WILK Arctic Ale

Posted in Uncategorized on February 1, 2012 by arcticalchemy

New song written by Linda Bootherstone Bick

Posted in Uncategorized on September 21, 2010 by arcticalchemy

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Day 16 We need more beer !

Posted in Uncategorized on August 22, 2010 by arcticalchemy

Cruising down the James Bay road southbound was like taking a victory lap after a big race, the weather was improving and getting slightly warmer with each mile. The sights of the road are still fresh in the mind and we often reflect on the strange landscape ( Lance’s reflection was the best) , “it’s as if Dr. Seuss drew the trees and rocks here”. We entered an area where there was obviously a major wildfire , literally thousands of acres had burned and even the posts of the guardrails were toasted. A few of us had seen a “black wolf” cross the road , racing to get out of our way, and much too quickly to snap a picture. I didn’t know there was such a thing, and thought to myself this wolf must fit into the freshly burned forest nicely and if it hadn’t crossed the road, we surely wouldn’t have seen it.

My original plan for the trip was to have two brewing days at the final destination, but because of the most difficult weather and having to wait it out, we all agreed this was simply not in the cards. Yet my mind was not at ease with coming home with only one batch of beer, I had committed to many generous sponsor’s and friends that I would have bottles of this Arctic Ale for them and stumbled over the gallons per bottle equation quietly under my helmet. As we refueled at the only gas station at the mid-point on the James Bay road, a thought and idea came to mind. If we were to stop and camp at the Ruppert River , I could gather more water and possibly brew another batch of beer to fulfill my quest to return with two batches of beer, unfortunately I kept this idea to myself as the team blew past the mighty Ruppert two hours later.

We pulled into a nice campground wih a beautiful lake on the southern end of the James Bay road. Everyone was exhausted from the long trip once again. I was exhausted and was first to crash, fully clothed in my motorcycle suit, boots still on. I spent almost the whole trip sleeping inside my brewery trailer, is this odd? not for someone who dreams of beer and adventures…..my poor wife Leslie.

Early to bed, early to rise, the nagging feeling took hold as I woke. I was disappointed that we didn’t stop at Ruppert and quickly acted on my thought. As quietly as possible in the early morning light, un-hitching the trailer and jumping in the Land Rover while everyone was sleeping. I was going back to the mighty river alone. I have brought empty water bottles and coolers to fill once again, determined to make good on my promises and after coming all this way, this was my chance. I had forgot how far past the Ruppert we had come, and realized that I was putting us in jeopardy of gas for getting back to the station, on this long road, gas is critical, but I didn’t seem to care. So with Ruppert water in hand we packed up and set our sights for more miles down the James Bay road. On our trip north we found a great campsite called Lac Villebon and the scenery and setting was fantastic. This would be where we could brew our second batch of Arctic Ale.

Comic relief on the road, who are these people?

Posted in Uncategorized on August 17, 2010 by arcticalchemy

Day 15 Radisson Quebec, drying out

Posted in Uncategorized on August 15, 2010 by arcticalchemy

After a long day of difficult brewing and freezing hands in the middle of August, we set our sights on leaving the shoreline and heading back down the long road to Radisson.

It remains a bittersweet memory of the place I had dreamed about for so long, such a beatutiful place to see and if the weather was better?….well , but a small part of me enjoyed experiencing the rough climate and I think it was in that element that made us appreicate the spirit and the realization of why this was a magical ale for the sailors of 1852.

John and I had one last look at the endless sea and felt moved once again by this majestic landscape and extenstion of the arctic ocean.

The road out of this place is loose gravel and fairly difficult to navigate on a motorbike, especially the deep pockets of sand and loose stones. If you have ever ridden a ladened bike over 500 pounds, the wobble of the front tire and an almost constant feeling of slipping is close at hand, it takes your full attention and nerve to keep up pace, add to that the 3 1/2 days of rain-soaked ground…fun !

My mind was full of reflection on what we had endured and what we had done, the realization of the mission. I had wondered if I would ever see this place again and felt humbled by the whole experience.

As we pulled back into Radisson, the only small town within hundreds of miles except for the Cree village of Chisacibi the team was exhausted and most everything we had was rain soaked. Rather than setting up at the campground , we opted for a warm and dry hotel room. At dinner later that night we discussed our plans for the next few days and realized that distance we had to travel before reaching home.
The Le Grand river at LG-1 crossing

Pictures from the road

Posted in Uncategorized on August 14, 2010 by arcticalchemy

Just some pictures today courtesy of Lance McKay
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Day 13 and 14 – We make beer in the Arctic !

