Luc “Bim” Lafontaine – Your Jasper Beer & Barley Summit Ambassador
We already knew that Luc ‘Bim’ Lafontaine had incredible talents as a brewer – but after we sent him our interview questions for him to read in advance – we were pleasantly surprised to learn that he is also both a fantastic writer and a man who lives an authentic life. Bim had taken the time to write out his answers to us – and as you’ll be able to read below, he is a man who has followed his passions – and as Dragos Bratasanu once wrote, “People become great only in the face of adversity.” We have left Bim’s answers as he sent them to us – and we think they will not only give you insight into this incredible man – but also give you reason to join us at the upcoming Jasper Beer & Barley Summit in February.
- What was the first beer you ever remember trying? “Which beer was your first craft beer?”
My first ever beer was a Laurentide (discontinued Molson product made only in Quebec at the time). My older cousins fed me too much of it at a family Christmas party where I ended up being sick. I was 11 years old. My first craft beers (I thought they were at that time…) were Duvel and Satan Gold from Belgium. I was 15. After that came McAuslan St-Ambroise and also Brasal Bock, the first Quebec craft beers I tasted.
- How did you get into beer? Who introduced you? What was going on?
That Duvel beer quite shocked me. That’s where I started to be more curious about the different flavours beers can offer. Nobody really introduced me to it. It just came naturally. After 3 years of under aged beer exploration I started to homebrew with a friend of mine while I was in college. Not much was going on at the time. Not many beer ingredients were available, neither books (apart from the good old Charlie Papazian Homebrew book), neither that many breweries… My friend and I started brewing with the classic Coopers kits but then started to add complexity to our recipes by introducing different raw ingredients (different hops and roasted grains in mesh bags) along the way. We then started playing with fruits and different adjuncts. I remember some of our first recipes: Apple Blonde Ale and Maple Stout.
- What made you decide to become a brewer?
I always liked to be creative. At young age I started playing music and at the age of 13 I was cooking my own everyday food. I remember being very curious about new flavours and improvising with them. Like said earlier that Duvel beer really opened my mind to beer… and then when Unibroue Brewery opened I started drinking lots of it (Blanche de Chambly, Maudite, Fin du Monde…) and slowly started dreaming and thinking that someday I could do just as good as that.
- What training or background do you have?
I was pretty much self-taught for the first 9 years of my home brewing era. I was doing my best to gather information here and there from books, from brewers like Jerome Denys (Pioneer of Craft beer in Quebec) and from my 1992 Europe backpacking trip to Germany and many other trips around Europe and the world. I discovered lots of new beer styles during my travels and slowly tried to reproduce them at home. I do have a bit of scientific background in chemistry and biology and also studied Kinesiology at University but did not use much of it during my home brewing years. Things really changed when I started brewing at Dieu du Ciel in Montreal. The two owners have both degrees in Microbiology so from there I learned to become the real brewer I am today.
- Tell us about your brewery journey – where did you get the idea to start a brewery and where has the journey taken you?
Like many other brewers, you start somewhere at the bottom and learn and grow until you feel you can do it on your own. It’s either you feel you have that leadership and entrepreneurship in you and also the will to take that stressful and risky path or not. In my case I just felt naturally that it was time to move on after 12 years working at Dieu du Ciel. I clearly knew I was at the greatest brewing school ever but I also knew that I wanted to push myself even more by seeing in the eye of an entrepreneur. Also, between all of this came the dream to live and open a brewery in Japan… and to cut the story short… now back here in Toronto with my new project Godspeed Brewery. Sky is the limit I guess…
- What’s the hardest thing you’ve had to face so far?
Taking the risk of moving to Japan without a proper visa to start working on my new brewery project was the stupidest thing I ever done in my life. It brought me as close as possible to a nervous breakdown.
- What has been the highlight of the journey so far?
Taking the risk to move to Japan without a proper work visa to start working on my new brewery project. It did hurt me emotionally and financially but I would never change that precious moment of my life for nothing. I went to Japan as a solid brewer but as an innocent entrepreneur. I came back hopefully stronger on both sides.
- Have you experienced any unique or special moments so far that make you think, ‘If I hadn’t started this journey, I would never have experienced ___________?’
Quite a lot actually but I could say I would never have experienced collaborating with some of the best brewers in the world, which is better than any beer books in my opinion.
- Strangest moment you have experienced during this journey?
Suddenly realizing (while smoking malt in my own made smoker alone at 4am in the middle of nowhere in rural Japan) that I really opened a brewery in Japan.
- What is a little known fact about you?
I used to be vegetarian for 17 years, vegan for 5 years, raw food eater for 1 year and frutarian for about 6 months straight. I also built and lived in a tree house for half a year in southern Thailand.
