When John Mitchell—the so-called Grandfather of British Columbia craft brewing—opened the first modern craft brewery in Canada at Horseshoe Bay in the early 1980s, no one would have guessed that this brewery would bring the development of a culture that would result in over 50 other craft breweries in the province. Today, craft brewing has become a major source of pride for British Columbians; an industry that in many ways parallels the local food movement, with its emphasis on using local ingredients and seasonal produce.
Craft brewing serves a wide demographic, as it manages to be a somewhat affordable hobby for young people and a sophisticated beverage for older generations. The industry’s success can be credited to several attributes—geographical location, proximity to Oregon and Washington’s strong beer industry, a willing market of thirsty British Columbians—but ultimately, craft brewing in B.C. has benefited from the spirit of collaborative competiveness, the urge by these local breweries to make great beer but also to evolve and feed off the ideas of others.
As the new buzzword for high-quality beer, craft brewing has come to replace the term “micro-brewing.” Larger scale breweries, like Phillips and Parallel 49, are big market suppliers even if the craft brewing market is only 15 per cent of total beer sales for the province. Smaller breweries, such as Tofino Brewing and Persephone Brewing (Gibsons, B.C.) are able to share a small corner of the market, by sustaining a local market with an obvious emphasis on the quality of the beer over the quantity they are able to distribute.
On any given weekend in Victoria, there is an event for craft beer enthusiasts. Whether it’s a cask tapping, a brewmaster dinner, or just plain old beer tasting, craft brewing itself has become a sustainable past time. Like going to see a concert or film, craft brewing culture has heightened your average night at the pub by taking a new approach to a favourite pastime—drinking. In B.C., a definite emphasis has been placed on these leisurely activities, particularly since Victoria was home to the Canadian Brewing Awards in May 2013 and hosted the annual Great Canadian Beer Festival. Other events, like the B.C. Beer Awards, prove that the urban centres of the province have more than enough beer-related festivities to go around, further tethering this industry to the local communities from which they have emerged.
Out of the nine major breweries in Victoria—Phillips, Driftwood, Swans, Canoe, Spinnakers, Hoyne, Lighthouse, Moon Under Water, and Vancouver Island Brewery, all have been partners at local events ranging from Rifflandia to the Street Food Festival. Victoria’s own breweries can be seen as a microcosm for the rest of the province, as craft breweries must be unequivocally linked to the community for their own survival.
Part of what has made craft breweries so interesting has been their surrounding mythology. Each craft brewery has its own tale of how it opened and why it has been able to succeed. Matt Phillips, for example, had to max out every credit card he owned to start Phillips Brewing, because his bank loan was rejected. Townsite Brewing (Powell River, B.C.) managed to score acclaimed Belgian brewer Cédric Dauchot as their brewmaster. Howe Sound (Squamish, B.C.) was designed in part by John Mitchell, and its initial recipes were inspired by his work when they opened in 1996. A brewery’s story connects with the local community, which in turn connects with the consumer, marrying together the happy coincidence of marketing value and an established history.
Since its arrival in the 1980s, craft brewing in B.C. has continued to grow at a steady pace, with no sign of slowing down. Although the future of craft brewing seems bright, the question of over-saturation in the market is popping up. Most communities in the province have a successful local brewery, and while Victoria and Vancouver house several friendly competitors, it leaves one wondering if there are really any new opportunities for breweries in the future. Let’s hope there is a piece of the pie—or at least a sip of the pint—for all to share.