Toasting Metro Vancouver’s first real brewpub: Gary Lohin on right. Vancouver Sun May 4, 1994
As part of What’s Brewing magazine’s 30th Anniversary celebrations, we continue to spotlight some of BC’s beer pioneers. In this installment of The Class Of ’94, we introduce you to one of the key brewmasters from BC’s 1990s scene who started up a celebrated brewery in the year 1994 and began to push the boundaries of BC brewing.
Gary Lohin is head brewer at one of BC’s largest independents, Central City Brewers & Distillers. He’s had a long career in beer, is well known across Canada’s brewing community and has collaborated with breweries internationally. He’s been brewing in one form or another since the early 80s, but it wasn’t until the microbrewing gold rush of the mid-90s that he had a chance to run his own show, which he did at Metro Vancouver’s first brewpub, located close to the Seabus terminal in North Vancouver.
I opened Sailor Hagar’s Brewpub in 1994 with a 10HL Specific Mechanical system. I remember christening the mash tun by turning it in to a hot tub for an evening, complete with scotch and cigars. The brewhouse got so hot in summer that I often brewed in only shorts and gumboots. No shirt! I don’t think that would fly today.
The brewery was in a small stand-alone building separated from the pub [Ed. Note: this puts Hagar’s into the rare ‘Offsite Cottage Brewery’ category, alongside pioneers Horseshoe Bay Brewing and Saanichton’s Prairie Inn]. We were, however, attached by draft lines that ran in a conduit through an underground parade. I’m glad no one ever found out about that!
We opened up with five beer engines pouring nitrogenated ales, plus other craft taps. British and German brewing influences were big at the time, but I was very experimental back in those days. I once brewed and served three different pale ales at the same time, alternating only the base malts (English varieties Maris Otter, Golden Promise and Pipkin). People were amazed at the differences in the beer.
It also took a long time to get the average consumer to like some styles. After meeting Pierre Celis of Hoegaarden at a craft conference, I decided to brew a cloudy Belgian Witbier. The beer turned out great, so I put in on tap. Waitresses would take this cloudy wheat beer to tables, and a lot of customers would send it back because it wasn’t clear. It took time, but we educated our customers regarding its opaqueness, and it became popular. Then one day I was tweaking again and unintentionally made the wheat beer clear. The servers took this clear Witbier out to our newly-educated customers, and a lot of them sent it back because it wasn’t cloudy. Be careful of what you wish for, I guess.
I made a lot of friends brewing at Hagar’s. Two of them were Ed Bennett and Skip Madsen of Boundary Bay Brewing in Bellingham. They would come up to visit me because Ed would get dental work done cheaper here. We would start having a few beers after work from the tanks, and wouldn’t you know it, it was 3 AM! There were quite a few days like that, and not only with the boys from Bellingham.
I used to help out Steamworks with a bit of yeast from time to time. Conrad Gmoser would call me and ask me what I wanted for it. I’d say “bring me a bottle of single malt”. He would procure a handcart and wheel a keg onto the Seabus and come over. I’d fill the keg with yeast for him, we’d shoot the breeze a bit over a beer, then he’d go back happy. I was happy too, being the owner of a brand-new bottle of single malt.
Brewmaster’s dinners were a bit different back in the 1990’s when smoking in pubs was still allowed. We had quite a few beer pairing dinners with cigars and Thor’s Hammer barleywine afterward, and the pub was filled with blue cigar smoke. Those days seem so long ago today.
In 2003, Gary took his talents down the other end of the Skytrain line to Surrey, and Central City Brew Pub was born. In time he would scale the heights, with a series of hit beers based on hops and a plethora of provincial and national awards, earning him a reputation as Canada’s ranking brewmaster. But it was back in the 90s that the guy with his shirt off in the little Hagar’s brewhouse began pushing the barriers of BC brewing.