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Niagara Falls
Wednesday, February 8, 2023
Opinion: Brewing up a new adventure in retirement

Dr. Wade Taylor Davis
Special to The Lake Report

Maybe you have thought about retiring for the last 10 years.

You are now approaching 65 years old and feel doomed to die in your chair. Should you push on until the end or consider other opportunities available for vibrant, elderly people?

Well, it actually took me 10 years to decide before I came up with my answer. It had to be something based on or related to science. It had to involve working for myself and it had to focus on education. I therefore thought about the idea of becoming a brewer or distiller, which I knew nothing about, at least that’s what I thought.

The first step in my journey was to find where to learn about my new, chosen profession. There are a few brewery schools internationally, but not much in the U.S. The closest one I found was in Canada and it happened to be the only two-year graduate level brewmaster program in the world.

This sounded like what I needed so in 2017 I rode my Harley to Ontario to visit Niagara College and talk to some professors and students. Their enthusiasm was infectious and convincing, so I decided to spend the next two years living in Canada pursuing my next great adventure.

So began my transition from retirement to student. I was completely confident that I belonged in the school, even though I was the oldest in the brewing program – and in the college.

I was accepted by both teachers and students as just another student. In my two-plus years, I was only approached by one random student who asked why someone my age would come back to college.

My standard response was, of course, that it was my next great adventure. No one else even seemed to notice me as someone different. I appreciated that, but it’s also how I assumed it would be.

My first day at the college was spent trying to find my way around and going to each class, meeting the professors and getting a synopsis of each course.

I had chemistry, microbiology, a brewing class, psychology, an ingredients class, computer applications class and more. This was only one of four semesters for the program. In addition, I had one eight-hour day each week working in the brewery. It was an intense program.

There were 18 students in my class and we were paired up when working in the brewery. Nearly everyone in the class had a previous university degree and my lab partner, another novice from Toronto, was no exception.

There were also three young female students who were very generous in helping others and telling the guys what to do. These young people were highly intelligent and motivated. To be with these amazing students was my greatest joy during those two years at the college.

Before starting brewing classes, I had absolutely no knowledge about beer other than I occasionally enjoyed a good brew. My introduction began on the first day, as my class was assigned to learn and work in the brewery.

There was a brief overview of the facility and, of course, meeting the brewmaster/professor Jon Downing (who informed me that I couldn’t wear my Crocs), brewery technician Brad Barta and head brewer George Eagleson.

There were dozens of 50-pound bags of various malted grains to see along with several varieties of hops, mostly grown at the school or from local farms. We started working with recipes created by Downing, weighing the right amount of malted grain and hops, then putting them into 50-litre tanks filled with the proper amount of hot water.

This is called the mash and was heated to a temperature designed to separate the carbohydrates from the grain. Eventually, this liquid was removed to be boiled, adding the hops, and moved into large fermenter tanks.

Yeast was added to convert the carbohydrates into alcohol and when the conversion was completed, the liquid was stored in a cold room until it was ready to be bottled or canned. That was day one and it should give you a good overview of craft brewing.

Of course, there’s more to the business of beer and the school has a large on-site store where the public can purchase our brews. It is very successful and an appreciated addition to the community that I now call home.

After I completed the brewing courses, I was enrolled in the distilling progam until COVID forced the school to close. 

Since I’ve been in both programs, interestingly there is little difference in how beer and spirits are produced. Whereas beer goes from the fermenter into storage, in distilling, the fermented liquid goes into a still where the resulting liquid boils off as pure alcohol, is captured and then stored. There are a few more steps, but you get the bigger picture.

After four years in Canada, I find retirement fulfilling and productive. I’m looking forward to my next great adventure. Any suggestions are appreciated.

Dr. Wade Taylor Davis had an active dental practice in Cincinnati for 48 years, including two years as a U.S. Navy dentist in Holy Loch, Scotland. After migrating to Canada he now lives in NOTL with his high school friend and retired Spanish professor, Dr. Mary Kilmer. Davis can be contacted at foxteeth@gmail.com.

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