Summerland finally has local craft beer! Detonate Brewing, owned and operated by Nathan Rosier, had their Grand Opening on February 4th. I dropped by and the place was jam-packed (This actually isn’t too hard to do considering it is a fairly small space). While I was there people were in and out filling growlers and getting flights. Clearly I’m not the only local happy to welcome Detonate to town! I tried a tasting flight of the Call the Hops IPA, Pale Ale and IPA, and found them all to be well executed and balanced.
I came back the following weekend to check in with Nathan after he closed up shop for the day. The hours are currently Friday evenings and Saturday and Sunday afternoons. He says business has been steady since he opened, and he is pleased at the turn out so far. This is pretty impressive given that it is February, which is a slow month in the Okanagan, plus the brewery is tucked away in Summerland’s sleepy industrial area. Clearly there is a thirst for craft beer in the area, and as far as I’m aware there hasn’t been much marketing aside from Facebook posts, so word is travelling fast. As well some members of the other breweries in the area have dropped by to check out the place and offer their support. He already needs to order some new growlers, as they have been flying off the shelves. He is more worried now about keeping up with demand, rather than having difficulty moving product!
Nathan lives with his wife and two children in West Kelowna, and works full time in Kelowna as a civil engineer. The price for space was prohibitively expensive in the Central Okanagan, which led him to Summerland: close enough to commute and far away enough to be affordable. He had his start as a home brewer in college, and started thinking about doing it on a professional level about 5 years ago. He had been collecting bits and pieces for a brewery for a while, and eventually reached a point where he either had to get serious, or get rid of the collection. DIY appears to be a guiding principle to the construction of the brewery – Nathan has been able to source many items used or re-purposed. 2 Former milk tanks and a dairy chiller were quite easily repurposed into a fermentor, hot liquor tank and a mash-tun. Nathan chuckled telling me “I nearly died getting my cooler off Craigslist”, when a sketchy Craigslist deal in Rutland almost went wrong. He has also invested in a few brand-new items as well, such as his brew kettle made by Ripley Stainless across the street.
Nathan’s had his current space since May, and his engineering background came in handy as he was able to do much of the renovations and set up himself. There is a lot of ingenuitive DIY happening in the space as well, and he shows me around with pride over the hard work he has put into getting the large brewing system running! You can see shades of home brewer throughout, for example, we share the same finicky grain mill (although he does have a new Monster Mill waiting to get set up). Nathan figures that as he settles into his new routine he’ll be more aware of what works and what doesn’t and can be more strategic in adapting the space, but for now he has everything he needs to make beer. The space is certainly limited, and once he starts doing bottled product it will be even more so. He recognizes that the retail/tasting space is a bit tight and is considering expanding over into the brewing space slightly to better accommodate his visitors.
For sales he hopes to do both kegs and bombers, as well as growler fills. He’s already identified a few places to get his beer into, but says the main issue right now will be production. Right now Nathan figures that between his day job and Detonate he is working 80-100 hours a week. He hopes to eventually transition into brewing full time, saying his wife and kids would probably also like to see him at some point too. Eventually he may need to hire someone to help out at the brewery as well, but for now it’s pretty much a one-man show.
Nathan has achieved every home brewer’s dream and started his own Brewery. You can see the enormous amount of work that he has put into getting this project off the ground. This is not a glitzy marketing project backed by wealthy investors, no this is creative DIY at it’s finest driven by pure passion for brewing beer! Welcome to Summerland, Detonate Brewing!
Oh yeah… and this is the part where I would post some pictures and review the beer, but I have to admit… I enjoyed the growlers I took home with me so much I totally forgot to do a formal review! I have now tried the IPA, Pale Ale, Call the Hops IPA, Citra Pale Ale and the Stout. I really enjoyed all the hoppy beers, but the Stout really took my breath away. Rich, deep cocoa and coffee flavour with a very mild bitterness. I will be back for a refill of that for sure!
I had been dreaming of drinking in Europe ever since we booked our plane tickets. I started looking up different breweries and reading blogs to research “must-try” beers. I was stoked! Once I got there, however, I slid out of the beer-hunter mode and relaxed into more of a casual drinking vibe. I think it happened when I spent nearly a whole day driving to Westvleteren, Belgium, on the 3rd day of our trip. Saint Sixtus, the famous Abbey that makes the world’s “best” beer was on my list of must-see places. However, when we arrived the tasting room was closed, even though Google had assured me it would be open. That night instead of St. Sixtus I drank an amazing selection of Belgian Ales at a secret squat bar located across the street from the house we were staying at, then stumbled home at closing time to continue drinking more delicious beer that we purchased from a Night Shop down the street. This topped drinking a single beer, no matter how high it may be rated.
I didn’t go out on a limb after that to seek out beer experiences because I was only there for 3 weeks and there were amazing things to eat and drink and see and do everywhere we went. I became a little more laid back than I usually am and let the beers come to me. Not seeking them out didn’t mean they weren’t there, it just opened up the opportunity to try things that I may have otherwise overlooked. At one point I considered not drinking every day of the trip – at home I usually only drink beer once or twice a week. That decision lasted only until we sat down for dinner at a burger joint in Marburg with an amazing selection of German craft beer, I just couldn’t resist!
I noticed a big difference in that there were either these fantastic old country beers, made traditionally and locally with a big following, and then the new craft beers that were creative and interesting but there wasn’t any sort of fervor towards them as there is in BC. It seemed like many of the styles were influenced by trends set by the North American brewing scene. I only met a few people who were into the new world style of beers and most of them were behind the counter in establishments selling craft beer. A few of the regular folks I met were intrigued by them, but many felt that it was gimmicky, and preferred their tried and true local brands.
I really enjoyed my time in Belgium, the people we met there were as into beer as I am, maybe even more. We were staying with friends of Scott’s brother, whom we had never met before. Breaking the ice they offered us some tea and cookies. It came up in conversation that writing about beer is a hobby of mine. Sven, one of our hosts, leaned close and asked me with a wry smile “You like beer?”. He then left the room and came back with several bottles of Rochefort Trappist 8 that he replaced our tea with. Our other host, Jereon, was busy working on his computer but after a few minutes he couldn’t resist joining in on our educational session. We headed over to the clandestine pub across the street where their friends joined in suggesting beers for us to try and explaining the nuances of each. The next night they gave us a tour around Ghent, taking us to an authentic Genever bar (the spirit from which Gin evolved) and a troll-themed beer cellar. Even though Sven no longer drinks, he was an authority on the beers and spirits of Belgium. We were up both nights until the wee hours of the morning – Belgian beer has a way of making that happen.
We tried explaining to the Belgians the new world styles of sour beers being brewed in BC. Their noses wrinkled at our descriptions. They agreed that a lambic beer might be possible if brewed under the right conditions, but a dry-hopped sour? No, that just wouldn’t be right they said. An overtly-hopped IPA might be acceptable in some situations, but it would ruin the flavour of any beer that was drank afterwards. I suppose that the obstacle is that when living in a country with some of the world’s best beer there isn’t much interest in experimentation: if it’s already been done right then why make any changes?
