Cool Jobs in Calgary: Big Rock Brewmaster

Big Rock Brewmaster

As the workday slowly clicks by, we dream about winning the lottery, or perhaps lounging on a tropical beach, stress-free, sipping on a cocktail with one of those funny little umbrellas.

And yet, for some of us, showing up to work isn’t that bad. In fact, you might even say it rocks. (Yes, it’s true: dream jobs do exist.)

Through his work with Big Rock Brewery,

Paul Gautreau, Big Rock Brewmaster
Paul Gautreau, Big Rock Brewmaster
has created beers including XO lager, Gopher lager and Lime Light lager

"I started at Big Rock in February 1986 on the end of the bottle line, stacking cases, and worked my way through all the different positions in the brewery. I was made brewmaster in March 2007.

I was in the navy, so I spent a lot of time overseas. I tried a lot of beers in Europe and I started to develop a palate and an understanding of what beer should taste like. I brought that home to Calgary and tried to reproduce those things in my basement. I turned into a bit of a beer geek at that time. I built my own machinery and brewing equipment and experimented with malts and hops and different ingredients.

That was in the mid-1980s and there weren’t a lot of craft breweries around. It was so exciting for me seeing Big Rock pop up right in the city I’m living in, while I’m trying to produce those same kinds of beers in my basement. So I came knocking on their door. I didn’t give them any choice; I just kept coming and coming. I was down there three times a week until they hired me.

To get my accreditation as a brewmaster, I did a two-year program with The Institute of Brewing and Distilling in London, England. Brewing is a science. There’s a lot of microbiology and chemistry — yeast metabolism, working with enzymes. To create a new beer, I’ll start off in a certain style. I’ll throw in my version of what the flavours might be, the alcohol, the hopping, the body. I’ll create that first in my mind, and then I do the calculations on things like colour, alcohol, CO2, flavour and bitterness. I work it out on paper to get a general look at it. Then I’ll do some tighter calculations to formulate it into an actual recipe. Then we’ll do some trials and do our "sensory analysis," because taste is the most-important analysis you can do on a beer.

I taste beer off and on throughout the day. In the mornings, I come in and taste the beers that are being produced and packaged that day and I keep up to date with the condition of the product all the way through. There’s a tasting panel that’s held every day at 11 o’clock. If we’re creating something new, everybody’s involved. We’ll put it on tap and the boys from the brewery, people in marketing and sales, they’re all free to try it.

XO lager has my stamp on it. I also created Winter Spice ale, Gopher lager and Lime Light lager. We have an innovation brewery on site where we’re producing funky craft beers and I’ve created quite a few of those: Dunkelweizen, Scottish Heavy ale, a smoked Rauschbier, fruit beer.

I have to pinch myself sometimes. I just wanted to do this because I loved it. I never thought I’d become the brewmaster. I enjoy being here. I enjoy the people. I’m proud of the product we put out, I’m proud of the company. What else could a person want?"

As told to Shelley Arnusch
Photography by Jared Sych