BUSINESS BEAT: Craft brewers around Victoria are like a family

Vancouver Island Brewery one of many local brewers to win B.C., national awards

Adam Ball

Behind the bar in a tasting room at Vancouver Island Brewery, a row of pub-style draw handles feature some of the company’s best-known beers: Hermann’s Dark Lager, Sea Dog Amber Ale, Spyhopper Honey Brown.

In front of the taps sits a long row of smaller handles. Except they aren’t taps – they’re national and provincial awards the company has won for its varied collection of beers.

Vancouver Island Brewery, the Island’s oldest craft brewery – the industry term for small-batch operations – has won many accolades for its beers since it began brewing in 1984. But that industry pedigree isn’t a card the company necessarily feels comfortable playing, sales manager Rob Ringma says.

He considers competitors that have emerged locally in recent decades – successful retailers such as Phillips and Lighthouse and brew pubs like Spinnakers (Victoria’s first), Canoe and Swan’s as “brothers in the growing family of craft beer manufacturers.”

Vancouver Island Brewery has been invigorated, Ringma says, by the healthy craft beer market locally. In keeping with the creativity that abounds in the industry, the company continues to experiment with seasonal brews that surprise the palette and give consumers a flavourful alternative to wine, when it comes to food pairings.

“Doing unique and interesting beers is something we love doing,” says Ringma, who has been in the business 15 years. “It’s nice to be pillars of the craft brewing industry, but it’s also fun to work in a place where you have a passion.”

He described a summer open house at the brewery where two kegs were set up, and visitors asked to taste and comment on two recipes being considered for a seasonal brew that became Storm Watcher Winter Lager.

“We see ourselves as being here to brew beer for friends, family and the community,” he says.

It’s about creating unique, interesting beverages that give beer consumers an alternative to the “big guys,” adds Adam Ball, the brewery’s aptly titled manager of beer experience.

Overall, beers produced by South Island brewers gained plenty of recognition in 2012.

At the B.C. Beer Awards last month, Victoria-brewed beers won 10 medals.

Golds went to brewmaster Dean Mcleod from Lighthouse Brewery for his Keeper’s Stout (against 13 other stouts) and Belgian White (one of 22 beers in the wheat/rye category), to Vancouver Island Brewery’s Ralf Pittroff for his Hermannator Ice Bock in the “strong” category, and Matt Phillips of Phillips Brewery for his Skookum Cascadian Brown Ale.

At the Canadian Beer Awards held this summer, Pittroff and company grabbed gold for their Vancouver Island Lager and Hermann’s Dark Lager. The national event saw Victoria brew pubs collect hardware as well, including Swan’s, which topped the Scotch Ale category.

Ideas percolate at Startup Weekend

Startup Weekend Victoria, set for Nov. 9 to 11, is a three-day competition where entrepreneurs gather to pitch, plan and launch new businesses in a constructive and collaborative environment.

Located in the Accelerate Tectoria workspace at 2659 Douglas St., the weekend event is part of Global Entrepreneurship Week. The idea is to pair experienced mentors with new entrepreneurs and to help foster the relationships required for success, said Victoria organizer Evan Williams.

The $99 registration fee covers instruction, mentorship and meals. Tickets and information are available at swvictoria.eventbrite.com.

Urban Barn offers up blankets

Uptown retailer Urban Barn is running its Blanket the Country in Warmth campaign this month. For every $5 donation in-store, the company will provide a new blanket to the Victoria Cool-Aid Society, which operates three emergency shelters locally, with 114 beds.

Names in the business news

Former Peninsula Co-op CEO and general manager Ron Heal joined Accutemp Refrigeration, Air Conditioning and Heating Ltd. as a partner, effective Nov. 1 … Heather Skydt is the new director of communications for United Way Greater Victoria, after serving in the same capacity with The Land Conservancy … Designer Alex Zimmerman of Applied Green Consulting won the Applied Science Technologists and Technicians of B.C.’s Tech Green individual award last weekend for “taking a lead role or having substantial positive impacts on green living, sustainable best practices, energy conservation and environmental benefit.”

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