On Foraging for Beers and Keeping Cool with the Family Behind Mayne Island Brewing Co.

Since the end of 2016, the Mayne Island Brewing Company has been operating their small, self-contained family operation on the namesake island. The brewery, which specializes in bottle-conditioned beers that highlight local ingredients foraged from the island, is operated by husband and wife team Michael Garratt and Annette Wittman together with their two teenagers.

We wanted to find out more about their homegrown, award-winning beer company that’s been making a big impression on the local beer scene, so we reached out with a bunch of questions…

The brewery is a true family endeavour. What are your individual roles? Michael Garratt is Brewer/sanitizer/restaurant sales and general dogs body; Annette Wittman (artist, eco-minded mother) does label design, hand block prints, swag, packaging, office work and is the tasting room wench; 14-year-old Grace spends 5 hours per week lino block printing 4-pack boxes and hand labeling bottles; and 16-year-old Jasper helps dad with the heavy lifts, hand labels and helps run the bottle line, which takes the whole family about 1.5 hours per 140 litre batch.

What are the benefits of having a family business? The challenges? The family doesn’t need to spend money to hang together. Bottling is a great team building exercise. Sundays are “Family Day” – first we sleep in (except Michael, who has a 6am internal alarm clock), then we bottle. The afternoons are spent driving the 1982 Ford LTD station wagon to the Mayne Island 18 hole disc golf course for a round. Our main challenge is to keep from making too many styles of beer.

What inspired you to move to Mayne Island almost 15 years ago? Michael’s work as a sales agent for BC Wineries was moving towards the larger market of Vancouver/Whistler so, as living rurally in Kaleden, BC, was our preferred lifestyle, we chose Mayne over city living and ferry travel over longer traffic commutes.

How does Island life inspire or influence your beers? The rural lifestyle on Mayne Island has influenced our Farmhouse Ale to become the FORAGER. We have tuned into the seasonal changes and what can be foraged and when.

“Living in Unceded Coast Salish Territories we are becoming more aware every year of our incredibly privileged position to be living where these fruits of the Earth have been foraged and tended to for thousands of years before settler contact. We are still learning how to honour and properly reconcile our harvesting practices, which is imperative as we all fumble towards reconciliation.”

How do you decide which foraged ingredients lend themselves well to a beer profile? It is an exciting adventure trying new wild crafted additions. First, we research the item for properties like edibility, often utilizing the knowledge of biologists (like Michael Dunn) who work with our Mayne Island Conservancy. We will try a half batch before committing to adding a new foraged product but honestly, we have been pleasantly surprised by how our saison based ‘Mayne Island Forager’ is transformed by the added locally foraged ingredients we choose.

Explain to me, in layman’s terms, the process of creating a Mayne Island beer from start to finish? How long does it take to complete one beer? Our well stocked pantry of quality European and British malted grains provides the base ingredients. We begin the process by choosing the recipe and crushing these malted grains open in our power drill-run mill. We create a mash – hot water and grains – which sits for one hour at a constant temperature; then we use gravity to sparge (draw off the liquids now infused with the sugars released from the grains) and boil these liquids, or ‘wort’, for around one hour while adding in an assortment of hops close to the end of the boil. We cool down the wort as fast as possible to retain the sugars and then pitch in the yeast. Often, we re-pitch yeast harvested from previous batches of ale. This whole process is around five hours from start to finish and makes us a 140 litre batch. The primary fermentation at 20C for an ale takes ten days, and 9C for a lager, which takes longer. Secondary fermentation lasts 18 days for ales and up to five weeks for a lager. After bottling we allow six weeks for the beers to properly condition at 20C before we release them. Often it is a 10 week process for ales and slightly longer for lagers.

Are Mayne Island beers best consumed immediately or cellared? Because we bottle condition our ales the shelf life is greatly lengthened, and we personally prefer the higher ABV ales to cellar for up to two years, but they taste approachable immediately upon release. The lighter style ales age a little quicker. Our Forager with fruit additions is best consumed fresher as the fruit tends to dissipate with time.

Advice to home brewers? Work clean and experiment with foraged ingredients.

Advice to first time foragers? Get permission to forage when on private property and consider looking into how to honour the Indigenous traditional territory you are harvesting on. Always leave enough to regenerate the patch for the next seasons harvest and source from clean soil.

Michael, how does your experience in the wine business influence your job in the brewing biz? As a cork dork it was an easy transition into the world of good beer. Like good wine, we try to find balance, depth and complexity in our beers. Being immersed in the wine business has opened doors for us.

How did your travels and experience with the UK pub culture affect your own ideas and/or approach to MIB? What elements (if any) did you implement into the brewery? I left the UK at the age of 21 and worked and traveled in Europe. My beer experience was both British and European, and that’s what Mayne Island Brewing is.

Which came first: the beer or the foraging? Foraging for wild asparagus and unclaimed fruit were seasonal treats for us in the Okanagan. Once on Mayne we were introduced by Island locals to foraging in a coastal climate, which began with stinging nettles and went on to mushrooms, salal berries, black berries, rose hips, various seaweeds and of course oysters and mussels. When we began the brewery, foraging was a natural tool to create a truly local product. Living in Unceded Coast Salish Territories we are becoming more aware every year of our incredibly privileged position to be living where these fruits of the Earth have been foraged and tended to for thousands of years before settler contact. We are still learning how to honor and properly reconcile our harvesting practices, which is imperative as we all fumble towards reconciliation.