Germany had some wonderful beers, but while there was a lot of options there were many similarities between them. Not that anything is wrong with that, Pilsners are a great beer: easy drinking at lunch time, dinner time, and 3 in the morning. I also tried some dark beers, wheat beers, and lagers. They were delicious, but after a few days I began to thirts for something more unique. It wasn’t easy to find; in Marburg, a city of 81, 000, the only craft beer store had recently closed down. We were pointed in the direction of a grocery store near the university which carried a decent selection of European and American craft beers. I found Stone Arrogant Bastard next to a German IPA with Mandarina Bavaria hops. Our host in Germany was really into hoppy beers – the only person I met on my whole trip who was – so I was glad to be able to find a selection of IPAs to bring back to her as a thank-you for our stay.
Amsterdam and the Netherlands seemed to be the most alert to the craft beer movement. Amsterdam has a number of craft breweries in the city who are gathering more international attention, including Oedipus and Brouwerij ‘t IJ. On my first night in Amsterdam I had a complex and well-balanced sour beer that was a result of a collaboration between local brewery Oedipus and The Commons, from Oregon. In The Hague we happened to park next to Dorst Craft Beer, a shop that had just opened up a few days earlier and had an amazing selection of craft beer available. I requested a good saison and the owner, Jamie, informed me that “I only sell beers that I like to drink, everything here is good”. He also suggested visiting a craft brewery in Rotterdam, Kaapse Brewing, which was located in a “food factory”: an industrial building that had been converted into a number of small food and beverage shops sharing a central community seating area. Small, with a focus on local and sustainable production, and hip in an run-down sort of way it wouldn’t have seemed out of place in East Vancouver or Portland.
In the old part of Lyon I found another craft beer shop, La Chope de Lug. The owner, Alfredo, informed me that while he’d been open for a number of years he found that interest in craft beer was just starting to gather momentum. He only sold beers produced in the Rhone-Alps area, which is one of the most brewery-dense areas in France. I was pleased to see that the French brewers were also quite creative – I found interesting collaborations and twists on old favourites such as a black saison and a tropical-hopped porter. He said that there are many micro breweries popping up in France over the past few years and while the movement remains somewhat under the radar, it is exploding right now.
I was able to find a number of fantastic bars, brew pubs and breweries along the way. Some I found by accident, some were a result of a Google search, and others were on recommendation. I really enjoyed the small, hole-in-the wall pubs that focussed on high quality beer. These places were less frequented by tourists and the tap lists were limited but impressive. Places like Bierproeflokaal In De Wildeman in Amsterdam and ‘t Brugs Beertje in Bruges, were serving beer long before the interest in craft beer came around, and will continue to serve long after the hype dies away.
I was able to find craft beer pubs in most towns and cities that I visited along the way from Amsterdam to Belgium and Germany to France. I’m sure if I had cared to look I could have spent the better part of each day going to different breweries, tasting beers, learning about production and sales. After my disappointment at Saint Sixtus I realized this was a vacation and I didn’t want to look for beer at the expense of other experiences I could have had along my trip. So the take home message is: if you like beer, go to Europe. You won’t be disappointed whether it’s craft you’re after or the famous traditional beers of each country.
Yes, I am late posting about this. I do apologize, I was in a rush to get things done before my vacation and left this post a little too late. However, it was a really good event and the first of its kind in the South Okanagan, so I wanted to make sure to give it some attention.
This event was the creation of CAMRA SO’s Home Brewing Liaison, Eike, our President, Kim, and Kari and Brent from Square One Hop Growers. Entry was limited to 10 brewers, but otherwise open to any brewer and any style category. It was held at Square One’s beautiful location on the Upper Bench, off the road to Naramata. Many of the hop bines were still hanging in the yard, giving it a very appropriate ambiance!
We were all a bit nervous the day of, as when holding an event for the first time there’s always concern that something may go wrong, or even worse, no one will show up! The brewers were all getting their tables ready when I got there. I had volunteered to serve for a friend of mine, Steve (who you may remember from my post on A Guy With A Shovel Hop Yards) who made an ESB fresh hopped with his own Centennial and Cascade hops.
Due to the damp weather, the brewers were setting up inside of the shop building (that was under construction when I interviewed Kari and Brent earlier this summer). It was a good thing the construction was finished, as it was nice to be out of the wind and rain. We were also sharing the space with racks and racks of drying hops, which lent an enticing aroma to the space. Wine Crush Market was also on site, serving the most amazing stuffed beer burger on spent grain buns – it was life altering! Their wood oven was set up outside, which also added to the aromatics of the farm! We were ready to go!
At first there was just a trickle of people coming through, some clearly recognizable from the local beer scene. Then more and more people started arriving, people I had never seen before. I started to wonder what was going on when one old fellow kept asking the different brewers about how beer was made, and was quite surprised to hear that it ferments in a process similar to making wine! Square One is located in the middle of Naramata’s winery belt, and so it seems a number of wine-tours had seen the cars parked outside and wandered in, thinking it was a winery event! Brent and Kari had also erected signs on the popular KVR trail beside their property, drawing in a number of curious neighbours and hikers.
There was an incredible amount of people, and great exposure both for the home brewers that were competing as well as for craft beer and homebrewing in general. Square One were great hosts and gave demonstrations of their hop harvester as well as tours of their hop farm. As well Shawn from Kelowna Brew Supply competed and brought some brewing equipment down to display and was able to answer questions about homebrewing ingredients and equipment.
I did get a chance to get outside of my booth and sample some of the competitor’s goods. I was so impressed, everyone had a beer that I absolutely would have had at least another glass of (if not several). The winners were all very deserving: Marc with his Chocolate Chip Cookie Ale took 1st, 2nd was Evan with his Area 34 Milk Brown 34C, and 3rd was Brad with his Slippery When Wet Hop Pale Ale (Brad’s dry hopped version was also very good!).
The success of this event was discussed at our last CAMRA SO meeting, and we’ve all agreed it will be held again on the 3rd Saturday of September next year. The main issue this year was that notice for the event was a bit short, so I’m hoping that if we can give brewers more advance notice next year we’ll have even more talented brewers participating!
I lived in Victoria about 10 years ago, which is where I first started getting into craft beer. My then-boyfriend worked in the industry, and one weekend he took me to this beer festival, something I had never heard of or experienced before. It blew my mind. All the different breweries, all the different kinds of beer. It made a strong impression on me. This was just before the craft beer explosion, and I think that there were likely lots of people who got their start in seeking flavourful beer after being exposed to it here. I think I must have went a good 3 or 4 years in a row before I moved back to the Okanagan. I’d always intended on going back, but for one reason or another it just never seemed to happen.
The golden sunset of 2008.
Clearly I haven’t had enough to drink – from 2009
The Dancing Beavers With Bagpipes of 2010
This year I was determined to make it to the Great Canadian Beer Festival, despite not having any vacation days left. Although I’ve always enjoyed Friday night better as it’s a bit quieter, Scott and I had to go with Saturday tickets because of pesky work getting in the way. We drove out from Summerland Friday night, got to Surrey in time to have a quick pint then off to bed, woke up super Saturday early to catch the 8:00am ferry over… only to find out that it was cancelled and we would be on the 9:00 instead.
