog.
4. Grain storage is dangerous and explosive.
5. How Keg’s are properly washed. An ongoing concern for the home brewer.
6. The guy in the back spent thousands and had not brewed a batch.  Lesson learned? Take an idea and get it done!

“Lug Tread” Your Idea

So how do you gain traction on ideas?

If the goal is how to brew your first batch of beer, for the love of all that is hoppy, get off your duff, and take take a trip across town to find a BREW-YOUR-OWN-BEER club.

It’ll only cost you around $60 Canadian dollars, approximately $400 USD. This is the first step. Getting the head brewer to let you peek at his system is a wee bit trickier.

Just get out of the house and cross that off the list. In other

In other words, you may need a plan to sneak away from the family for an hour or so. Maybe take an extended diaper or milk run?

No matter how you frame it, be creative.

Is Beer Culture Family Friendly?

Lets switch gears for a moment after you’ve escaped the house on your “diaper” fun.

A question I asked myself a year ago almost made me stop brewing. It revolved around the touchy elephant in the room which is how does alcohol production sit well within a family?

Would I recommend brewing as a trade to my sons with its potential inherent tasting problems? There are many pitfalls here that need to be touched on in later posts, but for the moment, let’s just take an honest look without any negative judgment of the temperance movement.

If I am going to be spending valuable time away from my family is this hobby noteworthy?

Time is valuable and that’s what I appreciated most when Jeff took time out of his day to give me a guided tour of his shop & business.

The Bag Inside The Primary

Back at my original tour, Jeff and I discussed who we knew, kids, being a dad and running a business.

He had figured out these life balances and his experience shone. It had taken over twenty years to put together an attractive place where folks of all ages could gather and experience the brewing process for the first or 10th time.

After 10 AM customers began to arrive with different requests and I immediately noticed the rapport he had with them. It was easy to see that his customers were first, and I knew that the question of how I would fit into that schedule of service was crucial.

He probably was wondering what did I want to gain from this exchange? He did indicate that these were thoughts bouncing around his brain.


A Balanced Approach

Without going into too much detail Jeff took the business over from the former owner – a mutual acquaintance from the St. Catharines Golf and Country club.

Co-incidentally the club member showed up shortly after this conversation and was the catalyst in establishing the missing element to our unfolding conversation.

In a twist of fate, I had been instantly vetted!

Cheers to the muse!

When the dust settled I didn’t get to see a complete brew, however, the important steps were made to allow for continued access to the facility.

Hopefully, he will allow me to continue to learn and in-turn-write about the process.  The next step will be to raise $60 for a brew of my own.

As a customer, I can be a little more demanding.

What Can I Take Away?

This man has a grounding connection to his family, and this fact shone as a highlighted gold nugget in the wealth of of his 20 year brewing career. His setup was clean, well organized, and efficient.

What’s the conclusion?

This is a place I could comfortably bring my family, and at the same time allow me to escape for a mini vacation hobby time. All in all a great future home of Westhill Brouwhuis!



    • Barley Nectar Barley Nectar

      Thanks for reading Matt! Cheers!

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