Author Archives: Adam Henderson

Cantillon Arrivals – New Lambics in Town

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We’re happy to announce that we have new Cantillon arrivals that will leave our warehouse this week for retail locations in Vancouver.

We received only a very limited quantity of the following beers:

Lou Pepe Kriek and Framboise

Iris

St. Lamvinus

Vigneronne

Grand Cru Bruocsella – This beer is a straight lambic and, yes, it is supposed to be still.

The price will vary from retailer to retailer, but you should expect something in the $24-27 range for a 750ml bottle.  We will update the comments section once we know exactly who will have these products and what they have.

Yay for Lambic!

How We Got Our Brands

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With my trip to Belgium approaching I will be posting more about the breweries I visit, especially those that will be joining the portfolio.  Sometimes people ask about how why we have the beers in our portfolio that we do. So at the risk of explaining our incredibly top secret selection process (aka fortune, serendipity, divine intervention and dumb luck) I will do that. I think I’ll follow this up by posting a little more info about my (mis)adventures in running a company, as beer itself is one blog worthy topic, but the “Beer Business” is another altogether.

How we got our brands:

Cantillon: Cantillon was our first brewery. Technically, you need two suppliers to get an agent license, so that’s somewhat meaningless, but there’s something I like about the fact that Cantillon was the first brewery that said “yes” to RainCity Brands. When I was doing research about starting RainCity Brands I talked with Chester Carey at Brewery Creek, and he told me that Jean Van Roy was open to the idea of selling into BC when Chester had asked him previously. So I followed up via email. Done deal. Pretty damn simple, the rest is history, yadda yadda. It also helped that Gerry Erith, the manager at Brewery Creek committed to half my order on the spot.

Pretty Things: I was actually looking into starting a brewery, and it’s no secret that this is my long term plan. I wasn’t researching beers this particular day, as much as I was researching business models for breweries and I found Dann Paquette and Pretty Things. I called Dann and asked him about his business model (click here for that). He was amazingly helpful and he told me everything I wanted to know – he even told me his actual sales and expenses, and since I’ve seen him share those publicly at conferences. A month or three passed and I realized I couldn’t start a brewery yet, but I could start an import agency. I phoned Dann back, knowing that his beers weren’t distributed west of Pennsylvania and asked if I could bring them to BC. He said ‘yes’ too. Done deal. Pretty damn simple, the rest is history, yadda yadda.

So now I’m thinking “This is going to be easy. I call a brewery, and they agree to work with me (why wouldn’t they sell me product, right?)” This thought is hilarious to me today, but keep in mind, at this point I’d yet to actually import anything and I’d never sold a case of beer in my life, so I didn’t know what the hell was going on.

The fact is there are lots of reasons to say “No” to and importer in a foreign market. More on that later. But this means I got a lot of politely worded ‘No thank you’s’….are you sensing a segue????

Upright Brewing: My rebound brand. I got rejected by a brand that I really wanted as part of the portfolio, and it was one that I thought I was going to get (it went to another agent). I’ve since recovered, but in the depths of my rejected state I played on the internet for a few hours looking for a brewery that offered promise. I found Upright and called owner Alex Ganum. He was open to importing to BC so I drove to Portland that weekend to meet him and taste his beers. They were fantastic, and I’ve never looked backed. For the record I’m much happier that I got Upright than the other brand, and I wouldn’t ever trade it out for anything. But that’s how it happened, rebound style.

De Ranke and De la Senne*: These are grouped, here’s why. I was in Chicago for CBC 2010 and I was at The Bluebird with Dann and Martha from Pretty Things. I asked Dann to recommend a beer, and he said ‘Taras Boulba’. I loved it, and I made a quip 5 minutes later that I’d love to import this beer when someone from their US Importer, the Shelton Brothers, pointed to the Yvan de Baets and said “Go talk to him”. Same thing happened with De Ranke and brewer Nino Bacelle, I was drinking the XX Bitter at the next bar we went to and he was right there. Turns out Nino and Yvan are friends, and I spent much of the week with them.  Great beer, dumb luck.

*Brasserie De La Senne won’t be available in BC until the Fall/Winter due to the recent construction of their brewery.