Hardly any line ups at the beginning… except in the distance there is a massive line at Fuggles and Warlock which remained the entire day.
This put a cramp in our plans, as we’d planned on having time to drop off our bags at a friend’s house, but now had to transit direct to the festival. We arrived at 12:10, shortly after the gates opened which was great as the line up to get in moved pretty fast. Fortunately they did have a bag check at the festival so we didn’t have to carry our bags with us all day.For some reason I’ve never had anything but sunshine at the GCBF… I don’t know if I’ve just been lucky or if it’s the festival itself is lucky.
Almost every festival I go to, the morning after I leaf through the program only to realize that my aimless drinking the night before led me to miss some real gems. This year I wanted to make the most of my 5 hours in paradise, so after quenching my thirst I sat down in the shade to plan my attack. I had identified 77 beers I wanted to try, which despite my best efforts would have been totally impossible. I narrowed that down to about 20 and circled the booths on the map to really get organized.
Starting to get busy!
This worked for about 15 beers or so, all of which were fantastic. Afterwards the heat and crowds started to wear away at my focus, well and maybe the buzz I had going on was doing something to me as well. All of a sudden I realized it was 4:00 and I was out of tokens and still had at least 6 or 7 booths left on my list. I ran to get some extra tokens… but alas… not only were there major line ups at every single booth, the best beers had also already sold out, with some breweries being completely tapped out. We spent the next hour seeking out the shortest lines and had 3 or 4 beers I can’t really remember now.
Aaaaand cue the line ups
We headed over to Smiths Pub afterwards for the tap takeover by Doans and Coal Harbour, who were not present at the festival but still make some pretty fantastic beer. I would like to say more about it, but my memory gets really hazy around this point. I did get to meet up with Dave, of What’s Brewing, and his wife Ivana, and I think we had a nice time but I’m not entirely certain. I did wake up feeling relatively alright, after about a litre of water and an extra strength advil. Then we were back on the ferry and driving home again!
Cheers to Beers!
What I learned from this trip – don’t try to do it in one day. Next year I will book a vacation day so that way I can attend the festival both days and leisurely drink my way through my wish-list. I did get to try some amazing beers – here’s the few that really stood out for me this year:
Brasserie Dunham: Berliner Mango Weisse and Saison Cassis- if you see a beer from this brewery buy it. Everything we tried from them was fabulous
Three Ranges Brewing: Canadian Peso – with cilantro, cumin and jalapenos it’s a taco in a glass, which is good if you like that sort of thing
Strange Fellows: Coup de Foudre Sour – amazing sour brew using traditional methods
Russel Brewing: Grapefruit Punch Bowl – I didn’t do a lot of IPAs (just because there were so many unique beers to try) but this one was perfect for the weather
Four Winds: Mango Habanero Cask – not sure what the base beer was but this was such an interesting blend of spice and sweetness. It was perfectly balanced, as per the usual for this brewery
Wheelhouse Brewing: Scurvy Dog Spruce Ale and Northern Forest Berry Saison – both the spruce and the berries were foraged for the beer. Got a tip from Jeremy of Van Craft Beer to try this and I’m glad he pointed me in this direction. I’ll be keeping an eye out for more from this brewery in the future!
Central City: Sour II Cherry – I wanted to try this for sure, as the bottle is a bit out of my price range. Now that I’ve tried it, however, I may have to pick one up and see how it ages!
Driftwood: Latus Flanders Red – another well executed aged sour
Saltspring: Jalapeno Rasperry Wheat Ale – I really liked the fruit/spice combos of this year… if this is the new trend I’m down!
Yellow Dog: Ginger Lime Gose – I’m used to drinking their hoppy beers so it was nice to try something a little different.
There were many others that were also deserving of a mention… I will have to work on taking better notes next time!
There is no way to write about Crannóg Ales without including Left Field Farms, as they are totally entwined, with the products of each endeavor supporting the other. It’s fitting that Brian MacIsaac and Rebecca Kneen – the Brewer and the Farmer – are partners in life as well as business. On arrival we met with Greg Darling – the so called “left-hand man” of the brewery – for a scheduled tour (call ahead of time to get a spot). Several other people joined us for the tour, and over the course of the two hours I spent there a steady stream of traffic came down the rural road seeking some of the best beer BC has to offer.
Right away I learned that I’ve been pronouncing the Crannóg wrong all this time – the proper way is with the ‘o’ pronounced like ‘oak’ or ogre. As well I’ve long wondered what the name means and why their logo is a little hut on stilts. A Crannóg is a traditional Irish/Scottish dwelling, usually built over water or in an area that was unusable for agriculture. Greg explained to us that this was a good symbol for the sustainable development and land stewardship that guides their work.
The tour took us around the 10-acre certified organic farm, where we viewed the 2 hop yards. As well there are several fruit trees, which also make seasonal contributions to the brewery – in a few weeks a cherry ale will be available. As the first certified organic microbrewery, and one of only two on-farm microbreweries in Canada, sustainability is one of their primary driving principles. The farm is also certified Salmon Safe as they use compost and crop rotations to increase the nutrients in their soil, instead of fertilizer which can make its way into the local watershed with harmful results.
I was impressed to learn that their operation is low emission and zero waste – the spent grain is used to feed the livestock and forms the majority of their compost pile. The wastewater is used to irrigate the hops and other crops on the farm. The pigs help clear land and provide a source of fertilizer, as well as food and income in the fall when they are butchered. The sheep and chickens are also helpful in fertilizing, as well as keeping weeds and pests down in the hop yard, while providing eggs and wool. The sheep in particular are quite useful in keeping down the many weeds, in addition by being allowed in the yard once the bines are established they eat the leaves that they can reach thus providing airflow to the base of the plants and reducing the risk of disease. The bees also make their contribution, maintained by a bee-keeping co-op they help pollinate the crops and their honey finds its way back into the beer. Even excess wort is fed to the pigs, who seem to prefer it once wild yeast has converted it into a mild beer.
In the brewery they use water drawn from an on-site well which is spring-fed. This water gives the beer a unique profile and doesn’t need any of the chemical adjustments that some users of municipal water supplies require. The malt comes from Gambrinus, which is located a short distance away in Armstrong. They recycle water as much as possible within the brewery, with an innovative pipe and tank system for recirculating hot water. PBW and organic peroxide are used for cleaning and sanitation, which break down completely into the water supply.
The final stop of the tour was at The Bloody Stump – the tiny tasting room reminiscent of an Irish neighbourhood pub. Cool, and cozy as our group had now grown to over 10 people we gathered around the little bar and sampled the freshest Crannóg Ales available. The tasting menu was the Red Branch Irish Ale, Partition Bitter, Gael’s Blood Potato Ale, and the infamous Backhand of God Stout. With the tour finished we had the opportunity to buy pre-filled growlers of Backhand and Red Branch. Greg explained that pouring growlers on demand took too long and this way they could also optimize the CO2 levels to keep them fresher longer. The growlers are sold for $20.00, with a $5.00 deposit on returns. With the long line-up just to pay for my 2 alloted growlers I can see why they switched to this system. Once the beer sells out for the day, it’s gone, and the brewery only does fills from Thursday to Saturday.
