A BC Hop-story

by Sonia Montisca

In the gloomy winter months, the promise of Victoria Beer Week on the horizon is a welcomed one for beer lovers. Between Great Canadian Beer Festival and VBW, Fresh to Death keeps the hopheads happy. But what’s in a hop anyway?

A hoppy history

BC has a long history of hop farming that can be traced back to the late 1800s in both the Fraser Valley and the Saanich Peninsula. Prohibition in the US from 1920 to 1933 caused hop growing to expand just as Canada’s own stint with prohibition was ending. The Fraser Valley became one of the largest hop producing regions before the market collapsed in the 1990s. Its fall was brought on by the rise of macrobrewing, as well as the opening of the market to lower cost producers of hops from Europe, Australia, and the Pacific Northwest region of the US.

Hop farm in Chilliwack.

Return of the hops?

As craft brewing has soared over the last two decades especially, the revival of hop farming in BC has sputtered. Although the demand is obviously there, local hop farms have not yet been able to provide a full supply.

The hops that give flavour and aroma to the craft beer in your hand right now are, most likely, from the world’s largest hop producing country, the US. Washington State’s Yakima Valley and the Willamette Valley in Oregon make up more than three quarters of the country’s hop crop. 

The two next biggest hop producers in the world, Germany and the Czech Republic, both fall along the 49th parallel like BC does. Nevertheless, Canada isn’t even in the top 10 of hop producing countries worldwide. So, if BC’s climate allows for quality hop farming of multiple varieties, why hasn’t the market been able to provide enough to supply the boom in craft beer?

Some of it has to do with the time and dedication that needs to go into establishing a good brewing variety of the plant. Stabilization of a new hop variety can take a decade and a stabilized hop plant should stay planted for at least another decade to fully mature. Known varieties that don’t need to be stabilized take about three years to reach full production, with some sales possible in year two.

Building out the infrastructure of a hopyard is also not cheap. Trellising, irrigation, and soil development at the plant’s growing stage, as well as the need for special picking machines, dryers, balers, pelletizers, and packaging at the harvest stage (particularly if the brew is meant to be fresh-hopped), makes the up-front investment much bigger than for other crops. Being resource, land, and labour intensive means a good return on investment for hops takes longer than most farmers can put up with.

Another issue with hop production is in the way the plant is sold. Many hop varieties are protected by licenses, meaning only certain people are entitled to grow them. If that year’s supply is already spoken for and sold through contracts, getting that hop could be next to impossible. While craft brewers are nimble creatures by nature, they need a reliable hop supply to create quality beer.

The potential for growth

Speaking of beer, the trendy nature of craft brewing is also a hindrance to establishing sustainable hop farms. Cultivating a new hop varietal every year or two to keep up with the latest trend is simply not feasible. 

To stimulate the local market, some BC breweries are collaborating with small local hop yards in the Fraser Valley and on Vancouver Island for their hop supply, at least for some of their brews. These mutually beneficial partnerships allow breweries to really stand behind the “drink local” culture they’ve inspired, while providing hop growers with steady clientele to help maintain their operation. But more business is always helpful and necessary in this sector to establish a stable stock.

A few breweries that are established on farmland, like Crannog Ales in Sorrento and Persephone Brewing in Gibsons, are growing their own hops for their beer production. Crannog, for example, has been focused on being a sustainable small scale farm-to-brewery operation since 2000, first planting hops on their farm, called Left Fields, in 2001. The team published a growing manual in 2004 to share their knowledge and experience. They currently grow 16 hop varieties that are used in their ales and they also sell hops rhizomes to other interested farmers. 

Focusing on the terroir of BC’s various bioregions and understanding how they each affect the profile of a hop variety is a key step in creating a long-term market. That’s why brewers have been partnering with local research labs at colleges and universities to help speed up the breeding and growing process of wild hop varieties in an effort to have a bank to use in the future. 

The potential for growth in the industry exists. A small core group of farmers that are already doing high-grade growing and packaging are determined to help it grow better. With some more support from community craft breweries, the hop farm revival in BC could be booming too.

A New Decade in the Craft Beer Revolution: Brewing Progress and Parity

by Sonia Montisca

The year is 2020. Discrimination of any kind has died out and people of all backgrounds, genders, and beliefs are equally free to enjoy a quality craft beer.

Well, at least part of that statement is true. Even in 2020, there are lots of wrinkles to iron out in the fabric of society, starting with the basics of freedom and equality for all. The slew of ongoing political protests around the world are evidence of that. So are the various human rights campaigns that have been fought over the centuries, from a woman’s right to vote, to the civil rights movement, to Indigenous rights, to same- sex marriage and LGBTQ+ rights.

What does any of this have to do with craft beer, you ask? Quite a bit, actually. As a microcosm of its own within society at large, the craft beer industry in BC is an interesting case study to look at when it comes to the progress that has been made for a number of reasons.

