Joyce Lau is an artist from Toronto, Canada. She received her BFA in photography, and primarily works with paper, photography and installation. Her art practice revolves around questions about culture, history, identity, and perceived ideas. The diversity and inquisitive nature of Lau’s work is a reflection of her living and working experiences. After traveling to England and working in Damien Hirst’s Pharmacy in London, Lau spent a year in New York City, where she balanced time between work in the studio of the Starn Twins and in a Manhattan nightclub. For three months, Lau lived with 15 artists at Flux Factory (a non-profit art space then in Williamsburg, Brooklyn). In Toronto, Lau has worked as the exhibition co-ordinator for Ryerson Gallery, a gallery assistant at the Ydessa Hendeles Art Foundation, and was involved in a featured installation for Nuit Blanche 2007. She is currently the Treasurer on the Board of Directors at A Space Gallery, an artist run centre in Toronto. In 2009, she was commissioned to make 3 pieces for a show concerning genocide by The International Institute for Human Rights and Genocide Studies. In 2011, Lau was invited to The Hague, The Netherlands as an artist-in-residence. She completed a residency at Artscape Gibraltar Point in March 2015. Lau has received multiple grants from the Ontario Arts Council, and has exhibited in Canada, the USA, and Europe.
For years, Joyce worked at many part-time jobs to make time for her art practice, without a thorough consideration of a path that would lead to a career. Feeling she is no longer a spring chicken, thoughts and concerns for the future have become a real and persistent influence in her motivation.
Working in bars and slinging beers has been one such job she has enjoyed, embracing the fact that she could make a lot of money in a short amount of time, allowing a flexible schedule while not confined to a monotonous daily trudge. As she entered into a new era of her life, she has become more drawn to the creation and the science surrounding the delicate details of the actual product that she has been serving for years. She has since studied craft beer and completed several programmes that have resulted in certificates as beer sommelier. She has expanded this interest into kombucha and has begun working as a brewer at a local kombucha brewery.
During her residency at RFAOH, she will further explore and document fermentation and brewing microbiology through experimentations in home brewing kombucha and beer, to better understand the nuanced effects different bacteria and yeast strains have on the final product. She plans to re-enter the arena of home brewing beer with renewed vigor, using comprehensive research, detailed monitoring and record keeping during the brewing process, to evaluate what works and what could be a problematic area.
As Joyce’s art practice has slowed under the demands of work and life in recent years, she has faced sense of immense guilt and self-doubt. Her artworks are very time consuming, and she often feels rushed, or unable to begin larger pieces for fear it would be left dangling unfinished for an extended period of time. She hopes the time involved in fermentation will teach her to slow down in life and re-learn to appreciate the beauty in the process itself, to allow her to think, consider new options, problem solve and use her hands, all leading to a wonderful end result. In addition, she feels that becoming more knowledgeable about and experienced in brewing and microbiology will be beneficial to her work career and hopefully lead to a promising future where she can afford to work less, and have more time to focus on her artistic practice.
Prior to my residency, I had questions and ideas about certain brewing experiments, but never made the time to pursue those projects. I let work get in the way. I let my fear of failure get in the way. I also felt that any free time I had should be spent on making art. This residency allowed me to feel less pressure about creating art, freeing my mind from a build-up of guilt and anxiety, and helped me realize that it is okay to take a break. Take a breath. However, unfortunately, I feel that I thrive on anxiety. Haha. And, not Haha.
I feel proud of myself for investing the time and energy to learn increasingly more about brewing ingredients, procedures, equipment, etc. And not just learn, but actually getting my hands dirty and then opening my mind to another world of possibilities with every new experiment and every new discovery. I am ecstatic about my upcoming course and can't wait to dig even deeper into all the things that I just started to unravel. In particular, I am super stoked to be able to use lab equipment to see what is happening on a microscopic level. In the perfect world, I would have unlimited resources and have all this fancy equipment at home, AND I would have an ocean of time to spend making leaps forward as well as far too many mistakes --and making those mistakes would be absolutely a-ok.
