With expansions in the works at established businesses and new players entering the field, the Sunshine Coast’s craft beverage boom shows no signs of slowing.
Heading into this weekend’s sold-out Sunshine Coast Craft Beer Festival at the Gibsons Public Market, at least four companies are in full operation locally: Gibsons Tapworks, the Bricker Cider Company in Sechelt, the 101 Brewhouse and Distillery in Gibsons and Persephone Brewing on Stewart Road in West Howe Sound.
Gibsons Tapworks will mark one year in business on Feb. 24. Geoff Gornall, one of the partners, said as well as the three original partners, the Cruice Lane microbrewery now has four regular and a couple of casual staff.
They’ve also seen enough demand for their product that they’ve moved into bottling and distributing through liquor stores sooner than they’d expected and are even shipping to the Lower Mainland.
Gornall also said he thinks Tapworks has met its goal of becoming a community hub in Gibsons Landing. “We think we’ve done a really good job of that. Our events have been pretty successful and we’ve had some really good energy in here and I think that’s helped contribute to the loyal customer base that we have.”
Nick Farrer of Bricker Cider said despite opening behind schedule, the company had a busy first summer at its Norwest Bay Road cidery and orchard.
“Our original forecast was to open in April and make 20,000 litres of cider in 2017. We opened in June and made 28,000 litres. So, we were open for less time than we expected and made more cider, which was wonderful,” Farrer said.
Farrer estimates nearly all their cider was sold on site and that kept them too busy to look at selling the products on the Lower Mainland until business slowed down in the fall. “We are in a few restaurants, bars and liquor stores on the Sunshine Coast, but as far as getting off the Sunshine Coast, we literally didn’t have enough time.”
The existing beverage makers will be joined this year by new distilleries coming online: One Foot Crow, a distillery in Gibsons, and a distillery planned for a location on Porter Road in Roberts Creek.
The Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) approved the necessary zoning amendments for the Porter Road operation late last year. Jeff Barringer, one of the owners, said they’re still lining up the other approvals needed to start distilling and hope to be open by the end of June.
Sunshine Coast Tourism (SCT) has been leading an initiative to attract travellers interested in building their itinerary around visits to craft beverage makers – the BC Ale Trail.
SCT executive director Paul Kamon said the Sunshine Coast Ale Trail, one of the original seven launched in late 2016, has the third most visited website in the entire program. He also said, however, that it’s not possible to track how many of those website visits translate to people walking through the doors of a tasting room.
Kamon said in 2018 the Ale Trail will feature 27 regions and over 70 craft breweries, cideries and distilleries.
Gornall said Gibsons Tapworks hasn’t been closely tracking how much of their business has been tourist-driven, but Farrer said at Bricker as many as 80 per cent of the visitors to the cidery were from off-Coast.
Business has been good enough at existing beverage makers that almost all are now eyeing expansions.
The 101 Brewhouse and Distillery is applying to extend its hours from the current 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday to Sunday to 9 a.m. to midnight Sunday to Thursday and 9 a.m. to 1 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
The planned expansion at Gibsons Tapworks involves the addition of a rooftop patio, as well as moving to extended hours. An increase in seating capacity from the 52 it’s now licensed for will have to wait until more parking becomes available.
Both applications are still before Gibsons council and the provincial liquor authorities.
Farrer said the expansion underway at Bricker is in the orchard. “We’ve got 200 more trees that we planted in November which are quite rare varieties that give cider a nice bite, so we’re up to 900 trees now,” he said.
Farrer also said that with the new trees, and more of the older trees ready to produce fruit, they’re moving closer to being able to make cider with nothing but Sunshine Coast apples, and they’re releasing their first cider with 100 per cent local fruit to coincide with the festival this weekend.
Persephone Brewing, meanwhile, is getting ready to move forward with expansion plans that had to be set aside when the company came up against Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) rules that restricted what it could do in terms of non-farm uses on its property.
Last November the NDP government amended the rules to allow craft beverage makers on lots bigger than two hectares to operate within the ALR if they get at least half of the ingredients used from their own or other B.C. Farms.
Under the old rules breweries needed to grow at least 50 per cent of the ingredients on site.
Persephone has applied to the SCRD for a development variance permit allowing larger indoor and outdoor seating areas. It also plans to ask for an upgrade in its liquor licence from a tasting room to a lounge.
In a submission to the SCRD’s planning and community development committee Feb. 8, Persephone said it’s secured a three-year contract for B.C.-grown barley, and plans to plant at least two hectares of barley at its farm as well as the existing two hectares it’s already using to grow hops.