First and foremost, the world of craft beer, like many others, is still male-dominated. Estimates place the current ratio in BC at roughly 70% men, 30% women – a noticeable difference in both breweries and at craft beer-related events. Second, the craft beer industry has tended to pride itself on its reputation of being open and welcoming to everyone, but that wasn’t always the image that people associated with beer. Third, craft beer’s growth and maturation, especially over the last decade, has allowed people within the industry to push for more positive changes at a faster pace. Starting their careers two to three decades ago, many of these people are the pioneers of craft beer in BC and the hops they’ve planted, both literally and figuratively, are now flowering.

A woman in a man’s world

Perhaps that’s why the craft beer industry has thrived here in majestic, mild-mannered BC. Its reputation has attracted a diverse group of headstrong people that can get things done. Some of those people are women, paving the way for others after them and helping give craft beer a more ubiquitous appeal.

As more breweries have popped up, opportunities in craft beer have increased as well and women have seized them across all levels of the industry. This phenomenon is also reflected in the expanding range of craft beer consumers.

Even so, many women still feel alienated in some environments, particularly if they happen to work in a male-dominated field as so many of them do. Whether it’s for internal reasons like the common imposter syndrome, or for external ones like real-life sexism in its various insidious forms, they feel like they don’t belong at one point or another or, worse yet, that they aren’t even welcome to try.

Rebecca Kneen

One of the pioneer women of BC craft beer, Rebecca Kneen of Crannog Ales, can perhaps best illustrate the sentiment with some poignant examples. She still recalls the early days of her career when she attended brewers conferences in the US, before Canada’s craft beer scene could really hold its own. Her first year, she was just one of four women in non-sales roles in the sea of 1,200 attendees. Another year, some of the workshops were being held in a strip club. More representation in craft beer is helping make sure these examples are no longer applicable, but the under- lying feeling of being unconsidered that it evokes in many women is still real and relevant today.

In BC, the women I’ve talked to over the years about the craft beer industry have all said the same thing. Generally speaking, they’ve had similar opportunities as their male counterparts and are taken seriously in their roles. But all of them have also said that they’ve had to work hard to earn their place and every single one has a memory of at least one moment where she felt her credibility questioned, simply for being a woman in a field with mostly men.

That’s part of the reason why days like International Women’s Day, held on March 8th every year, is celebrated – both as a way to acknowledge the fight of past generations to see how far we’ve come, and also as a reminder to not take the status quo for granted and to continue fighting to improve.

Craft beer and community

Victoria Beer Week usually coincides with International Women’s Day and, as we embark on this new decade of craft beer exploration together, we have a perfect opportunity to take a look around the community we’re building.

Lisa Drapaka

“In my experience with craft brewing, people have always been cool, creative, artistic, socially aware individuals.” says Lisa Drapaka, former brewer at Lighthouse Brewing Company here in Victoria. Now back in her home province of Alberta, she’s happy to see craft beer gaining a stronger foothold there too. In the years she’s been working on the production side, she’s seen the amount of women making craft beer, as well as enjoying it, grow. Her hope is that the growth of women in beer continues, with more women in senior ranks and in every other aspect of the industry.

Ensuring that people know it is a welcoming space is an important step towards gender parity and greater diversity overall, both at the consumer and producer levels. A hurdle there has been to redefine the image of beer from the days when macro beer marketing was dominant. The stereotypical ads of a group of men watching sports and being served their beers by scantily-clad women alienated all sorts of potential beer drinkers.

Craft beer has had to undo that damage and, considering the boom, has had success in doing so. The quality and variety of craft beer has something to do with it, but so does its specific identity. Focusing on the landscapes, communities, and the real people that make up the uniquely local characteristics of the craft of brewing has sparked new interest in the age-old beverage. As a result, women are steadily growing as a craft beer consumer group and their increased interest is great news for the industry too.

Space for everyone in the tasting room

As much as craft beer is about the ingredients that go into the brew, it’s also about the people that make it. Ingredients influence the style and flavour profile of a beer. The people involved in its creation influence how that beer gets made and presented to the world.

Lisa’s point still stands. The craft beer industry tends to attract a certain type of person, one that’s creative and passionate, with a bit of an independent or unconventional streak. Whether running the business or the production side of a brewery or craft beer event, the hours are crazy, the profit margins are slim, and the paperwork is absurd; people that stick with it do so because they love what they’re doing. With a focus on willingness to learn and ingenuity, the type of environment they create tends to be open and welcoming, attracting even more creatively passionate and determined weirdos (in the best way possible) to the fold.

That’s part of the reason why BC’s craft beer community has held onto many of its original women pioneers, with more women joining the industry every day. Women like Rebecca (and Lisa who’s now back to leading the charge in Alberta), Nancy More who is the first female brew- master in North America, professor at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, and a recipient of last year’s “Legend” award at the BC Beer Awards, Shirley Warne at Angry Hen Brewing, the Hadfield women at Spinnakers Brewpub, Claire Wilson at Dogwood Brewing, and the countless others on the business or manufacturing side of craft beer have persisted, despite the unconscious biases and invisible barriers they’ve had to overcome. And they’ve worked with their colleagues to continue steering the craft beer community in a more inclusive direction.

