Our pints finished, Driftwood's Jason gives me a mini-tour of the brewery. There's a grist mill, grist hydrater, mash tun, jacketed kettle, and several other machines with supernatural qualities I do not understand. At the heart of the brewery are two fermenters — one for clean-yeast beer and one for Belgian. Jason and Kevin tell me that the Belgian beers (White Bark and Farmhand) take a lot more work, not least because they tend to yield a lot more sulphur which requires additional time to ferment out.
I ask if other, wilder yeast-based beers could be on the cards? Jason nervously suggests that he could use the regular fermenters, or he could always use the home-brew setup. Jason indicates his home-brew kit — 30 feet off the ground on a pallet. "Most of the Driftwood beers were worked out on that thing. If we were to do anything experimental we'd fire up the home-brew again".
- Speaking of experimental...the North American brew-scene is often renowned for its innovation, is this justified?
JM: Well...in my opinion, the North American craft-brew scene was started by the New Albion Brewery in North California in the 1980s. They were inspired by a trip to England, and they brought all their equipment over from England and brewed English beer. But some time in the 1990s they found their own voice — and I include us in that, as we're all part of the same culture. We started using more citrusy north-western hops, mixing ingredients, brewing unique stuff. It's not that it's "better", but we do stuff in North America that a German brewery would just never do.
- Aside from being daring, what else sets NA brewers apart from Europeans?
JM: "Daring" is a nice way to put it. Let me see...there's a celebratory culture about the NA scene. You could generalize Europe in terms of well-established approaches, it's steeped in brewing history. They are fiercely proud of it, the Belgians, English and Germans. But it's like an old comfortable pair of jeans. It's good, but it just "is". They don't have the equivalent of the Great American Beer Festival over there, where everyone's like "woo-hoo check US". That self-celebration is unique.
- It seems to me that folklore and mystique play a great part in the NA beer-scene. Certain beers develop an almost cult-like status, and people expend a lot of effort and money to acquire them.
JM: You always want what you can't have. A lot of these beers that seem unobtainable are not. Word of mouth, the zeitgeist, shrewd marketing, quality of the beer — where the smokiness of those ideas come together produces the cult status. There is that element, but truth is if you do not have a modicum of good distribution you're done. Unless you're super small.
KH: Recently a few artisan foody places came specifically looking for our product, and we are proud of it. But we're also aware that some places want to be able to say "we've got the Driftwood!"
The Driftwood guys' comments make me reflect on the English beer scene. As a Brit, I am aware of the ongoing fight to rescue the image of craft beer from the arena of the "old fart". In contrast — from my experience working at the liquor store — BC craft beer drinkers seem to enjoy the aura of the young and informed: beers like Driftwood and Phillips are very much hipster-hooch. So as craft beer continues its recession-defying growth in popularity in North America, I wonder what challenges beer industry advocates in Canada and the US are facing:
The final part of this interview will be published soon
- The BC craft beer industry is thriving, so what does the Victoria chapter of CAMRA actually do?
JM: Well...we're paid-up members of CAMRA Victoria and BC. They've disassociated themselves from the stodgy, "old dude" issues brewers face in Britain. They're more a set of general beer advocates, looking out for the industry. But they're still concerned with measures and prices. When we're putting together a CAMRA meeting, the biggest questions are always "Where do we meet? How much does a pint cost there? Is it a real pint?" For the record (Jason indicates his empty Driftwood-branded pint glass) we do twenty ounces!
- Drinking must be part of your job, how much do you drink?
JM: We make a point of having a pint or two after a shift. Sometimes we have a bit of "sensory" first thing in the morning, believe it or not...
- Does it ruin social drinking for you?
JM: Oh, not at all. Social drinking is very much detached from the kind of appraisal drinking we do here.
- So you still go out and drink a lot of other people's beers?
JM: Oh fuck yeah. And that's why we do so many seasonals. We assume our customers are drinkers like us and they want new stuff. I sure as shit don't drink the same thing every day. Kevin went down to Portland recently and came back with a couple of boxes of great new stuff, I'd have been mad if he hadn't!