Located along Brewers Row in Port Moody, the Bakery Brewing tasting room officially opened its doors to the public at the end of June. Specializing in super small batch experimental beers – several of which have been in the works for years prior to opening day – they run a tap list that is constantly rotating and available exclusively through the brewery.
We recently spoke with Bakery Brewing’s manager, Nick Andersen, and one-half of their brewing team, Sho Ogawa, to learn more about this intriguing new beer venture.
First of all, where does the name “The Bakery” come from? Sho: We call ourselves The Bakery because there was an Italian bakery called Calabria that used to be in the building before we took over the space. I think we used the name The Bakery because of the commonalities between baking and brewing, such as the humble ingredients of yeast, starch, and water, as well as the potential for customization and experimentation.
Why did you choose to make experimental, super small batch beers the focus of The Bakery? S: I wasn’t there for the planning stages so this is partly assumed, but I think the concept was based on the pilot batches by me and cask beers by Roxanne that we used to make at Moody Ales. Dan and Adam let us run wild with our experiments, and lucky for us the beers were liked well enough that the owners are letting us do something similar, but on a much larger scale.
What are the benefits of making such limited and high-rotation beers? S: Best thing about quickly cycling through different beers is that we don’t have to brew with consistency as the final goal. When a batch comes out different than the others, we can pair it with ingredients or blend with other batches that works with its strengths rather than scrambling to make it similar to our previous batches. Although this might mean that the beer ends up being different from what we originally planned or envisioned, it allows us to focus on the uniqueness of each beer we brew and foreground its best qualities.
What are the biggest challenges? S: The biggest challenge is that establishing a long-term relationship and accumulating knowledge of specific ingredients becomes difficult. When you are brewing for consistency, you can develop your familiarity with a hop strain or yeast strain to notice minute changes between crops or generations. With the kind of experimentation that we do, that kind of familiarity takes longer to develop. We try to work through this problem by doing various experimentations in the brewery and at home.
“More and more, people from all over Metro Vancouver are considering Brewers Row as a tourist destination, which is good for business.”
Besides the Storm Brewing vets, breweries and beers seem to have gotten weirder and riskier over the past couple of years (33EXP and Electric Bicycle, for instance). Why do you think that is? S: I think it’s because with the overabundance of core beers in the market, it’s hard to differentiate yourself by making IPAs, pale ales, or blondes. Turning to more obscure styles and weird concoctions help with creating a sense of difference. I think this coincided with the struggles of large craft breweries in the US to keep their customers, and suggestion from figures such as Bart Watson (Chief Economist for the Brewer’s Association) to go smaller for new breweries. Also, I feel “riskier” isn’t completely accurate with the kind of beers that are being made in those breweries. They still follow the general trend of hazy IPAs and fruited sours. Once they start making beers that are horribly unsexy – like miso soup porter (with kelp and red miso), bone broth wheat ale (served with bone marrow) or Kentucky Common – I’ll consider them as truly weird.
Even for us, we rarely experiment for the sake of experimentation. I think our focus is making beers that makes us excited about making and drinking it. I guess that sounds somewhat selfish and self-centered.
Do you think that beer drinkers’ palates have become more refined and open-minded since the local Brewery Boom several years ago? Or is this just a trend? S: There’s been a change in palates but I am not sure if it’s exactly about being open-minded. I read an article a while ago about how IPAs are becoming the new lagers. There’s a new breed out there that exclusively drink IPAs without giving a crap about the difference in nuance between one and the other. I’m sure that the adventurous are having a blast challenging the horizons of their tastebuds and stuff, but I think conservative drinkers largely remain in their comfort zones. I haven’t made up my mind yet if there has been a substantial change in the range of taste profiles that people are willing to taste.
Tell me a bit about the thought process that goes into creating one of your beers. S: Roxy and I would be going about with our work, and one of us will walk up to each other and murmur things like “dry saison with a bunch of ginger” or “Your red ale? Let’s throw it into a rum barrel” or “gojis and red currant.” That leads to a dialogue where one of us throws together the recipe and subsequently incorporates the other one’s suggestion. This dialogue continues during sampling, post-fermentation additions, and blending. This extremely inefficient process consists mostly of talking and drinking, but I think it improves the quality of the beer in some unknown way.
What makes a successful experiment, in your opinion? S: Anything that provides you with new knowledge on your ingredient or process, whether the outcome is negative or positive.
What’s the weirdest ingredient that you’ve ever consumed in a beer? S: Fish bladder.
What local seasonal ingredients are you most looking forward to using next? S: I’m looking forward to mushroom season. Definitely chanterelles and pine mushrooms if I can get my hands on them. Also – this one’s not seasonal – but I’m hoping to do more experiments with koji and nuruk.
What ingredient or combination has pleasantly surprised you so far? S: Buckwheat. We started using it hoping to get the aroma of freshly kneaded soba. It ended up being somewhat disappointing in terms of aroma and flavour, but we found that it adds an amazing texture to our sour beers. Now we put it in almost every sour beer we make.