Other than growler fills directly at the farm, it’s only available at a select few restaurants and bars that are limited by driving distance. The brewery operates on a closed-growth model, where they production is limited by the footprint the farm can sustain. The lucky establishments that serve Crannóg ales are chosen by the brewery due to a shared ethical approach and use of local ingredients. Kegs and party pigs are available for private purchase direct from the brewery and a few private liquor stores also carry the party pigs.
After the tour I was able to sit down the owners, Rebecca and Brian, to learn more about their history. They purchased a 10 acre plot of land outside of Sorrento with a brewery and sustainable farm in mind in the very late 90’s after several years of searching. They had been home brewers for several years prior to this, and through their connection with Farm Folk City Folk they were in touch with people in the food and beverage business in the lower mainland. Some of these chefs fell in love with their beer, and strongly encouraged them to start a professional brewery so their beer could be enjoyed by a larger audience.
Crannóg Ales and Left Field Farm opened in 2000, on what Brian and Rebecca called the “leading edge of the second wave of craft breweries” joined by ½ dozen or so other breweries including Spinnakers, Sailor Hagars, R+B and Storm. Using the equipment from the closure of the historic Horseshoe Bay Brewing, the brewery hasn’t grown much since it opened, occupying a small rustic building on the heart of the farm.
Sourcing good quality organic hops proved to be quite difficult, as what was available often had to travel a large distance, thereby negating the sustainability of using organic. At first Brian was having to brew with lager varieties, as that was what was available, and so they had to get rather creative with the recipes to find what worked. In order to facilitate their own demand for hops in they started planting hops on-site in 2001, and expanded with a second yard in 2008.
At the time there was little information available on small-scale hop growing, even though hop growing had historically taken place in BC there were no examples in the area to learn from. Rebecca scoured whatever information she could find to learn more about growing techniques. Some of the sources of information dated back to the turn of the 20th century, when organic methods were the only methods used to farm. They took trips to other hop farms, and found that the farmers were not necessarily open to sharing their techniques, so the couple sometimes had to resort to covertly sketching what they had seen in order to study it back home.
Through trial and error, they built their knowledge of organic growing methods to the point where Rebecca was able to publish the Small Scale Organic Hops Production Manual in 2004, which is available free in electronic form here (link). Currently they grow 17 varieties, with the majority being Fuggles and Golding, along with Nugget, Magnum, Cascade, Challenger, Mount Hood, Willamette, Chinook (which they are in the process of expanding). They also grow small amounts of a few varieties for more experimental use, such as Zeus, Galena, Northern Brewer, Brewer’s Gold and Sterling. They sell rhizomes each spring, with hundreds of people in BC now growing the children and grandchildren of their hops, myself included.
Perhaps most interesting is the Sockeye Hop, which they found growing wild on their property a year after they began growing. At first Rebecca said they didn’t pay it too much attention, but when they used it in brewing they found it to have a very unique, spicy flavour profile. With alpha acids averaging 7-8, it is mid-range in bitterness with plentiful oils and intense colour and flavour. It doesn’t store very well, so they use it once per year in their special release, the Spawning Sockeye Ale, which commemorates the annual Sockeye run. They did not patent the hop, but they control the sale of rhizomes to organic farms where they know the wild pedigree of the plant will be respected.
Each year at harvest time they have a crew of 8-10 people handpick the cones over a period of two weeks. Rebecca took me up into the oast-house to see how they dry and pack the hops. The idea for the dry is adapted from a ostrich egg incubator, and basically resembles a giant dehydrator. Inside of a big wooden box there is a heating element and a fan at the top, then several large drying trays built from wood and hardware cloth. The element heats up to about 38-40 C, and the fan ensures air circulation with vents for the moisture to escape. The whole process takes about 12 hours. The control box for the dryer was the biggest investment,and the only piece of equipment they weren’t able to build themselves.
Once dry the hops go into a press, again custom built to their specifications. Rebecca said due to her agricultural background she wanted this piece of equipment to be manual, in order to keep it simple (and easy to maintain). The hops are placed into a bag, and for lack of a better term, squished into blocks. The pressure is left on for 10-15 minutes in order for the hops to solidify into the shape, resulting in a 3-4 kg compressed bag. At the end of the season, the hop crumbs that sift out of the dehydrator are collected and used in a special cask at the brewery – ensuring low waste as well as being a fun way to literally celebrate the completion of the harvest.
Brian told me the brewery only uses whole hops. While all the hops they grow are used in their brewery, they do occasionally have to source some hops from other organic sources. He said they prefer whole hops because it’s less work, but also finds the flavour of whole hops superior – like comparing whole food with processed food. With a pelletizer there is a chance of degrading the oils, as there is some heat produced in the process. Rebecca also told me about observing the wasted hops from the pelletizer in one of the large-scale productions they viewed – enough for their whole brewery to use in a year. Due to difficulty cleaning the machine, it’s also likely that different varieties can experience cross contamination. Brian says the perceived amount of work is about the same, whole hops can be removed from wort using a hop back, and it requires less filtration than a pelletized wort would to remove the hop particles.
I asked them about what they thought of the growing interest in hops as a cash crop, and whether this was a sustainable industry, or at risk for oversaturation and a crash. They recognize that brewers want high quality hops, and if they can obtain those ingredients locally, they will likely use them. However, Rebecca said people need more education about how to grow hops, and would like to see an organization in place to maintain quality standards. Some of the people who get into growing hops don’t recognize that all hops are not created equal – for example the first 3 years of harvest should not be sold commercially as the quality is poor. If a brewer buys poor quality hops from a local grower, they may assume that all locally produced hops are of the same quality, and quit using them. Left Field is part of a 5 study being done by UBC and TRU investigating the terroir of hops on 3 organic hop farms in different bioregions to understand how flavour may be affected by factors such as soil, climate, and food web. This concept is well-known to the grape industry, but the factors that influence hop development are relatively unknown.
They do feel that oversaturation is possible and there is a certain level of attrition within the hop farming industry. It is quite expensive to get the initial infrastructure set up and putting off earning any meaningful income for at least 3 years is difficult to swallow.Brian and Rebecca spoke to the high rate of failure within the industry – for both craft breweries as well as hop growers, often resulting from a lack of education, awareness of the marketplace, and low quality product. However, they both feel that the growth of craft beer will continue, especially as many breweries continue to use imported versus local hops. Rebecca emphasized a key factor for success being the development of relationships with local breweries. If a high quality product is available locally, breweries will want to use it.
I asked Rebecca if she had any final words about the hop farming industry. She feels that working together is the most important thing. The collegial approach common to the craft beer industry can also benefit it’s agricultural counterpart. “The only way to make it work is cooperatively, and to focus on quality”. If BC hop farmers can work together to maintain a standard of quality with their product, there is an opportunity for a strong industry to develop. She points to the Harvesters Of Organic Hops coop in Liliooet as being an example of this concept – several farms share the same processing facility and market their product together. It is easy to see how farmers working together, rather than competitively in isolation, can result in a much higher rate of success overall.