Boundary Bay Brewery: Dustin Sepkowski. Dustin, long time craft beer/single malt-whisky slinger introduced me to Ed Bennett and Janet Lightner from Boundary Bay because he really wanted to get a cask up here for a festival at Central City Brewing, his current employer.  I was all over it because it’s not very often you get to import a local beer from another country (Bellingham is closer to Vancouver than Victoria is). Their beer is very well known up here, and very good to boot. Believe it or not, the Boundary Bay IPA is the first, and currently the only IPA in our portfolio.

We have a few other brands that we plan to add this year, so I may be able to add some more to this shortly.

 

A Wee Update…

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I haven’t posted anything for some time, I’m summer-lazy I suppose. Furthermore, there really just hasn’t been much to discuss – which is sad. But in the last month we’ve started to see some progress on a few things we’ve been hard at work on…

For starters, we have our first new Brewery since De Ranke joined our portfolio in July of last year, Boundary Bay Brewery out of Bellingham! Boundary Bay is a bit of a staple for Vancouver beer folks, so it’s great to have their products available up here. However, we should state that this product won’t be available at all times, as they are a brewpub, not a full production brewery. That said, we got a fair share of IPA and Scotch bottles, and kegs that were well distributed throughout Vancouver, and a little in Victoria. This beer is now available. Some places include the Alibi Room, St. Augustine’s, Viti, Brewery Creek, Firefly, The Pourhouse, Cook St. Village Liquor Store, Darby’s, Big Ridge Liquor Store, Central City Liquor Store, and a few others.

We’ve also signed up a super cool new brewery that I can’t tell you about yet… haha. Seriously, but once the beer is on the boat for Vancouver I will disclose this. (A boat? That’s a clue… it’s Belgian)

We do have several cases of some very exciting Cantillon beers that should actually hit the warehouse today. These include St. Lamvinus, Vigneronne, Lou Pepe Kriek and Framboise, Iris, and Bruocsella 1900 Grand Cru (Straight Lambic).  It should be about 2 weeks until you see this stuff on store shelves.

Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project has also sent us another order which should replenish the ever popular Jack D’Or and Baby Tree supplies, the order also includes the summer seasonal “American Darling”. This is the best lager I’ve ever had from the US. I said it. I believe it.

I’ve also booked a trip to Belgium in August which should prove to broaden the portfolio some more. I’m very excited about this. Of course, I will be blogging more at that time so I can share my experiences at Cantillon, De Ranke, De La Senne, and all the other breweries I will be visiting. Stay tuned for that.

 

 

 

Vancouver Craft Beer Week

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It’s Vancouver Craft Beer Week!

Here’s an overview of what we’re doing!

Monday May 9th

Belgian Beer Showcase at BierCraft Bistro – Experience the best of Belgium. We will be pouring a selection of beers from Cantillon and De Ranke. All told this event will feature over 50 different beers including, St. Bernardus 12, La Chouffe, Houblon, Rochefort 10, Orval, Maredsous, Duvel. The ticket price includes a tasting glass, beer tastings and unlimited Belgian frites and Belgian bier & beef stew. To ensure your safe return home, BierCraft will be providing a free shuttle service within a 30-block radius.

Tickets: https://www.eztix.co/kiosk/2920

Tuesday May 10th

Upright and Driftwood 4 Course Dinner

Featuring cross-border brethren Brewmaster Jason Meyer of Driftwood Brewing and Brewmaster Alex Ganum of Upright Brewing, this night will feature a four-course dinner and six fine selections (three Upright, three Driftwood) from these industry trailblazers.
In keeping with the theme, jazz musician Paul Plimley will perform the evening’s soundtrack. Come out to enjoy select beers, upright-bass grooves, and bold menu items designed to tantalize the adventurer in all of us.

Please arrive by 5:30pm. Alibi opens to the public at 9:30pm

Tickets: https://www.eztix.co/kiosk/2950

Wednesday May 11th

“Brewing Up Cocktails” at The New Oxford

Ezra Johnson-Johnson from Brewing Up Cocktails will be here to perform some alchemy with Ninkasi Brewmaster Jamie Floyd’s creations. Ezra cofounded “Brewing Up Cocktails” in Portland, and has been doing amazing things with beer from Upright and Ninkasi. Ezra also works at Upright and runs the New School Beer Blog. A very talented man! $10 gets you in and gets you your first cocktail.