Most people that work in the industry today describe a sense of camaraderie that they feel and many say cooperation is preferred over competition. Collaborations are common for a reason. (On a related note, the women of craft beer celebrate International Women’s Day every year with a collaboration brew. Hosted in communities around the world, including most years at Dogwood Brewing in Vancouver, the brew day is meant to connect and encourage more women to get involved in brewing as a hobby or career.)

Societal issues like the wage gap have become more talked about in the last few years, which has helped highlight some of the wrinkles that still remain. Uncomfortable, but necessary discussions around the topics of sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and the like are also becoming more frequent too, driving further change. Outdated gender roles and expectations of both men and women are slowly balancing out and unfair privilege is being addressed. As we all become more aware of the injustices baked into the crust of our multicultural pie, how we deal with that knowledge will help guide how we keep developing in the future.

When it comes to the craft beer community, there’s still plenty of space left in the tasting room for anyone who wants to enjoy drinking a great beer among new friends. Come join us and see for yourself.

Partner Profile: Vessel Liquor Store

Vessel Liquor Store is a locally owned and operated retailer of wines, spirits, and ales. With a comprehensive selection of quality crafted products, the team at Vessel strives to offer knowledgeable, outstanding customer service.


-Ross Borland, Managing Partner

Vessel at Fresh to Death in 2019.

Opened in December of 2015 at Oak Bay Junction, one of the core mandates of Vessel is to contribute to the community. Besides their curated beverage selection, featuring both local and global raves and rarities, Vessel also hosts wine and beer seminars in their custom-built classroom called the Cru’s Nest. These seminars are held regularly to teach attendees about the processes that go into creating their favourite libations through expert-led tastings. Industry-related courses for professionals, including Vessel’s own staff members, are also offered to help spruce up or maintain a wide breadth of knowledge.

Ross Borland, managing partner at Vessel, brings his expertise from more than 25 years in the hospitality industry to the team. He’s been every- thing from a bellman to a hotel manager and understands the value that a wisely selected drink has when hosting events.

With a lot of thought and design going into both the space and the team at Vessel, the liquor store has fast become a community favourite. See what their service is all about in store or at one of the shops they host at events throughout Victoria, like the one found at Victoria Beer Week’s Lift Off!

For info about what Vessel is up to, head to their website or follow them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Partner Profile: Nimble Bar Co.

Nimble Bar Co. began where many relationships do— in a bar. After a bit of a disjointed start, Kyle and Nate, the company’s two drink-slinging founders, progressed from competition to cooperation.

Leaning on their years of experience in bartending and hospitality, the business partners have worked to develop the “bar school” that they wish existed when they were just starting out. Whether they’re working an event or teaching hosting venues, businesses, and organizers what makes a bar work and what doesn’t, Nimble’s mission is to “eradicate bar inefficiencies and elevate drinking culture everywhere.”

Nate and Kyle

Award-winning professional bartenders, bar consultants, marketing experts and managers, and local food and beverage talent make up Nimble’s instructor ranks. The team offers training sessions in Victoria and Vancouver regularly to impart their expertise to others.

Covering everything from pouring techniques to on-the-fly cocktail creation, even the most seasoned bartender can pick up a few new tips and tricks while improving their garnish, bitters and tinctures, and spirit, beer, and wine knowledge. Palate development, effective guest communication and assertiveness, responsible alcohol service, and how to maximize establishment or event profitability, among other topics, are also covered in Nimble’s full-service Bar School.

Gain the confidence and knowledge needed to be an entertaining, effective, and well-informed host at any event featuring a bar, no matter the setting, and step up your service game with Nimble Bar Co.

Interested in attending some classes? Find out more on their website, or follow them on Instagram.

In the Spirit of Beer returns to Lure Restaurant + Bar for another year. Join eight of Victoria’s bartenders as they get creative with mixing craft beer and Vancouver Island spirits. Each participant brings their own unique experience to the competition, showcasing their skills and flavour profiles as they create a signature craft beer cocktail. Coached and curated by Victoria Beer Week sponsor, Nimble Bar Co., the evening is set to be a concoction of clever beverage crafting.

Attendees will get to sample each bartender’s creation, accompanied by bite-sized snacks from Lure’s kitchen. Once each beer cocktail has been tried and tested, samplers get to vote for their favourite before the judges decide who deserves the victorious title of “Best Craft Beer Cocktail Creator” for another year.

Who is BC Beer Memes?

Whether you like what they’re saying or not, it’s undeniable that the BC Beer Memes Instagram account has a voice in the BC craft beer scene. Gaining nearly 4000 followers in just 6 months by “meme dumping” with consistent regularity and sharing their opinions, often with brutal honesty. Their indiscriminate targeting of all manner of people and industry, their cutting posts, and their involved level of insight into BC craft beer have led many people to speculate: Who is BC Beer Memes?

Meme from @bcbeermemes

So, as a service to the BC craft beer market, we decided to undertake some reconnaissance work to find out more about BC Beer Memes. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to pry the mask and cape off of our mysterious memer, so no identities were revealed during our interview. However, we did chat about a spectrum of topics: from their most hated trends to more philosophical topics like, What is the BC Beer Memes origin story? And what’s in store for the BC craft beer landscape in 2020? While we don’t agree with all their sentiments, we do respect their “warts and all” view of an industry that they clearly care about.

