The most notable aspect of Mount Begbie Brewing’s new facility is how bright and spacious it is, especially compared to its old downtown building.
Everything is clean and shiny. The brew tanks glisten under the LED lights and empty cans waiting to be filled soar towards the high ceiling.
“It’s quite an improvement,” head brewer James Bell tells me during a tour last week. “It has bright LED lights, everything’s shiny. Everything’s new.”
The brewery completed its move up the hill to Johnson Heights at the end of October. It’s been a frantic time for the company as they’ve worked to put the final touches on the brewery and get final sign-off on approvals and licenses to begin operations.
I visited the new brewery on Saturday afternoon, where a few staff were working away to get it up and running.
“It’s getting exciting now,” said Tracey Larson, who runs the brewery with her husband Bart. “We’re working hard, seven days a week, long hours. It’s quite a bit to get everything ready. There’s so many details. It’s like you’re starting a brewery all over again.”
Photo: The outside of the new Mt. Begbie Brewery.
The opening has been years in the making. They’ve been considering a move for a while, and they first revealed plans to expand in October of 2013 when they requested a tax break from the city in order to build a new facility. They even threatened to shift operations to Salmon Arm because of the increased tax burden they would face due to an expansion. The threat never seemed to be that serious – Bart was born and raised in Revelstoke and said moving would be a last resort – but it did spur a conversation about business tax rates.
In the end, Mt. Begbie stayed in Revelstoke. They looked at a location across from the railway museum, but that fell through due to site issues. Finally, in December 2014, they applied to build on a property in Johnson Heights, below the Hillcrest Hotel. It meant a move out of the city core, but it was one of the few locations that actually fit their needs. Construction began in the spring of 2015 and is almost finished.
My tour was led by Darryn Shewchuk, the brewery’s marketing manager. He let me into the building through the main entrance, which leads to the reception and retail shop. The shelves were filled with shirts, hats, sweaters and more, and more merchandise was waiting to be unpacked. “The retail space is coming along pretty nice,” said Shewchuk.
Photo: The bar in the Mt. Begbie Brewery tasting room.
He led me down a short hallway to the glass-sided tasting room that will provide views of the surrounding mountains on clear days. A bar was set up on one side and work on a patio was underway. The plan is for long tables that will seat about 40 in total. They will serve appetizers and sell beer, something they weren’t able to do at the old brewery.
“It will be simple. We’re not trying to be a restaurant or a brew pub,” said Shewchuk. “We want to make sure people can come here, sample flights of beer and then go downtown for dinner.”
They hope to have the tasting room open by Christmas, but are still waiting on the operating license from the government.
A door led through to the heart of the building – the brew house.
With high ceilings and fermentation tanks that tower overhead, it’s not hard to feel a little small in the new space. It’s also cleaner and brighter than the old building.
The move enabled Mt. Begbie to bring in some new equipment. On top of increasing capacity to 6,000 litres per day from about 3,800, they brought in equipment to make the brewing process more efficient.
It starts with the malt grinder, which is located in a room upstairs. The grains are ground up, then transported through a pipe to the mash tun, a container where the malts are soaked in water and turned into wort. The mash tun is new and it’s self-cleaning, saving the brewers time.
“Brewers are like janitors. They spend a lot of time cleaning equipment,” Shewchuk said. “A lot of that is automated now.”
Photo: The canning machine.
From the mash tun, the wort goes into a kettle where hops are added. They then go through a heat exchanger (the new one brings the beer up to temperature three times faster than the old one) and into the fermentation tanks, where yeast is added. More hops might be added depending on the beer.
From there, the beer gets run through a centrifuge filter, then goes into a cold room where it sits for three to four weeks. The beer will then go into bright tanks, where its re-carbonated. After, some beers like High Country Kolsch might get cold filtered, while others will go straight into bottles, kegs or cans.
“There’s a lot of science, a lot of timing, a lot of art and a lot of luck that has to go all together,” said Shewchuk. “Consistent recipes and consistent brewing is one of the things that sets Mt. Begbie apart.”
Once the beer is complete, it will be piped to either the canner, bottler or keg filler. The breweries canner churns out 3,800 per hour, and another machine fills 470 bottles per hour. Brewer James Bell estimated they send out 120 kegs per week to local bars during the height of winter.
Beyond the brewhouse, the new facility features expanded offices upstairs — a welcome respite compared to the cramped spaces they had downtown. There’s also a board room, kitchen and brewing lab. The brewery employs 10 people right now and will be hiring a few more to run the tasting room.
Photo: Cans are stacked high, waiting to be filled with beer.
Tracey Larson wouldn’t reveal how much the company spent on the brewery, except to say it was more than planned. They faced numerous hurdles, including finding a suitable location and getting all new services installed on their chosen site in Johnson Heights. “Getting telephones up here was a nightmare,” Larson said.
They’re still waiting on the final paper work so they can start operating, but they were able to brew up extra stock to keep them going before the move.
To mark the move to the new brewery, and Mt. Begbie’s 20th anniversary, they are releasing a line of “heritage” beers that are based on the recipes of the Enterprise Breweing company, which operated in Revelstoke from 1897 to 1957.
“We’re going to do four beers over the next six months,” said Shewchuk. “They’re a recognition of Enterprise Brewing’s work for 60 years.”
Shewchuk and Bell both lamented the move away from the convenience of downtown but welcome the new space. The brewery is looking into a shuttle service to bring people up for tours, then back downtown for dinner.
The biggest impact the new brewery will have on Mt. Begbie is the increased capacity. It means they can ship more beer to Vancouver and Alberta, said Shewchuk.
It’s also a building they can feel proud of.
“The old place was pretty ghetto, so it’s nice to be in a new facility that’s clean and new and modern and state of the art, and we have room to breathe and grow,” he said.