Tickets: https://www.eztix.co/kiosk/2982

Thursday, May 12th

Brothers in Hop

Three of the Pacific Northwest’s best breweries are teaming up to present Brothers in Hop at the Alibi Room. Join Red Racer’s Gary Lohin, Ninkasi’s Jamie Floyd and Hopworks’ Ben Love for an evening of hop forward ales and locally sourced food. This all-inclusive event will allow you to socialize with brewers and beer fans alike in an evening that’s sure to please your palate. The Alibi Room urges you to be responsible, respect their neighbors, and enjoy free reign over the nine featured beers.

Tickets: https://www.eztix.co/kiosk/2977

More on The Tied House Issue

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Paul Kamon at Urban Dinner was kind enough to let Rick Green and I share our respective view points on this issue.

I’m happy that people are discussing it, and I’m actually even happier that there is disagreement. It’s extremely important that we develop discourse around the issues that affect our beloved industry. I respect Rick Green very much, and his opinions also. Rick has done a lot for the Craft Beer community in BC, and while we disagree on this particular issue I know that we want the same outcomes.

Now is the time for us to discuss the path forward, as groups like CAMRA and events like VCBW are helping put BC’s craft beer community on the map both locally and abroad.

Please take a moment to read these if you can.

Here’s my article: http://urbandiner.ca/2011/03/09/an-craft-beer-argument-for-allowing-tied-houses/

Here’s Rick’s article: http://urbandiner.ca/2011/03/08/lclb-looks-to-change-tied-houses-regulation/

Proposed Policy Changes in BC

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The BC Government and the LCLB (Liquor Control and Licensing Board) have proposed some changes to the “Tied House” and “Trade Practices” policies that currently govern booze sales in BC. http://www.pssg.gov.bc.ca/legislation/docs/2011-lclb-tied-house-and-trade-practices.pdf

I’m not sure what most people will think of these proposed amendments. However, the status-quo seems not to be an option, and I’m very happy about this. I started RainCity Brands because I wanted to enter an industry I love, and ultimately earn the money to start a brewery (For those who might wonder about that: It’s WAY cheaper to start and agency than to start a brewery)

Essentially Tied House policies limit a bar/brewery/restaurant/agency owner from promoting their goods in another bar/brewery/restaurant/agency that they also have a financial interest in. This post prohibition holdover is intended to prevent giants such as Molson from buying bars and stocking only their beer. But it also prevents me from opening a restaurant that sells my own beer, and from opening my own brewery.

The “Trade Practices” policies essentially limit or prohibit breweries or agents from providing financial or other inducements to licensed establishments to promote their goods. For example, these prevent Labatt from buying taps and draft lines for a bar in order to get their products on tap. However, these prohibited actions occur all the time anyway.

The LCLB has issued a document (here) that outlines some options. They want our feedback. I am certain I don’t understand the issue as well as I could, but there are likely to be strong opinions on each side, and while most of my colleagues are likely for the changes, I’m not sure if we all agree on what options or what structure is best. In fact, I’m prone to believe that our respective self-interests will guide such decisions. But that’s the point, I suppose.

The tied house options are all feasible. I prefer Option 1 (hit the link above) which relaxes all restrictions on tied houses, basically fully allowing them in all cases. I feel this is in the best interests of consumers and business owners. While choices may be impacted as a result of corporate ‘muscle’ being flexed, the free market should indicate what if any ventures are successful. I would much rather not have the government telling me what businesses I can and cannot operate, and from my perspective as a consumer also, what I can and cannot drink. If Molson wants to open 100 restaurants or bars with cheap shitty beer on tap at a discount, please let them. My customers will not be affected, as they’ll never walk in the door. Conversely, such changes would allow me to open my dream bar, which would not offer shitty beer at a discount, but rather incredible beer at a premium, because that’s my prerogative and I believe there is a market for it. Neither is currently allowed, and I feel that’s a shame.

