By Jessica Kirby, Senior Editor of TheGreenGazette —
It may come as a surprise—and a source of great pride—that modern day Canadian craft brewing has roots in British Columbia. According to Ken Beattie, executive director of the BC Craft Brewers Guild, it all began in 1982 when John Mitchell, who owned the Troller Pub in Horseshoe Bay, hired brewer Frank Appleton to supply beer to the pub.
“John had this idea after the province-wide beer strike in 1979 left him without a supply of beer for his regulars,” says Beattie. “The provincial government allowed him to brew beer for the pub as long as it was not part of the existing building. John and Frank made the beer across the street and moved it by handcart to the pub.”
Craft brewers are defined and classified in official terms by a taxation benchmark based on volume, meaning they produce less than 160,000 hl (or 320,000 kegs) of beer per year. In every other sense, they are defined by freshness, meaningful, local branding, and an exquisite variety of flavours that has blossomed in BC and across Canada. Flagship and seasonal brews of all varieties from deep stouts to springtime lagers, sometimes extended with local fruits or spices, offer beer lovers novel, creative choice.
Beattie says the magic lies in the artistry and creativity of brewmasters—they are at once artists and scientists.
“They are really like chefs as they continue to experiment with different ingredients and styles to create new flavour combinations,” he says. “And because they create these beers in small batches they can produce more beers in a month than a large foreign-owned brewery would in a year or two.”
Four Magic Ingredients
Craft brewers may experiment with flavours, but the actual brewing process remains sacred, and has been for 100 years says Henryk Orlik, brewmaster at Pacific Western Brewing Co. in Prince George.
Orlik studied beer brewing in the world’s best place for learning the art—Germany. He started his apprenticeship at the Scherdel Brau in Hof an der Saale 40 years ago, and 10 years later finished the master craftsman program in Munich.
“Small brewers still use four main ingredients: barley, hops, yeast, and water,” he says. “The technique is essentially the same also; a few things may be automated, but it is basically the same.”
Orlik says some large scale brewers, however, are using as many as 50 ingredients including corn syrup, rice, oil, and starch.
“From a brewing perspective, using corn syrup and rice is more complicated,” he says, but big brewers often have no choice.
“In the 40s and 50s many of them were short of barley and so they went to alternatives,” says Orlik. “Now they can’t change their recipes because people want that light flavour that stays the same.”
Because barley is responsible for a big part of a brew’s flavour profile, and just about anything from weather to water can change a barley crop in subtle but important ways, maintaining a consistent flavour can be a challenge for any brewer.
“This is when it becomes science,” says Orlik. “Every year the crop is changing, creating a different size of kernel, a different colour, but customers want the same taste. So, when the barley changes you adjust the recipe.”
Pacific Western Brewing has its tried and true Pacific, Canterbury, Traditional, and Cariboo varieties and has gone in all directions with seasonal delicacies from a triple rye barley brew with oranges and coriander to make it smell and taste like Christmas cookies; lightly spiced pumpkin beer in the fall, and a light strawberry lager that offers summertime refreshment tasting like strawberry shortcake.
Some of the best news about craft brewing is that besides the exceptional range of flavours, it is an environmentally conscious industry and has been for centuries.
The popularity of growlers is a great example of the environmental benefits BC craft brewers bring to our local markets
Beattie says all brewers recycle bottles and cans; all brewers take the spent grains from the brewing process and donate them to local farmers as feed for livestock; and, all brewers recycle the water used in the brewing process and treat it so it can be used in future brews, reducing the impact on the environment.
“The popularity of growlers is a great example of the environmental benefits BC craft brewers bring to our local markets,” he says. “Growlers are re-useable bottles purchased once by the customer, directly from the brewery, and filled at the brewery with the freshest beer directly from the tanks. In BC, the popularity of this product and the fact that every brewer accepts other breweries’ bottles to refill, make this a very eco-friendly program.”
Pacific Western Brewing Co. launched its Refresh and Reforest program in 2009, which commits to planting 50,000 trees annually in the Cariboo region to assist with the effects of the mountain pine beetle infestation. Each case of Cariboo beer sold sends proceeds to the Forests for Tomorrow program with an end goal of planting one million trees by 2020.
Craft brewing stacks up against the big brands relatively well with consistent growth and more of the same on the horizon.
“Based on its taxation classification, in 2009, craft beer represented nine per cent of the market share,” says Beattie. “The most recent quarterly report from BCLDB for March, 2014 had the share at 22 per cent. This is positive growth and the optimist in me sees the situation in the following way: as well as we have done in the past five years, we still have 78 per cent of the market to attract new customers.”
