The Mt. Begbie Brewing Company wins. No, taking home two gold medals for their High Country Kölsch and Begbie Cream Ale at the Canadian Brewing Awards in May 2017 – or winning Brewery of the Year in the same competition. No, I’m not talking about the fact that High Country Kölsch was named the world’s best at the 2017 World Beer Awards in London, England. I’m talking about an informal competition we have here at Spotlight on Business: Best About Page. You can imagine that we read a lot of them – and don’t get me wrong, it’s not all about bios and backstories – but the About Us page at has the wittiest bent we’ve come across on a company’s website in a long time. Here’s my favourite example: “Bart has a Ph.D. in nuclear physics, but he prefers to make beer and not war.” They win. Bart Larson, the co-owner of the Mt. Begbie Brewing Company in Revelstoke, British Columbia really does have a Ph.D. in nuclear physics and he really does have a laissez- faire attitude. He’s as laid-back as they come. After all, he didn’t even “let all that education stop him from making great beer.” Spotlight on Business had the opportunity to speak with Bart’s wife and co- owner of the Mt. Begbie Brewing Company Tracey Larson along with Darryn Shewchuk, the Director of Sales and Marketing, in early February and they had a lot to say about the man of science with “an artistic, if somewhat bohemian, flair for beer making.” I’m not talking about Mt. Begbie



By David MacDonald T racey, I understand from the research notes that Darryn provided us with that you and your husband first met when you were studying biology as an undergraduate at the University of British Columbia and he was getting his Ph.D. I’ve got to ask: How did a nuclear physicist become a Brewmaster? TL: After Bart completed his Ph.D. in nuclear physics, he quickly realized that employment for him would require relocating to Eastern Canada or the U.S.A. As well, these would likely be short 2 year positions. We were not interested in this nomadic lifestyle. We were both raised in British Columbia and are avid skiers, mountain bikers, and hikers. Although our careers were important to us, we also wanted to live in a community in which we could enjoy outdoor activities when not working. Bart was raised in Revelstoke, so we decided to move there. Unfortunately the demand for nuclear physicists in Revelstoke was zero, so we had to be creative in figuring out what we could do for employment. Bart was a homebrewer and we decided to take his hobby and turn it into a career – like we always say, “Make beer, not war. When we started in 1996 there were less than twenty microbreweries in B.C. Today, there are over 175. DS: Bart had started home brewing when he was a universi- ty student so that he could have cheap beer. He quickly became dissatisfied with the product produced by the stove top kits as they lacked flavour and character. Being the true scientist he began experimenting by altering the ingredients in those kits and sourcing our real ingredi- ents. Early on he was known for producing great beer. TL: And that’s when he went to Chicago to start taking brewing courses because he couldn’t get that in Canada at the time. Now, of course, every province has one or two uni- versities that offer it but back then that’s what he did – he went to Chicago. It was really extreme dedication because he went to school in Chicago in January! What was Canada’s 2017 Brewery of the Year like in the beginning compared to now? TL: We’ve had three locations over our 22 year career. The first two were renovated warehouse spaces not entirely suited for a brewery. This third – and hopefully last location – was custom designed for our business and our needs. The production area is spacious, clean, and filled with natural light – it’s a nice place for our workers to make beer. The number of staff doubled because we had to hire chefs and servers and bartenders but I finally got the retail area and tasting room of my dreams! Our brewery is located above the city of Revelstoke, so from the tasting room we have a beautiful view of the valley and mountains and the occasional bear that meanders by. The

“Bart has a Ph.D. in nuclear physics, but he prefers to make beer and not war.”



room has a 22 foot ceiling with floor to ceiling windows. So lots of nature to look at and lots of natural light as well. Overall, it’s a warm and relaxing space with a cozy fire- place – and great beer too, of course. DS: The first location in ‘96 was very small – basically a nanobrewery, as I understand. I’ve been on board for three years, but I’ve heard the stories. We’ve been in the new building since November and it really is specifically designed for brewing beer. It’s definitely maintained a Mom and Pop feel, a family feel, but it’s doubled in size and tripled in capacity. We did about 6500 hectolitres last year and we’re planning to take that up to nine or 10 this year – and the capacity of the brewery is at least 15. So we are in the position to be able to supply British Columbia and some of Alberta and Saskatchewan as well. “The number of staff doubled because we had to hire chefs and servers and bartenders but I finally got the retail area and tasting room of my dreams!” TL: Our first beer was the Begbie Cream Ale – and we only sold locally in the beginning. We’ve won three gold medals with it since, along with numerous others in 22 years. Not long after we introduced our Tall Timber Ale, a brown ale, and our High Country Kölsch. I read that there were 29 other countries represented competing for the title of World’s Best Kölsch at the World Beer Awards 2017. How did your High Country Kölsch come out on top? TL: Ingredients play a big part. Bart has really perfected that beer over the last 22 years and now more than ever we’re seeing people come into the new tasting room who want to try the World’s Best Kölsch– it’s really great to see. DS: When the High Country Kölsch won the world champi- onship that definitely led to a spike in sales. But it’s also been our number one seller for the past 20 years and I think that’s because Canadians grew up drinking beers like Molson Canadian. That is a beer that