I certainly respect the opposing view, which is that such legislative change might cause large companies to dominate the market. However, this is already happening, and unless the laws are changed it is difficult for passionate small business owners like myself cannot step in and offer our alternatives. I suppose the point is this; if a large brewery or distributor can open a restaurant and sell their own beer so too can a small operator. It’s freer and it’s much fairer. If you can’t throw dollars around to compete, do something different and do something better.

I am an importer, so I’m lucky if I make a few dollars on each case of beer or wine I sell. I cannot go toe-to-toe with the marketing budgets of “the big guys” – their economies of scale are too great and they earned that advantage (I wish I sold billions a year). I cannot buy a bar new draft lines and I cannot offer a bar $10 for each case of my beer they sell. I don’t even make that much myself.

While I’m concerned that a limit on trade practices will initially cause licensees to ask me for more incentives, it won’t matter in the long run. I simply don’t have to compete in their game. Freeing the market and relaxing the rules opens up the field. I can blaze my own trail. I offer better products. I offer great wine and beer, and they offer mediocre wine and beer, sometimes down-right crappy wine and beer.

Such changes WILL make it harder to win in this business. But ‘harder’ encourages innovation. ‘Harder’ makes us better. If the big guys want to slug it out with marketing, the small guys can pick up the slack by making better product and exporting it to other areas too. There is always a way. I just hope that we pave a path that is mostly free of government-imposed obstacles. I can deal with the rest of it.

Pretty Things “KK” – Conversation With Dann Paquette

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Adam Henderson interviews Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project Brewer Dann Paquette on the November 15th, 1901 “KK” beer from their “Once Upon a Time Series”. Just in case you don’t know, this is an accurate historical recreation of a beer actually brewed in London, England on the aforementioned date. Dann doesn’t interpret or modify the recipe, he just brews it the way it was done; kind of like a band playing a cover song, except it’s a song you’ve never heard before.

AH: You clearly put a lot of thought in what you’re going to brew, but where did this “Once Upon a Time” idea come from?

DP: “Once Upon a Time” came from the desire to work with Ron Pattinson for one.  We had a few great conversations with him whilst visiting Belgium and Amsterdam back when we were living not too far away in the UK.  The stuff we brew with Pretty Things is basically our takes on things we’ve been inspired by.  So this gives us an opportunity to step back and with zero creativity recreate beers from the past.

AH: How does the process of selecting a recipe work, and could you give us an example of the criteria you use to determine which ones you’ll actually attempt?

DP: I don’t understand the use of “attempt”?  We actually do follow through and brew it.  Anyway, we’re looking for something that not only doesn’t exist anymore but also plays with our very modern notion of “style”.  Whether you go around the internet, or take the BJCP exam, or read brewing literature these days you get the notion that these set of styles we know today were invented and carved in stone a long, long time ago.  If you read what Ron’s digging up it quickly becomes obvious that style is more like a moving target that changes with the taste, technology, economy and laws of the given moment.  I’m reading his almost 700 page book “Porter!” right now and it is amazing how unstable any definition is.  I think it’s sad that we’re stuck forever with a 1970’s revisionist version of what beers are supposed to be – even the notion of beer styles themselves.

So we’re looking for confirmation that the beer world was just as interesting and inventive back then as it is today.

AH: How many recipes like the “KK” and “Mild” does a guy like Ron Pattinson have access too, and from what time periods?

I don’t think there are many guys like Ron.  But he has access to hundreds or thousands of brewsheets.  How many more would be interesting to brew?  Probably many hundreds.  I think he roughly starts in the late 18th century and goes to the 1950s.  All in England of course, or mostly.

AH: I didn’t mean it that way, but I would agree, not many guys like Ron!

AH: How else is Ron involved, does he consult on methods and techniques that may have been employed?

Ron is very involved actually.  These brewsheets are really meant to be relevant to the brewers and their bosses.  The volumes are in quarters and others that I am not familiar enough with to figure out.  The handwriting and abbreviations are also hard to read.  Most are parti-gyles which confuses quite a bit.  Even the raw materials can be tough to figure.  I mean, what are Gaza hops like?  Ron is the guy who makes the recipe relevant to us.

AH: What’s the most challenging part of brewing these?

