Between Vancouver Island and British Columbia’s mainland lies Salt Spring, the largest of the Gulf Islands. It’s here, in the Fulford Valley, that you’ll find a 2500 square foot barn brewing some truly unique ales, and doing so with the best interests of nature and the consumers’ health in mind.
A True “Cottage Brewery”
Gulf Islands Brewing, makers of Salt Spring Island Ales, is located on the side of Mount Bruce, which has a freshwater spring located right at the top of the hill. The water is from a deep aquifer and has a very neutral PH, making it flexible for brewing. This means that they don’t have to use the public water supply or worry about unwanted chemicals like chlorine tainting their esteemed ales.
A small, independently operated brewery that really stands out from the crowd, Salt Spring Island Ales is known as one of BC’s smallest cottage breweries. Not only are they one of the only breweries to use exclusively organic malts, they also partner with local farmers to grow much of their own hop supply right there in Salt Island’s rich soil.
While their focus is mostly on ales brewed from a British tradition, Salt Spring Island Ales is dedicated to using local ingredients. Creativity abounds, they’ve recently journeyed into brewing ancient herbal beers and Belgian-style seasonals.
What Makes Salt Spring Island Ales Special?
So what sets these guys apart from the rest of the pack? For starters, Gulf Islands Brewing is no stranger to being recognized for their hard work and ingenuity. They’ve won several awards, including a gold, a silver, and two bronzes at the BC Beer Awards. They’ve also won two golds and two silvers at the Canadian Brewing Awards. The CBAs recognized Salt Spring Golden Ale by honoring it with the “Best Golden Ale in Canada” award. Aside from the Golden Ale, they boast a catalog featuring their Pale Ale, Porter, Whaletail Ale, India Pale Ale, Fireside Ale, and Heatherdale Ale, which uses heather grown by the world-famous Butchart Gardens.
Proponents of sustainable agriculture and the farm-to-table movement will take great pleasure in Salt Spring Island Ales’ business practices. They are devoted to supporting local farmers and keeping all production as close as possible to their little barn, where 100% of the brewing process takes place. When all is said and done, their spent grain is then donated to other Salt Spring area businesses like bakers, mushroom growers, and cattle farmers.
A CraftBeer.ca Q & A with Salt Spring Island Ales
One of the things craft beer fans love most about the products they support is that they get to hear the unique and interesting stories behind their favorite small breweries. Recently, co-owner Becky Julseth took some time to share a bit more about Gulf Islands Brewing and Salt Spring Island Ales with CraftBeer.ca. Here’s what she had to say:
CB: What do each of your team members bring to the table that is unique?
BJ: Neil and I are the owners, and manage the overall business operations and direction of the company. I also started our hop growing partnerships with local farms, and have spearheaded our movement towards Organic and Non-GMO certification. Neil is a graphic designer by trade, and designed all of our branding (none of which is shown on the old website unfortunately). Neil is an excellent networker and has forged a lot of relationships in the beer & hospitality world.
Murray Hunter is our brewmaster, and creates most of the recipes and manages our supply chain & government reporting. He has almost 20 years in the craft beer business. He’s also a concert trumpet player.
Heather Kilbourne is our lead technical brewer. She brews most of our beer on a day-to-day basis. Heather is one of the few female brewers in BC. In the last year or so, she has also begun to craft recipes, which we’ve sold as specialty draught releases to select pubs and restaurants. We hope to release some of these in bottles soon.
Campbell Jackson is our brewery tech and brewer’s assistant. He helps facilitate all aspects of day-to-day production, from cleaning to bottling to repairs and assisting with brewing. He brings a great sense of humour and a great deal of creativity and enthusiasm to the brewery. He has also experimented with some very interesting and forward-thinking recipes that we will likely release commercially in the next year or so.
Ryan Malcolm and Tania Fioritti are our sales people, based in Victoria. Ryan brings years of experience in the hospitality world, as one of Victoria’s champion bartenders. He is also the owner of New Theatre soda company, makers of craft tonic & ginger beer. Tania has years of experience in the retail liquor market and also reps Tugwell Creek Farm and Meadery and Muse Winery.
Noelle Quin manages our on-site store and tasting loft. She comes from a retail background, having owned a surf shop in Victoria for many years. Noelle also helps in the brewery with bottling and cellarwork. Noelle also has a passion for cider, having studied cidermaking and worked volunteer stints at commercial cideries.
CB: What has been your favorite memory/proudest moment from the last 5 years as a team?
BJ: Our first truly large hop harvest in 2013. We brought in about 140 pounds of hops, which were then brought fresh to the brewery and turned into an estate-hopped brew with fresh, whole cones. The harvest happened on the harvest moon, so there was a beautiful giant moon over the field.
CB: What is the driving factor that motivates your team to operate the way you do?
BJ: Small-but-mighty. We do things pretty DIY and march to the beat of a different drum than any city brewery. We’re a barn in the woods and proud of it.
CB: How would you describe your customer base?
BJ: People who like well-crafted, balanced, sessionable beers with a creative twist. Locavores, health/environment-conscious beer drinkers. Islanders and visitors.
CB: Can you tell people a bit about Murray’s Porter Pancakes?
BJ: Replace the milk with Porter. Delish.
CB: What has been your most difficult challenge as a business?
BJ: We can’t make enough beer. We could sell about 3 times as much as our capacity allows, no problem, without any more staff. Our facility just currently won’t support that volume. We’re looking at expansion.
Get Some Salt Spring Island Ales
Of all the challenges a brewery can face, the need to produce more beer to keep up with customer orders seems to be among the best. The demand is clearly there. We look forward to hearing more about how Gulf Islands Brewing moves forward with expansion plans in the future.
In the meantime, hopefully this has piqued the interest of many of you craft beer lovers. The next step is to have a taste! You can do this in their small but popular tasting room and store, where visitors can try samples and fill growlers. They offer tours by appointment and all contact information is available online.
For more information on Gulf Islands Brewing and Salt Spring Island Ales, go to their website at www.gulfislandsbrewery.com.