It wasn’t that long ago that the beer scene in British Columbia was pretty boring. The market was dominated by a few large breweries that produced beers that pretty much tasted all the same. Today it’s different, the province, including Vancouver Island, is practically littered with craft brewers.
I am a fan of beer, and although I like to say I only like to drink beer in the summer time when the temperature goes up, I would be lying. Years ago, when my favourite uncle came to visit our family he called me his little bartender, and I would ask, ‘What kind of beer would you like, Uncle Ray?’ He always said, ‘Doesn’t matter Donny, there’s no such thing as bad beer.’ You know I loved him dearly, but that was in the days when most beer tasted the same, and if Uncle Ray were still alive today, I would have told him, ‘yes, there is bad beer, but let me get you tasting some of these great ones we have in BC today’.
The makers of artisan or craft beer are commanding a larger than ever market share…and you know that smaller breweries are being successful when they are bought out by larger beer companies, and that has happened here in BC, but it’s estimated up to 17 percent of the domestic beer purchased in BC is from small to medium sized breweries, and that’s not a number to sneeze at. Numbers like that are available in a just-published book by Victoria-based writer Joe Wiebe, Craft Beer Revolution, The Insider’s Guide to BC Breweries. I caught up with Joe at the first-ever licensed brewpub in Victoria, Spinnakers. As we chatted I asked him how all these breweries could make money with all the competition that’s out there. He told me that there is one major factor driving a lot of the expansion, and it’s the big city, even for a Victoria-based company like Driftwood Brewery:
“But mainly these days opening a brewery is like a license to print money, as long as you can make a decent beer and as long as you are able to deliver it to Vancouver, because beer drinkers in Vancouver are really driving the popularity of craft beer in this province, even Driftwood Beer here in Victoria has built an entire warehouse facility in Vancouver just to service that Vancouver market.”
But Victoria is still seen as a real hotbed for craft brewing, and I asked Paul Hadfield, the founder of Spinnakers, how he feels about all the competition. I was a little surprised when he told me that he welcomes it. He figures that everyone can do something a little different from the next guy, and that no one brewery can be all things to all people, they simply couldn’t afford or have the room to brew all the different kinds of beer in one place. So having different breweries, Hadfield says, has allowed Victoria, and the rest of BC to become a much better place to drink beer overall. He’s also quick to point out that government needs to continue to loosen up on our alcohol regulations when it comes to sales and marketing. It only became legal for him to brew beer and sell it in an attached restaurant a couple of months before they opened back in 1984.
I think people get into this business partly because of the endless variety of the product you can make, all the different things you can do to a beer in its creation, the different grains, style of malt, other ingredients that can be added in season, fruits for example, coffee, fresh instead of dried hops…and as Joe says, brewmasters also a just a little different from the rest of us:
“They are all a bit crazy, but they also all have some sort of spark of creativity, and it’s something you need to have to survive in this business.”
I brought three beers in for Stephen Smart (guest hosting for Jo-Ann Roberts) to taste, two courtesy of Canoe Brewpub, a bitter and a lager, as well as a sour beer from Driftwood Brewing. I’ll put a link to the audio when it is posted on the CBC website so you can listen to us taste the beers! …and there are a few photos to come as well.
Oh, and here’s the recipe for the Scotch eggs I attempted to make. Two tips…use small eggs and cover them thickly with sausage meat.