DP: For us the most challenging is the amount of hops used back then.  The KK was a 45 barrel batch of beer with over $5500 worth of hops in it.  I think it had an 88 pound bittering charge.  The Mild was similar.  We actually used all whole leaf for that one and really did a number on the brewhouse.  I think it took three days to clean it all up, never mind the pumps and valves we clogged.

The other challenging part is knowing that palates have changed so much since then that unless the drinker is educated the entire beer go down unappreciated.

AH: What if someone tries to do this with one of your beers 150 years from now? Is your record keeping as good as your brewing ancestors?!

DP: That’s an original question!  I wonder if I’m doing anything worthy of being recreated in 2160?  Let’s let that question float around in the ether and maybe someone in a space suit or a cloned version of Sam Calagione will find one of my recipes and brew it in the future.

AH: Hahaha, I bet Future-Sam would totally do that.

AH: What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned by going through this process?

DP: The most interesting thing is a surprise.  We taste the KK and think of it as a specialty sipper, but the Edwardians in London drank it everyday it the pub – KK was a normal style back then.  Who were these people who drank beers like that every day?  Just amazing to think about it.

AH: Are there any interesting beers you’ve uncovered during this process  that you can tell us about, without ruining future surprises, of course!?

DP: Well, we flew Ron over from Amsterdam for the launch of the KK in Boston and let me tell you… we spent the first night drinking, the second day on a 10 hour pub crawl, the third day in a 9 hour launch event, then went out to dinner afterward.  The entire time he was talking about possible beers to brew. There are a lot of ideas.  I suggest going to his website, buy his books and brew some yourselves.  Most of it is right there.

Russian Imperial Stout Brew-Day

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On Friday, Nov 12th, I brewed a batch of my Russian Imperial Stout (8%) at R&B Brewing in Vancouver. It will be served on cask at The Whip sometime, likely before Christmas.

This was my prize for winning a gold medal in the Stout category at the Van Brewer Awards in May. I want to say a big thanks to Rick, Barry, and their brewer Andrew for setting me up to do this! It was a lot of fun.

This was first time I’ve brewed on anything other than my own homebrew system. But R&B has a Tippy Brew Sculpture from More Beer. It’s a 20 gallon set up that makes brewing a damn breeze! The pump was broken this day which was unfortunate, but at the same time, I think that would only be a minor improvement.

The biggest benefit of this system was having everything right in front of me: 3 pots with valves and false bottoms, temp & sight gauges, and individual burners. Having a production brewery behind me didn’t hurt either (sanitizer, hoses, hydrometers, lots of sinks, etc…)

Hopefully I get to brew at R&B again soon! I’ll update with details when I know the date the beer will be served at The Whip.

Cheers,

Adam

San Fran and Napa Trip

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I just got back from a trip to Northern California. I toured San Francisco and the Napa Valley mostly, and visited with suppliers and some other great places, too. Here’s a quick overview.

Chris Brockway makes his Broc Cellars wine in Berkeley CA, in a building best described as an old warehouse, just off the I-80, in a light industrial area. Brockway sources his grapes from a variety of places in California, including Luna Matta Vineyard, James Berry Vineyards, Ellen Ridge, and Arrowhead Mountain Vineyard. Most of these vineyards produced organically grown grapes, which Chris uses when possible. Broc Cellars it self is not a certified organic facility, but it’s worth noting that Chris employs the practice of selecting natural grapes where possible because it speaks to his belief that terroir-driven, natural wines are the best. As you might note from the pictures, this isn’t an estate winery! I’m particularly fond of seeing grapes fermenting right in front of a barbwire fence, it’s quite the juxtaposition.

Of course, being a beer focused company I made sure to get over to the Toronado on 547 Haight St. The draft list here is one of the most prized in North America, and it gets beer from many great breweries here in NorCal that we can’t get back home. One of those is the Saison from Odonata Brewing, and it was really fantastic. I’ve been waiting a while to get into this beer, so it was the first that I ordered. It marries great depth of flavour with an amazingly soft texture. A simple beer that is clearly very well made. I wonder if some people will eventually tire of Saison (as it is becoming quite popular), but it’s a very challenging beer to make well and when you get a good one you know why so many brewers try to make it! Personally I’ll take a saison like Odonata’s over anything else.

