Bonnie and Don Bradley are the husband-wife team behind the new Moon Under Water brewpub in Victoria's industrial Rock Bay neighbourhood. Craft brewers and brewpubs have turned southern Vancouver Island into a beer-lover's mecca. Chad Hipolito photograph for the Globe and Mail.
Globe British Columbia series: Things that work
By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
December 21, 2011
A private liquor store in Oak Bay promotes the sale of locally-brewed ales and lagers in what it calls the “two-mile beer diet.”
At long last, a diet I can follow.
Let’s go to the source. Drive along busy Bay Street to the Rock Bay industrial corridor. Stop at a commercial strip mall. Across the street is a gravel yard. In a nondescript cinderblock building, a former Direct Buy showroom has been transformed into a pub.
This is The Moon Under Water pub and brewery, which boasts “the best service in town — because you serve yourself.” Patrons order from the bar, where publicans pour from taps.
The glass is held at a proper angle, the amber liquid flowing like the nectar of the gods that it is.
A head forms before settling into place as the glass is righted. Bring it to the lips, the beer rolling past the tongue, leaving behind a light caramel flavor. Smooth with a dry finish. Who’m I kidding? It’s a beer and it’s good. Time for another swig.
This is a glass of Full Moon Bitter, a flavourful beer brewed from two-row barley, Northwest hops and speciality malts. It won a first-place prize ahead of 17 other British Columbia craft beers at a beer-cask festival held earlier this year by CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale.
“People are looking for flavour,” said proprietor Don Bradley. “That’s been a mistake by the big guys, who have advertised all along that there’s no after-taste in their beer. So, I guess that means there’s no taste at all.”
The year-old Moon Under Water is the latest addition to the thriving craft brewing and brewpub scene on southern Vancouver Island.
Thirty years ago, a pub owner challenged Prohibition-era laws to open a brewpub in West Vancouver. Two years later, in 1984, Spinnakers opened as a neighbourhood pub in a forgotten, mixed industrial and residential corner of Vic West overlooking the harbour. A month later, the pub served the first batch of its beers — an ale, a malt, a stout, and a special brew. And people came and they drank and, lo, they pronounced it good, so others went forth to begat other craft breweries.
Today, Victoria boasts four brewpubs with others in Sidney, Duncan and Nanaimo, while another quartet of Victoria brewers offer even more choices for the discerning quaffer of fermented malt beverages.
“This is the mecca,” pronounces Jim Dodds, general manager of Vancouver Island Brewery, the largest of the island’s craft brewers and, also founded in 1984, the oldest. “We represent beers that are flavourful. No preservatives, no additives.”
The larger brewers — referred to as “factory beers” by Mr. Bradley and as “the Big Guys" by Mr. Dodds — want in on the market.
“You can see where they’re getting into the market with their domestic premiums, but they’re still mass produced.” Mr. Dodds said. “Craft beer (sales) are almost like a rocket ship, they’re doing so well.”
In an annual report on the brewing industry, Agriculture Canada salutes craft brewers for their “product creativity.”
Many specialty brews are released in the harvest and yuletide seasons. They are known for unique taste combinations, as well as for lively monikers and memorable labels.
Vancouver Island Brewery has released a Dough Head Gingerbread Ale in which brewer Chris Graham used clove, ginger and cinnamon to create a beer that tastes and smells like the baked treat. It is on tap at the trendy Aura restaurant at the Laurel Point Inn, two bits from every pint being donated to the local Habitat for Humanity to support house-building for low-income families. The memorable label features a giant grinning gingerbread man striding over the Legislature.
Driftwood Brewery has issued a spicy and complex Belgian-style ale named Farmhand. It is made of partial sour-mash with ground black pepper.
The slogan at Phillips Beer is “Inspiration through fermentation.” Their seasonal releases include a Crooked Tooth Pumpkin Ale and a Dirty Squirrel Hazelnut Brown Ale, both “proudly brewed in a little brewery at the bottom of a mid-sized island on the left side of a very big country.”
Matt Phillips originally financed his dream of an artisanal brewery a decade ago through unorthodox means. Every bank and credit union turned him down for a business loan, but on his way out the door at each he took a credit-card application. Those funds gave him enough to buy brewing equipment and to sign a lease for a dark warehouse above a metal shop.
Phillips also has a 24-Mile Blueberry Pail Ale in which every ingredient is said to have travelled no more than that distance from farm to brew kettle. The hops come from Vic Davies, the barley from Mike Doehnel and the water from the Sooke reservoir.
When you know the names of the farmers who grew the grains and of the brewer who cooked the batch, then you know to whose health to drink.
Craft brewing and brewpubs
What it is: A challenge to Prohibition-era drinking laws 30 years ago led to the opening of the first modern-era brew pub in Canada at West Vancouver’s Horseshoe Bay. Two years later, in 1984, Spinnakers opened in Victoria. That same year, Vancouver Island Brewery released its first batch of beers, eventually to be joined by a half-dozen other craft brewers. Today, several fine brewpubs compete for thirsty patrons, offering a selection of ales and lagers brewed on southern Vancouver Island. One of the most popular remains Spinnakers. An aficionado can go on a pub crawl that would seem to last from beer to eternity.
How it works: Using natural, locally-sourced ingredients, as well as some of the best water on the planet, craft brewers perform alchemy in copper fermentation vats.
The microbrewing industry is a throwback to the early days of the 20th century, when every city boasted competing breweries. Advances in refrigeration techniques and the building of superhighways led to a consolidation in the brewing industry until only a handful of big players dominated the market.
In recent years, the demand for premium, flavourful beers has allowed microbrewers to carve a niche of about 10-12 per cent of the B.C. market.
The craft brewers “advance people’s tastes and open new horizons in beer experience,” said Don Bradley, proprietor of Moon Under Water pub and brewery in Victoria.