I met Joey Bedard at a gas station on the outskirts of Kamloops. After making sure I had a vehicle that could handle a bit of a rough road, we headed out to Tk’emlups te Secwepemc, the Kamloops First Nations reserve where Hops Canada has their massive hop farm under development. I have a pretty good sense of direction, but there is no way I’d be able to find my way back there now, as we took several turns on small paved streets on the reserve, then dirt roads along and across the railway track, where I got my first glimpse of the massive trellis system that just went on and on.
Joined by his border collie/Aussie mix, Cowboy, we drove around the hop yard in the truck. Not much to see except for dusty roads and rows upon rows of hops. Joey is quite the talker, and I was taking notes as fast as I could write. This isn’t his first business venture, he started out supplementing travelling with working in construction, which took him from Ontario to BC and several international projects. At one point he had contracts with several First Nations working on fishing lodges, which helped make the connection with the Kamloops Band. He eventually wound up working for a larger firm in Fort Mac, which then was bought out leaving him with money to invest in a new project.
Having helped his family set up a 20 acre hop farm back in Ontario, as well as being a fan of craft beer, he was looking for an opportunity at three different BC locations for a large-scale hop yard, when he settled on the location in Kamloops. Joey says looking back on things now Vernon had better soil, as the current site needs lots of amendment for nutrients and weed control. The deciding factor was they were able to secure water rights in Kamloops, as hops require a lot of water to grow.
In April 2014 Hops Canada started importing hops from Europe and was able to sell their inventory within 3 months – demonstrating that there was interest in this product. Planning for the hop yard started around the same time, with the deal with Tk’emlups te Secwepemc being struck in March of 2015. They continue to sell imported hops in addition to their own production. The band owns 66% of Hops Canada and Joey hopes that within a few years they will buy out his share, and take complete control over the business. At this time he estimates this is the biggest business that the Kamloops First Nations band is involved in.
It just goes on and on
Currently 220 acres are planted with 13 varieties of hops: Chinook, Centennial, Cascade, Zeus, Galena, Cashmere, Tettnang, MT Hood, Willamette, Crystal, Fuggle, Horizon, Sterling, Triple Perle, UK East Kent Golding, Golding, Newport, Ultra, Sorachi Ace, and one as-yet unnamed hop. The company employs 35 people currently, with a good number being First Nations. Hops Canada has also branched out into growing organically with 5 grown in 20 acres: Zeus, Centennial, Cascade, Chinook, and Galena. If you’re not already aware, obtaining organic certification is quite a complex process as some very specific rules have to be followed, along with site inspections and other conditions to be met. As a large scale producer, Hops Canada feels that they have the capacity to do the extra work, and extra investment to become organic, while for some smaller producers it isn’t necessarily worth the extra effort. Joey tells me that they have interest from Beau’s All Natural Brewing, from Ontario as well as Nelson Brewing for their organic hops.
The biggest problem right now is keeping up with the weeds. They have a mechanical weeder but the land sat empty so long that there are a ton of seeds remaining in the soil which have been activated by the regular watering and fertilizing. They have a herd of goats, which are helpful in the fall and winter, but are not able to be used during the growing season as they developed a taste for the hop shoots and would even preferentially seek them out to eat! The sheep were a bit more dedicated at just going after the weeds, but right now they are all penned up and waiting until harvest to come back out into the fields. The farm is certified Salmon Safe so while they use a small amount of Roundup, the amount of chemicals used is minimized to avoid runoff into the river. This also meets the approval of the First Nations band, as they prefer to avoid any kind of contamination of their land.
The hops are watered using 164 km of drip irrigation and are fertilized once per month starting in June. As it’s located in a very arid area first they loaded the bines with water, which wound up being too much, and some of the plants developed root rot. With the watering schedule scaled back the hops have pretty much completely recovered. They have also experimented a bit with using less support wire on the bines to cut back on the kilometres of wire required, but are leery that when they are in full production the weight of the bines may cause that system to fail.
Cascade is currently the best producer, and I’ve heard from other farmers that it typically performs well in its first years. As the bines are still immature, they haven’t yet hit peak production. Joey’s “pessimistic” estimate is that they will harvest 20,000 lbs this year, but if things go well they will likely be able to achieve a much better yield.
Hops Canada is also running a program in partnership with TRU to develop new, proprietary varieties of hops. They are using quite sophisticated techniques to study the hop genome to identify the specific DNA that account for desired attributes – such as aroma or alpha acid content. Then the genetics of current hops with that DNA are matched in order to breed and develop a genetically novel variety – which can then be trademarked (and often fetches more money on the market). I was pleased to hear that right now they are looking at two varieties with a stone fruit aroma and flavour profile, which is something I’m quite interested in using in my brewing projects lately. The program currently has a research grant from the government and is looking for someone at the PHD level to get involved in this program.
The Custom-Built Harvester – it’s even bigger in person!
Joey has remarkable insight into this industry, and feels that growing hops in a large-scale operation like this is the only way to be competitive in the International market. Growing the amount that they do, they can afford the big harvester, dryers and pelletizers that are out of reach for the smaller grower. Hops Canada’s harvest equipment was custom made in China and they are able to sort 600 bines an hour. Next year they are planning to double-up on their equipment to get through the harvest even faster. The hops are sorted and dried and then are taken to another site in the industrial area to be pelletized, packed and shipped. Joey is working on getting a new pelletizer developed that can process the hops at a lower temperature. This prevents the oil from coating the pellet, allowing it to break down more easily in cold beer – which would be an advantage for the current dry-hopping trend. Once built it will produce some of the best quality hops available in North America currently.
Right now their market is roughly 50% in Canada, the majority of this going to Alberta, with 25 of 27 of their major craft breweries using Hops Canada product. The other half is being sold internationally to places like India and South Africa. Joey thinks that this allows them to expand beyond the capacity of the local brewing movement, as he feels there is limited growth locally due to the fact that we may be hitting “peak” craft beer and any new breweries are only dividing the existing market share, rather than increasing it. Interestingly the preferences for alpha acids and hop profiles are much different internationally, so some of the varieties they are producing are not influenced by the current West Coast hopping trends. The current corporate takeovers of small craft breweries by larger conglomerates, such as AB-InBev, also affects the hop market. The conglomerates often have hop production in-house and discontinue any existing contracts that were previously in place, which can have a serious financial impact on the hop producer.
Joey’s opinion of the current market is that it will not continue to experience growth as it has since the hop shortage a few years ago. It seems that a lot of growers were inspired by recent shortages which may wind up with market being flooded with hops reduce their price. His business plan is to be profitable by selling hops at $5.00/lb. This is possible due to the large scale that they are working with in Kamloops. This would then allow Hops Canada to be a profitable venture should the current market value decline significantly. For the record, some other operations are currently basing their profit models on selling at $15.00/lb so this is quite a difference.
Growing and selling hops is not Joey’s only business venture at this time. He seems to be perpetually energetic, and is involved in several other business ventures including looking at starting a garlic farm with the idea of replacing the chinese-grown garlic currently available at most grocery stores. He also owns Canadian Brewhouse Supplies, which helps breweries get up and running. Currently they are working with 3 startup breweries, located in Powell River, Edmonton and Nunavut. I have only covered a fraction of the information I learned during the 2 hours I spent at the hop yard, I actually even forgot to take more pictures as I was too busy listening to all that Joey had to say.