- Favorite past time or hobby and why?
Jogging and swimming (not that I had lots of time to do any of it in the last years…) – It is just like meditation to me and reminds me how important it is to breathe deeply.
- Lesson from, or experience with, an early mentor – how did that shape you?
“It’s all about the beer”. Greg Noonan. It shaped me in a sense that what really matters at the end is the beer and it’s balance, not the social media, swags, wannabe fame or name it… To become a very good brewer I think you need to be humble always, to be willing to sacrifice a lot and live in the shadow for quite a while and learn something new every day.
- “How is your beer connected to the local area?”
It connects in many ways. I’m a local brewpub so the neighbourhood is very supportive. I also connect with the many local craft beer bars and fine dining restaurants. Also these days with Asian restaurants, a very unusual market for craft breweries.
- “What’s unique about your beer? How does it stand out from the crowd?
It is unique in a sense that I am brewing what I really want to drink instead of following the trends. No hardcore nothing but more refined and balanced beers. It’s all about paying respect to the ingredients with the ultimate goal to achieve the greatest balance. I also have this Japanese taste influence where I use Japanese ingredients to add an extra layer to some of my beers.
- Strangest ingredient you have ever used to make a beer – or strangest ingredient you ever would use to make a beer?
Probably morels mushrooms cooked in duck fat and then dumped into the fermenter. We did that a while ago at Dieu du Ciel. The weirdest thing is that we got a pretty good head retention on that beer…
- Is the journey different than you thought it would be?
Well… Not sure back in 2001 I was telling myself that I would one day open a brewery not only in Toronto but also in Japan. The journey is a little different that I thought in a sense that when I left Canada for Japan I thought this was going to be it but hey… I’m not sad about how things turned out after all. I am more scared about where the industry is going than my own destiny as a brewer.
- Favorite travel experience and what did you learn? OR Place you want to travel to and why…
Japan. It gave me the ability to really discover the deepest sides of myself. I felt solitude there like I never felt in my life. From solitude and isolation was born so many new sides of me. Japan also inspired me like I never was inspired before in 43 years of existence.
- What would you tell someone who wanted to start a brewery?
How much risks and sacrifices are you willing to take?!
- What are 3 lessons about life you have learned so far?
Believe in yourself. Be patient. Be humble… and a fourth one… Take risks.
- Anyone, anywhere, anytime in history – who would you like to sit down and have a beer with and why?
None of my idols that’s for sure. Too scared of being disappointed.
- A year from now, where do you think you’ll be?
At the same exact place but hopefully with a slightly less stressful feeling.
- If you could send out one message to the world – what would it be and why?
We are just small particles in the universe so no matter what you achieve or no matter how cool and smart and rich you think you are – always be humble.
- Do you have a role model in life? Who is it and what did they teach you?
Dalai Lama. Teaches me to have faith in humanity.
- If one of your beers was a famous person (real or fictional) who would they be and why?
Billy Holiday. Elegant, feminine, unique, balanced, true to itself.
- If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?
Be a beach bum surfing and climbing coconut trees somewhere on a remote island. Simple lifestyle.
- Best or favorite beer you ever tried that isn’t your own?
The beer that blown my mind the most that was a while ago – is Orval.
- If you had a brewer super power, what would it be and why?
Communicating with every yeast cells in fermentation just to make sure we’re on the same page and that I’m not doing anything to offend them. I love to keep the peace in my space.
- When you die, what will be said about you at your memorial service? What do you want written on your tombstone? What would you want them to drink at your memorial?
Not dead yet so still thinking about it.
The Jasper Beer & Barley Summit, hosted at the world renowned Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, is comprised of three major components: Seminars, Beer Festival and Retreat. During the day attend daily Seminars featuring industry leaders sharing their entertaining stories and then during the 2 night Beer Festival, sample amazing craft beers and spirits, as well as culinary sensations prepared by JPL’s incredible chefs! Retreat accommodation is at the world-famous Jasper Park Lodge with amazing service and scenery! Think League of Super Heroes, but more chill, brewer/distiller super powers, and way, way, way more beards.
Whether you are a current or future brewer/distiller, someone who is really into the beer/spirit scene, or just someone who loves adventures and new experiences, the Alberta Beer Festivals team has put together something for everyone at the Summit. Whether you are listening to successful brewers and distillers from across North America tell their stories, or hearing from former NHLer Charlie Simmer a member of the LA Kings Triple Crown line, you’ll be glad you decided to join us.
The Jasper Beer & Barley Summit will be like no other gathering on earth. Join the League of Beer, Spirit, & Agriculture Super Heroes in one of the most spectacular and secluded places in the world, February 4th and 5th, 2018.
Questions about the summit? Want to book an industry or Beer Geek VIP Weekend?