Here’s a story that swims against the stream this month: rather than gloomy news about taps being closed off, it’s a happy tale about people working towards opening something new. Herald St. Brew Works, when it debuts later this year, will become the freshest stop on Victoria’s famed Beer Mile.
While visiting Canada’s original Craft Beer Capital for Victoria Beer Week this past weekend, I dropped in at 506 Herald Street for a tour with brewery-to-be co-founder Mike Spence. Over the years, Mike and wife Lee operated a smattering of different restaurants before establishing Victoria’s uber craft beer bar, The Drake Eatery. The couple are really getting into the thick of it now with their first brewery, thanks to a partnership with Jorden Foss and Jamie Garbutt of New Westminster’s Steel & Oak Brewing. This is a stellar brew team if ever there was one.
Newest member of that team is ace brewer and Montreal import Jean-Benoît, best known for his successes at Ottawa’s Beyond The Pale Brewing. I found him driving a scissor jack around a crowded construction floor and pressed him for his thoughts on moving to the rainy West Coast. Jean-Benoît has moved around a handful of breweries in his time, partly because his passion is to be involved in the startup phase. He pledges to stick around town for at least a year and a half, then see where things go. Turns out he appreciates the milder weather, so Victoria has a chance of keeping him for a while.
Jean-Benoît has significant, varied experience, but he knows the styles he likes to make, and they fall into two (somewhat overlapping) themes: hoppy beers and refreshing beers. Think of saisons with a bit of hop bite, or West Coast Pale Ales and IPAs. We got talking about East vs. West Coast IPA traditions, then compared notes on new world vs. old world lagers. We found common ground on what lager means to drinkers in the Czech Republic. He seems like a well-rounded guy that will know what to do with his new, compact brewhouse.
Mike gave me a tour of the open-concept room, which was easy because you can see everything from one spot on the mezzanine. Two floors will make the tasting area scalable for those moments when things get busy at ground level. Up to ~168 patrons will be able to glance over at the ten serving tanks that delivered their brews, stacked vertically in five columns for space efficiency. What’s more: in the fullness of time, patio seating just might materialize around the back entrance, and even on the rooftop!
The room’s decor will reflect the original, industrial nature of the building, with manufacturing represented via heavy iron artifacts. The brand reflects that heritage, too. Mike, Lee, Jorden and Jamie agreed on the logo’s classic, custom-recreated lettering, choosing it from four options presented by designer Sami Christianson of Best Studio.
When will Herald St. open? After years of “under construction” brewery interviews, I tend to downplay that question…and when I do, I take the impending brewery owner’s response with a Himalayan grain of salt. It’s not up to them to simply set out a schedule on paper and swing open the doors according to plan; more than most businesses, they’re beholden to a host of approvals and delays. My personal estimate from the conversation with Mike, combined with a close-up look at the state of construction and factoring in “other considerations” is: (mid to) late summer. But hey, at least we’re talking 2020. Hopefully the joint will be open when we’re all in Victoria for the 28th annual Great Canadian Beer Festival, the weekend of September 11th & 12th.
Keeping things in perspective: what’s a few months’ wait when we’re talking about a brewery scene as historic as Victoria’s? Just a short trot down the road, for instance, you’ll find Vancouver Island Brewing, founded in 1984. Herald St. will fit right in with Beer City’s existing cluster of breweries, founded over a 35-year span from the mid-1980s to the late 2010s. Before you know it, you’ll be raising a spanking new brew in Victoria’s Old Town.
On The Air
Mike Spence was recently a guest on the Mashing In podcast, hosted by our very own Hopline editor Edward Kaye, along with Stephane Turcotte of île Sauvage and and Brian Tesolin. Check out what Mike had to say here.