Straight to the Pint: Steel Toad brewer Chris Charron

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      Straight to the Pint taps those on the frontlines of our booming local craft-beer industry for stories about biggest brewing successes, dream vacation spots, and which brand was always in the family fridge.

      Who are you

      I’m Chris Charron. I’m the head (and often only) brewer at Steel Toad.

      Your dad’s favourite beer

      My dad has always been a beer elitist. Nobody is drinking the correct beer unless it’s what he likes, and what he likes changes every few years, causing a lot of grief for his friends and family, who have to endure his rants about how whatever it is they’re drinking isn’t up to par. When I was little, I don’t remember anything but Coors Light in the fridge. At some point, around the age it was deemed acceptable for kids to pour beers for their parents, he moved on to become a loyal Stella drinker for a decade or so. For the past few years, he drinks nothing but IPAs. My poor granddad finally made the jump from Coors Light to Stella a few years ago; he was so proud of himself, and now he receives endless grief from my father about drinking “garbage beer from an evil multinational”.

      First go-to brand

      I learned pretty quickly that vodka and orange juice wasn’t the optimal way to have a good time, and that maybe there was something to all this beer stuff that kept showing up on TV. Everything I tried tasted just as bad as the vodka and orange juice, so I ended up gravitating towards the higher ABV [alcohol-by-volume] brands that were readily available to me, so that I had to drink less of it to get a buzz going. I ended up a pretty loyal Unibroue customer, usually bringing two or three 750-millilitre bottles of La Fin du Monde along to any gathering or party I decided wouldn’t be pleasant unless I was drinking. Gradually, I came to not mind the taste, then moved on to actually enjoying it after a year or so. Unfortunately, I now can’t take even a slight whiff of anything that has been brewed with Unibroue’s distinctive yeast strain without my gag reflex remembering being 18 years old. Yuck.

      Life-changing beer

      While doing the “zip around Belgium in a week trying all the famous beers” thing, we stopped in to a little restaurant right beside the place we were staying in Saint-Gilles, in southern Brussels (the cool part!). I had mussels, fries, and a few pints of Zinnebir from Brasserie de la Senne. It was just perfect. Now, I had tried this beer before, but it was always in the context of spending $12 on a bottle to split between friends and to sit around asking each other how it made us feel and whatnot. This pint really drove home how important the context of how I drink beers is to how I feel about them. For me, something can be underwhelming in a four-ounce taster and absolutely fantastic by the pint (or two). I brew beers that for the most part taste good to me by the pint.

      Dream destination

      I don’t know much of anything about the drinking cultures of central Europe. I’ve spent tons of time in England, Belgium, and France and admire many parts of the drinking cultures in those places. I’d really love to have a trusted friend from the area bring me around Germany and the Czech Republic, showing me how everything works in the Kölschkneipen of Cologne and the beer halls of Munich, Prague, and so on. (I know so little about these places, I don’t even know what the beer halls of Munich or Prague are called.)

      First beer brewed

      My first homebrew was supposed to be a dead-simple pale ale, the recipe taken from the opening pages of Randy Mosher’s fantastic Radical Brewing. However, at the homebrew shop, I was convinced by Stéphane (Montreal’s equivalent to Dan Small) that there was little point in brewing “shitty little beers with no body” for my first time, as I maybe wouldn’t enjoy the end result and be put off from brewing forever. I went home with the ingredients for an imperial stout. It was better than the dead simple pale ale I brewed for the second batch.

      Crowning achievement

      My first-ever job in the brewing industry was packaging manager for a small startup brewery in Ontario. On Day 1 I was shown a rusty and dusty old bundle of steel and tubes that had been bought used after three other breweries had run it into the ground. This was a very early version of the now ubiquitous Meheen bottling machine, and as of 2010 it had filled the most bottles of any Meheen unit out there as far as the manufacturer was aware. Watching the first cases of bottles coming out of that thing after six weeks of rebuilding it countless times felt pretty great. I’m trying to think of a reason to use the phrase “It was my crowning achievement,” because it would be a great pun. (Because putting a top on a bottle is called crowning, you see.)

      I’d love to have a beer with

      Cris Ohama or Ben Cobbledick at UnTapped beer importers; Adam Chatburn at RealCask/Callister; the people who run Crannog (I don’t actually know them, sorry).

      Amanda Siebert
      Follow Brian Lynch on Twitter @BrianLynchBooks.