Let’s get into the interview.

Victoria Beer Society: You started your meme page on July 28th 2019. What is the BC Beer Memes origin story? Why now? What straw broke the camels back? Had the page been brewing up for a while like a well conditioned lager? Or did you churn it out like a buttery diacetyl packed ale?

BC Beer Memes: First off this feels like a Miss America interview, some of these questions are kinda rinky dinky and fluffy but I guess that’s where the common listener is at in BC for the beer game!

There was not a particular watershed moment that led to the creation of the page. But to play into your metaphor, I suppose the origin is more akin to well-conditioned lager. Being in and out of the industry and a “Craft” Beer Lover, a lot of the issues tackled on the page is common talk around the industry. Everybody is trying to make their buck off this so-called craft industry, and after hearing and seeing some of the wonky practices being dealt it seemed fit that an internet based response was the best way to comment and still let the world (BC) decide for themselves what to listen to or not. It was pretty quick and the internet decided the fate of the page in a short period of time.

Originally, I came across BCwinememes (need to give that POS a shout out or will never hear the end of it), that GUY/Girl, whoever they are, were speaking out about a lot of crazy industry centric situations in public that was resonating with the wine community. They stood their strong stance on the topics presented and that was very credible (ie. drinking Oculus with Coke). The groundwork already laid by pages such as dontdrinkbeers and bcwinememes helped establish the fact that there was perhaps a market within BC craft beer for a silly meme page.

You’ve been very vocal about areas of the BC brewing landscape that need improving. Eg. Pay to play, lazy bar managers, marketing trends that need to die. What does the ideal BC craft beer landscape look like to you?

This is a bit of a loaded question, and this answer will be filled with pipe dreams, but I will attempt to be MODERATELY succinct. A good beer scene has relatively low barriers to entry from a governmental/bureaucratic point of view. There should be room for a full spectrum of producers, in terms of production capacity. This is where BC’s market is pretty interesting and kind of messed up. The BC beer Mission statement was always to run BIG BEER out. However, with the fast growth of the industry, it seems like this world is about your survival and not about the beer. The practices to bring down the AB inBevs of the world turned into bringing down the fellow “craft” brewer instead and it is more dog eat dog than ever.

We have plenty of breweries that compete on the municipal, regional, national and international stage. Big isn’t necessarily bad, but goddamn, the quality still has to be there, and that’s where too many don’t live up to the expectations of what “craft beer” is supposed to be. We all say “craft” is better, but there are plenty of sub-par craft beer options out there, and frankly, the further out it goes the more the quality suffers, and that’s purely from the realities of shipping volatile product far away.

In short, a decent beer scene consists of a multitude of players (NOT infinite) operating in a free market, with plenty of cold storage and shipping solutions to retailers and on-premise licensees that operate with integrity, and respect for product and producers.

If you could relocate any brewery in the world to BC who would it be and why?

The whole nostalgia/charm/stigma of a brewery is where it dwells. Great Notion is Great because of the personality Portland brings to it. The trek to Cantillon is a pilgrimage/right of passage for those who love and respect what they have done throughout over a century. Steel and Oak is in New West lol. Hill Farmstead, Jester King, Fremont, Treehouse, The Veil, Cloudwater, Brewsky, Tilquin and so on, are all who they are because of where they are, if they were anywhere else they would not be that. With the lovely “Craft” Collective Factory in our backyard, we have clearly seen that trying to recreate a brewery here from far away is not all it’s cracked up to be.

You love to make fun of trending styles. What trend in BC craft beer do you hate the most? And what trend (if any) do you secretly love?

Hate: Kettle sours with Fruit (Strawberry mostly, there should be a law about putting that in beer in BC, sorry Tristan). The whole adjunct thing is really becoming an issue TBH. Pastry stouts, fruit in Wheat beers, all the BS is creating a whole Basic soccer mom vibe and 9 out of 10 adjunct beers are a useless waste of money. In my unholy opinion. Any brewery that just throws bad beer in a barrel and waits it out for a future release can burn. With everyone and their sister starting up a barrel program these days, as a consumer, I’d be very conscious of sussing out who is being strategic and who is being bandwagonney. If that’s a word. Also, any brewery pursuing the low-cal, light beer trend should just quit before they get left in the dust.

First day brew problems, @bcbeermemes

Love: the trend of Dageraad lol. That Brewery can do no wrong. Honestly not one for trends, if you make a good product, then the money is yours. If your Gose is balanced with a nice balance of salt, tart and a fuller flavour from the wine grapes you fisted in there, then a repurchase might be in order.

Experimentation is cool, and throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks is cool; as long as the thought process behind smacking ingredients together makes sense. If you just couldn’t wait for the yeast to eat all the sugars from your quintuple dry-hopped IPA with hops nobody knows about cause you already printed the labels and needed to start a new IPA in the brew schedule then down the drain it goes!

If you could turn any building in BC into a brewery, which would it be?

Maybe the one fuggles and warlock are in IDK. Kidding. Sort of. I’m going to have to go with Science World.