Posted in Uncategorized on August 13, 2010 by arcticalchemy

Saturday arrives with cold and some wind, but no rain to worry about. Waiting to brew our ale was a little like the Mount Everest climbers, we sat and waited at high altitude camp and prayed for the weather to break before the final push to the summit. That may be a pretty extreme analogy , but nonetheless very true. With winds over 20 mph , it is very difficult to concentrate enough btu’s under the mash tun and boil kettle to make the brewing process work.

My brewing system was designed at home and utilizes 3-55 gallon stainless steel barrels and professional Asian Wok burners , the burners output is about 275,000 btu’s , and one 100,000 btu burner for keep up the mash tempurtures. 40 lbs of liquid propane fuels the brewery and a D/C to A/C converter helps run the pump for moving hot liquids.

The day was still cold and windy , but we did our best to stay warm and block the wind around the burners and kettles. Lance and John piled rocks up to build a wall of wind protection and Irina and Nastia outfitted their camera’s with garbage bags to keep any stray rain out.

The first part of the day seemed to go very well , first we heated mashing water , about 45 gallons to mix with the grain to start extracting sugars from the barley. Then we added the grain to the tun to create an oatmeal like mixture. Adding water that is near 155 degrees , makes the starch in the grain convert to simple sugar ( some other science at work here too , but not for this blog) . The mashing process takes about an hour to ninety minutes to allow the starch to convert to simple sugars ( the yeast will eat these sugars and produce carbon dioxide and alcohol as a by product of fermentation later on) .

About 3 hours into our brewing day ,and we hit a snag…. the strainer at the bottom of the mash tun ( like a colander you would use for spagetti , colasped under the weight of all the grain this ale needs to have such a high alcohol content. In the world of brewing , it is often referred to as a “stuck mash ” or in this case an equipment failure. Either way , the flow of liquid was stopped and buried under nearly 100lbs of grain ( this colander is located at the bottom of a drum ) .

After nearly 2 hours of fiddling around, we transfered the grain to another barrel and uncovered the colander. fixed the problem and started to brew again. The day was long and difficult , plus the added weather conditions and by the time we finished 9 hours had elapsed. My team was cold, a little wet and most definitely exhausted. Everyone pitched in to help clean up and stow the gear back carefully in the trailer. Our day of brewing was over , and beer was in the fermenter and we celebrated by going to bed, the day had beaten us down .
Again and again we looked out at the angry sea and reflected on the stories and journals of sailors who had feared the sea and ice in the 19th century , it gave us hope to continue on and realize our difficulties paled in comparison to those courageous explorers who had braved the elements and put aside fears of death and icy conditions. Our mission was simple in relative terms, all we needed to do was to brew some beer…in the summer of the southern arctic.

Day 14 , two weeks from our send-off party we had brewed our beer and started our long journey back home . The day was again riddled with cold and rain , and we all had mixed feelings about the place we had been for 4 days… 4 days in the crappiest of conditions to just brew some beer? …yes, a magical end to one guy’s dream ..the team had completed the mission and it took every ounce of energy and patience to get the job done.


Day 11 and 12 Heavy Rain, 40mph Winds and Cold

Posted in Uncategorized on August 10, 2010 by arcticalchemy

After a nice first night on arrival in Longue Pointe ,and about 3 o’clock in the morning , most of us woke up to the sound of fierce winds and heavy rain. Getting weather updates in this area of Canada is difficult, but as we found out a strong cold front had moved in during the night bringing massive driving winds and an arctic blast of air this Pennsylvania team had prepared for , but was not quite ready for , at least so soon. Brewing in this weather was definitely out of the question as the rain was nearly horizontal, and the high for the day was in the low 40’s. The team soon realized we had ventured into the unknown. for the next 36 hours with only a small hour-long break, we all did our very best just to keep warm and try to keep our gear as dry as possible. Our camp was set up literally on the shoreline of the bay , in fact we were only about 25 feet from the breaking waves of arctic waters. Our spirits stayed strong and we worked as a team to help each other through the difficult times, this was a true test of spirit.