This residency got me thinking about school, work, and the art world. When something piques my interest, I give it my all, but I then let self-doubt and my shyness take command of my actions. I look at those who are considered successful and it is often those who like being in the spotlight or are excellent speakers. Poor public speakers are viewed as less intelligent only because their delivery isn't as potent. When I used to show more frequently, I loved the power that I felt in creating a space of ideas and fresh perspectives, but I dreaded the opening reception. Can introversion and success be compatible allies? In an odd example, let me bring up Survivor (yes, that reality show -- I LOOOOVE it). There was a season where the theme was "Brawn. Brains. Beauty" which placed contestants into those categories and used it as a social experiment to see which "type" would prevail. All I could think of was how introverts would never be represented to show their stuff, because they would never apply. School can teach you some art techniques and some business paperwork knowhow, but school does not teach you how to schmooze or how to make the right decisions. I sometimes regret art decisions that I've made in the past... and I wonder what would have come if I stayed on a different path...
In my proposal, I stated that I wanted to learn to slow down, but I haven't been entirely successful in that regard. I am still working on practicing and allotting time for methods of self-care... but one step forward is that I have chosen to surround myself with people who believe in me. Nothing comes without sacrifice, and I want to believe in the archaic idea that hard work pays off (I'm vehemently trying to ignore and refute the notion that it is a naive belief) because I pride myself on my work ethic. Slowly, I am reaching towards what my soul actually needs.
I have enrolled in a Brewing Microbiology course at Oregon State University, and will be travelling there in June. This program will teach me lab practices and give me hands-on experience with various standard QA/QC procedures. I am entertaining entering into that field. I enjoy the tactile qualities of brewing, but my old bones are telling me to give them a break.
Art-wise, I have a giant wood panel sitting in my studio that is screaming at me. I plan to step away from my previous techniques and let myself just have a go at it with whatever feels right. Thematically, I definitely want to utilize my brewing background. My RFAOH project allowed me to make science my art. Now, I want to further blend art and science together in atomic harmony.
It was a wonderful experience participating in RFAOH -- what a lovely and supportive community! Thank-you to everyone for sharing your thoughts, adventures, and creativity :)
Joyce Lau’s 6 month on-hiatus residency ended on April 30, 2017. We thank Joyce for her participation in our 3rd cohort of residents, and for sharing such a curious and “delicious” on-hiatus activity. However, this is not the end; next month, she is starting her brewing microbiology course (and not an MFA (;) at the Oregon State University! RFAOH sends her our utmost cheers for her ongoing adventure and look forward to hearing from her how her post hiatus projects are fermenting.
Click “Final Report” to read on her experience at RFAOH.
Last weekend I had the pleasure of going on a Research and Development work excursion to Vermont! It’s been a whirlwind. We left straight from the brewery at noon last Thursday April 6 and drove for 7.5 hours in the RAIN to Burlington, Vermont. We had a quick rest then headed out to explore Vermont nightlife and sample some tasty local brews. I had my mind set on a neighbourhood brewpub, but the rain was really coming down so we backtracked to the first interesting place that we had initially walked past. And what a delight it was!
The place was a lamp shop and live music venue. Amazing cozy atmosphere and an awesome beer list to boot!
Bright and early the next day, we drove down to Middlebury, Vermont to check out the facility of a local kombucha brewery. My boss had met the owners of the brewery at a kombucha conference in February and they had invited us down to see their set-up. And of course we said “Hell yes!”
I didn’t take many photos, but I got this one from my boss. TANK GOALS!
After an information packed day at the massively impressive kombucha brewery we continued our research day with visits to two distilleries, a cider brewery, and then two beer breweries. Never would have imagined that drinking since noon could be so enriching!!
