Stewart McWilliam

Grey Canal brews up national fourth

Grey Canal Coffee wins fourth place in the second annual Canadian Brewers Cup Championship in Ottawa.

Stewart McWilliam is a coffee geek, and proud of it.

Connoisseur might be a more apt description of the 23-year-old owner of Grey Canal Coffee, who recently claimed fourth place in the second annual Canadian Brewers Cup Championship in Ottawa.

The Duncan native became eligible for the six-person competition after winning the B.C. Interior Brewers and Tasters Cup hosted by Red Beard Roasters, in Kamloops, in April.

McWilliam entered a brew called Koke Aricha by Crofton’s Black and White Coffee Roasters at nationals. He said the way in which coffee is brewed is just as important as the beans themselves. In Ottawa, he used an Aeropress (similar to a French press, but without the metal sieve).

And of all the fancy coffee-making contraptions on the market, McWilliam uses one of the most simple brewing devices available – the Hario V60 – when he sets up shop Mondays and Thursdays at the Vernon Farmers’ Market.

The V60 sounds more like a supercharged sports car than a coffee maker, and in truth, the term coffee maker might even be a stretch for what it really is. The V60 is basically a gravity-pour cone with spiralling ridges that, as McWilliam puts it: “help the water flow faster through the coffee so it doesn’t over-extract the coffee.”

McWilliam got his first introduction to the art of the aromatic bean while working for Drumroaster Coffee in Cobble Hill.

“Through being a dishwasher they showed me coffee in a different way – brewing espresso, brewing V60s, brewing French presses. It got my attention,” said McWilliam, who now lives in Lumby and works part-time with youth through Young Life Canada.

“There’s flavours in coffee you can develop through the roasting, and we’re trying to pick out the best coffees we can find. We’re more of a coffee curator.”

To listen to McWilliam describe the qualities in coffee is akin to hearing a sommelier talk about wine. Every brew is different, each with its own distinct flavours.

McWilliam is a big fan of beans grown in Africa, Ethiopia in particular.

“They generally have a nice strawberry jam and toasty kind of flavour to them, and a nice mouth feel. But Colombia right now is actually getting their game up with processing their coffee.”

When McWilliam moved to the North Okanagan, he began working with local coffee companies to get his game up before opening Grey Canal. He uses the company to showcase quality roasting companies from all over B.C. and Alberta. He even offers a custom delivery service for added convenience.

McWilliam said the coffee competition was simply a natural progression, and also a great way to boost his profile.

“I just kept growing my repertoire as a barista and just thought ‘It would be fun to compete.’”

The Ottawa showdown turned out to be a terrific learning experience for McWilliam as well. Just when thought he had his process perfected, he stumbled upon a new brewing technique.

“There’s this thing called sifting now,” he said. “When you grind coffee, there’s fines that come through in the grind, so they sift all the fines out to get the over-extracted flavour out of the coffee.

“It leaves you with a cleaner, crisper coffee. It’s more defined.”

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