Michael Hancock’s got the cool brews
Locally produced beer is winning prizes and drinkers
British expat Michael Hancock says his degree in mechanical engineering has come in handy while working in the brewing industry.
“When you are in a small brewery environment, things are continuously going wrong that are associated with machinery,” he says. “Pumps, this, that, motors and so on, so it’s really good to have that background.”
For 14 years after Hancock and several partners launched Denison’s Brewing Company in 1989, it offered a variety of Bavarian style beers including Helles, Dunkel, Märzen, Bock and Maibock from their brewpub on Victoria Street in downtown Toronto, which closed in 2003.
“I wanted to keep the beers going but I obviously couldn’t keep it all going because we had about six or eight in our portfolio so I picked the two that I thought were the most important or unusual,” he says. “The dark lager and the wheat beer.”
Hancock says he’s keen on making beer that’s distinctive but approachable and the two varieties have been brewed under license at Cool Beer Brewing Company at Evans and Islington avenues since 2008.
“Even the dark lager people will say, ‘Gee, I didn’t think I liked dark lager until I tasted yours’ or ‘I didn’t think I liked beer period until I tasted your wheat beer’ and that’s really possibly the nicest thing,” he says.
Since it’s common in Germany for beer to be named after their style, he says he chose the name Weissbier, which is German for wheat beer and Dunkel, which means dark, for the Munich style dark lager.
“I make beer because I love making beer and I love drinking beer,” he says. “In particularly I love German styles of beer, which is good because that’s what I ended up doing.”
The Weissbier recently won gold and the people’s choice award in the category of German Style Wheat Beer at the 2012 Ontario Brewing Awards in May and has also been ranked one of the top three beers in the world in the category of German Hefeweizen on ratebeer.com for the last decade.
“The awards are fantastic and they’re really great and they’re even more significant when you’ve been around for awhile and there’s a lot of competition,” he says.
Hancock says a continuous reward is being able to drink the beer whenever a batch is finished and adds one of his many career highlights over the years was receiving an editor’s award from The Bay Towel magazine.
“It was like a general recognition award, which was really nice,” he says. “You could also look at it as a lifetime achievement, which means you are over the hill.”
In the coming months he hopes to increase his volume output and eventually plans on running his own brewery again with some partners.
Currently he says Denison’s Brewing Company beer can be found in 30 to 40 bars from Kingston to London, ON, and in cans in about 35 LCBOs.
“It’s the freedom to do what you want and it’s also the great feedback,” he says. “If you are one or two or a handful of five, the feedback seems to be much more personal than if you are in a large organization.”
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