What do you think is going to be the next big thing in BC beer?

Besides the loss of some really great breweries, hmmm maybe hard seltzer?? Seems more sustainable than Spirits. There is a lot to explore in the world of Kveik yeasts, and I hope breweries continue to push the boundaries in that realm. Hazy IPA is here to stay for 2020, but there should definitely be a higher focus on balancing the best of both worlds of “East Coast” and “West Coast” style IPA.

There are obviously a lot of players in the game at this point. Hundreds of breweries, festivals, tap houses, brewing publications, etc. So who’s doing it right?

The ones who are making money, I guess. We are all in the money-making industry so if you are making it, then maybe you’re doing it right, or you are just Foss who has butt tuns of money and doesn’t have to worry about it. But, there is also a difference between who is doing it right, and who is doing it successfully. Monetarily speaking. Nickelback makes lots of money, and everyone still hates them. The opinion of this page on who is doing it right really doesn’t matter. There are 5.1 million people residing in BC minus the Celiacs… that’s a lot of beer drinkers. If I said that Driftwood is doing it right that would only really resonate with like 5 people (JK), but it would start a colossal outpour of angry nerds. Is Superflux doing it right? Who knows?

You have obviously gotten the attention of a lot of the influencers in the industry. Arguably becoming one yourself. Now that the industry is listening, do you have an end game or goal? Or is your page derived from more of a Joker: “some men just like to watch the world burn” sort of philosophy?

The primary goal of the page was for a self-sufficient supply of shits and giggles. If anyone else gets a laugh out of it, then that is fine too. I suppose, the real goal is to have industry folk take a step back and look at where they belong on the tapestry and decide whether they are happy with that position or not. For non-industry folk, I hope there is also laughter as well as maybe a touch of enlightenment in the sense that we shouldn’t blindly praise everything just because it is craft. Holding breweries to a higher standard of accountability for their product is more important than ever as the industry continues to grow.

Any predictions for what 2020 holds in store for the BC craft beer landscape?


Again, besides great breweries shutting down? I am noticing more and more Beer Share pages out there. Lots of people have reached out to the page asking similar questions here today, and are seeking truths about an industry they care about. People are gaining more access to worldly quality products and are being able to make their own decision on what “Craft” Beer should be. So I am interested to see how that affects BC Beer sales.

Also, every year we seem to make slight improvements on the provincial level towards eradicating archaic laws and regs, and enabling more flexibility and freedom for producers to market and sell the way they see fit. I hope that continues into 2020.

Will you ever hang up your cape and mask? What is your exit strategy?

Man, really want a cape now. If it gets less funny to put out these memes it will be over, even if Murder Toad, Sadrock, and Russell are still around.

Ever seen how The Sopranos ended? Hoping to go out that way.

Thanks to BCBeerMemes for indulging us. If you want to check out the BCBeerMemes account for yourself, you can find them on Instagram.

Victoria Beer Week Returns March 6-14, 2020!

Victoria Beer Week returns, March 6-14, 2020! The festival celebrating Victoria’s craft beer culture includes a mix of 14 events over 9 days, including some favourites from past years along with some bold new twists. The week opens with Lift Off! on March 6th and closes with Saturday Night Casks on March 14th, both at the Victoria Public Market. 

Tickets for this 7th annual event are on sale now atvicbeerweek.ticketrocket.co, in person at Ticket Rocket (1050 Meares Street) or over the phone at 250-590-6291 or toll-free at 1-855-842-7575.

Victoria Beer Society members get deals on tickets to Lift Off! and Lager Than Life!

VBW is offering discounts for members of the Victoria Beer Society: $10 off Lift Off! and $7 off a new addition to VBW, Lager Than Life. These tickets will only available through the Victoria Beer Society website and make sure to be signed in to your account if you’re a member! For more information about the VBS membership program, visit victoriabeersociety.com.

Expanded Beer School Program to be announced in early 2020

VBW is also planning a continuation of its Beer School program with classes happening
throughout the Victoria Beer Week. Keep an eye out for our announcement and full schedule in 2020!

Browse Our 2020 Schedule

Media inquiries please contact: Joe Wiebe at media@victoriabeersociety.com

Fresh to Death 2019 Beer List

We have put together a delicious assortment of fresh hop beers, including IPAs, pale ales, sours, and even a grisette (light saison). And as a bonus, we’ve included a couple pumpkin beers and some Oktoberfest-style lagers to fit with the harvest theme of the event.