Adam looking into one of the oak ‘foudres’ at Broc Cellars. “Oh Yes I Did!”

For last leg of the trip, we made the journey to Brown Estate, in the Napa Valley. I call it a ‘journey’ because after 20 minutes of driving and not seeing a single vine I thought we were lost, and surely not in wine country anymore. The winery is located in the Chiles Valley, which is a sub-appellation of the Napa Valley. Drive east for about 10 miles on Sage Canyon Rd from the Silverado Trail and you’ll eventually finding this winery, well tucked-away, in the hillsides east of Lake Hennessey. Here they’re making some of the best Zinfandel in the Valley.

Wine and cheese, from table level

Wine and cheese in tasting room at Brown. Chive studded cheddar…mmmmm.

The growing conditions in Chiles Valley seem quite varied. For example, the Brown’s vineyards contain several different combinations of soil, elevation, and sun exposure. Somehow, their lands seem to be perfect for Zinfandel – a grape whose often overripe and jammy wines are not as prized as they once were. But Brown’s Zins are elegant and restrained in that sense, and I hope its fair of me to surmise that winemaker David Brown works in accordance with what he’s given, and with the purpose of expressing his family’s storied land via the wine.

Their Napa Valley Zinfandel is a careful blend of fruit from four vineyards. They also offer 2 single vineyard expressions which show more seasonal variation, and distinct characteristics from the various growing conditions of each. They have 4 vineyards of Zinfandel on the property, but currently bottle only 2 of them, labelled ‘Westside’, and ‘Chiles Valley’, as single vineyard releases (yes, they plan to release the other 2).

View from tasting room into the caves at Brown Estate

The three Brown “children” – now fully grown of course – run the winery operations, their parents live in the house on the estate they purchased 30 years ago. Today, David is the winemaker and Coral is the Brand Manager. Deneen, the President, wasn’t in the tasting room that day. Coral, immediately welcoming, was effusive and passionate from the get-go. She speaks about the wines like a proud mother, and explains them via comparison to intangible but relate-able topics like relationships and poetry. When David found out I was from Ontario he told me about his time at College in Michigan, joking about how he used to drink Labatt Ice back in the day. We all make mistakes! What definitely struck me about Coral and David was the level of thought that they both put into their winemaking approach. They don’t over think it, they don’t over do it, they let the land, the vines, and the wine be what it is. It sounds easy, but it isn’t. Because of this they produce wine with a sense of people, and place. And it is nothing short of fabulous.

I consider myself very lucky that I get have experiences like this at places like Broc Cellars, The Toronado, and Brown Estates. I’m lucky to be in such a fun industry. Meeting people with a simple, genuine passion for what they do is rare, but I see it all the time and I’m blessed for that. I get to eat and drink pretty well, too.

Cheers,

Adam

Great Canadian Beer Festival, 2010

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The 2010 Great Canadian Beer Festival is behind us, and we’re back to work now. This was a really great weekend to hang out with friends and meet new people, and more importantly it was a shining testament to the shift in beer culture here in BC. It was so great to see that many excited people talking, drinking, thinking and living beer for the better part of 3 days.

There were 55 breweries in attendance this year, and the line up of beers was spectacular. We were proud to have Upright Brewing there with us. We poured the Four, Five and Six from their regular lineup. My personal favourite of all the beers I tried was from the Czech Mate Pilsner from Saskatchewan Brewery Paddock Wood. It was a very traditional Czech Pilsner, bursting with hoppy snap and freshness. It seemed as though a lot of work went into perfecting this beer.

Other notables seemed to be the Red Racer Imperial IPA, which was served on cask, and the Pumpkin Ale from Steamwork’s, the latter of which had the biggest lineup I waited in. Also, BC’s two newest brewing operations were exhibiting: Plan B Brewing from Smithers, and Moon Under the Water (a new brewpub) from Victoria.

I want to say a HUGE thank you to Alex and Raquel from Upright Brewing for coming all the way up from Portland and helping, as well as to Ryan O’Connor and Jen Schwetje for helping us behind the taps! Can’t wait for next year!!!

Cheers,
Adam