This is the latest installment in the Hops Among Friends series, which is designed to showcase the people that make up the craft beer scene on the BC Ale Trail. Kim Lawton interviews Ashley Brooks, Quality Control Manager at Four Winds Brewing.
Most recently I interviewed Marinna Perry, one of the Lounge Managers at Strathcona Beer Co. for my latest Hops Among Friends article. At the end of our discussion, Marinna picked who I would interview next, and she suggested Ashley Brooks. Ashley is the Quality Control Manager at Four Winds Brewing, which opened in 2013 in Delta on the South of the Fraser Ale Trail.
I really enjoyed my conversation with Ashley. I always enjoy connecting with other women who are passionate about working in the craft beer industry. It’s been a while since I’ve been to Four Winds, and after hearing about their upcoming beers, and updates on their plans for their new brewery and restaurant location opening in Tsawwassen, I’m excited to venture out that way again soon.
Kim: How did you get your start in craft beer?
Ashley: My background is in microbiology. I completed my Bachelor of Science undergraduate degree at UBC in 2011. During university, I worked as a server in a restaurant, and I started to learn more about craft beer from the brewery people who came into the restaurant. When the brewing program started up at KPU, I thought it would be perfect as it brought together my love of science and my love and passion for craft beer. I had looked into other brewing programs before, but having the KPU program so local was very convenient.
I started the KPU brewing program in 2014, so I was part of the first cohort. It was a real ah-ha moment for me. When I started at KPU, I got a job as an assistant brewer at Yaletown Brewing Co. with the Mark James Group. I learned a lot in the brewpub setting while learning at KPU. It was like an apprenticeship during school. By the time I graduated in 2016, I was running the Big Ridge Brewing Co. brewpub with MJG.
About a year after graduation, I started at Four Winds Brewing in April 2017, so I’ve been at Four Winds for almost five years now. Four Winds was looking for someone to take over the Quality Control program and manage the lab, so I thought it would be a great combination of my love for both science and beer.
Kim: What can people expect when they visit Four Winds?
Ashley: We always have a good selection of beers for anyone’s tastes. Fresh beer on tap is what we love to serve. We have a very friendly environment with a great vibe and great food to pair with our beers.
Kim: What do you love most about working at Four Winds?
Ashley: So many things. I love the beer, so that’s a good start. There’s always something new and fun going on. For example, new brewing and cellaring techniques to try. I enjoy being a part of putting these ideas into reality.
Coming from a microbiology background, yeast is my favourite thing in the beer production process, as this represents the living portion of beer.
Without yeast, you don’t have beer. I love getting to experiment with new yeast strains with different fermentation profiles. The more I research, the more I learn about how different yeast strains impact the beer. I really like keeping yeast happy, healthy, and viable so that the beer is fresh, clean, and quality tasting.
The brewing industry is exciting and constantly shifting. I love it when the product comes out because it’s a tangible product that you can see, taste, and smell. You can see what worked and you can think about what you can do next time. I really enjoy being a part of the craft beer industry, it’s friendly and helpful, and we share ingredients and knowledge. So it’s a production job, but with social elements. I love going to conferences and beer festivals, and the continual learning aspect.
Kim: What are some of your favourite craft beer festivals?
Ashley: Farmhouse Fest is one of my favourites. It’s in such a great location and I just love trying all the different beers. I really hope it is back again this year. I also love Okanagan Fest of Ale and the Great Canadian Beer Festival, so hopefully they’ll both be back again. I really miss getting together with everyone and seeing all my friends in the industry.
Kim: What is it like being a woman in a predominantly male industry?
Ashley: Since getting started in the industry, I’ve always had a very positive experience, I have never felt that I was treated differently at my job or at KPU as a student. I have been a part of the Vancouver Chapter of the Pink Boots Society since 2015, and I have always found the industry very inclusive. There are some physical barriers at times because of my height and size that I’ve had to overcome, but I’ve just figured it out. In my quality control role, I have less of the physically demanding roles, but I still get a nice mix of working on the floor, working in my lab, and working on spreadsheets for data collection/record keeping. I like running and checking the statistics and making sure everything is in spec for our beers.
Kim: What are your favourite beers right now?
Ashley: I’ve really been enjoying our Four Winds Porter. It’s an oat Porter, and it’s part of our OG (Original Series). It’s nice and smooth — it has a very approachable taste and flavour. We don’t brew this beer very often, and I’m just loving it on these cold, wintery days. It’s also a really easy drinking beer at 5.5% ABV.
Another of my favourites is our La Maison Tropical Ale. I love La Maison come springtime for its light-easy drinkability with hints of tropical fruit. It’s a delicious beer to enjoy after a long bike ride.
