Part I: “We Can Do This”
British Columbia is home to many firsts in Canadian craft beer history. The province gave birth to the nation’s first microbrewery, its first brewpub and its oldest beer festival. In our last issue, we examined another pillar of the craft revolution: beer writing, in which passionate advocates document their experiences in print—or, using today’s technology, on their social media channel, blog or podcast.
Podcasting. It’s the radio of the Internet. But craft beer is on the real, old-fashioned radio too. Google ‘Canadian beer radio show’ and you’ll find something called Just Here For The Beer, Canada’s original and longest-running all-beer talk show. It’s the broadcasting equivalent of just-referenced Horseshoe Bay Brewing, Spinnakers and Great Canadian Beer Festival.
The story of Just Here For The Beer involves young people embarking on a bold adventure. It’s about pursuing a dream, even in the face of tragic loss. The tale begins 32 years ago when two college students become friends for life.
When Rick Met Colin
In 1988, Rick Mohabir enrolled at what is now Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Richmond campus. There, fate introduced him to a fellow with whom he had a lot in common. Like Rick, Colin Jack lived in Richmond’s Ironwood neighbourhood. Like Rick’s, Colin’s family was of Caribbean extraction, and both their fathers were teachers.
“I used to give him rides home, because we lived not even a five-minute drive from each other,” Mohabir reminisces. “Our friendship just naturally evolved from there.”
They remained friends well after their time at Kwantlen. Colin eventually transferred to the University of British Columbia in pursuit of his teaching degree, then in August 2004, he took a part-time job there as a mini school coordinator.
In higher education, ‘mini schools’ handle basic non-credit general interest courses like photography, web design, and guitar. A popular theme at the time was wine tasting. Colin conspiratorially shared this tidbit with Rick, noting, “I don’t know anything about wine. Why don’t we do a beer course?”
Today, Rick admits that it seemed like a dumb idea at the time. But Vancouver did have a tiny craft beer movement, and the idea of beer tasting was just beginning to catch on.
Somehow, Colin sourced a brewer to help teach the proposed course. One problem: nobody signed up for it. So, five buddies—Colin, his brother Byron, Rick, and their friends Zayvin and Roy—used its scheduled time slot to hang out, drink beer, and talk about what they tasted. Kind of like beer geeks will do on a bottle share, or on a podcast (that’s foreshadowing, folks).
Colin didn’t give up on the idea of teaching beer appreciation. In early 2005, the course was offered again, and this time 17 people signed up. He broke the news to Rick: “Holy shit, what are we gonna do now?” They didn’t really know anything serious about beer, and they needed to learn fast. So they got to know a fellow named Dave Varga from Taylor’s Crossing brewpub in North Vancouver. Varga was kind enough to show the neophytes around the brewhouse and kickstart their learning.
Today, there is much more of a network for this. A newbie who experiences their beer epiphany and decides to become an evangelist has a whole community of beer fans to help them along (as we’ll explore in this magazine’s next story). The JHFTB guys were not connected to any such network. There were small groups of beer fans like CAMRA BC, which produced a newsletter called What’s Brewing that members could write for, and which occasionally organized educational events. But there was no template for teaching a course about beer.
“Slowly, we started to evolve the curriculum,” Rick recalls. “Zayvin and Colin and I just kind of split up the different areas based on our specialties. Coming from a business background, I handled the marketing and advertising side of it.” Through sheer enthusiasm, the youngsters made the idea work, and Just Here For The Beer Ltd. became an official entity.
Rick recalls, “In the five years we offered that course, we had people coming back each term. The students would travel during their summer break and bring back beers from Europe, Australia, or Southeast Asia for us to sample in class. The curriculum didn’t really change, but the beers we brought in did.”
Over time, the beers they brought in also got better. Asked what he considers his gateway to really appreciating craft, Mohabir identifies Central City’s Raspberry Wheat Ale as a turning point. He and Colin developed the ability to evangelize about beer, becoming self-styled ‘beer ambassadors’.
The pair naturally found themselves attending some of the beer festivals available at the time. This led to thoughts about expanding their young beer business in a new direction.
Pouring Vancouver’s Biggest Cup of Beer
Reader, allow this author to explain the aforementioned personal connection. In the 2000s, I was one of many Vancouver beer fans who happened to befriend Colin Jack, but as it happens, our initial acquaintance had nothing to do with beer. As with Rick, we had a shared Caribbean ancestry, with parents who hailed from Trinidad & Tobago. I’d run into Colin, Rick and friends volunteering in the beer garden at North Vancouver’s annual Caribbean Days Festival.
