On the wall of the hallway at John Leeder’s central Revelstoke home is a painting by Rachel Kelly depicting a classic B.C. winter scene – a skating rink, a quaint heritage home and the mountains in the background.
The painting was given to the Leeders as a going away gift before a year-long trip they went on last year, likely as a thank you for the many hours of exercise the Leeder’s skating rink has provided the neighbourhood’s children every winter for the past six-or-so years.
“Revelstoke is right on the cusp of being able to maintain a rink,” John told me one evening last week. The relatively mild temperatures and copious amounts of snow means that conditions have to be just right. A few years ago, during a particularly snowy winter, they used a neighbour’s snowblower to keep the rink clear but the snow banks were so high that the snow would just rebound back onto the ice.
“People didn’t know we had an ice rink here,” he said.
I was at his house to talk about more than his ice rink. He also makes his own beer pretty much from scratch, growing his own hops and barley and brewing it all in his home.
When I arrived at his home, Leeder’s children Jake and Joelle, along with some friends, were skating outside.
First, I went inside to get a look at his home-brewery, located in the basement. “The good thing about the basement is it has three seasons of temperature,” he said as we went downstairs.
There, nine 5-gallon jugs sat with beer fermenting inside. At the other end, beyond the hockey equipment hanging up to dry, was a makeshift fridge with three-taps on it.
This was the end point of the brewing process, after the hops and barley had been processed.
Leeder got his start brewing in beer while attending Georgian College in Owen Sound, Ont. in 1989. He bought a starter package from A&P that he described as “brutal swill.” It was basically a can of malt that you added yeast and sugar to.
“I do it all-natural now,” he said.
The start of Leeder’s home-brewing is outside, where in the summer he grows his own hops and barley. The latter grows on vines along a rope contraption he rigged up over the roof of his shed.
The former he grows in his garden. His friend nicknamed him ‘Farmer John’ for the barley grass in his yard. Unfortunately, his garden can only grow enough barley for a five gallon jug, he said, so he “cheats” by buying extra from a suuplier in Armstrong, B.C. “I stick with the 100 mile diet.”
John Leeder’s beer fridge, with taps for pumpkin stout, medium pilsner and a regular stout. Photo by Alex Cooper/Revelstoke Times Review
Leeder’s backyard shed is where part two of the brewing process takes place. Inside is his oast – a multi-leveled cabinet that is used for drying the hops and barley. Once that is finished, the barley is malted, combined with hops for flavour and then brought into the basement, where its left to ferment.
That’s the system in its most basic form. In actuality, it’s more complicated than that and he is constantly fine-tuning the process.
“This is like the low-budget, poor man’s system,” he said, compared to the $1,000-plus home brewing systems you can buy.
Leeder usually makes lagers, ales and kolschs but he said his favourite beer he’s made was a pumpkin stout. He poured me a glass from his tap in the basement. While I’m no connoisseur, I can say it went down very smoothly. The pumpkin, of course, came from his own garden.
Leeder’s biggest challenge is consistency. “Little changes in temperature can affect taste,” he said. “Plus, every year the hops are different.”
Big breweries can correct for that but he can’t.
As for why he does it, he said he likes the flexibility it provides. Also, “There’s more satisfaction in savouring a beer when you put the time into it.”
Outside we stood next to the hockey rink. His son Jake had just gone inside for dinner so there was no sound of blades clinking against the ice. John describes himself as a “hockey dad” and coaches his son’s hockey team.
His father taught him how to build a rink and he had one at his home growing up in Waterloo, Ont. He built one in Revelstoke when Jake was four so he would have a place to skate regularly.
“Then it turned into a neighbourhood thing.”