By Sarah Blais
Special to The Record
With several new breweries and a taphouse opening in the past year, there’s no doubt craft beer is booming in the Comox Valley.
It seems fitting then that a group of local homebrewers has been making a splash of its own on the national homebrewing stage. The Lazo Barrel Collective is a collaborative brewing project founded by Alex Blais, Adam Crysler, Ryan Steffler and Chris Frederiksen. The group collaborates on recipe development and ferments its beers in oak barrels which previously held wine and bourbon to achieve complex, mixed fermentation sour beers.
Incorporating local ingredients whenever possible (one of the beers was aged on Blais’s homegrown quince), the group brews a wide variety of beers but has been gaining recognition in the industry by virtue of mixed fermentation, barrel-aged beers which have seen the Lazo Barrel Collective win medals in homebrewing competitions across the country.
The group’s successful year began at the BC homebrew competition, with a near clean sweep of the ‘Wild Ale’ category, winning both the gold and silver medals, as well as a gold medal in fruit beer for a sour aged on pineapple.
Silver and bronze medals followed at the Winnipeg Pro/AM Challenge (the only competition in Canada that pits amateur homebrewers against professional brewers). Building on that success, at the Saskatoon homebrew competition in November, the group’s latest barrel-aged golden sour took home a gold medal and then beat out over 300 entries from across the country to win Best in Show.
“We were pretty ecstatic when we got the news,” said says Blais. To close out the year, the collective took home another gold medal for sour beer at last month’s Toronto BrewSlam, the largest homebrew competition in the country.
But alas, the product is not for sale.
Blais, whose workshop doubles as their barrel-aging and bottling space, explains that as homebrewers they aren’t able to sell their beer but are always happy to share a bottle.
“We all love introducing friends to sour beer,” he said. “A lot of people have tried kettle sours but we find the mixed fermentation, barrel-aged beers we make have a lot more complexity. We like to describe the beers as being more of a cross between beer, cider, wine and kombucha – they’re pretty unique.”