Meet Brent Mills. Way back in June 2013, he opened Delta’s Four Winds Brewing with father Greg and brother Adam. A seemingly endless slew of local, national and international awards followed in short order, including well-deserved recognition as Canada’s best brewery at the 2015 Canadian Beer Awards. ‘Nectarous’, a dry-hopped sour first produced by Four Winds as a limited release in 2015 (and now available year-round), was subsequently awarded the highly-coveted ‘Beer of the Year’ at the 2016 Canadian Beer Awards. (If you still haven’t tried Nectarous and want to get an idea of the amazing things that a master brewer can do, grab yourself a few bottles. You won’t be disappointed. It’s a personal staple, and a fantastic ‘gateway beer’ for all those wine drinkers in your life who don’t think they like beer.)
For me, the ‘aha’ moment when Four Winds’ ascendancy to the top tier of Canadian brewing really became clear was the 2014 release of their ‘Saison Brett’, which is now branded as ‘Operis’. Although BC was already at the forefront of Canada’s beer industry at the time, the release of that first batch of Operis was when our province’s craft brewers stood up and announced themselves as truly ‘world class’.
It was unlike anything that had been commercially produced and distributed in BC before. Everything about it spoke to the artistry and care that make the production of high-quality artisanal beer such an art form. Operis came packaged in a Champagne-corked 750ml bottle with a gorgeous label design. And then there was the beer. Believe it or not, three years ago, locally-made farmhouse ales were not too easy to come by in these parts, let alone ones of Operis’ caliber (for more, see my review as part of Scout’s 12 Beers of Christmas here, or Scout’s original review here). As Mills describes below, the brew undergoes a multi-stage production cycle in excess of fourteen months. The results are well worth the wait…
What was your ‘gateway’ craft beer? When I was younger, I was always choosing local beers over macro, but the first beer that blew my mind and sent me down the path of flavour exploration was Rodenbach Grand Cru.
What made you decide to do this for a living? I was working in kitchens for years and was growing tired of it and dreamed of working in the brewing industry. I figured I better give it a shot now or find something completely different to pursue. It was between brewing and outdoor leadership. I’m pretty happy with the direction I went (writers note: We’re all pretty happy too, Brent).
What’s the best thing about your job? The best thing about my job (besides that fact that I make beer and get paid) is all the amazing people at Four Winds. It’s definitely one big family here and that makes coming to work a pleasure!
What’s the worst thing about your job? It’s hard to say that anything is bad about my role, but it can be quite consuming as far as time goes – but definitely no complaints though.
What other brewery’s beer are you loving right now? So many really! It’s a great time to be a consumer in BC! I’m often buying four packs of Yellow Dog and sneaking in visits to Brassneck to sample what’s new.
What’s been your favourite beer to make and why? I would have to say Operis is my favourite beer to make as it has many steps to get to the finished product. First fermented in steel then transferred to barrels where brett is added, it ages for up to eight months then we move it back into steel where we pitch sugar and yeast before we bottle it and let it condition for 3–6 weeks.
Who do you most admire in the industry? Well, it’s hard not to mention (Central City‘s) Gary Lohin who essentially made BC into ‘IPA country’, and (Driftwood‘s) Jason Meyers who took it to the next level with Fat Tug, but I’d have to say Matt Phillips (of Phillips Brewing fame) is doing some of the most admirable things in the industry right now from malting his own grain to making soda and distilling, all while staying relevant and progressive in the beer industry.
What do you like the most about the industry? The camaraderie for sure! Some of my closest friends are owners, brewers and staff of other breweries.
If you weren’t a brewmaster, what would you be doing? I would probably be involved in the coffee world somehow or something outdoors.
What are you most proud of? Sometimes I have to step back from what we are doing here as a company and I recognize how far we have come from our small, four person operation and it amazes me. That’s what I’m most proud of, where this company came from and where it is going.
What inspires you to make the beer you do? Everything that surrounds us, the weather, the food we eat, the beer we drink, the activities we do, the landscape, the music … the list goes on.
Photos by Alison Page.