27 years after opening, Russell Brewing has just opened its tasting room this summer!
This brewery was at the forefront of the craft beer movement in BC as it was one of the original 10 to open in the 1990s. Their core beers have become icons — A Wee Angry Scotch Ale, Blood Alley Bitter, and Russell’s Cream Ale — and are still on taps everywhere in BC today.
Over the years, Russell Brewing has seen a lot of changes. Now with its fourth owner, it is definitely a different brewery than it was 27 years ago. The craft beer industry has evolved so much that styles, flavours, and selections are endless around BC. Pre COVID, the brewery released 40 new beers in 2019. This year, the plan is for 25.
“We have to be more innovative than we have even been” said Jimmy Darbyshire, Marketing Director of Russell Brewing.
Russell Brewing is not content to sit back on its staple beer laurels. Although it has a loyal following of beer drinkers that have supported them from the beginning, the direction now is toward new beer, new flavour profiles, and new craft beer drinkers to help grow the business.
“Now with our tasting room, this allows us the opportunity to use our test batch system to do some tasting room exclusives,” Darbyshire said. “That way, we can try a whole bunch of beers that we haven’t been able to do previously, get those out to the public, and have them give us live feedback.”
Regarding Russell’s brewing staff, Darbyshire says, “They embody what craft beer is. They work long days. We start brewing at 4:30 am and we don’t finish till 6 or 7 pm. Everything they talk about is beer. They are always learning, studying, and looking for the next new and creative thing.”
So why was Russell Brewing so late to opening a tasting room? Well, back in the day, breweries only had a manufacturing license. When Russell Brewing opened in 1995, they weren’t able to have a tasting room. Kegs of beer were simply sent out to pubs and restaurants throughout the province, while bottles (and later cans) were sold through the government and private liquor store chains. Since then the model has changed and most breweries focus on having tasting rooms and/or food service so they can get people to come to the brewery for an experience.
“We are the very last brewery in B.C. to have a tasting room, in typical Russell fashion,” Darbyshire joked. “We are the last at the party, but turns out the timing is great!”
The tap room is warm and spacious, with lots of natural lighting. There is a warming kitchen that serves four flavours of tacos and basic snacks. Along with that are 14 beer taps, one cider tap, and two beer slushies.
In early July, Russell Brewing had the honor of hosting the 40th Anniversary of Craft Beer in B.C. celebration. Since four of Russell’s brewing staff graduated from the KPU Brewing program, it seemed to be the perfect brewery to brew the John Mitchell Signature Cascadian Dark Ale.
“We did a collaboration with KPU and we had an opportunity at Russell to showcase the founder, the creator of craft beer in BC,” said Derbyshire. “It is very exciting for us to educate the masses on what he was able to do for the industry and how he led the charge for craft beer. We are very proud.”
Rumours have it that now that the tap room has finally opened, an outdoor patio and expansion might not be too far off. Who knows, maybe this is the start of a “Brewers Row” in Surrey! Check out Russell’s website for up-to-date tap listings and menu items.