  • Category 12 Brewing – Fresh Data Fresh-Hopped Hazy IPA
  • Container Brewing – Pour Les Mineurs Frais Grisette
  • Dageraad Brewing – Wet Hopped Blonde
  • Driftwood Brewery – Sartori Harvest IPA
  • Fuggles & Warlock Craftworks – Chrono Wet Hop IPA
  • Howl Brewing – Harvest Fresh Hop IPA & Harvest Moon Fresh Hop Pumpkin Porter
  • Hoyne Brewing – Wolf Vine Fresh Hop Pale Ale
  • Longwood Brewery – Hopposites Attract Wet Hop Pale Ale with Kveik (collab. with White Sails Brewing) & Full Patch Pumpkin Saison
  • Mount Arrowsmith Brewing – Harvest Fresh IPA
  • Off the Rail Brewing – Fresh Hop Harvest IPA & Nur Ein Kölsch
  • Parallel 49 Brewing – Cashmere Comet IPA
  • Phillips Brewing – Green Reaper IPA
  • Red Arrow Brewing – Sunset Empire Fresh Hop IPA
  • Small Block Brewing – RyeCycled IPA
  • Strange Fellows Brewing – Hop Devil Fresh Hop Kellerbier & Juke Festbier
  • Strathcona Beer Company – Cashmere Hopped Sour
  • Twin City Brewing – Tangent Fresh Hop Tangerine Sour
  • Wheelhouse Brewing – 1000 Mile IPA
  • Whistle Buoy Brewing – Homegrown SMASH IPA
  • Yellow Dog Brewing – Alpha Dog Fresh Hop Pale Ale

Wanna try some of these beers? We still have some VIP and GA tickets available (see bottom of post)! VBS members get $5 off their GA ticket too!

What: Fresh to Death: Victoria’s Harvest Celebration of Fresh Hop Beer
Where: the Roundhouse at Bayview Place
When: Saturday, October 12th from 2pm – 5pm (VIP early entry at 1pm)
Tickets: On sale now!

Why you can’t get that beer here (and why that’s a good thing)

by Sonia Montisca

Victoria, BC’s capital city, is also the capital of BC’s craft beer movement. Home to the Great Canadian Beer Festival, Canada’s oldest beer fest, and Spinnakers, Canada’s first brewpub, the movement has been brewing in our little city for nearly four decades. We’re about to welcome Herald Street Brew Works, our 17th craft brewery to the fold, but even since its humble beginnings, it’s been clear that craft beer has an avid audience in Victoria. 

The great news is that the audience is getting bigger, not just in our city, but in the province as a whole. Craft breweries are opening up in small communities across BC, creating the same type of craft beer culture that we’ve been lucky enough to imbibe in for a while now.

The state of BC’s craft beer industry

Craft beer in British Columbia has become quite the phenomenon in the last two decades. According to the BC Craft Brewers Guild, a “craft beer” is defined as being produced in BC at an annual quantity of less than 200,000 hectolitres (hL) in a brewery that is at least 51% BC-owned. Small-scale breweries, also known as “microbreweries,” usually produce up to 15,000hL. With more breweries focused on small batches of quality craft beer opening up, the phenomenon is evolving.

BC currently has around 180 craft breweries and the number ticks upward with every passing season. Organizations like CAMRA BC, the BC Craft Brewers Guild, and the BC Ale Trail, to name a few, have also established themselves and grown in support of craft beer’s proliferation. The BC Ale Trail, a marketing project that promotes craft beer-focused tourism, has recently launched its very own app that gives users points when they check in at a participating brewery which can then be redeemed for special rewards. Other businesses that produce brewing ingredients, manufacture brewing equipment, or make use of brewing byproducts like spent grains have been able to develop on the periphery of the industry too.

Victoria and Vancouver showcase what craft beer can achieve, given a few decades to work with. In both urban centres dozens of craft breweries are open, sometimes even side by side like they are on Brewers Row in Port Moody where four breweries operate within a span of three blocks. These businesses have become allies in the craft beer movement instead of competitors.

In smaller, more remote communities where the amount of consumers is much more limited and access to larger markets is more challenging, the opening of a craft brewery has had similar results. Consumers in both urban centres and rural communities are able to enjoy top quality beer right where it’s made, supporting what are often hyperlocal businesses.

Oversaturation in the market?

With more craft breweries opening across BC, it’s reasonable to expect that the market could become oversaturated with quality craft beer (the horror!). However, the rise of the craft beer industry has made it a prime example of how focusing on local sourcing, production, and limited distribution can actually be better for everyone involved.

With “locavore” culture becoming more prevalent in the purchasing habits of consumers, as well as the production processes of businesses, growth becomes an interesting question for most small-business owners. As more people prefer to eat, drink, and shop local, a mutually beneficial relationship is developing between craft beer producers and consumers and it’s a relationship that should be paid particular attention to.

The distribution dilemma

A problem for many small breweries comes in the form of distribution. Reaching a larger consumer market is important when aiming for growth in sales, but a larger market in an already large province comes with its own challenges.

The starting costs of a brewery are high and rigid rules and regulations make finding or constructing a suitable location expensive as well. Add tapping into established distribution channels on top of that and it’s easy to see why most small breweries shy away from distributing beyond their immediate vicinity.

While this might be much to the consumer’s chagrin when leaving a tap takeover event with the thought “Dang, I wish I could get more of that beer here…”, it turns out not focusing on wider distribution is actually better for everyone involved. It reduces the environmental impact of greater production and emissions created from shipping products far distances. It also means that consumers need to visit a brewery to sample its brews, drinking them while they’re at their freshest, best quality, while also contributing to tourism revenue by spending their money at a local business with local employees and perhaps staying at a local hotel and checking out other nearby attractions.