I asked Brent and Kari Tarasoff what was behind the name of their hop yard, Square One Hops. They told me it had two meanings for them. First Kari explained “it all starts here”, on a farm, where you need to grow good quality ingredients to wind up with good quality beer. Brent added that as they have come to the Okanagan to start growing hops after 30 years in Saskatchewan growing grains and oil seeds, it also signifies starting over again at Square One in this new field.
They told me they were looking for a change, and after seeing the staggering number of vineyards in the area they decided to do something a little different. Being huge fans of craft beer they saw a niche in a growing market and felt like this was an opportunity to contribute to that industry without having to take on the task of starting a brewery or a restaraunt. Kari explained they would rather be in the background, working on their own property. Being big IPA fans they enjoy drinking beer made with their hops, and are looking forward to hopefully seeing more local breweries incorporate their ingredients. Last year The Barley Mill Brewpub in Penticton used their hops in an IPA that was so popular it sold out before they were even able to try any of it.
They certainly chose a scenic location for their hopyard. Nestled in among vineyards and wineries on the road between Penticton and Naramata, their property borders the popular KVR trail. They have attracted a lot of attention from passersby on the trail, some of whom have never seen hops before and assume it’s some sort of very tall grape plant. Some of the older generations that come by are more familiar with hops and say that they used to pick them back when there used to be many more hop farms in the province.
While the bines look pretty healthy already, they will continue to ‘green up’ as the season progresses
Brent explained that while they are new to growing hops, they have a lot of experience in growing, and this has put them ahead of the curve in getting good production out of their plants. He showed me 3 year old bines (the term for a vertical vine) growing next to one year old bines, and it was hard to tell the difference between the two which indicates very healthy growth already. He still continues to do consulting work for roughly 40 farms back east, so clearly he knows how to grow!
They had a small harvest last year of about 70 plants, which yielded 150 lbs of hops. This year they have about 1,750 planted with a bit more planned to go in once they finish building their shop. Although they’ve only been on the property since last March they have 1, 2 and 3 year old plants as they were able to get some older plants as well as rhizomes. Most of their hops come from Ontario with a few from the Pacific Northwest. They have 17 varieties growing, although they laughed as they said for some of those varieties there are only 2 or 3 plants, which will more likely go towards home brewing endeavors with their friends and family. They have Columbus, Centennial, Cascade, Chinook, Glacier, Hallertau, Magnum, Mount Hood, Nugget, Willamette, Super Alpha, Pacific Gem, Galena, Crystal Triple Pearle and Sterling.
Burrs (hop flowers) in development on the bine
Brent’s prior experience farming also paid off in that they had some awareness of the work required on a farm. In contrast to the large-scale farming they were doing before, however, growing hops is very labour intensive for the square footage user to produce them. To get started they had to drive 6×6 treated poles into the ground and set up the wire trellis system 20 feet above ground. The baby hop plants were planted in rows with compost to help get them started, then twine is strung from the wires down to be tethered two to a plant for the bines to climb up. Drip irrigation is laid out along each row, with the option to do ‘fertigation’ feeding when they update the system next year.
With the initial work to get the hop-yard established, then there is endless maintenance to do, as each bine needs to be trained onto the twine, and shoots cut on plants 2 years and older. The rows need to be sprayed for weeds, and hand weeding in between the vines. As the hops get bigger some growers opt to remove the leaves from the first few feet of the bines, but this hasn’t been found to be necessary yet. About a half dozen applications of foliar fertilizer have already been applied, as well as spraying for downey and powdery mildew. Fortunately they have been finding few pests are attracted to the bines, there is already a well-established ladybug population taking care of the occasional aphids that they have seen on the leaves. Other pests are moles – they trapped about 100 last year – and also cutworms in the spring. Otherwise most other animals are not interested in eating the tough, spikey bines and pretty much leave them alone.
In the fall they will harvest the hop bines by cutting them down from the trellis and – lucky them – running the bines through their brand-new hop harvester. Last year they said it took 90 hours to pick the cones from 70 plants, so you can imagine with 1,750 plants a harvester would be a necessity. Finally in the fall compost is added to the crowns to prepare them for another busy season the following year.
Look at all those future hops! Now these are some happy plants!
I asked about expansion and Brent laughed, saying he is already as busy as he can be with the current workload. He said maybe down the road they might look to grow more, but at the time being they wouldn’t be able to put in anything further unless they had a crew working there. Kari stated that in the Okanagan the cost for land and production is high compared to the value of the final product. In areas like Yakima they have access to cheaper land and cheaper labour, making it much more affordable to grow hops on giant acreages.
I asked what their advice would be for someone thinking about starting a small-scale hop yard. Brent told me that when attending a hop growers conference in Ontario the number one issue for small growers was quality. If the hops aren’t well managed breweries are not interested. Interestingly organic hops were even harder to sell, as they were associated with being of less quality than regular hops, and there wasn’t much demand. However, this doesn’t mean hops are loaded with chemicals, as Brent explained that farmers will never spray more than they absolutely have to as that is extra work and extra money.
The other challenge Kari told me is marketing. Being relatively new on the scene, they don’t have a standing contract for their hops like some other hop producers do. They will be selling whole-hops this year, but are considering adding a pelletizer as this is usually the preferred form for most breweries. They will be doing alpha acid tests, likely using the new lab in Vancouver, which will determine the level of bittering agents in the hops – a necessity for commercial sales. They have interested breweries in Alberta, but are also hoping that local breweries will be looking to use a product grown close to home. They joked that they were thinking of doing an “adopt a hop” program to get breweries out to the farm to tend the hops that would wind up in their beer, but figured the brewers might be put off by the amount of work the plants require!
It’s a bit unusual to see Barley and Grapes growing side-by-side in the Okanagan!
As they had a small area of the yard unsuitable for trellising, they planted some barley – a whole .05 of an acres worth! Brent thinks if they can harvest by hand and find a small thresher they could get about 300lbs of grain which they could malt themselves and potentially have an ultra-local beer made!
Kari and Brent have also connected with a few of the other hop-growers in the area, and they are all comparing notes on their projects so far – as while hops were historically grown in the area it is a learning process as they are being reintroduced. A smart business move on their behalf is that they are entertaining the idea of renting out their harvester (and pelletizer if they go that route) to other growers, thereby removing the financial barrier of all the local growers buying expensive equipment, and helping them get back some of their initial investment on equipment. It is nice to see the same sense of camaraderie in the hop-growing community as there is in the beer-making community.
We shared a couple of cold IPAs together after the tour and I’m happy to report that Brent and Kari also have excellent taste in beer. There are plans for a home-brewers event on the property later this summer, and I’m also hoping to get out again at harvest time to check out the process and possibly pick up some fresh hops to brew with! It was really neat to get my first in-depth look at a commercial hop-yard, especially one that is just getting established. With owners as warm and welcoming as Kari and Brent, I’m sure that we’ll be seeing Square One Hops featured in some excellent BC Craft Beer very soon.
Steve Tomlinson is the man behind A Guy With A Shovel Hop Yard (AGWASHY for short). Located in Penticton’s West Bench neighbourhood which is known for its orchards and more recently, vineyards, Steve’s hop yard takes up the back third of his 1 acre property,and with just over 300 plants it is a fairly solid backyard operation.