I slept in the next day, but there was one more important stop before heading back to Canada. I was told I had to check out the Beverage Warehouse.
Ahhhhhhh!!! Heaven on earth. My basket quickly became full and I told myself I had to stop. I was so overwhelmed. I love Vermont!
We got home late Saturday evening and I had to work the next morning, and the morning after, and the one after that… I had my first day off since April 1st yesterday. Tired and cranky by the end of the week, but glad I was able to have a mini-adventure amidst the everyday grind.
Sampled my most recent creations yesterday and the results are in. I’ll go through them in the order in which I decided to taste them.
Labelled as 2C (forth vessel from the left, 750mL Left Field swing top bottle), this is my control bottle of 100% wort fermented to become 100% beer. This brew came out perfectly and has the flavour and aroma profile of a classic Belgian Dubbel. The carbonation was a bit on the low side, but it has lovely flavours of figs, dates, pumpernickel bread and molasses. There is good balance of sweetness and restrained bitterness.
Moving forward to my first experiment, 2B consists of 3/4 wort and 1/4 kombucha blended after full fermentation, so technically it had already become beer at the time of blending. This one came out really well, and is in my Top 2 favourites! There is a wonderful balance of sweet and tanginess to this brew. In one sentence, I would say that it tastes like toast with candied cranberries. Yum!
Next I tasted 2A, which is a 50/50 blend of fully fermented wort (beer!) and kombucha. This one is very sour and less balanced. It could work for someone who likes really sour beverages, but I feel that the kombucha overpowers the beer in this blend, and I find myself searching for beer aromas. Not my favourite, but drinkable.
The other Left Field bottle here, labelled #3 to the far right, is my other Top 2 favourite. This one is also a 50/50 blend, but was blended after primary fermentation. Specifically, I let the wort ferment for 12 days, then transferred the wort to a larger vessel, and then added an equal volume of kombucha. This blend was then allowed to ferment for another 3 weeks. This brew has nice light carbonation and balanced flavours of sweet and tart. Less toast notes and more bread crust flavours in this brew compared to my other favourite (2B). This blend is less malty and has a lighter mouthfeel than 2B, and is very drinkable!
1A and 1B both consist of 50/50 wort and kombucha blended on brew day. The difference is that French Oak Chips were added to 1A for the final 7 days of secondary fermentation. 1B is very dry, with light earthy flavours, and a bit of funk from the kombucha. This brew is the least malty of all the blends and not very sour at all. 1A is over-oaked and seems boozier than it is because it smells and tastes like whisky and red wine. I’m curious about combining 1A with 2A (the most sour brew) to try to attain a blend that resembles a Flanders Red. Maybe? Excellent carbonation in both 1A and 1B.
Annnnnd, I’m prepping to hit the books soon for my upcoming course!
So many scobys, so little time… Oh and: I’m going to Oregon to study fermentation science!
I remember when I first started getting into kombucha, and was trying to figure out how to get my hands on a scoby… now I can barely make room for them all! Even though I work with them every day, I still can’t get over how weird they are.
On another note: I’ve enrolled to take a brewing microbiology course at Oregon State University! I’m going to be heading over to Oregon in June to learn microscopy, yeast counting, ethanol evaluations, package gas analysis… the works! I’m a nerd at heart, so this really makes me giddy.
A long long long time ago, when I applied for University fresh out of high school, my three choices were: 1) Ryerson University: Photographic Studies; 2) University of Toronto: Biology; 3) York University: Cultural Studies. I chose Ryerson because I was an art punk then and anti-everything, and eventually achieved my BFA after taking a year off to discover myself in New York. I wanted to make art, but I also believed art should be free to maintain its purity and honesty, but then how do I make a living? Will I always have to have another job while being an artist? That is something that I still wrestle with. And I also often wonder what would have happened if I had chosen to pursue biology? If I had went to Univerity of Toronto and became a scientist, would I be craving art more now?
