SPOTLIGHT ON BUSINESS MAGAZINE
SPOTLIGHT ON BUSINESS MAGAZINE • OCTOBER 2017
Claire Wilson left her native home of Ireland in 2008 on a working holiday. She had been employed as a professional brewer her whole adult life and she was on a quest to find new recipes, brewing ideas and forward-looking techniques. Hearing an industry buzz about the rapidly changing craft brewing movement in Western Canada, she decided to check it out first hand. She wasn’t disappointed. The craft brewing scene in Vancouver was exactly what she was looking for. New breweries were popping up, exciting products were hitting the marketplace, and the whole vibe and pace was a refreshing change for Claire. In fact, she found it so accommodating, she stayed. And has been a Vancouver resident ever since. Now if that beginning isn’t romantic enough for you, there’s more! She met her soon-to- be husband, Brendan Wilson, an electrician working in Vancouver’s hopping film industry. Early discussions turned to Brendan’s lifelong dream to own and operate a brewery. Talk about finding your dream partner! The stars aligned and Claire left her job in 2012 to open up Dogwood Brewing with Brendan. After the requisite period of finding and leasing space, dealing with building permits and other administrative and regulatory hurdles, the doors finally swung open at Dogwood in March 2015. An important piece to the puzzle was Claire and Brendan’s unified vision to operate a sustainable and environmentally conscious brewery. Claire used her years of education and brewing experience throughout British Columbia, the UK and Europe to spearhead Vancouver’s first organic brewery. Spotlight on Business spoke with Claire about the challenges and rewards inherent with the decision to pursue environmental sustainability in the craft brewing industry.
By John Allaire W e’re actually the third organic brewery in British Columbia and the only one in Vancouver so far.” It was Claire’s early days in Germany that opened her eyes to environmental issues. But more to the point, early in her career, she worked for a brewery that was situated in the middle of a national park. “Nothing went down the drain. Everything had to be top notch in our practices and procedures. So it’s always been part of me and who I am.” Claire is quick to give the nod to Brian and RebeccaMacIsaac from the Crannog Brewery in Sorrento, BC as an early influ- ence on best practices. “They have their farm brewery. They really are the epitome of what the industry needs to be. It’s not over excess or about growth without boundaries with them. They’re just producing amazing beer from their land — from what their well will support, they treat their own effluent, it goes back in the field. And the grain feeds the pigs. It’s a complete full circle. It’s so admirable, what they’re doing and their approach to it.” It was the Crannog folks that convinced them that Dogwood should pursue the organic route. But the concept was met with slight hesitation — and a million questions. “At the beginning I was concerned, ‘is it going to be really expen- sive?’ ‘Are the ingredients going to be really hard to get?’ and so on. Rebecca just went through everything with us and it was just ‘Nope, this is it. These are the suppliers.
You will be able to get your ingredients…’ Claire points out
OCTOBER 2017 • SPOTLIGHT ON BUSINESS MAGAZINE
that when she actually worked it out on paper, the cost isn’t that much more to produce organic beer. It’s more about priorities. “Everything had to be top notch in our practices and procedures. So it’s always been part of me and who I am.” Of course, with all the new breweries opening up in Van- couver all searching for that unique space in the craft beer market, the question becomes “What makes this brewery different?” Claire says it was the right thing to do to fit into Vancouver’s emerging organic culture. “It’s part of our model. Vancouver has such a strong and vibrant organic food movement. It’s something that people are looking for. So we are really happy to be able to provide organic beer as part of the movement.” And Claire isn’t worried about other breweries jumping on the organic bandwagon. In fact, she encourages it. “It has always been our opinion that we want other breweries to make organic beer. It would help our supply chain and the cost of the ingredients and organic products. It’s something we encourage. And Brian and Rebecca at Crannog wrote up an information sheet for people on how to brew just one organic beer.” Dogwood takes the “back-to- the-farm” philosophy one step further. Their beer is acceptable for vegan diets. Claire explains what steps are necessary to ensure people follow- ing a vegan diet can enjoy Dogwood products. “Our beer is malted barley, water and hops, pretty much, which are plants, and yeast. Most breweries, especially craft brewer- ies and real ale breweries, use ‘finings’ to help clarify their
products. These finings typically are made from elongat- ed fish bladders. It’s used in the winemaking and brewing industries quite heavily. It surprises people. Vegetarians certainly don’t like finding out that there are fish products in their beer.
So that’s part of the transparency that we were committed to from the beginning.
To be zero waste. No unusual ingredients in our beer. It is what it says it is.”