What has been the most disappointing or unusual experiment so far? S: We tried to see if we can get spontaneous fermentation by soaking fresh crab apples in unfermented wort. We made vinegar.
I love your bottles. Who did your branding and what was the overall brand concept? Nick Anderson: We partnered up with our friends at Free Agency Creative to develop a cohesive branding that is clean, minimalist and brings the focus to what is truly important: the beer itself. These bottles are only available in our tasting lounge since we hand bottle everything in small batches.
You have a very elegant space. What sort of experience do you hope to give visitors to the brewery and tasting room? N: We have a very unique vibe that differs from the other 4 breweries on Brewers Row. We have a beautiful patio up front where you can sit back and watch people walk by. Inside, the space is divided between our front area with comfortable booths and our main area dominated by a central table. The overall impression is a cool atmosphere where you can really enjoy our tasty beers.
Why did you decide to open on Brewers Row? N: We were previously using this space as our storage for Moody Ales. It already had a cold room, lots of electricity and plumbing by virtue of being a bakery. It made more sense at the time to convert this warehouse into a viable retail space. The timing was right so we decided to move forward with a new brewery. It might seem crazy to have 5 breweries in such close proximity, but this sort of thing is super common, especially in Portland and Denver. More and more, people from all over Metro Vancouver are considering Brewers Row as a tourist destination, which is good for business.
What is your beer-story (aka beer history)? How did you get into beer and what is your role at The Bakery? S: I went to Vermont as an exchange student in 2003 and had my first craft beer from Otter Creek, and proceeded to drink imperial stouts, maibocks, and whatever else I could get my hands on. I was so taken by craft beer that I decided to go to the US for my next degree. During that time I was dirt poor, so I mostly drank bottom shelf lager and allowed myself a bottle or two of craft beer at the end of the night. Then I got to Vancouver and couldn’t justify the price of bottom shelf lager, so I started brewing my own. Dan and Adam from Moody Ales got me working as a pilot batch brewer, and they ended up sticking Roxy and I in The Bakery as the main brewers.
“I’m hoping that the Vancouver beer scene will develop its local flavour by embracing and working with diasporic cultures that make the city so unique. We’ve seen increase of diversity in clientele, and I hope that’ll be reflected on the side of production.”
What is your educational background? S: My area of studies was sexuality and Japanese media, so definitely not beer-related.
Best or most memorable beer you’ve ever drank? S: Drinking Guinness Foreign Extra Stout in a hotel room in Hong-Kong that’s the size of a walk-in closet. The sheets were sticky from humidity and the bottles were sweating profusely but drinking a thick, heavy stout in that situation was somehow lovely.
Is there such a thing as too many breweries in BC? Do you think there is a cap on this “boom”? S: I hope not. But I do think it’ll be difficult for new breweries to enjoy the kind of growth that Central City or Parallel 49 experienced. I think the increase in number of experimental breweries reflects the fact that new breweries cannot expect that kind of growth. I think the small-scale production of various, ever-rotating beers by the new experimental breweries is a result of them taking advantage of their size, rather than producing iconic beers with wide appeal for national distribution.
What do you think is in the future for BC’s brewery scene? S: I’m hoping that there’ll be an increase of new nano breweries that serve smaller geographical areas. I would be happy if Vancouver became like Denver with a myriad of small, neighbourhood breweries catering to local clientele. I’m also hoping that the Vancouver beer scene will develop its local flavour by embracing and working with diasporic cultures that make the city so unique. We’ve seen increase of diversity in clientele, and I hope that’ll be reflected on the side of production.
You’re about two weeks in at this point. What has been your experience with the beer community since opening, so far? S: Very positive, I’m actually pretty surprised by the great feedback we’ve gotten for our beer.
What has been your best reaction thus far? N: The feedback so far has been incredible and we’re very proud of our team for brewing some amazing beers. We brew some really unique beers and it’s always great to see people’s faces as they take their first sip; ranging from perplexity to amazement and wonder.
Favourite beer to date? S: Probably the Mango Carrot Sour or Historical Berliner Weisse. Roxy and I’ve endured days of shoulder pain from processing all the carrots, so we’ve got a special place in our hearts for the Mango Carrot. We tried to keep the flavors in the Historical Berliner Weisse restrained so that the subtle flavours from the ex-wine barrels and brettanomyces comes through. The end result was a beer that’s both complex but can be drank endlessly.
What is your favourite thing about Port Moody? S: I really love our location. It’s very industrial with train tracks on one side and a sawmill on the other, and you can smell freshly cut wood in the air during early morning. I like the mixed crowd that it brings, with beer geeks coming in from the city and the local crowd that stops by after their shift in nearby workplaces. It’s a great feeling when our beer is a part of somebody’s daily routine that helps them get through the day.
After a flight or pint, where do you suggest we venture for food nearby? S: Besides the obvious places, the Korean place Tangmaru on St. Johns would be my choice. Their beef bone soup would be great for a post-drink meal to soothe your stomach, and their donkatsu pork cutlet is great for grabbing before a day of extensive drinking.