Even a pandemic can’t stop Port Moody’s beer scene from growing

Michael Druce and Chris Walton toast the imminent opening of their new Port Moody brewery, Fraser Mills Fermentation, with bottles of hand sanitizer they’ve been making and donating to businesses and organizations in the community. Mario Bartel/Tri-City News photo

As businesses across the province struggle to stay open amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the latest addition to Port Moody’s craft beer scene is about to throw open its doors.

Well, maybe squeeze one of them open a crack.

Four years in the making, and after 14 months under construction, Fraser Mills Fermentation on St. Johns Street is getting ready to sell its first beers in early May.

It’s a month later than the brewery’s eight business partners had hoped, and none of them expected to be welcoming their first customers in the middle of a public health crisis. But, said Michael Druce, “We have to be able to go with the flow.”

The special circumstances of the brewery’s opening has meant some alterations to its plans, Druce said. The expansive tasting room with space for 140 people being served by 40 taps will remain closed and Fraser Mills’ first four beers and one cider will only be available in cans for off-sales at the front door.

It’s a bit of a bit of a leap of faith, said another partner, Chris Walton.

“It’s pretty hard to define ourselves when we can’t show ourselves off,” he said, gesturing to the rustic tasting room populated with heavy wooden benches and tables, steel keg stools and decorated with old wagon wheels, as well as a collection of antique handsaws.

That’s put the attention of Fraser Mills’ earliest days solely on its beer. But head brewmaster Kristy Tattrie said she’s not feeling any extra pressure as she puts the finishing touches on her first creations, a farmhouse ale, hazy and session IPAs, along with a wit beer.

“The pressure was always on me,” Tattrie said. “My focus is on my beer.”

Fraser Mills Fermentation brewmaster Kristy Tattrie

Canning their beer also wasn’t in Fraser Mills’ plans.

Druce said from his first vision of adding a brewery to the home-brew supply store he’s run for 20 years, he saw the place as a social gathering point for friends and neighbours to meet and hang out while enjoying a variety of balanced beers. It’s that dream that sustained him through construction delays and permitting hold-ups.

Then COVID-19 happened.

Druce said there was never any hesitation amongst the eight principals to forge ahead.

“We just have to reshape our expectations,” he said, adding remaining nimble and flexible has been key to surviving the whole build-out process.

With a little extra time on its hands, the brewery’s also been producing gallons of hand sanitizer that it’s been distributing free of charge to neighbouring businesses and community organizations, as well as designating some proceeds from sales at its supply shop, that remains open, to the food bank.

It’s all about creating a sense of community when the community needs it most, Druce said. And when the restrictions on gatherings and business openings lift, they’ll be ready to open the doors wide.

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