I still crave art. Every time I see a painting that I like or go to a concert, I still long for it. One day I will find balance.
Finally tasted the results from my oak-aged scoby ferments! I found this wonderful Chimay glass in a box of free stuff sitting on curb off a house. My boyfriend made fun of me for taking it at the time, but has realized what a rarity it actually is. The contents of this glass is my Wort + Scoby blend with red wine infused oak cubes. Although I gave it a proper dose of priming sugar to create carbonation, this concoction was pretty flat. I reason that the scoby by itself did not generate enough yeast to help make the fizz. Red wine character is potent in this beverage, though not a whole lot of the oak. It is very sour –lots of acetic acid– with some hop bitterness. Upon the further tasting, I also got aromas of oranges.
I got this glass a couple of weeks ago at Great Lake Brewery’s 30th Anniversary celebration. It was a gong show. At first in a not so fun way, but then it got less congested and I was able to breathe and have a great time. This is my Wort + Kombucha + Scoby blend with red wine infused oak cubes. I am very happy with the results! It pours nice and bubbly. The oak cubes really shine in this blend, earthy with mild vanilla, toasty oak aromas, and brettanomyces funk. Brettanomyces is a type of wild yeast that is found in kombucha, and also prized in particular craft beer brewery experiments. It is less sour than the Wort + Scoby blend, but still very tart-sour, and has a nice dry finish.
I had set aside a bit of each blend prior to adding the oak cubes. When I compared the beverages to their oak/unoaked counterparts, I found that the unoaked version tasted sweeter and greener. The unoaked version of the Wort + Kombucha + Scoby experiment was also bubbly without priming sugar.
Overall, I feel that the scoby may not be strong enough on its own to ferment wort. It was a great first trial with the oak cubes, and I am excited to use them in further experiments.
With my second brew day experiments, I wanted to do something a little dark and a little sweet, so decided to work with a classic Belgian style dubbel recipe. The first gallon is a 50/50 blend of wort and kombucha. The second and third vessels are 100% wort. I plan to blend the second gallon with kombucha after full fermentation, so when I bottle. With the half gallon vessel, I intend to blend it with a half gallon of kombucha after primary fermentation.
The rest of the containers are full of kombucha… except for the first jar on the second shelf — that one is extra special! I had tried fermenting sweet tea with the new scoby that grew out of my initial wort + scoby experiment, but nothing happened — no new scoby grew. During the dubbel brew day, I had an idea and purposely set aside some wort and then added it to this container. Lo and behold: a new scoby has started to grow. I mentioned in the comments section of my last post about “training” scobys to digest new fuel sources. Here is a great example. This scoby appears to need wort to thrive!
And lastly, that is a 3-D printed tardigrade on the top shelf next to the mason jar. I made that little guy last year and he brings me good luck.
Well, not quite into the woods, but as much as I possibly can in the winter without a car 🙂 Introducing my secret ingredient: oak cubes/chips! To the left are American Oak cubes and to the right are French oak chips. These are the homebrewer’s answer to achieving similar aromas to barrel-aging. I decided to use the American Oak cubes for my latest experiment. I soaked the oak cubes in Bombay Sapphire gin for 1 day to infuse some flavour as well as to sterilize the wood, then proceeded to soak the cubes in red wine (2015 Chianti to be exact) for 3 days.
I then added the oak cubes to my Wort + Scoby and Wort + Kombucha + Scoby experiments. I’m planning to let the oak cubes do their magic for three weeks, then add priming sugar and bottle the kombucha-beers from there. The three weeks will be up next week but it will take an additional week to carbonate and then taste test time! Finally!!
At long last, let’s drink some beers — err…or… kombucha beers!