What are the advantages/difference between bottle conditioning and traditional brewing processes? We choose to bottle condition our beers, preferring flavour development and shelf life. Our Belgian styled ales truly taste better with the residual yeast flavours evident in the beer. Our process lengthens the time it takes to produce beers, and the extra cost of warehousing in high temperatures to condition can be a hardship.

What has been the most exciting discovery that you’ve made while foraging? The wild yeasts that come along with different fruits and some seaweeds can add an intensity of naturally souring some batches, which has been well received by our customers.

What has been your most disastrous brewing experience, so far? We made a wild fermented version of the Forager, utilizing the flowers and pollens from a honey suckle bush on our property. It was FUNKY! It actually was well received by about half of our customers, but others found it over the top. The flowers also gave off a spicy jalapeno pepper flavour…Haven’t recreated that one since.

What styles and/or flavor profiles are you most excited to explore in the future? We currently have eight beers ready and for sale in the on site store: The J-pod Kölsch, the Mayne Island Forager – current flavour is Blackberry/Crabapple – English IPA, Dutch Girl Blonde, British Boy Brown, Little Hell (Belgian Tripel), Belle Chain Pale Ale, Barrel Aged Brown the Beet Buck. We have a new Saison in the works called the Hardscrabble Farmhouse. Michael is a purist so he will be furthering his interests in Old World style beers.

How about the most rewarding brewing experience to date? We have had lots, but highlights are winning a Silver at the 2018 Canadian Brewing Awards in Halifax for the Barrel Aged Brown Ale and then a Bronze for the BEET BUCK (Beet infused Bock) at the 2018 BC Brewing awards!!!

What is the beer culture like on Mayne Island? The locals and long-term weekenders have been wonderful, embracing our small home-based business by becoming regular customers and bringing in their friends and family who visit. We often feel like pioneers and love introducing the nano craft beer experience to the Island.

What has been your experience with the greater BC brewing/beer community? This is an embracing and friendly industry – we have created friendships with other brewers and industry folks alike.

What are the biggest challenges of connecting with the beer community? Our geographically isolated location. Yet, this is also a plus as we become a destination for others to discover.

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What are the best things about Island life? Living geographically isolated surrounded by the beautiful Salish Sea awards us with incredible beaches and living immersed in nature. It also supports a small community who rely upon each other and serve one another with due care. There are more festivals, community events and arts and culture than anyone can imagine for a place so small. We also have Elizabeth May for an MP – she has become a great friend to everyone on island and joins us for May Day celebrations and hosts four to six town halls per year on Mayne about the goings on in Ottawa.

Mayne Island is a destination and I’ve never actually been there…I found out about MIB very recently, when I saw your beer listed on the beer board at the Cascade Room, one of my Mount Pleasant haunts. From your experience so far, how do people find out about you? Who is the MIB customer? We have an Instagram following and many folks have read about us in the Growler Magazine or other stories in print media…or they have tried our beers, like you, in a Vancouver, Whistler or Mayne Island restaurant and decided to make a trip visit the Brewery. Mayne visitors often find us along the main road by chance and/or via our website.

Tell me what first time visitors to your brewery can expect Our funky brewery building sits in a forest grove and offers free one ounce tastings of three to four different styles of ales at our on-site brewery store. The shop also sells hand printed caps, T-shirts and hoodies, and an awesome beer soap. It is open Fridays and Saturdays 1-5 or by appointment (250-526-0711).

What makes Mayne Island a destination, besides the brewery? It is the best place to slow down and take in the natural world. You can watch eagles, otters, seals, orcas and sea lions from the quaint Lighthouse at Georgina Point Heritage Park or many other walks and parks around the Island. It sports an amazing disc golf course, Japanese Gardens and, in summer, a Saturday Farmers Market at the Ag Hall Grounds.

Where are your favourite or recommended places to check out on the Island? St. Johns Point is our newest Regional Park and a hike to the top of Mt, Parke gifts you panoramic views of the other Southern Gulf Islands.

In the spring and summertime, where is your favourite place to enjoy a beer on the Island? On any deck with a view in the afternoon sun.

How about your favourite activity on a rainy day? “In the cabin, sketching by the fire.” — Annette. “Making beer!” — Michael.

What keeps you busy in the “off season”? The off season is when we get caught up making beer to restock for the next busy season. Being a holiday destination means that it is feast or famine for Island businesses, so we all learn to enjoy the quiet times and be ready for the days when we are slammed.

Annette, you paint the artwork for the MIB bottles. Tell me a bit about the process of creating and collaborating on the MIB branding? We love the simplicity of the Mayne Island shape and have enjoyed using it as a template for creating the individualized labels. I enjoy many forms of art creation: installation sculpture, photography, painting in different mediums and collage.

How do you plan to expand or grow Mayne Island Brewing in the future? We plan to stay small! Nano is cool!

Will MIB continue to be a family business? Our plan is to continue making beer into future generations of Garratts, if our children feel the “Brewing Fever”. Only time will tell!

Where do you see MIB in the next year? 5 years? Decade? As a Homebased Business Brewery, the Islands Trust governing body on Mayne Island limits our size to 1,000 square feet, as well as the scope of tasting room activities. We plan to get a Temporary Use Permit to grow our tasting room in size as well as serving a proper pour of the LDB allowed 12 ounces per person. Eventually, we will still be small and hopefully sporting a larger shelf of awards. Always aiming for excellence…

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