Barkerville Brewing is one of British Columbia’s latest craft breweries scheduled to open for production in December 2013 (Update* The brewery is now open for business and currently producing some great beers, but read on.. it’s a great story). The beer they’ll produce will tell the history of BC’s gold rush, but first it’s important to hear the story of Barkerville Brewing.
The man behind Barkerville Brewing is Russell Ovans, a Victoria native and a computer scientist by profession. Ovans is no stranger to hard work or entrepreneurial success. He has been involved in numerous successful projects throughout his professional career. Research scientist, university instructor, author, angel investor… the list of titles and accomplishments goes on.
It would take an entire book to tell the whole story of Russell Ovans. This article can only be so long, so, we’ll jump into the Russell Ovans story in 2005.
In 2005 Russell Ovans founded Backstage Technologies a social gaming company that he grew from start-up company to a serious player staking out it’s share of the market. In 2010 Backstage was acquired by a large technology firm looking to expand into social gaming and after 5 years behind the reigns Ovans was rewarded with a successful exit.
Start-up to exit – that is the ultimate goal when starting a new business and for Ovans that goal had been realized.
At this stage in his life Russ moved on to a number of rewarding undertakings including mentoring early stage start-ups, becoming an angel investor and writing a book, “Lord of the Files: Essays on the Social Aspects of Software Engineering”
As Ovans told CraftBeer.ca, “For the first 45 years of my life I worked really hard: got married, raised three kids, worked in the Silicon Valley, got a PhD, taught university, started and sold a successful software company. I guess you could say I was burned out with being a tech entrepreneur. For the remaining 45 years of my life, I just want to have fun”. The real fun was just about to start.
Russ had a long-time dream of living for a year in Scotland and now he found the perfect excuse for seeing that dream through. He was able to convince his partner Meghan to do a Masters of Law at the University of Edinburgh. In the fall of 2011 Russ and Meghan found themselves right there in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Meghan was busy with growing her education, but, Russ didn’t have anything he necessarily had to do, so, he set out to accomplish one of the noblest goals a beer lover could dream up. He would visit 365 different pubs throughout the year they lived in Scotland. A different pub each day!
Packing 365 pub visits into one year isn’t an easily attainable goal. Why set a goal of this manitude? Well, Russ explains taking on the task like this, “I’m a goal-oriented person… Yes, an empty shell of a human who measures his worth in his accomplishments; a human doing rather than a human being.”
Of course Russ was kind enough to record his adventure for anybody that wants to follow along. He has a blog dedicated to his adventures in Scotland at 365pubs.com
Before moving to Scotland and even before selling Backstage Technologies, Russ had wanted to open a brewery. He was talked out of opening a brewery in Victoria in 2008 by a family friend. Two different friends had independently suggested that Russ open a brewery in Barkerville, but, he wasn’t so sure about opening a brewery so far from home.
Russ was very familiar with Barkerville, travelling to the area each year for the ArtsWells Festival. The idea was in his mind, but, he had more or less given up on the idea, besides Russ was off to Scotland.
Back on the mission of 365 pubs. On Saturday, February 11th 2012, Russ and Meghan found themselves in Plockton on the Northwest coast of Scotland. Plockton has a population of 400, they also have an inn where Russ and Meghan spent the night. Next door to the inn is a pub (which makes pub # 138) and in the back… a brewery! (Plockton Brewery)
It’s there in the tiny town of Plockton that Russ decided to say, “fuck it… I’m opening the Barkerville Brewing Co.”
On his return from Scotland Russ set to work and it quickly became clear that a brewery right in the historic town of Barkerville wouldn’t fly, but, Quesnel 80 miles west would be the perfect fit.
He found the perfect location in Quesnel, a former storage facility, pool hall and gas station (at different times in history). The previous gas station would prove to cause a few speed bumps along the way. Previously unknown gas tanks buried beneath the property had to be excavated before the brewery could be signed off on the environmental assessment. Russ and his team made it over those speed bumps and a few bullet holes (literally) and are now well on their way to opening.
Barkerville Brewing has a promising brewmaster in Troy Rudolph. Troy has been a home brewer for the past 25 years who has spent most of his professional career in food and beverage production. Prior to joining Barkerville Brewing, Troy ran the floor at Township 7 winery in Naramata.
Together Russ and Troy are planning to produce some unique beers that pay homage to the local area and tell the story of the gold rush. Throughout the year they will be producing 4 different batches of beer. They’ll have 3 core brands and the 4th batch will be alternating seasonal beers.
Troy is excited to do some experimenting with the seasonal beers and plans to incorporate local ingredients like birch syrup and berries scarcely found outside the Cariboo region.
The three regular offerings will include a pale ale, an amber ale and an IPA.
18 Karat Pale Ale is an intriguing beer surrounded by an aire of mystery. The gold rush connection is clear, but the beer’s warning, “May Contain Traces of Gold” leaves a lot of unanswered questions. We may have to run a batch through a sluice box to see what we get.
Prospector’s Peril Pilsner and Wandering Camel IPA are the other two beers that Barkerville Brewing will be offering up. If you aren’t a BC history buff you may not get the camel reference, but 23 camels did indeed play a legendary role in the BC gold rush. Although legendary, the camels weren’t a great success in the long run, however Barkerville Brewing plans to change that this time around with Wandering Camel IPA.
Before closing out this article I had to ask Russell Ovans one more question. Seeing as he is a business man with a history of success and a successful exit, I wondered if his ultimate goal was to grow Barkerville Brewing to the point of being able to sell it to a larger brewery.
Russ was quick to answer, “Anyone who starts a business should have an exit strategy in mind. Except if you start a microbrewery, in which case you should plan to be in it for the long haul.”
I’m looking forward to the initial release of beer from Barkerville Brewing and will update CraftBeer.ca as things progress.