He came up with the idea a few years ago when he and his wife, Rita, were looking to use their space for growing a cash crop. Steve says he’s not entirely sure what drew him towards growing hops, he started reading about it and grew a test row before taking the plunge. Some of his hops are now 5 years old, making him to my knowledge one of the first people in the area to look at growing hops beyond personal use.
Hop Flowers, also known as Burrs
His hops are sourced from Left Field Farm in Sorrento, the hop yard associated with Crannóg brewing. Most of the hops from there are certified organic, which he was thinking of doing, however, once he took a look at the specifications required for certification, he quickly realized that it would be too much work, too much money and also likely result in a lower harvest.
This being said, there isn’t too much chemical intervention happening in his yard either. He hasn’t sprayed so far this year, he has used a granular fertilizer but otherwise the hops are doing their own thing. For pests he’s noticed this year that the aphids aren’t too bad, and the lady bugs seem to be taking care of any that are around. Grass and weeds grow between his rows, but a simple mow takes care of most of it, and the hops are established enough that they have overtaken any weeds growing in the rows.
Looking through a row at AGAWASHY towards one of the most valuable tools – the Orchard Ladder
Steve’s approach to setting up his hop yard is very DIY. He was able to source cedar poles for a couple hundred hundred dollars for the lot, and brought them down from Enderby on a friend’s flat deck ATV trailer. He brought in a machine for a day to augure and erect the poles, then he set up the trellis himself. Conventional trellises sit at about 20’ high, but he chose to set his at 15’ as it was as tall as he felt comfortable reaching up to from his orchard ladder!
The hop yard blends nicely into the rest of the Tomlinsons gardens, with berry bushes, vegetable beds and grape vines rounding out the other crops. While they will both spend some time over the summer maintaining their other gardens, after the twine is strung and the bines are trained there isn’t a lot of work to do with the hops until harvest time.
Some early cones were discovered ripening on the Cascade Bines
In years past harvest time meant having family and friends come over to hand pick the vines, which is quite a bit of work. Last year he built a harvesting machine with a trailer axle with picking arms which was described by an onlooker as “bashing the cones off the bines” and then used a treadmill as a sorting machine. It worked, but it wasn’t ideal, so he’s still working on a harvesting option for this upcoming season. The dryer is like a modified dehydrator, also a DIY project. One dry the hops are vacuum sealed, which helps compress them, and then frozen.
I asked Steve if he would recommend becoming a backyard hop farmer to someone else having learned via trial and error over the past few years. He felt that for a homebrewer perhaps having 6 different varieties using a maypole style trellis wouldn’t take up too much space and with at least 1lb per plant would provide ample hops for the brewing season. For a commercial endeavor he felt that marketing was a challenge. He has had interest in the past from some local breweries, but when it came time to sell the harvest people who had been keen earlier were not returning his calls.
Part of the issue is when Steve first set up the hop yard he figured people would appreciate a variety of choices, so he planted Cascade, Centennial, Chinook, Fuggle, Nugget, Newport, Galena, Willamette, Mount Hood, Golding and Zeus. With most breweries requiring an alpha acid test at $60.00 per variety, it would have killed his profit to test all 10 varieties. He took aim instead at the home brewing market, as they are usually not quite as discerning as the commercial breweries. This hasn’t been quite as successful as he had hoped, although I have brewed using his hops, and found that they were quite good, it was just a bit of guesswork adjusting my recipe to accommodate whole hops.
To gain more interest in sales, he removed all of his varieties this year aside from the Cascade, Chinook and Centennial. This way he can do the alpha acid testing without wiping out his profit margin. He is hoping he can find a local brewer to take them this year, otherwise he will again be looking at the home brewing market. He did keep one of each of the original varieties, which will wind up in the home brewing projects of Steve and his friends. As far as the hops that he took out, they were able to find homes for both at Hops Canada and then with another local grower.
Steve actually planted his hopyard before he got into home brewing, which he started as a way to use up some of the hops and experiment with the different varieties. Now using the very cool Grainfather system he is able to keep his kegerator running at full capacity, using all of his own hops. I quite enjoyed sampling the pale bitter, dark bitter and dark rye IPA he had on tap, and was impressed at the collection of hops he has in his freezer. He let me know he needs to make space for this year’s harvest, so if I know of any interested homebrewers to spread the word!
A look at the trellis system – the bines are still developing this year due to the replanting, and will be much more developed over the next 2 growing seasons.
Steve has also started the BC Hop Growers group on Facebook as a way of connecting other small scale hop growers in the region with each other and to share advice and information on hop growing techniques. He’s learned quite a bit since he started 5 years ago, and is very happy to share this information with other aspiring hop farmers!
I’m really stoked on this home brew contest from Hops Canada and Red Collar. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to get into the brew room in time to get something submitted, but those prizes are sure tempting! I have a wheat beer recipe I’m dying to try out! Hope some other local home brewers are able to make a showing at this as well!
I was lucky enough to be able to visit the Sunshine Coast and Tofino in May for a week-long road trip with my boyfriend, Scott. Of course I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit a few breweries along the way. This followed the route of the Coastal Ale Trail, part of the larger BC Ale Trail tourism initiative to establish craft-beer specific tourism. This project will be officially launching during Craft Beer Month in October, but check out the newest issue of What’s Brewing Magazine for a sneak peek at some of the routes.
Persephone Brewing Company – Gibsons, BC
The circular route we followed included several ferries. The problem with ferries is if you don’t have a reservation, you might not make it on the boat. We were “coned” – which if you aren’t familiar with the term involves a BC Ferries Worker stopping you from proceeding in your line-up onto the boat by placing a large orange traffic cone in front of your vehicle. Horseshoe Bay isn’t a bad place to spend a few hours, but unfortunately I had booked a tour at Persephone and they were too busy to reschedule to later in the day. I was crushed, but decided to look at it as an opportunity to plan another trip to Gibsons later this summer.
We still stopped off at the Brewery, in order to quench our thirst and to pick up some beers for the trip. The place was packed, there were people everywhere – inside, outside, everywhere you looked. A live band was playing inside, and some really tantalizing smells were wafting from the food truck outside.
We got a couple of flights and tried the Golden Goddess Ale, Hop Yard Red Ale, Best Bitter, Dry Irish Stout, Double IPA, and a collaboration ale with Deep Cove whose name I can’t recall but it had coffee in it. I liked the Red ale best, while Scott was a fan of the stout. We hung out for a bit savoring our drinks and people watching. Bohdi got to join us on the patio and as usual he got lots of attention from everyone around. They had a crew there filming for the just-launched investment opportunity, so it was cool seeing that go on as well.
We filled up some growlers, grabbed some cans (to take hiking later in the trip) and a few bottles to bring back home. Here’s hoping to get back there again and actually do a tour with the crew there – the Beer Farm has some really great ideas about sustainable agriculture and community involvement so it would be really neat to be get some more details on how they are operating.
Always good advice.
Townsite Brewing – Powell River, BC
I was able to arrange a tour with Andrea, the (read card operations manager) and I was really looking forward to visiting as we have a hard time finding their beer in the Okanagan. If you are wondering why the name Townsite it’s because the brewery is located in the historic section of Powell River, known as Townsite.
