When I first met David Bowkett on a rainy Saturday afternoon in December of 2012, he and his wife, local photographer Nicole Stefanopoulos, had just opened the doors of their original location on 1830 Powell Street (now home to Doan’s Craft Brewing). Looking back, I don’t think that either of them could have ever imagined what the next year would hold for their fledgling nano brewery. Personally, after hearing so many good things about David’s beer from a mutual friend (and after sending poor Nicole a few too many emails asking about when they’d be opening), I was just really excited to have my first taste.
I wasn’t the only one. David will be the first to admit that he and Nicole were pretty shell-shocked by the endless lineups that day, which were fuelled in no small part by all the pent-up excitement that my neighbours and I had for the hood’s fourth brewery (after Storm, Coal Harbour and Parallel 49). Well, the two of them made it through that first weekend relatively unscathed, and over the next few months sales were solid and things generally progressed as they had envisioned, but let’s just say that their initial plan for David to keep his day job as an architectural engineer (brewing on the evenings and weekends), with Nicole working on her art when things quieted down never really materialized (at least not for long).
You see, in May of 2013, a mere five months after Powell opened its doors, David’s phenomenal ‘Old Jalopy’ Pale Ale was recognized as Canada’s best beer at the 2013 Canadian Beer Awards. Cue the insanity. Pretty soon, people from far and wide were lining up to fill as many growlers as they could, and David was brewing every free minute he had. As you’d expect, that little nano system just couldn’t produce enough beer to meet demand, so before long David was forced to quit his day job, became a full time brewer, and he and Nicole moved their operation a few blocks west to a much larger facility.
They’ve never really looked back. The local, national, and international recognition has kept rolling in, and with so many breweries opening over the last few years, David has become somewhat of an elder statesman for the local scene, mentoring newcomers and welcoming the amazing community that has formed around him in Yeast Van and beyond. Core beers like his ‘Dive Bomb’ porter (now available in cans for those cool nights on the beach), Ode to Citra pale ale, and Belgian Witbier are all still being crafted at Powell’s new digs, but the added space and resources have given David the freedom to really experiment (something that he absolutely loves to do), and to develop a barrel program. After hearing him tell me in those first few months that one day he’d love to have a comprehensive barrel program (but that he didn’t think Powell would have the resources to do so for some time), I couldn’t be happier to see how things have turned out for him and Nicole.
Not the kind of folks to rest on their laurels, after taking over the space next door to their current digs, David and Nicole are currently working on expanding their lounge to seriously increase its capacity. Opening is some ways away, but from the tour David recently took me on, I can tell you that it will be a pretty awesome spot once it opens. The original momentum that propelled David and Nicole from nano to micro and carried them west along Powell Street shows no signs of abating.
What was your ‘gateway’ craft beer?
In my late teens I was living in Ottawa. In those days, most of the beers me and my friends drank were purchased in the dépanneurs [convenience stores] on the Quebec side of the Ontario-Quebec border (the legal drinking age in Quebec was 18). Not knowing any better, we’d always pick up things like Labatt Blue, Labatt 50, or Canadian. But there was also one 10% ABV beer in a funny looking bottle that always intrigued us (and maybe even scared us). With a name like “La Fin Du Monde” (The End of the World) why wouldn’t we be scared? [Unibroue’s legendary Belgian Style Trippel is a fantastic beer, is widely available, and is nothing to be scared of]. Well, one day we decided to buy it, and my undeveloped palate just couldn’t understand what was going on. The intensity of the beer opened my eyes to the possibility that beer could be something more than those lagers we were drinking.
What made you decide to do this for a living?
Passion. The lack of passion for what I was doing, and the pursuit of passion for what I really wanted to do. Brewing ended up being the passion I sought.
What’s the best thing about your job?
That should be somewhat obvious, but for those who need to know, I make beer every day! What better job can you have? I get to take raw ingredients, manipulate them, add yeast, and in a few weeks there’s a delicious beverage to enjoy. It’s awesome!
What’s the worst thing about your job?
Well, let just say that when I original thought about brewing for a living it was all about making beer, and I hadn’t really considered all of the other aspects that came with operating a brewery. Simply put, paperwork is the bane of my existence. It’s the part I dislike the most. However, it’s a necessary evil that needs to get done to do what I love.
What other brewery’s beer are you loving right now?
There are so many great local breweries out there, but for the most part when I go out I’ll typically grab a pint from Strange Fellows – Iain makes consistently great beer. Other go-to breweries are Four Winds and Yellow Dog.
What’s been your favourite beer to make and why?
I wouldn’t say there’s one favourite beer I like to make, but rather a specific style I prefer brewing. That style is tart/sour beers. We’ve developed our own process for making these beers which makes brewing them just that much more interesting than brewing other typical styles.
Who do you most admire in the industry?
As an independent, family-owned brewery that I started with my wife Nicole, I can really relate to breweries that have a similar start-up story. Breweries like Phillips, started by Matt Phillips with the infamous story of maxing out a few credit cards to get things going. Then there’s Four Winds Brewing, where the whole family got together to create an outstanding brewery. Plus Yellow Dog, because they’re just like us – a husband and wife team who are making it work all while making fantastic beer.
If you weren’t a brew master what would you be doing?
I don’t have any dreams of doing anything other than brewing. This is all I want to do.
What are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of the brewery itself. Over the past four and a half years, Nicole and I have been able to grow it from the small nano-brewery to a larger micro-brewery all while staying independent. It’s been an interesting journey, and we’re both looking forward to what the future holds.
What inspires you to make the beer you do?
One of my biggest inspirations for making beer is knowing that it will be a catalyst for people getting together and having a good time. Our beer should make these gatherings even better, that’s why we aim to make the best beer we possibly can.