Beer lover Mike Doehnel savours the brew made from barley he grew and malted on the Saanich Peninsula.

Beer farmer

Peninsula News Review reporter Christine van Reeuwyk takes a look at how brewing can have a hand in saving local agriculture and how the quest for beer good enough for a refined palate turned one Peninsula man into a farmer.

A small patch of land serves as test laboratory.

Row upon row of small grasses sprout — barley and emery varieties that farmer Mike Doehnel is testing in our coastal climate.

He’s looking for top yield, and high disease resistance.

“My confidence that the grains would do well here has never wavered,” the Peninsula farmer said. “With 8,000 to 10,000 varieties, there’s got to be at least two or three or four that fit in this climate.”

While testing the different grains, he’s also been fine-tuning his own home brewed beers — a task more fitting with his career in the hospitality industry at Dunsmuir Lodge.

“I’m a terrible, terrible, food and wine snob,” he admits.

Slowly he made the shift from management to beer farmer, dropping hours at the lodge and spending more time with his barley.

The patience and dedication paid off, an ale made with his malt, painstakingly floor-malted by the beer farmer himself — hit shelves in private liquor stores this month.

With the malting process fine-tuned, Doehnel sought out Victoria’s Driftwood Brewery, which happens to brew beer he enjoys.

“I really like their beer,” the self-professed beer snob said. “I really wanted somebody who I liked their beers.”

The ‘Wizard of Wort’ at Driftwood admits they were thrilled at the opportunity.

“He approached us a few months back … we jumped at the chance,” said Jason Meyer. “We definitely want to do what we can to support local producers.” Climate conditions aren’t conducive to growing here, Meyer says, so it’s uncommon to find local product. “Mike’s persevered and he’s managed to make a small amount.”

“We decided to do a saison,” Meyer explains. The ‘saison’ is traditionally brewed on the farm for the seasonal farm workers or saisoniares.

“We have a saison as a part of our lineup of beers, we thought we’d just do another saison but with a bit of a twist,” he says. They used the local product and a different yeast to “create some differentiation.”

Cuveé d’Hiver or ‘winter batch’ is billed as a “pale, golden effervescent beer with a fruity nose balanced with a sweet malt profile and tangy finish.”

Meyer hopes drinkers will taste the Peninsula. He describes it as a terroir beer — one that holds the unique conditions of our land in its flavour.

“We want the beers to taste like they’re from here,” Meyer says.

Every beer brewed at Driftwood could have a little of the Peninsula influence.

They’ve committed to using the entire 15 tonnes Doehnel figures he can produce in a year. That means adding a little of the Peninsula to every brew throughout the year.

“Once or twice a year (we’ll) brew something that is 100 per cent his malt,” Meyer explains. “If we were able to use 100 per cent local malt in 100 per cent of our beers, we would. In supporting Mike we’re hoping that maybe he can expand his production at some point. Or other people see it as a sustainable farming mode.”

It’s a philosophy Doehnel is familiar with. Long involved with growing on the Peninsula, he’s a proponent of spending a little cash, to go a long way to saving agriculture.

“We can have meetings, symposiums, discussions until we are blue in the face. All it takes to support farming in this area, is for all residents of the CRD to put just a small portion of their yearly food budget toward some local goodies,” he says. “The old axiom of everyone doing just a little bit to further the cause or wishes of people works wonders in supporting the things you truly believe in.”

Find Cuveé D’Hiver in private liquor stores on Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland. Visit online at driftwoodbeer.com.

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