This is the third feature in the Hops Among Friends series. This series is designed to introduce you to the people that make up the craft beer scene on the BC Ale Trail.
My last Hops Among Friends interview was with Paul Hadfield from Spinnakers, one of the first wave of BC craft brewers. Paul suggested I speak with Gary Lohin, the Brewmaster at Central City Brewers + Distillers, as Gary is part of the second wave of BC craft brewers.
Gary Lohin is a leader and an early builder of BC’s vibrant craft beer industry. It was a real honour for me to have a chance to chat with Gary and learn about his tenure in this growing and dynamic industry.
Central City’s brewery is part of the New West, Delta and Surrey Ale Trail, one of the vibrant trails on the BC Ale Trail. Central City also has a brewpub in Surrey, at the location of their original brewery, and they’ve got a second brewpub on Beatty Street in Downtown Vancouver.
KL: How did you get into the craft brewing industry?
GL: I got into the industry pretty early on with Whistler Brewing Company, back in 1989, so I’ve been in the industry almost 30 years. Whistler Brewing Company was about a year old at that time I joined them. I started with Whistler as a sales rep. It was a great foot in the door to get into brewing. I was also a home brewer for about 8 years.
I moved to Vernon for about three years and I worked for Okanagan Spring Brewery as a brewer back in 1992. Back then we launched a cloudy wheat beer. No one knew what that was. No one was doing any bottle conditioning at that time. This was groundbreaking and world class at the time. The Okanagan Spring Pale Ale was a big influence on the province. It opened the door for other BC breweries to get their products into bars.
Then I moved to open up Sailor Hagar’s Brew Pub, the first Brew Pub in Vancouver in 1994. I used my own recipes on a 10HL system. There were no IPAs at that time in Vancouver or BC. I made some of the first hoppy beers here in BC. I was influenced by the hoppy IPAs from Seattle and Portland. I worked there for nine years until 2003, before opening up Central City BrewPub. In 2005, the Red Racer brand came along. True story… it was based on an original unnamed oil painting. One of our owners came up with the name Red Racer. We decided to go with the Red Racer brand and put our other beers under that same branding.
KL: What do you love most about craft beer?
GL: I like the camaraderie within the industry itself. Everyone is a brother or a friend. It’s like we belong to a club. I can phone up a neighbouring brewery and borrow some malt or hops. Four Winds is a great example. We help each other a lot. I think the BC craft beer industry is the best; it’s second to none in Canada. The beer being brewed here is world class and we have the most knowledgeable craft beer consumers here in BC.
KL: What are some of your favourite craft beers right now?
GL: I bounce around a lot. I like lots of pilsners and lagers. I’ve always made these. I had a honey lager back in 1994. They are staples. For a long time I drank a lot of IPAs, but as the industry changes and evolves, I am really enjoying the Kolsches and the Sours. I like Brett. What’s my favourite beer? That’s the one in my hand. I really like Iain Hill’s beers from Strange Fellows. I enjoy the No Brainer corn beer from Conrad at Brassneck Brewery. They are also making some great beers at Driftwood, Moon Under Water and Cannery Brewing in the Interior. I also really enjoy my own IPA right out of the bright tank. It’s the best spot for fresh beer.
KL: Red Racer IPA has a long and celebrated history. What do you think of the different IPA styles that are emerging?
GL: I would never change our IPA recipe, but we would make other IPAs. Personally I don’t like the cloudy/hazy IPA style. For me, it’s not just about the IBUs. I like IPAs to be balanced. As brewers, we now have access to more hops. Back in the day when I was first designing our IPA, I didn’t have the same hops to work with. New IPAs are coming about because there are more hops that are available. I work with probably 20 different hops and 30 different malts now and brewers have access to more than 100 different styles of hops and malts. Ten years ago we had a lot less choice.
KL: What do you love about the place where you live?
GL: We live in North Vancouver. I was born and raised in Vancouver. I live on the edge of Mt. Seymour. There are lots of wilderness trials within 2 blocks of my house. Central City sponsors a trail. I’m a big mountain biker and a skier. I like to ski locally or head out to Whistler, which is just 1.5 hours away. I live just 15 minutes out of the core of the city, but it feels like I’m in the suburbs.