As we squinted out on the rough sea’s of the bay , we all reflected on the story of Captain Belcher’s journal in 1852-1853, of how the men of the 19th century had it much more difficult than us, we faced rain and mild temperatures compared the brave sailors who faced -40 degree cold and high seas , 6 months of darkness and traveling to the unknown parts of the Northwest Passage, this helped our spirits and gave us new respect for those so brave. We came on motorcycles and trucks , and could really pack up and leave at any time, none of us were really in any danger of loosing our lives. The sailors of the Belcher mission were not so lucky, when your on a ship in the cold north seas , there is no getting off and seeking shelter…

We did share a common remedy for the unpleasantness of the journey however, in the bow of our trailer, we carried our own Arctic Ale to make the journey more comfortable and it gave us hope for our success. After day two of the rain and cold we had heard from some Cree who had visited us that the weather may get a bit better on Saturday morning , this was our one chance to complete our mission. The Cree fishermen were extremely friendly and inspected our brewing equipment and listened to our story with much curiosity. They were interested in the fact that we had brought water from the Ruppert River to brew our ale , I think they thought we were crazy too , but they wished us luck and said they would be back to check on us . Saturday could not come soon enough , we started to get weary and it took it toll on everyone. Two days in these conditions are difficult to simply brew beer , my team stayed tough with words off encouragement from our emails and Facebook friends ….we thank you all for getting us through. Saturday our satellite goes down for the next four days…

Before the storm :


Day 10 Our Final push North !

Posted in Uncategorized on August 10, 2010 by arcticalchemy

We set off this morning after an incredible show of Northern Lights at our campground in Radisson Quebec. The road to the shoreline is paved for about 75km , then we split off the beaten path on a logging road. Our final destination is a small place north of Chisacibi the Cree village of about 3000 Cree and Inuit native Canadians. The weather today started out very cloudy and after about ten minutes we hit major winds. John and I where hit with difficult cold, wind and rain and our bikes leaned into the wind to keep them pointing straight. 20 minutes more and we were drenched and needed to pull over to change clothes and warm up.

We are now two bikes and two trucks and things seemed to be smoother without the added stress that comes with three riders and impatience.

As we turned on the logging road we passed winter camps of the Cree , abandoned shacks with snowmobiles and sledges in the yards, and ever shack has a Tee-pee. The trip to the shoreline was tough riding with washboard sections and deep loose stone and sand with is very difficult to keep the bike straight and upright . ( by the way , Chris has fallen on his bike only once, John = not yet , but Chris’s BMW GS is very heavy and he was tired …wink ) .

After 100 km, we reached Longue Pointe , not on many maps , it is the furthest you can possibly drive in Northern Quebec , and right near where the Hudson Bay and James Bay meet , officially in the Arctic and officially in the Nunavat Territories, we have left Quebec .

The long road broke and the landscape has changed again , the feel of the arctic is now in our faces, and in our spirits. The shoreline is amazing with almost no trees and huge granite slabs. The area is dotted with beautiful flowers and ground covers , pools of iron rich water dot the ancient scenery. We have made it ! This is were
we will brew our 19th century ale !

Day 8 and 9 , Radisson Quebec

Posted in Uncategorized on August 5, 2010 by arcticalchemy

The final push up the James Baie road led us past incredible power lines and distribution plants. Radisson is a workers town for HydroQuebec the energy company who controls most of the land other than the Cree and Inuit Indians. We are so far north , that almost no one speaks French anymore. mostly English and Cree. At the top of the town is a series of dams along the Le Grande river. One of the largest rivers in all of Quebec.

After traveling in the cold and the long road to Radisson, we opted for a good night’s rest in a motel. The town is very small )less than 1000 people with only one gas station and one place to eat.

Tonight Dick Gethin has informed us with much surprise that he was abandoning the journey and heading solo for home, he had enough of the trip. Dick’s plan was to leave the next morning by 6AM.

The rest of us gathered our spirits and renewed our resolve to complete the mission as planned. The next day we realized that much-needed to be done with the brewery and quite honestly we were all in too much shock to travel to our final destination . A second day was spent in Radisson, this day was used for final preparations , and relaxing before our most difficult push into the Canadian arctic region , Longue Pointe . Chris had taken a trip alone and visited Chisacibi a Cree nation of aboriginals who have a large settlement along the banks of the Le Grand River. Permission was granted to perform our brewing, camping and filming on Cree owned land.

Tomorrow we will move the team to our final destination , where the James Baie and Hudson Baie meet .