And they are well on their way. In July of last year the total number of breweries operating in BC was roughly 55—one year later 70 breweries call BC home, and another 17 are underway and expected to open within the next 12 months.
New Kid on the Block
Barkerville Brewing opened in February, 2014 by Victoria, BC native, Russ Ovans and brewmaster Troy Rudolph. The young brewery tells the story of the Cariboo gold rush with names like 18 Karat Amber Ale, 52 Foot Stout, Prospectors Peril Blonde Ale, Hound of Barkerville Brown Ale, Wandering Camel IPA, and Sternwheeler Scotch Ale, not to mention the company’s tag line—Stake your Claim.
“I think our story of the Cariboo gold rush gives us a unique way of branding and putting North BC on the map,” says Justine Pelletier, general manager at Barkerville Brewing. “We are the only microbrewery in the north distributing throughout the province, and we are the only growler filling station in the northern interior.”
Barkerville Brewery is committed to environmentally friendly practices, including reusing its grain bags for planters and garbage bags, and recycling or composting just about everything the facility uses.
“We donate all our spent grain to local farmers, and our Trüb and protein waste is mixed into other organic waste to create a nitrogen rich fertilizer,” says Pelletier. “We source all of our product as locally as possible. We installed new low flow toilets in our storefront and are looking into more water saving technologies.
“Our staff is keen to be green and always looking for new ways to cut down on waste.”
She adds that craft brewers have the benefit of being able to source more products locally because of the lower demand on quantity.
“This industry does not use chemicals, preservatives, or pasteurization in the same way that large scale breweries do,” says Pelletier. “We go organic whenever possible.”
Barkerville Brewing may be new, but it is turning heads with its most unusual brew, the 52 Foot Stout, made with local birch syrup from Moose Meadows Farms in Quesnel, and its most popular beer—the 18 Karat Ale.
“We had the honour of winning a silver medal at the Canadian Brewing Awards in the North American Amber Ale category,” Pelletier says of the 18 Karat Ale. “This was our first brand we launched after opening our doors in February.”
Find out more about these and other amazing BC breweries online at Pacific Western Brewing Co. http://www.pwbrewing.net/, Barkerville Brewing http://barkervillebeer.com, or the BC Craft Brewers Guild http://bccraftbeer.com/.
Did you know:
Beer is the world’s oldest written recipe. A tablet with the Hymn to Ninkasi, the Sumerian goddess of fermentation, dates back to 3500BC. The hymn was the recipe for making beer and therefore in an oral culture was past between the nomadic tribes. – Ken Beattie, executive director, BC Craft Brewers Guild
Four thousand years ago in Babylon it was custom that for a month after the wedding, the bride’s father would supply his son-in law with all the mead or “honey beer” he could drink. This period was called the “honey month” or what we know today as the “honeymoon”.
There are only really two types of beer, Ales and Lagers. Stout, Pilsner, Hefeweizen, Bock, et cetera all fall under one of these two categories.
There are about 100 different styles of barley, each with its own contribution to make towards a beer’s flavour and profile. There are also 80 to 100 types of hops and around 30 yeast varieties—it isn’t hard to see why brewing is very much an art and a science.
Get the Most from your Brew:
Ken Beattie, executive director of the BC Craft Brewers Guild offers these little known tips for making the most of your craft beer experience.
1. Always drink beer from a “beer clean” glass, as it releases the CO2 in the beer and opens up the flavours and aromatics like wine.
2. Most people drink beer too cold, and should never drink it in a frozen or chilled glass. Lagers should be enjoyed between 2 and 7 degrees C and ales between 7 and 14 degrees C.
3. Beer and cheese pair great together because they are both original Farmhouse products, both are fermented and aged, and both balance sweetness and acidity with fruitiness and fermentation flavours. Sip beer, taste cheese, sip more beer, repeat responsibly.
Try these sure fire examples:
Wheat beer with a mild bloomy rind – a Brie or Camembert
Pale Ale – medium to aged cheddar
Strong Ale (above 8 % ABV) – Blue cheese, Stilton, and aged cheeses
Justine Pelletier of Barkerville Brewing adds that a slightly warmer ale will bring out more of the true characteristics intended by the brewmaster and provide a brighter hop character and a more prominent malt body.
Always sniff the beer first, cautions brewmaster Henryk Orlik, and if you don’t like the smell, don’t drink it. “You should be able to get the whole flavour profile from the aroma, and when have it in your mouth it’s too late.”