Brewing a sip of Belgium in Burnaby
It's a long way from brewing beer as a hobby to producing 100,000 litres a year for pubs and liquor stores.
Ben Coli's journey took him via Laos and Belgium.
It landed him in a warehouse in the Lake City area where on Wednesday he began bottling his first batch of Dageraad Amber ale, one of two Belgian-style beers he and his brewing partner Mitch Warner plan to produce in Burnaby's newest craft brewery. The other will be a Belgian Blonde.
Coli, 37, was tramping around southeast Asia on the cheap when he befriended a group of travelling Belgians. One of those friendships blossomed into a long-distance relationship, fostering frequent forays to Flanders.
During those visits, Coli said he fell in love with Belgium's beer culture. He spent languid hours on the brasserie patios around Dageraadplaats, a neighbourhood square in east Antwerp, sampling the various flavours and styles, each distinct to their brewmaster or region of origin. Some were fruity. Some were spicy. All of them were complex and wonderfully drinkable.
When Coli, a brewing hobbyist who boiled mash on his porch, returned home to Canada, he set out to replicate some of those flavours. His first sip transported him back to that square in Antwerp.
He tinkered with the recipe, altering the yeasts and grains to learn how the flavour and character of his beers changed. He read brewing books, mined websites for knowledge. He travelled back to Belgium to visit some of the country's 700 breweries, talk to the brewmasters, maybe learn some of their secrets. He signed on for brewing school in England to learn how to scale his hobby into a commercial venture.
In January, 2013, Coli decided the time was right to turn his obsession into his vocation.
"I needed something to make me happy," said Coli, who has a business degree and worked in areas as disparate as property tax consulting and writing. "It's a leap of faith."
It was also a perilous dive into red tape and bureaucracy. In the months after securing space in the Lake City warehouse, Coli had to deal with four levels of government to secure all the proper permits. He hired an architect, engineers and consultants to help design his brewing system.
"You don't know how long it's going to take, you don't know how much it's going to cost," said Coli. "There's no turning back. You have to go forward, there's no choice."
Coli and Warner aren't just the brewmasters. They're also the bottlers, marketers and distributors. That means wearing out a lot of shoe leather visiting pubs and private liquor stores when they're not tending to their giant stainless steel boiler and five brewing tanks.
With BC's craft brewing industry becoming more and more crowded as new labels pop up almost every few months, it's a competitive market. Coli is confident he's found a niche.
"The beer market is still maturing," said Coli. "Sooner or later in your beer journey, you come to Belgian's. I'm going to add novelty just by being here."
To learn more about Dageraad, and to find out where it's available, go to www.dageraadbrewing.com.