Back in 2013, when the first edition of my book, Craft Beer Revolution: The Insider’s Guide to B.C. Breweries, came out, there were 50 craft breweries in the province. But at my book launch early in June, I joked that someone in the room had already made the book out of date. It was Brent Mills of Four Winds Brewing, which had opened in Delta a couple of days earlier.
Since then, my book and the ensuing second edition, which came out in 2015, have been put out of date over and over again as 100 new breweries opened during the intervening five years. Mixing in a few closures and some ownership changes, at the end of 2017 the provincial total stood at 148 craft breweries, and by the time you read this, it will be over 150.
What fueled this spectacular expansion? Will the boom continue? What does the future hold? To try to answer these questions I checked in with three breweries that opened over that span.
Brewery #51 (2013): Four Winds Brewing, Delta
Founded by brewer Brent Mills along with his father and two brothers, Four Winds started off small, but rapidly gained a big following. Within two years it was named Canadian Brewery of the Year, and then in 2016, its trendsetting Nectarous Dry Hopped Sour won Canadian Beer of the Year honours.
Five years later, the brewery now employs around 40 people. According to Brent Mills, “We still run it like a family business. Everyone who works here is part of the Four Winds family.”
Looking back to when the brewery opened, Mills said, “I knew that there was a huge market waiting to happen in B.C., but I had no expectation that it would happen like it did.” He is particularly pleased with how so many restaurants and private liquor stores have embraced craft beer in recent years.
One of the factors often identified as a catalyst for the growth in new breweries is the provincial government’s 2013 announcement to allow breweries to open on-site tasting lounges. But Mills highlighted something else.
“I think the biggest factor is the consumer’s curiousity to explore and try new beers,” he says.
As for the future, Mills is excited about the market for hops.
“I get emails from large producers about experimental hops coming out all the time. I think it’s going to be endless for new and different hops.”
Brewery #94 (2015): Twin Sails Brewing, Port Moody
When brothers Cody and Clay Allmin opened Twin Sails next to Yellow Dog Brewing, their strategy was to focus on German-style beers to set themselves apart from the crowd. However, things didn’t really go according to plan.
“The local market was already pretty hyped on the other guys,” Cody explained. “I don’t think there was a lot of excitement around our German styles approach.”
They stuck to that scheme for nine months.
“That’s when we made the pivot to progressive American ales,” Allmin said. Hazy, juicy beers packaged in tall cans with eye-catching labels and creative names like Day Blink and Dat Juice seized the public’s attention. Overnight, Twin Sails became a destination brewery and liquor stores began begging them to send whatever the brewery could spare.
Looking at the crowded marketplace now, however, Allmin cautioned, “It’s tough for new breweries to get their name out now because there are so many other ones. I think people are realizing that you can’t just open up a brewery—you have to have a really good marketing plan and make really good beer.”
Ultimately, Allmin thinks growth will continue here, but only to a point. “I can’t imagine B.C. is going to get to more than 200-220 breweries.”
Brewery #131 (2017): Backcountry Brewing, Squamish
Named Rookie Brewery of the Year at the 2017 B.C. Beer Awards, Backcountry’s tasting room features a long, communal table that is nearly always filled with locals enjoying the delicious beer and pizza made on-site. With so many new breweries opening, what excites brewer John Folinsbee the most is the fact that more and more of his colleagues get to show off their abilities.
“There are a lot of [assistant] brewers that have just as much knowledge and creativity, but don’t have the freedom to explore things at the brewery they work at,” he says.
It’s still early days for Backcountry, which will celebrate its first birthday any day now, but Folinsbee has high hopes for the future. As capacity expands with new tanks, the brewery will be able to distribute its beers farther and wider. He also wants to add a barrel stable and begin souring and blending beers.
“I think we’ll see a lot more breweries jumping on the hazy bandwagon,” he predicted. “I would like to see more breweries get into the mixed fermentation game and produce blended barrel-aged beers.”