almost every Canadian is familiar with as far as flavour profiles go and Bart wanted to do something different. He didn’t want to make a lager like everybody else so he brewed a kölsch, which is a cold fermented, lagered ale from Germany. So it really walks the line between popular European flavour profiles and Canadian ones. High Country Kölsch is also made using an authentic kölsch yeast that comes from Germany so it offered something new to something very old. I think it had a lot of compet- itive advantages that way. Today, we see many kölsch or kölsch-like beers in the North American market. About 15 percent of the malt comes from Europe and only about 5 percent from the U.S.  About 80 percent of our hops come from the US, mostly from Washington State. Only about 5 percent from Canada, but those numbers are changing now because hops are in such high demand here now. With the amount of breweries growing, the need for local hops has gone through the roof. Out of the 12 beers on the Mt. Begbie menu, what is the most local in terms of ingredients? DS: There’s really only one beer that we do that is 100 percent local and that’s a German lager called Tail Whip. Tail Whip is a Munich Helles lager and it’s very flavourful. We get the hops from Eagle Valley Hops in Malakwa and we get the malt from Armstrong – so it’s 100 percent B.C. There’s a lot of catching up to do with specialty stuff in Canada. There is a big opportunity for more hops and malt farms to start producing European crops to compete with the overseas markets. The craft beer industry is improving in every sense of the word; it’s getting better and better. There is incredible growth opportunity for anything to do with the beer industry. Last year was the first year since pre-Prohibition in the U.S. that breweries surpassed the pre-1920s numbers – and it’s still growing. There are now more than 5000 breweries south of the border and beer drinkers aren’t always looking for a variation on a familiar theme. People need change and we’ve really seen that happen in the last couple of years. People started to want hoppier and hoppier and bitterer and more bitterer beers. They wanted anything that was higher on the I.B.U. [Internation- al Bitterness Units] scale for a while and now people have The malt for our kölsch comes from Gambrinus Malting in Armstrong, BC, which is very close to us.

kind of gotten tired of that. Now they want something a little more drinkable, something that is a little easier to have more than one of and not just a one-and- done kind of beer. TL: To judge the quality of brews from a brewery it is always best to try their lighter styles of beers where you can’t hide any mistakes behind bold malts and hops. Winning gold medals for our two lightest styles: Begbie Cream Ale and High Country Kölsch. It really is a reflection of our exper- tise and attention to quality. Aside from the new brewery in Revelstoke, where can craft beer fans raise a pint of Mt. Begbie- brewed ale or lager? DS: There are lots of great beer houses and craft beer retailers in B.C. and many of them have our beer on tap

– in fact, there are too many to name. There are a few big ones in Vancouver that have our Begbie Cream Ale on tap and in Revelstoke every restaurant and pub, more or less, has our beer on tap. There are a lot of businesses in the Okanagan that have quite a few of our beers on tap as well; Mission Tap House has our beer on tap all the time, for example. So it’s pretty common to see it on tap in the B.C. Interior – but not as much on the coast, yet. We don’t have any taps in Alberta at the moment but that’s just because the Alberta gov- ernment cranked up the taxation on beer from 10 cents a litre to a dollar twenty five a litre last year for imports. It happened when we were positioning ourselves to take on Alberta and they kind of hit us with that, which is unfor- tunate. We love our friends from Alberta and it’s always great when they come visit us in Revelstoke!

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PO Box 2995 2155 Oak Drive Revelstoke, BC Tel. 250 837-2756 Fax 250 837-2750

as spotlighted in the FEBRUARY 2018 issue of SPOTLIGHT ON BUSINESS MAGAZINE

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