Kim: What’s your perfect winter beer and food pairing?
Ashley: I’m really enjoying our Extralux Hazy IPA right now. It’s a brand new recipe with a new yeast strain, made with new cellar techniques and a new mash profile. The tropical juicy flavour profile of this Hazy IPA with the tacos in our taproom is a great pairing. At 5.8% ABV, it’s very approachable for most people.
Kim: What is your favourite beer style?
Ashley: Lager. To some, it may seem like a boring style, but there is so much involved with making lagers. I really enjoy the lager program we’ve been working on. To make a good lager, it’s really important to use healthy yeast. A healthy fermentation is key to ensuring there are no unwanted off flavours in your final product and in making a really clean and delicious beer. It takes a lot of skill to make a good lager. The selection of good malt and hops is also very important.
Kim: What do you have planned for this spring at Four Winds?
Ashley: One of the reasons I like drinking lagers is because I like the clean, breadiness flavour from the yeast where the malt can really shine through. That leads me into Archetype, which is a limited release Czech Pale Lager. We’ve selected some beautiful Czech malt and performed a decoction mash, which is not our typical method. It is fermented in one of our neutral “open” foeders that has never had contact with wild yeast or brettanomyces. The different shape and surface area of the foeder creates a different fermentation profile and puts less stress on the yeast. After starting in the foeder, we moved it into steel tanks and lager it there. The result is an easy-drinking beer that is soft on the palate with some lightly spicy, floral, and bready notes. It will be out in early spring in 473ml cans. I really enjoyed being a part of the process of this new beer.
Kim: What’s the latest update on the new Southlands property?
Ashley: We’ll be breaking ground on the new brewery in Southlands Market Square within the next three months. We’ll have a full 6,000 sq. ft. restaurant and a 15 hL brewhouse. It’s a smaller-scale brewhouse for production.
This will let us brew more experimental beers to pair with some delicious new food items, so we’re really excited about that.
We also have an orchard and some hops on the property, so we’ll have a whole bunch of new projects to try. We’re at capacity with brewing our core and seasonal beers at our current location, so this will allow us to have some fun with more experimentals at the new location. We’re looking at an opening date in a couple of years for the new building.
Kim: What are you most proud of at Four Winds?
Ashley: I am really proud of the Quality Program I’ve been a part of developing here and the amount of quality beer we brew, cellar, and package daily. It takes a lot of hard work, and every position is integral to putting out product that meets our standards. I enjoy monitoring these specifications and ensuring each batch is dialed in for consistency and tasting excellent. I love building spreadsheets and graphs etc., being involved with developing our sensory program, and developing Standard Operating Procedures throughout production.
Kim: What do you love about the craft beer scene in Delta?
Ashley: We have just one other brewery in Delta, which is Barnside Brewing. They have been around since 2020. They are pretty close to us, just a quick bike ride up the street. We did a collab beer with Barnside last year called We heart Delta. It was pretty cool that both of our Delta breweries came together in support of our town. There are also other breweries in the surrounding cities. With the supply chain issues, it’s been beneficial to have brewery friends close by to support each other.
Kim: Tell me about some hidden gems in the Delta area?
Ashley: I really enjoy mountain biking and cycling. I am part of Muddbunnies, a women’s mountain bike group on the North Shore. There are some easy mountain bike trails at the Delta Watershed. I hadn’t heard of these trails until a few years ago, so they are a bit of a hidden gem. They are within cycling distance from Four Winds, so you can go for a ride and then end up back here for a beer.
There’s a lot of farmland in the Delta area, so bring your bike for a nice easy ride along the farm roads to Ladner or further out to Tsawwassen.
I also recommend checking out Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary in Ladner. It’s a nice bike ride to Westham Island. Also, Deas Island is a great little park just up the street from us in the Tilbury area. Britannia Brewing Ladner is a great craft beer restaurant where you can also enjoy some delicious beer and food pairings. It’s also really nice to ride out to Centennial Beach in Tsawwassen in the summertime.
If you’re into boating or fishing, there is also some awesome boating right out of Ladner. The area is quite beautiful around here.
Kim: Who else in the craft beer industry do you find interesting and why?
Ashley: Dave and Kevin and our friends at Camp Beer Co. in Langley are always brewing up tasty beers. Being an outdoor camping enthusiast, I love their brand, and they have a great atmosphere at the brewery. We’re doing a Vienna-style lager collaboration brew with them very soon, so stay tuned.
For your next interview, I recommend you speak with Martina Solano Bielen from KPU Brew Lab. She’s one of my favourite people in the industry, and does both teaching and brewing.