My husband and I have been to Howe Sound Brewing several times, but hadn’t yet had the opportunity to tour the actual brewery. Last weekend, we got our chance.
Arriving on a sunny afternoon, we first stopped off at the Squamish Farmer’s Market, a lively Saturday event in the heart of downtown.
[Lynn Canyon Band]
We’d booked a tour for 4 pm, which gave us some time to explore the market as well as a few of the cafés, shops, and bakeries lining the small street surrounded by breathtaking mountain scenery.
We met up with Franco at the Howe Sound Inn front desk. Franco’s one of the brewery’s first employees. He provided a wealth of information about craft beer in general.
Howe Sound Brewing is a family-owned brewery started in 1996. John Mitchell, considered the “Grandfather of BC craft beer movement” has roots here and still visits on occasion. John helped to design Howe Sound Brewery, working as its first brewer to develop Howe Sound’s initial recipes.
In 1980, Mitchell together with Frank Appleton pioneered North America’s first modern brewery at Horseshoe Bay.
[Sampling chocolate malt]
Back in Howe Sound Brewing’s infancy, beer was brewed once a week. It is now done 18 times a week (three times daily). All of the beers use unfiltered 100% barley mash.
Howe Sound is known for strong, imperial beers as well as about a half dozen seasonals (St. Jean Baptiste Day, Vancouver Craft Beer Week, etc.) Last year, 26 different beers were made. Howe Sound’s draft and bottles can be found throughout BC. In the US, Washington state is their largest market; a few varieties can be found in Oregon, California, and on the East coast.
The brewery is at near capacity for production with a crew of 14. The North American craft beer movement grows between 15 and 20 percent yearly. For comparison, Colorado has over 100 craft breweries, BC over 50, and 40 in Portland, Oregon alone. If you haven’t yet been to Portland (or Bend) for beer sampling, it’s a mecca for craft beer!
Still, craft beer makes up 5% of the overall market.
Breweries used to make their own malt. Because of both the combustibility factor and the labour intensity, malting companies are now providing the service instead.
Two bins of mash go into one mash tun. The brewery will soon acquire a new double capacity mash tun (one bin will fill the fermentation tank instead of two).
The mash tun converts starch to sugar while fermentation tanks create CO2 and ethanol. The brew spends six days in tanks. Afterwards, the beer winds up downstairs in one of 25 conditioning tanks for two weeks.
The tank above contains La BrewHAHA!, a limited edition St. Jean Baptiste Day beer that will only be available at the brewery to mark the Fête de la St-Jean-Baptiste celebration on June 24.
[Conditioning tank room]
Our group moved from the icy cold conditioning tank room (about 3°C) to the label machines and bottling line.
Back in the pub, Franco sat us at a table where we sampled various Howe Sound brews. On our first tasting, we sampled:
Howe Sound Lager, a pale golden lager brewed in the Dortmunder style. In the mid 19th century, breweries in Dortmund, Germany brewed a style of lager slightly higher in alcohol, that married classic German hops with the sweetness of pale malts. Dortmunder lagers have a firm and even dryness.
[Howe Sound Lager, Devils Elbow IPA, Balder & Cooper Best Bitter, Megadestroyer Imperial Licorice Stout]
Devils Elbow IPA, a 2010 silver medal winner in the North American Beer Awards, is named for the dramatic grade 4 Devil’s Elbow rapid on the Elaho River, north of Squamish. It’s heavily bittered, brewed with both English and North American barley and hops.
Balder & Cooper Best Bitter, brewed in the classic English style. It’s more hoppy than a usual lager, and a bit more full-bodied and closer to a pilsner.
Megadestroyer Imperial Licorice Stout, a silver medal winner at the 2011 Canadian Brewers Awards (experimental beer category). It’s heavy bodied and malty. This is definitely a slow sipper with a big taste and 9 1/2% alc. containing molasses and star anise.
[Metalman Ale, Total Eclipse of the Hop IPA, 4 Way Fruit Ale]
Our second tasting:
Metalman Ale, a lightly-hopped beer that’s buttery on palate with a smooth finish
Total Eclipse of the Hop IPA, the “classic” Pacific Northwest IPA, with a hoppy 8%, and brewed with six varieties (and a huge volume) of hops. This beer is brewed in limited quantities as part of the John Mitchell series.
4 Way Fruit Ale, an unfiltered wheat beer that starts sweet but finishes dry. Its four fruits are passion fruit, raspberry, pomegranate and mango. I recently enjoyed this fruity, summery ale paired with chef Dale Mackay’s Dungeness crab daikon roll, served with a flavourful mango purée, during the Vancouver Craft Beer Week.
Howe Sound’s upcoming beers will be King Heffy Imperial Hefeweizen and White Cap Wheat Ale (currently being brewed downstairs).
The brewery tour lasts about 25 minutes and can be reserved by phoning ahead. Howe Sound Brewing and Inn is located at 37801 Cleveland Avenue in Squamish, BC.