KL: What is one of your favourite beer tourism activities?
GL: I recommend the tram at Grouse Mountain. You can see the whole city. I love that you can ski at night and look at the twinkling lights of the city. And definitely have a craft beer while you are up there. We have great beaches here. We have amazing culinary restaurants in Vancouver. We have great ethnic foods. Being a port city, we have amazing seafood. We also have lots of fresh produce. There are so many choices for tourism activities here. I think the greatest strengths of Vancouver are our food, our mountains, the water, and outdoor activities.
KL: What do you love about the craft beer scene where you live?
GL: I’d recommend that people head downtown and check out the East Van Breweries, the Main Street Breweries. Visit 33 Acres, Off the Rail, Parallel 49 and Brassneck. There are so many breweries in such a short distance. There is such a diversity of styles of beer. You can go to four breweries, each making 2 IPAs. There is diversity in the product, reflecting the differing styles of the brewmasters. You can have a Belgian Sour or a German Lager and everything in between. You won’t want for anything.
KL: What are your predictions for craft beer in 2018?
GL: There is lots of competition on the shelves. There are so many breweries fighting for shelf space. I see the craft beer movement continuing to grow, but I think we’ll also see more struggling breweries. There is always room for good beer, but you better let people know that you make good beer. How do you tell your story? And how do you get your beer into their hands? Tasting rooms are fine, but if you want to grow and get bigger, you need to have packaged product. For entry into the system, you have to have good beer and consistent quality. Consistency is a huge thing. You have to be able to reproduce that beer and produce it month after month, year after year. My IPA has always been consistent. It must meet a number of parameters, or we won’t put it out. I think this will be a good year for craft beer. There are great malts this year, and the hops are good too.
KL: Are there any trends in craft beer you don’t like?
GL: Northeast IPAs because they are so inconsistent. I don’t like the ones that are full of yeast and not balanced. To me that is the anti-craft beer movement. The trend I don’t like is the inconsistency of these beers. It’s the inconsistencies that give craft beer a bad name.
KL: Tell me more about your collaboration beers.
GL: I like collaboration beers. Again it goes back to my point about camaraderie. We did our Winter packs again with Parallel 49. We are also doing our 150 Packs again. These Across the Nation Collaboration packs will launch in April/May. Everyone is stoked to work together. The other breweries provide the recipes and my job is to make sure the recipes fit within our brewery’s portfolio. These collaborations give us insight into these other breweries. We also did a collaboration beer for Chinese New Year, which included one shipment of beer to China. We partnered with Redpoint Brewing in Taiwan to make the Red Racer Lucky Dog Kumquat Wheat Ale, which is excellent. It was released in BC for Chinese New Year.
KL: Tell me about your new whisky.
GL: I’ve always been a whisky fan. When we built our brand new building as a purpose-built brewery, we had the opportunity to build knowing we would also make whisky. Whisky is the closest cousin to beer. We’ve had three different releases of whisky to-date. The first was a simple unpeated whisky. Then we made our Peated Malt Rye Whisky for Canada’s 150. Then at Christmas, we launched a whisky that was aged in barrels from Black Sage Pipe. This was a collaboration with a BC VQA Winery. We’ll continue to experiment with our whisky. We’ve got lots of barrels we are experimenting with. If I was consulting to a new craft brewery opening up. I’d say build the capacity for distilling. Craft distilling is taking off.
KL: Who else in the craft beer industry do you find interesting and why?
GL: Dave Varga from 33 Acres. I’ve known him for many years. Dave came from Whistler Brewing as well. He also worked at Yaletown Brewing and Taylor’s Crossing Brewing. He’s worked at a number of breweries and brewpubs. He’s always made great, consistent, clean and safe beers. He makes stylistically amazing beers. He recently won a world beer cup for a Belgian Tripel.
Stay tuned for the next installment of the Hops Among Friends blog series, where I chat with Dave Varga from 33 Acres Brewing. Until then, cheers!