This is the latest instalment 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.
My most recent Hops Among Friends interview was with Cam McKeigan from Smithers Brewing up in Smithers. At the end of the interview, Cam suggested that I interview Erin Dale, the head brewer and a shareholder at Barkerville Brewing. Barkerville Brewing opened up in 2014 in the town of Quesnel on the Northern BC Ale Trail.
This is my ninth interview in this series and Erin is the first female I have interviewed. I was really interested to hear more from Erin on her background and her time working in the industry. It was also great to learn more about Quesnel, a town which I look forward to one day exploring.
KL: How did you get started in craft beer?
ED: Mostly by drinking it. (Laughs). I was a tree planter for 15 years, and as much as I loved forestry work, it meant a lot of travel. I wanted to be at home more and I was looking for a change. One day, the manager at our local liquor store in Quesnel told me that a new brewery had just opened in town, so I went in and asked if they were hiring. I met Justine, the general manager at Barkerville, and she said they would be hiring for two positions. So, I went home and put together my resume. While I didn’t have a lot of experience in craft beer other than enjoying it as a consumer, I was super excited that something new and community-oriented was coming to Quesnel. I had some relevant experience including knowing how to drive a forklift. I had an opportunity to be interviewed with the owner, Russ, and I met Troy, the head brewer at the time. I started the next week in February 2014 right when they were ready to start brewing. I got my start doing keg washing, bottling, and washing tanks. I also worked in the storefront part-time. At that time, we all took turns working in the storefront because we were just producing one beer at the time.
As time went on, I ended up brewing a few times with Troy, and I also brewed on my own a handful of times, when Troy left, I became our brewer. I was so thankful I got the chance to move into this role. I got some support from industry veteran Bill Herdman at the beginning. Bill helped change some of the processes around at the brewery, and so I learned to adapt to changes, which helped me feel more comfortable. It was intense, and sort of scary, but I knew what I was getting into, and I wanted to take on the challenge. Things have changed a lot over the last four years. Right after I took on the brewing role, I started on a brewing certificate from IBD (Institute of Brewing and Distilling) in London, England. I’m working on my diploma now. This training has been super, super helpful.
KL: What do you love most about the craft beer industry?
ED: I like the community the most. My previous industry in forestry was also very tight. Brewing is very similar. I like the people I work with, my co-workers. In northern BC, a number of breweries opened around the same time. We all know each other, even though we live hours apart. I can call up my brewery colleagues and they will help me however they can. We all want each other to be successful. There is a lot of pride up here with what we are doing and what we are brewing. I’m so proud of Michael from Three Ranges Brewing who won a Gold medal at a recent BC Brewing Awards. I was so proud of him.
KL: Tell me about one of your beer accomplishments to date that you are most proud of.
ED: I’ve made a couple of mistakes that have worked out really well. An example comes from one of our most popular beers, our Sluice Juice, a Hazy Pale Ale. About two years ago, we were going to make a fresh hop beer, using hops from a local grower that has two acres of hops. I created a recipe and planned to use a Sacc. Trois yeast that I wanted to try. At the last minute, it turned out there weren’t enough fresh hops. The grower was located close to a number of significant wildfires that year and had sacrificed irrigation for protecting the farm instead, so the hop yield was quite low. I had also grown my own hops, so I had a small amount of hops. I combined the two small sets of fresh hops and put them in a hop bath. But then I started having problems with our pump. It was one of those times when everything was not working out as planned. So, we ended up skipping the hops, and off it went into the fermenter. I decided to dry hop it to make it fruity. It was a limited release beer just in draft format, but it was very well received. We ended up making more of it and we put it out in cans as an experimental beer with a simple label and got some good feedback on it. On one of the batches, we had some issues with that yeast in our packaged beer, so I switched to a kveik yeast, which has worked well. It’s an easy-drinking beer, dry hopped with El Dorado, Galaxy, and Amarillo. It has lots of stone fruit and tropical fruit notes, and it finally got a branded label. So, I would say that I’m very proud of the fact that I was able to make lemonade out of lemons, as the saying goes. It was a mistake that worked out really well for us.
KL: What is something that makes Barkerville Brewing unique?
ED: Well, there are a lot of women that work here. We started with two men and two women working here. As we hired more people, it just turned out we ended up with more women. Our GM, salesperson, and all three of us on in production are women, and our retail manager is a woman. It just happened that way. We have had men working with us in the past. I think it’s a cool accomplishment that we have so many women working at our brewery, and especially in a northern community. It’s nice to work with this group of women who are really into craft beer.
Because we have always had a number of women on our team, we have typically done a beer in support of the Pink Boots Society which helps women in the beer industry.
This spring, we brewed a beer named after Barkerville pioneer Florence Wilson. Florence was a published writer whose mother knew Charles Dickens. She travelled to Victoria from England on a “bride-ship.” She worked in Victoria until she had enough money saved, and then she took the very first BX Express stagecoach to Barkerville. She had a large book collection and was the founder of the Cariboo Literary Institute. She was one of the first people to bring literacy to the Cariboo region. She owned stakes in some gold claims and she also owned the Phoenix Saloon and Brewery. We tracked down Florence’s niece, who sent us a photo for the label. We named the beer Aunt Florence. It’s a gruit, so there are no hops in it. This red ale was created to alleviate PMS symptoms and help with relaxation, using local plants including juniper branches, chamomile, yarrow flowers, and rosehip. Partial proceeds from this beer support Ovarian Cancer Research. This beer is available in 650ml bombers. It’s a one-off limited release beer, but there is still some of it out there. It tastes great and I am really proud of it.