The brewery itself is located in a beautiful heritage building, and I learned that the tanks and fermentors had to be built specifically to fit into the low-ceilings of the brewing space. Andrea told us that all of their equipment was as manual as possible, as it is easier to fix than automatic parts. However, manual equipment is also quite labour intensive, and all of the staff work quite hard to keep things running smoothly and keep the beer flowing.
Cedric, the head brewer, was spotted hard at work taking samples from the fermentors to check specific gravity. Andrea told us that he and his wife, Chloe, met in Montreal, and both are highly educated in the brewing sciences. Cedric originally started his career in Belgium, which explains that countries influence on many of their beers. They came to Powell River with the specific goal of opening a brewery, which was a bit unusual due to the geographic isolation and the relative lack of craft beer options in the town at that time. The local population has really embraced Townsite, and it is available on tap in many locations in the town. They also do good business out of their tasting room, with several beers available for growler-fills only, such as the Suncoast Ale.
The brewery was under construction while we were there, they are renovating the upstairs portion of the building to create a new tasting area up there, as well as improvements to the current grain and barrel storage rooms. The barrel room was really interesting for me to see, for a limited production brewery they had an impressive barrel collection, one piqued my interest being labelled as a Brett from December 2014. They get many of their barrels from Vancouver Island wineries, one beer is aging in a blackberry wine barrel, which sounds amazing!
We followed Andrea down to the tasting room where we tried a dizzying array of samples. I was really impressed at the number of variations of styles that they were producing, with year-round, seasonals and single-batch beers being produced. I have to admit, tasting all of this wonderful beer at 11:00 in the morning… I may have lost track of all of the ones we tried. I can say that every single one of them was amazing, and many were totally unique. As best as I can remember we tried the Suncoast Pale Ale, Pow-Town Porter, Tin Hat IPA, Zunga Blonde Ale, Zwarte Wheat – a dark witbier, 7800 Saison, Charleston Belgian Triple, Perfect Storm Oatmeal Stout, Shiny Penny Belgian IPA, Cardena Belgian Quad and probably a few more. I also really enjoyed the names of the beers – many are named for local landmarks such as Tin Hat Mountian, or local colloquialisms such as Zunga – the name for a rope swing that you use to launch yourself into a body of water.
Again we filled up growlers for our trip, and filled a box with beer to take home. You’ll probably notice several Townsite beers on the blog over the next few weeks as I work my way through my collection! (talk about the beer that is even better when cellared)
Gladstone Brewing Co. – Courtenay, BC
I had heard that there were several good breweries in the Courtenay and Cumberland area – Gladstone, Forbidden, and Cumberland. Sadly, Gladstone was the only one open on a Monday, so I wasn’t able to go to the other two, which was really disappointing for me. Oh well, looks like I’ll have to try again next year!
Gladstone was on the corner of a funky complex that also housed a pizzeria and a coffee shop. The vibe there was sort of garage/DIY/Rockabilly blend. I tried the Sterling Belgian Single, Pilsner, Royston IPA and the Porter.I enjoyed all of them, but found the Royston IPA really stood out with lots of citrus and tropical flavours.The tasting lounge was cozy, but had an impressive set of long tables made with the trunk of an entire tree. They also had a spacious patio outside, and with the pizzeria next door you could probably spend quite a bit of time there.
Tofino Brewing Co. – Tofino, BC
We staying in Tofino for 6 nights, and kept coming back to the brewery to refill our growlers. I love their beer, and love visiting the brewery. It might not look like much from the parking lot, but it’s open and spacious, due to the high ceilings and big bay doors, and has a welcoming atmosphere. On one side is the tasting lounge and on the other is the brewery. While we were there we were able to watch various aspects of the brewing process unfold while we sipped on the final product! It was always packed full of people, no matter what day or time we were there, it seemed like a great local hangout!
While we were there we had fills of the Kelp Stout, Hoppin Cretin IPA, Tuff Session Ale and Blonde Ale. All four are great. I especially enjoyed making radlers with the blonde to have earlier in the day, and finishing off the evening with the stout around the fire. We also were able to pick up their Lager in cans, which was so great for our various adventures around the area. I’m really glad to see more breweries taking advantage of mobile canning units, as travelling with growlers or bombers is pretty awkward.
We were also lucky enough to be able to arrive just as they were releasing their Spruce Tree Ale, which out of all of the various tree-inspired beers in BC is my personal favourite. I learned on one of our visits that they actually pay someone to go out into the forest and pick the Sitka spruce tips for this beer. That sounds like such an awesome job! As well, I also learned that the Kelp Stout, probably one of the most unique beers around, uses fresh kelp straight from the ocean both during the boil and then to condition the final product. The kelp is also harvested locally. No wonder this place is always packed with locals and tourists alike, they really have embraced the spirit of the West Coast here!
Longwood Brew Pub – Nanaimo, BC
On our way home, I wanted to stop off in Nanaimo and check out the three breweries there, Longwood, White Sails and Wolf. It was a Monday again, and Wolf was closed, but I was able to check out the other two.
Longwood Brew Pub has been a popular pub in Nanaimo for a while now, but underwent a rebranding recently that wound up with them opening a production brewery for bottled product as well as selling draught beer at the pub. We had the IPA, ISA, Dunkleweizen, ESB, Irish Red Ale, Framboise, Russian Imperial Stout and Two Penny Ale. I liked the Irish Red and the Dunkelweizen the best, while Scott really liked the Stout and the Raspberry.
The beers we had at the brewpub are made on site, so they do differ somewhat from those brewed at the production brewery. The grain is stored on the top floor, brewed on the middle floor, and then the fermentors are in a cold room on the bottom floor – all visible to the public from the different areas in the pub. I also found it interesting that half of the offerings were served at cellar temperature, which you don’t see too much these days.
White Sails Brewing – Nanaimo, BC
This brewery was the hidden gem of the trip. I had never had anything from them before, and I was really impressed. The space was bright and open with the brewery behind glass on one side, and the tasting room on the other. There was lots of seating and a stack of board games as well, which made me wish we didn’t have a ferry to catch!
I tried everything on tap, and again was really blown away by the quality of their beer. All styles were crisp, clean and very well executed. We learned that they use local and organic ingredients where and when they can. I had the Departure Bay Session Ale, Old City SMASH II, Buttertubs Tafelbier, Yellowpoint Pale Ale, Mount Benson IPA, Snake Island CDA and Gallows Point Chocolate Porter. In case you couldn’t guess, all of the names are local geographic features from around the area. The IPA and CDA were standouts for me, but most of all was their chocolate porter. I have never had a beer like that before in my life. It was so rich and smooth with minimal bitterness. It was so good I had a growler to myself later in the week to celebrate my birthday, and it was like drinking liquid chocolate cake! I am sure we will be seeing more from this brewery in the future, but if you are ever in the area for sure check these guys out!
Of course the trip was over too soon, but I was happy that in just one week Scott and I got to visit quite a few breweries, as well as go hiking, kayaking, surfing, fishing, and also had some time to just relax on the beach. We really live in such a beautiful province, there is so much to see and explore!