KPU brewing alumna gets taste of reality TV

Wed, Apr 17, 2024

A Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) brewing program alumna is in high spirits following an appearance on a reality TV show.

Kristine Hui, a 2019 graduate of the two-year Brewing and Brewery Operations Diploma program at KPU, recently appeared on Moonshiners: Master Distiller, in which contestants turn raw ingredients into handcrafted spirits. She was the first Canadian contestant on the U.S.-based Discovery TV show, now in its sixth season.

“It was very interesting because I had never been to Tennessee before. It was a bit of a culture shock actually, but I did learn some interesting backwoods distilling techniques from the other contestants,” says Hui. 

Hui, a distilling consultant and content creator, has attracted thousands of followers online, where she demonstrates the art of distilling spirits as Miss Brewbird on YouTube and Instagram. Her social media presence has led her to numerous opportunities, including a recent gig to develop gin recipes in India. It also attracted attention from producers of a TV show dedicated to distilled drinks.

But after submitting an audition tape, interest from producers seemed to have dried up.

To Hui’s surprise, more than a year later, she answered a call asking her to be on set in 10 days. She gathered supplies, booked a flight to Tennessee and prepared to compete on a show themed around tea-based spirits. On set, she made a lychee-based alcoholic tea.

“I struggled a lot because professional distillers are actually at a disadvantage in the show. In a professional setting, when you’re measuring the alcohol percentage you use tools like a hydrometer, but they didn’t let us use any tools. They just told me you need to learn to read the bead."

Read the bead, as Hui learned, involves shaking the beverage in a jar. How quickly bubbles disappear is how to gauge alcohol percentage.

She brought malted barley on the show and prepared the time-consuming process of extracting liquid from grains.

“Because I did a lot of brewing with malted barley in the KPU brewing program, I got used to using malted barley. So I thought I should stick to what I know and bring malted barley onto the show. But that ended up being a huge mistake because this is a show about backwoods distilling, and the other contestants just brought molasses or table sugar, and all they had to do was add some warm water to it and it was ready to use.”

Hui’s interest in distilling stems from her experience as a student in the brewing program at KPU.

“I was always interested in making things and I really enjoyed cooking growing up. My dad was the one who initially suggested I enter the KPU brewing program. That was the first time I started to make alcohol. The natural progression from brewing is distilling.”

While learning the science of fermentation at KPU, Hui also became interested in learning to distill. She contacted distilleries in the United Kingdom with a goal of landing a job to learn new skills. That led to two years of experience working and learning in various distilleries — including the Borders Distillery in Scotland and the Shakespeare Distillery in England — making whisky, gin, rum and liqueur. At Shakespeare, she helped to develop a rum recipe which won a silver medal at the 2021 International Wine and Spirits Competition. 

“Brewing is the basis for distilling. You have to do a brewing process before you can do the distilling process. So the KPU brewing program was a really great foundation for me,” says Hui.

“Tea Party Rebellion” aired April 9, and although Hui didn't win the competition, judge Eric "Digger" Manes had kind words for the contestant: "Your skills are to be commended and I'm expecting to see big things out of you in the future."

Students in the KPU Brewing and Brewery Operations Diploma program learn the science, production and business of brewing craft beer. The program combines a solid foundation in brewing sciences, including microbiology and chemistry, with hands-on practical learning. New part-time learning options are also available.