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John Mitchell will eternally be the toast of the Troller Ale House.
Perennial patrons of this stalwart watering hole in Horseshoe Bay take turns approaching the high-top table, if only to shake the hand of the man who is widely considered the “grandfather” of the craft beer movement in North America.
Today they are celebrating. After a three-decade-long drought, Bay Ale is flowing from the taps once again.
The English bitter that Mitchell brewed was the antidote during the beer revolution in B.C. in the early 1980s. A lockout at the big three breweries in the city was the final straw for Mitchell, who was fed with up the bureaucracy around beer distribution and consumption in this province.
Perched on a bar stool with his khaki fisherman’s hat in his lap, Mitchell feverishly recounts the same story he’s told innumerable times over the years.
The one-time co-owner of the Troller Pub decided he was going to make his own beer to serve to his customers. But there were two significant hurdles to overcome first: Mitchell had never brewed before — and the provincial liquor laws of the day prevented him from owning a brewery and a pub at the same time.
The craft beer quest was palatable for Mitchell. The expat had gone back to Britain and watched the brew masters in action. He came home to West Vancouver, with fistfuls of England’s finest yeast.
“There are hundreds of different varieties of yeast — I’ve got them cataloged at home,” informs Mitchell.
He would partner with Frank Appleton — a microbiologist and former quality control officer for Carling-O’Keefe. And in September 1981, they lobbied the provincial government to reverse an archaic law dating back to the days of Prohibition and issue them a brewpub license.
Mitchell learned of his victory from a CBC reporter who was tracking the landmark case. But there was one caveat: the amended law stated that the brewery and the pub had to be separated by at least one street.
So Mitchell and Appleton set up shop near where the Boathouse restaurant stands today in Horseshoe Bay, and began brewing Bay Ale — the first post-Prohibition craft beer in Canada. Appleton fashioned the microbrewery system using dairy equipment.
They were told they would need to sell one keg a day to break even. When the first batch was ready, Mitchell and Appleton ferried the fruits of their labour one street over to the Troller Pub.
Eight kegs were empty by evening’s end. That set the pace for the Horseshoe Bay Brewery operation, which maxed out at 30 kegs a week.
“At the [Troller] pub, they inherited a zoo when this beer came on the market,” recalls Mitchell.
B.C.’s craft beer renaissance has especially taken hold in North Vancouver.
The beer is flowing freely at two microbreweries that have cropped up in business parks on opposite sides of Dollarton Highway in the past year — Bridge Brewing and Deep Cove Brewers and Distillers.
Bridge Brewing co-owners Leigh and Jason Stratton and Patrick Dore’s craft beer venture was born out of appreciation for unfiltered ale. It was a couple years in the making — with many permits, taxation and licensing hoops from all three levels of government to jump through.
Today Leigh is dwarfed by a collection of sizable fermentation cylinders housed in Bridge Brewing’s humble 930-square-foot space. Looking around she recalls how some of the equipment was stored in her garage for a year before this location was secured.
“Our next-door neighbour is the retired fire chief and his son is a police officer, so we always joke that they would come over and say, ‘Are you guys opening a meth lab or a brewery,’” laughs Leigh.
When Bridge opened last July they had the distinction of being Vancouver’s first nanobrewery — meaning they were brewing less than 400 litres a batch.
Last Friday, as another 30-barrel tank was being shipped from Portland, Ore., Dore announces they have officially reached microbrewery status.
“So we have essentially tripled our capacity since we first opened,” he explains.
Dore, a former Fairmont Waterfront hotel executive chef who now experiments with hops as Bridge’s principle brewer, will tinker with a recipe twice before he really starts to nail it down.
“That’s the beauty of having a brewery this small — we can make changes to our recipe because our customers are right there with us and feedback is instant,” says Dore.
The beer that has the locals coming back for more is fresh, unfiltered and unpasteurized. Leigh draws a comparison to the difference between drinking fresh-squeezed orange juice and concentrate.
“The practice and thought behind buying beer in this form is that you are stopping by the brewery to buy the freshest beer you possibly can,” says Leigh.
The refillable 1.89-litre glass growler jugs that Bridge sells are growing in popularity. The growler name harkens back to the 1800s when blue-collared workers in England would send their kids to pick up fresh beer from the pub in galvanized pails. As the suds splashed around in the pail, CO2 would rattle the lid and make a growling sound.
Many craft breweries pride themselves on using environmentally sustainable practices and Bridge is no different.
“We are actually a garbage-free facility,” says Leigh. “We recycle everything that we produce.”
The brewery’s owners have challenged themselves to repurpose the one thing that can’t be recycled: foil-lined hop bags, which are made from hundreds of plastic and metal varieties all melted together.
Also at the heart of the local craft brew industry is camaraderie.
Yes, their seeming competition across the street, the boys from Deep Cove Brewers, have been over for a beer.
“The brewing industry is really great. We are all friendly,” says Leigh.
In fact, after his Outlook interview, Dore is on his way to borrow a piece of equipment from Parallel 49 Brewing in East Van.He shares Leigh’s sentiments about the friendly flavour of the industry.
“It is competitive, but you also need each other because people don’t drink the same beer all the time anymore,” says Dore. “So trying to think that everybody is going to drink your beer and your beer alone — that’s not the case anymore.”
That said, Bridge has built up a local following and is backed by many North Shore dining establishments including The Meatery, Fishworks, El Matador, The Corner Stone, Seymour Golf and Country Club and Bridge House Restaurant.
“It’s North Van people supporting a North Van business which is refreshing to see,” says Dore.
Across the road, at Deep Cove Brewers and Distillers, Shae de Jary and Shawn Bethune are celebrating their second month in business with a cold one poured fresh from the tap.
An earthy odour permeates the place around noon last Friday. It’s the smell of beer brewing in the cavernous cylinders in the back of the building.
The tasting room out front is reminiscent of a winery — bedecked with pyramids of casks. A bar set up in the centre of the room is furnished with glasses and a bartender who accomplished the Grouse Grind before his shift.
Before the brewery has a chance to open, a woman walks through the door with her young son in tow and breathlessly announces she just needs to pick up a growler because she won’t get a chance after work.
Over the course of the next hour a spate of men stop by for a beer sampler or to fill up their growlers.
Some Arc’teryx employees from next door show up, like clockwork. De Jary says they arrive at the brewery every Friday to observe the end of the work week.
Bethune and de Jary don’t serve food here, but rather brings in food trucks that offer slow-roasted meat sandwiches and meat pies from Wednesday to Saturday from the parking lot outside.
Opening the brewery has been a surreal experience for the 25-year-old de Jary and 30-year-old Bethune who met while studying engineering at Queen’s University in Ontario.
“It especially hit me hard this week because our bottles are now available in liquor stores,” says de Jary.
Christmastime will be cause for another celebration: that’s when their vodka, gin and moonshine will be ready for consumption.
“Our vodka test batches have been extremely smooth. It will be as close to tasting like water as you can get,” says de Jary.