The first glass on the left is a souvenir from Beaverton Brewery in London, England. They make some really great beers and the owner is the son of Robert Plant! In that glass is my final product from combining Wort + Kombucha + Ale yeast (approx 3:1 ratio of wort:sour kombucha). This one tastes very hoppy with long lingering bitterness. The citra hop is known for its tropical fruit and citrus aromas, especially grapefruit, melon, lime, and passion fruit. Definitely one of my favourite hops. Though the earthiness is nice, the bitterness could be a more subtle. Note to reduce early boil hops in future brew. There is good balance between sweetness from the wort and sugar with the tartness and funk of the kombucha. Upon further tasting, lovely grassy notes also pop up. My friends who like hoppy beers really dig this one. Wonderful bright beer-kombucha.
The glass on the right is from Muskoka Brewery. My friend who owns a bar gave me six of these! I created this concoction from Wort + Ale yeast fermented for one week, then blended with fresh kombucha (tart, but not overly sour) for a 3 week secondary fermentation. Wort to kombucha ratio of approx 1:1 (to be exact, it would be 13:10). This brew is very, very dry, and surprisingly not that sour, nor that hoppy. Since this is close to a 50/50 blend of wort + kombucha, stronger characteristic were tamed, and tartness was also milder as fresher kombucha was used in this brew. I noticed that there was strong yeast activity when the kombucha was introduced for secondary fermentation. This blend tastes like a dry white wine with a touch of dry cider. I would like to try to make this kombucha-beer again with saison yeast. Saison yeast brings out some spicy and lemony characteristics and would work nicely with the kombucha.
The glass in the centre is from Bellwoods Brewery. I love their beers! This glass holds my Kombucha + Ale yeast brew. I wanted to elevate my kombucha to an adult drink, so I figure I should give it an adult glass. Ha. Everything also tastes better in a stem glass. This one is the most sour of the three. It’s generally an alcoholic version of kombucha. It tastes like a sour white wine, with a dose of lemony apple cider, and some funky notes. My boyfriend raved about this one, saying that I could get rich with this brew by reaching out to celiacs and health practitioners alike with an alcoholic kombucha. Hmmm… maybe?
WHOA, GETTING DRUNK MAKING THESE TASTING NOTES!
I still have yet to mention my Wort + Scoby and Wort + Kombucha + Scoby experiments. I sampled both brews, and though they were both very sour from the scoby, they just didn’t taste finished. The scoby’s yeast and bacteria is meant to digest and work with more simple sugars rather than the complex sugars found in wort. Even though both brews don’t need to be any more sour, I want to age them both a bit longer. So, I removed the scobys and closed up the fermentation vessels. I also feel they need something else as well to make them more interesting. I just picked up the ingredients on Friday — hush hush, it’s a secret until my next entry 😉
A lot has happened since my last post, and all my brews are now ready to drink! But I will try to touch upon some of the steps since my last post on transferring to secondary fermentation before jumping the gun on how the brews turned out.
I did straight transfers to secondary with my Wort + Kombucha + Ale yeast blend (carboy #2 above) and my Kombucha + Ale yeast brew (carboy #3 above). But I blended my half gallon Wort + Ale yeast brew with 1200mL of freshly fermented kombucha (that had fermented for 1 week) then transferred this new mixture into a one gallon carboy to continue its transfomation into a mysterious and hopefully delightful concoction (carboy #4).
With carboy #1, I transferred what was an open fermentation of Wort + Scoby brew to a closed fermentation to continue in a beer brewing manner, and to halt the souring process. However, in the picture below, I decided to keep an open fermentation with the Wort + Kombucha + Scoby brew to maintain one of my experiments in the tradition of kombucha brewing. Trying to keep things balanced! I debated also transferring this brew to a closed fermentation, but ultimately decided against it; however, it really stirred a world of possibilities. The multitude of varying combinations of experiments are truly limitless.
Oh, and my collection my beer bottles makes a guest appearance in the top photo 😉 I threw out most of them when I moved (nope, I’m not moving empty bottles, just not gonna do it… but then I did. haha), but kept a small selection. I have sentimental attachments to pretty much everything. Sigh.