Posted tagged ‘showcase brewery’

West Coast Journey: Vancouver Island Brewing

June 16, 2013
Vancouver Island Brewing

Vancouver Island Brewing: Modern building surrounded by nice gardens. Not your typical craft brewery.

Fortified and refreshed by a pint of Moon Under Water‘s Creepy Uncle Dunkel, I was ready for the official tour of nearby Vancouver Island Brewing. While the other breweries I had visited today had been shoehorned into generic warehouses or commercial buildings, it was immediately evident from the bright modern blue-tinted glass-clad building surrounded by tidy gardens that VIB existed on a higher economic plane.

(Of course, it wasn’t always this way. Vancouver Island Brewing started out almost 30 years ago as Island Pacific Brewery, a small draught-beer-only operation with six employees in a small suburban warehouse. They changed their name in 1992, moved to their present location in 1995, and now employ about 40 people.)

I was a couple of minutes late — the Creepy Uncle Dunkel really had been very good —  but luckily the tour hadn’t departed yet. In fact there was just one other visitor waiting as I entered the large gift shop and sampling lounge.

A small part of my logo beer glass collection. They just keep multiplying.

A portion of my beer glass collection.  I really didn’t need another one.

This was the only brewery I visited on the West Coast that had a tour fee, and it was a hefty $10. (Okay, I wasn’t listening very closely, and I found out after the fact that I could paid $7 for the tour. The $10 fee got me the tour and a souvenir logo pint glass. I really need to pay more attention to these things, since, as you can see, the last thing I need is another beer glass. )

For the start of the tour, we climbed to the second floor, where we entered the brewhouse. Sort of.


The upper level of the brewhouse — bright, clean and safe. Doubtless goblins and trolls toil in the dark dungeons that lie below.

What you see up there is the showcase level. The mash tun, kettle and other vessels are housed one floor below, but stick up through the floor, looking very spiffy and shiny. Meanwhile, one level down in the brewery dungeon, goblins and trolls toil away in the dark shadows. (Okay, I didn’t actually see any goblins or trolls, but since we didn’t go down to the working level, I can’t definitively say that there weren’t any.)

I have seen photos of other showcase breweries that use this design — the upper level kept clean (and safe) for visitors, the real work happening beneath our feet — but this was the first time I had visited one.

This was also the largest brewery I visited on my West Coast journey — the brewhouse is capable of knocking out an impressive 135 hL of wort at a time. (To put that into a craft beer perspective, one of their batches is larger than five of Driftwood‘s batches; Vancouver Island brews up more wort in a single day than tiny Powell Street brews in a year. )

Touch screen control system.

Touch screen control system showing control screen for the kettle/whirlpool. Images of men in white lab coats carrying clipboards come to mind for some reason.

My fellow visitor knew nothing about brewing, so while he peered down into the lauter tun and got a brief explanation of brewing, I looked around the floor. Not only was the upper level clean and shiny, but a computer monitor displayed their touch screen control system. Want to open a valve, raise or lower the mash temperature, or start a transfer to the kettle without getting your hands dirty? Just touch the screen. Amazing.

As we moved out of the brewhouse, we happened to run into Brent Pottage, the Plant Operations Manager, and he generously took a few minutes to answer some of my questions.

Packaging area

Packaging area: canning line in the background, conveyor belt keg cleaner right below us.

When I rejoined the tour, they were standing beside some large windows overlooking the packaging area. The canning line was going full blast, but as the guy who cleaned a lot of kegs last summer one keg at a time, I was more interested to see an conveyor belt keg cleaner in operation. The technician simply put kegs upside down on the belt, the kegs were then drawn into a large machine and emerged a few minutes later, sparkling clean inside and out. Neat.

It’s obvious that Vancouver Island has achieved the next level to which many craft breweries aspire but few have achieved. The showcase brewery is a jewel, and their annual volume probably tops 20,000 hL, making them a serious player in the B.C. craft beer market.

Back at the gift shop, it was time to sample their beers, and I partook of several. Oh yes, and I also received my souvenir pint glass. Now how would I pack this up and get it back to Ontario safely? More importantly, how would I reveal to Elaine that I now owned another beer glass? Hmmm.


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