In the early fall of 2016, Chilliwack farmer John Lawrence was busy harvesting a crop of the finest hops, one of many locally-sourced ingredients in Pacific Western Brewing’s (PWB) new all-BC Cariboo Springs Lager.
And, up in the North Okanagan, Gambrinus Malting in Armstrong is producing the finest roasted barley malt from the Peace River region to complement the production of this quality brew.
Finally, as with all of PWB’s beer, the water used in Cariboo Springs Lager comes from the Prince George brewery’s famous high-quality on-site spring adjacent to the Nechako River.
Cariboo Springs Lager reflects former PWB owner Kazuko Komatsu’s goal of producing and marketing quality product that is the brewing industry equivalent of BC’s VQA wines. It also reflects her desire to support hard working BC farmers and families by using fine ingredients grown right here at home. (Kazuko died July 27, 2018 after a long battle with cancer.)
“At Pacific Western Brewing I have always pursued the goal of investing where we live. In that spirit we are forging long term partnerships with our agricultural neighbours,” Kazuko said at the time.
Kazuko established her reputation and staked the brewery’s name on her unwavering quality standards. PWB was the first North American brewery to obtain the ISO quality manufacturing standard in 2004. Acting plant manager Tom Leboe, says: "Kazuko wanted to make a beer made 100 per cent in BC and from BC products."
For John Lawrence, owner of Chilliwack Hop Farms, getting back in the business of growing hops was supposed to be a nice little retirement project. That was five years ago when he started with about 20 acres and one helper. Today, he’s up to 200 acres and still growing and employs up to 35 workers in the peak growing period. John is also becoming a leader in his field with 10 greenhouses and the largest nursery for hops in Canada with 100,000 plants.
John exports hops to China, Russia, Europe and across the U.S. “But what we treasure is our local contracts like PWB,” he says. “That’s our backbone. It is very important to us to support local breweries. And, we provide employment for local people. It is very exciting to be part of this.
“Chilliwack is one of the best hop-growing regions in the world – it was at one time the largest hop-producing region in the entire British Commonwealth.
“Hops love moist temperate climates and grow best along the 48th and 49th parallels. This makes Chilliwack and the Fraser Valley an optimal place for growing hops and Chilliwack’s unique terroir, environment, and climate make our hops valued around the world. At Chilliwack Hop Farms, we focus on quality from planting through harvest. We take great pride in what we grow and produce,” John says.
PWB Acting Plant Manager Tom Leboe says John’s farm is providing him with the best varieties. "I think we are their biggest customer. We signed a long term supply contract with them to ensure we have the highest quality hops for making Cariboo Springs Lager.”
Gambrinus Malting Corporation has been rooted in the North Okanagan for more than 20 years. Gambrinus offers 13 varieties of specialty malt products, conventional and organic. Each variety meets a specific set of variables in order to deliver the exact product customers need.
PWB Brewmaster Kelly Olson says: “Much of the barley that is roasted into malt at Gambrinus Malting comes from the Peace River region, one of the best barley growing areas in the country. This is some of the best quality malting barley in the world. The Peace River climate is very good for barley because there is nice even, slow growth.”
Olson, a 35-year brewing veteran at PWB, says: “The malt is where you convert starches to fermentable sugars. You need these sugars to get your alcohol and your CO2. You need good quality malt … without good malt you’ve got nothing.”
Gambrinus Malting general manager Maathias Haaben says: “Ours is the smallest malting house in North America and therein lies our strength. We need to focus on quality and service … something special the others 10 times our size cannot supply.
“Small means we can select the best grains and buy the top of the crop. We’re not the cheapest, but we are the best.”
PWB sales manager Scott Rattee says: “This is not a beer that will be mistaken for mass-produced mainstream brands. It has a taste sensation all its own, with the hops sitting well forward on the palette, but that wave never gets too big. Some brands that emphasize hops in the mix can be overwhelming.”