Craft beer works for its community

A new craft brewery opening in any community is exciting, but the first or second in a small town is especially impactful as the brewery’s tasting room takes on the role of a new community gathering space. Becoming a hotspot for locals and visitors alike, as well as an ideal events venue for local groups and organizations, the opportunity for further economic stimulation in the form of business partnerships develops as well.

Perfect examples of the impact that a craft brewery has on a small community can be found all over the province – take Chemainus, Cumberland, Port Alberni, Powell River, or Prince Rupert, to name a handful. Each town is home to one craft brewery at the moment. Since opening in their small communities, populations ranging between approximately 3,000 and 18,000, locals have rallied around these businesses to help them take off in what are often trying economic environments. Many of these places were built around extraction industries, with pulp mills or mines being the main employers. As these industries have slowed, closed down, or automated, the communities around them have been affected too.

But craft breweries add more than just new jobs and quality beer to a place. They add a deeper level of education about beer that encourages a different mindset towards how products get made, sold, and enjoyed. Being able to engage with a brewery’s owner, the brewer, and/or the server as they teach you about their beer styles, their particular history in the community and industry, and their own personal brand becomes a much more lasting experience for patrons.

Get a taste of the movement at GCBF

Victoria has been an influential player in the evolution of craft beer culture in BC. Its history and ties to the movement’s earliest beginnings make it an amazing place to familiarise oneself with what craft beer has to offer. If you’re looking for a taste, all of these things – history, locavore culture, and great Canadian craft beer – can be enjoyed at the Great Canadian Beer Festival.

And if you can’t make it out to that, check out one of the seventeen (and counting!) BC Ale Trails for inspiration and start exploring the hometowns of community-focused craft breweries to get your fill.

Partner Profile: Specific Mechanical

Specific Mechanical Systems Ltd. (SpecMec) has been designing, manufacturing, and maintaining advanced brewing systems since 1984. The Victoria-based company focuses on crafting high quality breweries, distilleries, and custom metal fabrication for other industries, including pharmaceuticals and oil and gas.

Founded by two tradesmen – a welder and a machinist – the pair worked initially as contractors for a few of Victoria’s first breweries, doing maintenance and light fabrication work where needed. As the brewing industry experienced growth, the company expanded its capabilities, focusing on the manufacture of new equipment for new breweries. The company has grown to a team to over eighty-five members  and now manufactures brewing systems well over 100bbl in size.

Known for their extensive experience and customer service-focused approach, SpecMec has manufactured over 1,000 quality handcrafted systems for customers around the world. 

With the craft beer industry’s growth, we’ve grown significantly as well. Our reach is global. We’ve built systems for Asian, South American, and European customers, but our primary markets are Canada and the United States.” -Chad MacIsaac, Sales & Marketing Manager at Specific Mechanical

About 10 years ago, SpecMec began manufacturing systems for the emerging craft spirits industry, specializing in copper welding. SpecMec also invested in the development of systems automation, maintaining a staff of several automation engineers. The shop is certified by The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), permitting their certified welders to build comprehensive high pressure systems for industries such as dairy, oil and gas, pharmaceuticals, and more. The company is moving into the cannabis extraction market as its next frontier.

Collaborating directly with clients to design, build, and install systems that are customized to a project’s requirements and needs, SpecMec offers onsite installs and commissioning for larger systems and remote support for smaller ones. 

When it became obvious that we needed a new brewhouse, we wanted to ensure that we would be able to not only maintain the beer quality and consistency that we were used to, but also use the opportunity to reduce the carbon footprint of our brewhouse. We were thrilled with how Specific Mechanical Systems was able to accommodate these requests and build us a brewery that incorporated heat recovery, a mash press and hot side centrifuge – and do it all on a very short timeline.” -Matt Phillips, Founder and Owner of Phillips Brewing & Malting Co.

With a team of highly skilled tradespersons and a compliment of mechanical and automation engineers, Specific Mechanical Systems is able to design, build, install, and help maintain breweries and distilleries, both small and large and manual or fully automated, for customers worldwide.

To learn more about SpecMec and their services, visit their website!

Top Beer Picks from the GCBF 2019 Beer List

Perhaps you missed all the announcements about the upcoming Great Canadian Beer Fest that is happening next weekend. You might also have overlooked the part where there are over 90 breweries, more than 275 beers and the BC Ale Trail-er in attendance. Where does one start? Start by drooling over the beer list, which is searchable this year by style and description keywords. Still overwhelmed? Perhaps a few recommendations from notable local beer enthusiasts. 

John Rowling and Gerry Hieter.

Gerry Hieter, previous GCBF Chairman, what are you looking forward to trying this year? “Anyone who knows me also knows that I haven’t had a drink of beer at the GCBF since 2002 so the most important beer I try will be the first one, no doubt. Hopefully I won’t horrify the beer world when I say that my first beer will be from the first brewery I can get to once I arrive. After that, I will get more serious about what I sample. The first adventurous beer I try will be from Slackwater Brewing in Penticton, which is a new brewpub owned and operated by a friend of mine and well known beer guy, Liam Peyton. After that I am all over the Nova Scotia breweries and will hang around that pavilion for a bit before I soldier on.”