Apart from that, I think one of the things that is quite cool about our brewery is that we have 12 taps that are always full with our beer. We are a smaller 15 hL brewery. For a brewery our size, with a single brewer, it’s pretty unique to have 12 different beers on tap at any time. We also package in both cans and bottles, and we have both a can and bottling line in our brewhouse.
KL: What do you think COVID-19 means for the future of BC’s craft brewing industry?
ED: I know some breweries have closed already, and I think we may see more closures. There are a lot of breweries. I think even without COVID some may have closed. For new breweries that opened just before COVID hit, or for new breweries planning to open, I imagine it will be very hard on them. We get tons of tourists here on their way through town, but some breweries rely on tourism more than we do, so I am worried about the breweries that depend on tourism.
KL: How has your brewery been impacted by COVID-19?
ED: We have a very busy taproom, it’s a community hub here in Quesnel. So, it was a big hit to the community to have the taproom closed. It’s been really sad not seeing people here. It was really hard for so many businesses, and ours was no different. There were a lot of pint sales lost in the taproom. We stayed open for packaged beer and takeout food, plus we did deliveries. We are very thankful that we had packaged product to sell. But we are really glad to be open again. We are so lucky to have a patio, and we are expanding our patio to help us increase our capacity.
KL: Speaking of summer, what else do you have planned at Barkerville this summer?
ED: We’ll be bringing back our Hurdy Gurdy Hibiscus Pale Ale. It was our first Pink Boots Society collaboration beer. It’s nice and tart, and it’s pink because of the hibiscus. It’s the perfect beer to enjoy on the patio. We are bringing it back again for the summer. It will be available in four-packs of 473ml cans. This is the first beer that we packaged with compostable rings. They were a hit, so now we use them on all of our canned products. The fish can eat them, and actually, my dogs love eating them too.
KL: We’re in the heat of the summer, what is in your glass these days?
ED: In our region, we have lots of cool nights even in the summer, so my favourite is our dark lager, Ganzfeld Effect Schwarzbier. It’s perfect by the campfire. I also drink a lot of our Gold Trail Pale Ale. It’s low alcohol. It’s hop forward with nice citrusy and forestry notes. When not drinking our beer, I really enjoy the Wheelhouse All Inclusive Kettle Sour. It was aged on pineapple and it has coconut in it. It’s tart and really nice.
KL: What is it like living in Quesnel?
ED: I love it here. I moved here from the Island. I like that we have four seasons here, and that there is so much to do every season. I love that. The winter is cold and there is lots of snow. There’s great cross-country skiing, snowmobiling and snowshoeing, and backcountry touring. I like that I can look up at the stars at night. There is a big cycling community here too, with lots of great mountain bike trails. I don’t mountain bike myself, but I know there are great cycling trails in the area.
We are at the fork of two rivers – the Fraser and Quesnel rivers. There are lots of lakes in the area which are great for boating, water skiing, and fishing. There is lots of history here, both First Nations and settler history. There is a huge range of people that call this area home, from farmers to artists to activists. It’s a pretty great community.
KL: Can you tell us about a hidden gem that someone has to experience in Quesnel?
ED: There are gorgeous waterfalls in the area, one of them is Wineglass Falls. It’s just a short hike to the falls. There is also Nazko Cone, which is a huge volcanic lava cone. There’s great hiking there and a cave to explore.
Also, Bowron Lake Provincial Park is less than 90 minutes away. It features the world-renowned Bowron Lakes Canoe Circuit. You can paddle the chain of lakes for days. It’s gorgeous. You’ll see snow-capped mountain peaks and waterfalls.
KL: With travel restrictions in place this summer, people are going to be looking for opportunities to discover their own backyards. What do you recommend?
ED: We have a cute town with a real downtown. It’s filled with independent stores, with hanging flower baskets. We have a great playground for kids. When you’re in town, you can take in the River Trail which features two different 5km trails that take your through downtown across the river and by the creek.
Quesnel is a good base to start from and adventure from here. The stretch from Quesnel to Barkerville has a number of really neat historical stops. For example, Cottonwood House is an old Gold Rush house. It is a historic site; one of the oldest buildings in the province. There is Cold Spring Creek, which was a roadhouse and general store. You can visit Robber’s Roost where robbers used to hangout. There are lots of stops along the way.
There is also the Likely Loop Driving Tour where you’ll travel from Quesnel to Barkerville, through Likely and Horsefly. You’ll see the Cariboo River, Ghost Lake, and cascading waterfalls. There is an awesome old pub in Likely named The Likely Lodge with great food. It’s a great way to see the diversity of the region, and you can enjoy some fishing and camping along the way. I think it’s important to make sure wherever folks are heading, that communities and First Nations are welcoming visitors.
KL: Who else in the craft beer industry do you find interesting and why?
ED: David Beardsell from Red Collar Brewing in Kamloops. He has years of experience in the industry, and I imagine that he has a pretty unique perspective. His beers are delicious, and I would be interested in reading what he has to say about the industry.
Stay tuned for the next instalment of the Hops Among Friends blog series, where I speak with David Beardsell from Red Collar Brewing. Until then, cheers!