Naturally, to every rule, there’s an exception. One of Dog- wood’s most popular beers, their ‘Organic Honey’ is, strictly speaking, not vegan, as it is made from natural honey. But the remainder of their selection is not only vegan, it’s as environmentally friendly as you are going to get within the industry. Dogwood’s commitment to sustainability is well-researched and taken very seriously. “We have decided to go for the six-pack cans, and we put the six-packs in
the European tradition of fall festival beers, Dogwood’s ‘Organic Fest’ is another popular seller. “It’s our Oktober- fest-style dark lager at 6.9% alcohol. It’s really probably our best loved beer… And we launched our IPA which is more of a hybrid style. Many of the hardcore West-Coast- style IPA drinkers would call it an English-style IPA. But I think it’s far too hoppy to be an English-style IPA. So we put the taste somewhere in the middle. It’s not incredibly hoppy and bitter. It has more of a body to it. The flavour is rounded out more.” Like any artist or culinary creative type, Claire and the Dogwood brewers like to experiment with new recipes, ideas and techniques. And similar to many breweries and distilleries, they use their ‘tasting room’ as a yardstick to measure the popularity of their experiments, and the future direction of their product rollout. She explains that their ‘London Fog’ experiment has become an instant tasting room sensation. “It’s a small batch that we made for our tasting room. It became so popular that it is now going in cans. It’s a light golden ale made with Earl Grey and vanilla.” Dogwood also produces a 4% year-round stout, for those of us who like to sip our way through a nice dark pint.
recycled cardboard boxes. And we went for printed cans because they can be infinitely recycled.”
To misquote Marshall McLuhan, in this case the packag- ing is the message. The decision to go with six-pack cans directly affects the beer’s design, as opposed to how one would design the product to be delivered in large growl- er-type bottles or 3/4-litre cans. Claire points out that the flavours and consistencies are designed to accommodate drinking all six beers in one sitting! Or at least ensure that, after drinking one, the experience isn’t too overbearing to discourage a second. “The beers need to be consumable in sixes. Not that you are necessarily going to drink six, but it’s a beer that, if you wanted to drink six, you wouldn’t just drink say one IPA and think ‘oh, I need something else now.’ So that’s the way these beers were designed.” “Vancouver has such a strong and vibrant organic food movement. It’s something that people are looking for.” Claire’s Irish upbringing and her history as a brewmaster in Germany can’t help but play a significant role in the creation of their “Fest” beer. It’s not lost on Dogwood that beer lovers are particularly fond of celebrating their tastes and culture in a festival atmosphere. Paying homage to
Regulations in British Columbia have recently changed allowing these tasting rooms to feature small volumes of
products from outside the brewery. In keeping with Dog- wood’s craft and organic essence, they feature spirits and wines from other organic producers in the area. So alongside Dogwood’s own brews, you can taste spirits from Pemberton Distillery, local organic wines, and even organic flatbread pizzas from the Rocky Mountain Flat- bread Pizza Company. “The ‘lounge culture’ in Vancou- ver is excellent. And because they only allowed brewer- ies to open up in industrial areas, there are little pockets in the north of the city where there is a cluster of about seven breweries really close to each other. It makes for a great opportunity for visitors to go on walks and ‘lounge crawls.’ We’re the only one in South Vancouver so far, so people who come out and visit us are making a special trip.” One of the insights Claire brought with her from spending most of her life in the brewing industry was the constant need for space, and room to expand. She had witnessed first-hand how many small brew- eries were constantly in the position where they had to plead with landlords and occasionally buy out their neighbours when their space no longer kept up with demand. She insisted on securing far more square footage than they originally needed, anticipating expansion down the road. “So that’s part of the transparency that we were committed to from the beginning. To be zero waste. No unusual ingredients in our beer. It is what it says it is.” They currently lease 12,000 sq. ft. and are still using just under half of the space for their current operations. That would’ve been a big old lonely space in the beginning, as Claire was the only employee. She’d brew in the morning and complete administrative tasks in the afternoon. Today there are three brewers, all female as coincidence would have it. Claire says she really isn’t sure if she is deliberately hiring women, be it even at a subconscious level. “I catch myself. I’m not deliberately just hiring women! I’m not!” she laughs, almost seemingly trying to convince herself more than anyone else. Dogwood’s vision is more day-by- day. They just love brewing beer. And they thrive on being “authen- tic, transparent and unique.” “We want to focus on communicating what we stand for. So people can be proud that they are supporting a local organic brewery that isn’t secretly owned by some international mega company.” Dogwood Brewing is proud of their local organic suppliers and the growing community within the organic movement in British Columbia. “We always put ‘local’ first before ‘organic.’ It means a lot to our customers. It means a lot to us.”
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