Perhaps the next logical person to ask for beer recommendations is John Rowling, past GCBF co-Chairman. “I’m excited to see what the new crew have come up with for this year’s GCBF. There’s everything for everyone. Personally, I’m going to start with an English-style pale ale from 9 Mile Legacy Brewing from Saskatchewan — something traditional to get me going. Also an early beer will be the Friday cask from Mount Arrowsmith (Parksville) – Blackberry Porter.”

“Also, I love Citra hops so next I’m going to search for beers brewed with those hops. Kind of an educational thing — can I really identify a particular hop? I’ll start with Ontario’s Bench Brewing’s Citra Grove Dry Hopped Sour because that’s the only hop in that beer. Then I’ll try some more complex hop bills, such as Blindman Brewing (Alberta) Dry hopped Kettle Sour #12 and Strathcona’s (Vancouver) Big Sexy Funk IPA. For a bigger taste challenge I’m going for Penticton’s Highway 97 Brewing’s Peated Scotch Ale, and finally, the very big Tatamagouche Brewing’s Toro – Bourbon barrel aged Quad with Brett.” Wow. That is a man with a plan!

If, like John, you love the Citra hop then head over to booth 42 and sample Annex Ale’s Pale Ale. Perhaps they will display the multiple medals this beer has won.

Matt Poirier.

Great beer minds think alike: Certified Cicerone and Monday Magazine beer columnist Matt Poirier is also excited about that big Tatamagouche beer. “This does not sound like a simple beer at all. The description, ABV, and expected flavours will likely make this a sipping, thinking beer that will get everyone talking.” He is also keen to try Big Spruce Brewing’s Cereal Killer Oatmeal Stout: “Between the name, and the fact that this brewery is coming all the way from Cape Breton Island, this stout has come too far not to be tried.”

Again, Matt will be lining up with John at the Mount Arrowsmith tent to taste the Friday cask. “By taking their Low Pressure Porter, already a favourite of mine, and adding the rich sweetness of late season blackberries, the description alone just makes me think of a rich chocolate cake with a berry coulis.”

Poirier has a solid strategy for the rest of his picks. “With nearly 300 beers available over two days, the only way to narrow things down is to have a system, and mine has three parts. First, I want to try some of the breweries that have come from a distance. Then, I’ll look at the casks, and finally, I take a look at the local breweries that have something exciting to try.”

Smithers Brewing.

Here are Matt Poirier’s other top beer picks:

Smithers Brewing Nitro Coffee Lager (5.1%): “Putting coffee in beer isn’t an easy task. Putting it in a lager is even harder. Putting that on a Nitro tap just adds to the degree of difficulty.”

Twin City Vanishing Act Pineapple Coconut Sour (5.4%): “Do you like pina coladas? Twin City has been absolutely crushing it with their beers, so the idea of a fun take on a classic cocktail (which isn’t the only one at the festival) should just add to the experience if the weather holds. Tiny umbrella not included.”

Brazen Hall Brewing Jarpur Amber Ale (4.9%): “I’ve heard amazing things about Brazen Hall, so the opportunity to have them here is one not to pass up. This may not jump out as something different, but the ability to brew an enjoyable amber ale is usually a sign of a good brewery overall.”

Torque Brewing Witty Belgian (4.7%): “A nice Belgian Wit on a hot summer day just hits the spot, and this 2019 CBAC Gold Medal winning beer has to be doing something right.”

Moon Under Water Year VII Wheat Wine Cask (11.9%, Friday Only): “This beer, released around GCBF every year, has become almost a tradition to have under the lights of Royal Athletic Park. Warm, rich, and full of depth, it’s a great choice once it starts to get a bit chilly.”

Sooke Oceanside Brewery Strubarb Strawberry Rhubarb Golden Ale Cask (5.0%, Saturday Only): “I like pie, and I like beer, so the idea of a bright fruity pie beer in cask form just makes me want to dive in.”

Parallel 49 Brewing Cosmic Slop (6.8%): “Once you get over the name, this beer sounds so complex, and just piques my curious side. Here’s hoping the name isn’t an apt descriptor of the beer.”

Ian Lloyd.

What are my choices? I thought you would never ask. I am a fan of low alcohol and heritage beer styles. I plan on sampling the Pour Les Mineurs from Container Brewing, at 3.2% ABV. Crannog Ales is back after a few years’ absence, and I must try their red currant ale. Can’t say that I have ever tried a Haskap berry sour, so off to Booth 42 to present my token to Saskatchewan’s Nokomis Craft Ales. Contrary to John, I will be visiting Booth 69 and Tatamagouche Brewing for two beers below the 3.5% ABV range. A Berliner Weisse with Enigma hops? Sign me up. The last on my list is Winterlong Brewing from the Yukon. Last year their Spruce IPA was my favourite. Looking forward to trying their mixed yeast, hop-forward saison.

Whatever beers you try, just remember to sample responsibly and plan for a safe trip home. Hint, hint, use your provided BC Transit pass. Visiting the many food trucks might be helpful. Did someone say “Taco Justice and L’Authentique poutine at the same venue?”