Kelowna’s craft beer scene continues to explode with the recent opening of Wild Ambition Brewing last week. We spoke with co-owners Theresa Cashen and Mitchel Kehoe about what they hope to bring to the increasingly crowded Okanagan craft beer market.
First off, congrats on opening! Tell me a bit about the process that led you to where you are now.
Theresa Cashen: Obviously, it’s been a long road to get from planning to opening. We started considering moving to Kelowna to open the brewery around late summer/early fall 2016. I grew up in Kelowna, but we were in Halifax, where [brewer/co-owner Mitchell Kehoe] is from, at the time. We made the move and started looking for a location for the brewery in March 2017. We had the spot at 1-3314 Appaloosa Road by August 2017 and finished all of the licensing, equipment setup, and renovations almost exactly one year later.
Mitchell, what’s your brewing background?
Mitchell Kehoe: I got into brewing as part of a greater obsession with doing things “from scratch.” I had a bit of a DIY mentality and, living in an apartment, the only real outlet for that was food. It started with getting really into cooking after my favourite take-out place closed, then next it was espresso, then bread baking, and finally brewing. Brewing specifically really scratched a lot of itches for me as someone with an educational background in the history of science; it’s the perfect combination of cooking, science, history, and art. I started making these mixed-fermentation beers specifically because I got really into fermentation-derived flavours rather than just relying on hops and malt. Those esters, phenols, and acids produced by the microbes are what separate brewing from just cooking to me. Another motivator was that those mixed-fermentation beers were either not available at all, or you’d have to really hunt for them—and pay an arm and a leg when you found them smuggled in from Quebec by another guy in the scene!”
Why beer? What got you interested in craft beer enough to open your own brewery?
Cashen: Honestly, the main thing that took it from a hobby to a business was the community. Craft beer has a level of camaraderie and co-operation among “competitors” that is unheard of in any other industry. Everyone who has gone through the process of starting a brewery themselves has been so willing to offer advice and encouragement. We can call another brewery up and ask them how they’ve solved a particular technical issue or their interpretation of our sometimes byzantine liquor regulations and then receive a call the following week from another brewer that wants to pick our brains about getting into sour beers or saisons. This is our first business venture so being able to join such a supportive group of people has been amazing.
Craft beer is booming in Kelowna. What makes it a good place to brew?
Cashen: Kelowna is a bit behind as far as the evolution of the craft beer scene goes compared to cities like Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, Halifax, etc. There is, however, a deep appreciation for local produce and the Okanagan already has its bustling winery scene. The fact is, even though no one in the area is focusing on the farmhouse style beers we are doing, that kind of beer is very much available in local bottle shops from other B.C. breweries like Field House, Four Winds, or Strange Fellows, as well as imports from Quebec and Belgium. With the local beer culture developing at a wicked rate, Kelowna was the perfect spot for our brewery in particular. Our beer looks to the wine world for inspiration and techniques just as much as it does the craft beer scene. After our brew kettle, our brewing process uses winery style fermentation tanks, French oak barrels that previously held B.C. wines and we have a similar bottling process to still wine since we naturally carbonate our beer after packaging. Not to mention, access to all the local fruit and wine grapes is certainly exciting to us as well!
How has the local response been so far?
Cashen: Our opening weekend was busier than we could’ve possibly imagined! We weren’t really sure what to expect being tucked away at the back of our little industrial area. There was always a concern that since we’re a decent jaunt from downtown that there would be fewer people willing to make the trip out, but Kelowna’s craft beer lovers were as excited as we were on opening weekend! We think having another brewery nearby (Boundary Brewing) and a new craft beer focused eatery and taproom in Glenmore (Flux 74) is going to help this little corner of town become a great beer destination.
How big is your operation? What size batches are you brewing?
Cashen: Our brewhouse is set up to do between 600 L and 750 L per batch and right now we have enough tanks to brew one or two times a week, so definitely plenty of room to grow. In terms of the actual brewery space, our square footage requirements are bigger than most breweries with a similar batch size and we have made sure the brewery is big enough for all the barrel aging and bottle conditioning we plan to do.
Is there a tasting room onsite? Will your beers be available outside of Kelowna?
Cashen: There is a tasting room onsite! We welcome you to come in and try a tasting flight and then we can pack you up some bottles to enjoy at home. We are particularly proud of the fact that our beer is brewed, fermented, packaged and sold all on site at the brewery. That being said, we are open to working with other stores and restaurants in the near future. Other than saying we already have interest from stores in Vancouver and locally we can’t really tell yet how far our bottles will go.
What beers will you be offering?
Cashen: For now we have our three launch beers: Imaginal Phase (rye saison), Dew Point (Amarillo farmhouse IPA), and Flower Market (hibiscus sour). We have another beer bottle conditioning right now and you can find out what that is in your winter edition of The Growler or our social media closer to release. Our plan going forward is to really focus on our barrel program, especially for the sours. Overall, we want to be experimenting and offering new things as much as possible. We aren’t setting out to say “this is our flagship beer whether you like it or not,” but instead will be re-brewing recipes based on community feedback and hope to develop our core lines as organically as possible.
What makes Wild Ambition unique?
Cashen: We like to think we hit a really nice balance of deep respect for history and tradition in our brewing style while also very much looking forward for how we can apply those techniques to make distinctly modern beer. We are the first brewery in Interior B.C. to focus exclusively on mixed-fermentation beers with every beer we brew having a brettanomyces component. Because we think those styles really benefit from natural carbonation instead of force carbonating with compressed CO2, we will be doing a lot of bottle and keg conditioning
Why should people come and check you out?
Cashen: We make a style of beer that is normally only available as scattered and limited special releases from other breweries as a side-project. Mixed fermentation beer is what we specialize in and our beer is available straight from the brewery in bottles and in tasting flights in our taproom. We also think that with a lot of help from friends and family, we’ve transformed our little taproom from a contractor’s office into a pretty cool place to spend an evening or a weekend afternoon.
Anything else you want to share?
Cashen: We’d just like to give a shout-out to all the great people who have/are/will supported/supporting/support us in the past/present/future! Between other industry folks, home brewers, yeast lab technicians, beer lovers, neighbours and enthusiastic friends and family, we have had so much help along the way from across Canada and beyond that we really do feel like we are standing on the shoulders of giants.