Colin and I discovered we were both craft beer fans, and we would see each other at Vancouver’s fledgling beer events too. (Oddly, there were a few other Trini offspring becoming active in the Vancouver beer community at the same time. For a distant country with a population smaller than Vancouver’s and no craft beer culture, this is truly unexplainable.) I learned about what he had started with Just Here For The Beer.
Colin was a bit younger than me. I’d look at what he and Rick were doing with curiosity, quietly impressed by how these guys would fearlessly wade into the “beer expert” pool and find commercial acceptance and success. It’s the same kind of boldness that many of our “Internet Famous” beer friends exhibit today, but with real-world consequences if they failed.
One of the first events they attempted was a wine and beer festival at UBC’s Student Union Building. Held in March 2005, Rick characterizes it as a success. It led to bigger things.
In early September 2005, this author happened to be in Victoria for the annual Great Canadian Beer Festival. Who do I see roaming the grounds but Rick and Colin, along with their friends Zayvin Haqq and Kris Meisterman. They were all wearing Just Here For The Beer T-shirts and looking around in a purposeful manner. I found this curious enough to snap a photo of.
About nine months later, I understood the significance: they’d been on a reconnaissance mission. The friends had travelled to Victoria to study how to put on a major beer festival, and GCBF’s outdoor format became the template for their newest bold venture.
The first Canada Cup of Beer took place in July 2006 at UBC’s Thunderbird Stadium. My group arrived early to avoid the blocks-long lineup we were accustomed to at GCBF—but we needn’t have rushed. Outside the stadium were only a few stray beer geeks, and we ended up being first through the gates at this new annual event. As Colin admitted to me that day, their group hadn’t yet mastered the advance sales and marketing aspects of event production. But a number of college students and beer fans finally showed up to enjoyed a nice summer day with lots of beer and brewer attention available to all.
In subsequent years, my wife and I got a better look behind the scenes at a few JHFTB events as volunteers. Some were more successful than others. But thin crowd or thick, I highly admired their ambitious endeavours.
Taking a page from more well-established festivals, they presented satellite events. They rented out the Ridge Theatre for Beer & A Movie Night, with Russell Brewing as sponsor. They held two Beer Olympics events—one summer and one winter—at the Scout Hall in Richmond. At every turn, they were willing to try bold things, and by late 2010, JHFTB was really rolling with events. Colin sent out an email that Christmas which listed nine beer events planned for 2011.
Rick has positive memories of the pre-Vancouver Craft Beer Week Festival time when he, Colin, and friends could claim to produce “Vancouver’s largest beer fest.” They had a clean record too; only one patron ever got kicked out of CCOB. “For the 10,000 people that came to our events over the years, to have only one eviction is pretty damn good,” he rightly concludes.
Enter the Voice
Joe Leary always wanted to be a disc jockey. Growing up with two older sisters smitten by the British Invasion, he realized early on he didn’t want to be one of those mop-tops on stage. He wanted to be the guy spinning their records. Specifically, he wanted to be the classic screaming Top-40 DJ, but as he likes to say, he’s always happy with “any format under the sun except country.”
Even as a youth, Joe could discern a talented radio host. Although he’s a Columbia Academy graduate, he credits a lot of his learning to listening to the classic jocks on stations like CFUN and CKLG and patterning his communication after them. He sounds like a radio broadcaster even when he’s just standing around with a vodka soda in hand.
Leary’s resume in mainstream and independent media is extensive, with prime broadcasting roles such as long-time weatherman at CKVU-TV and anchor at major sports radio stations. He’s also a freelance writer who has written weekly columns for publications like The Province and 24 Hours.
One of Leary’s favourite work memories is getting a call one lonely night shift from the uber-classy Fred Latremouille, who complimented Joe on a nice segment. Connections with people like that are a big part of what Joe loved about his time in traditional broadcasting. Before his tenure as an employee came to an end, one such connection gave Leary the key to his future career.
The Stars Align
It wasn’t pre-ordained for Joe Leary to get to know Colin Jack and Rick Mohabir. But let’s say that, in hindsight, the chances of it happening were reasonable. After all, the two young guys were running beer festivals, and Joe didn’t mind the odd beer. Joe got talking to them at some of their events.
“I went to one of their early beer fests at the Edgewater Casino”, Joe recalls, “and I just found Colin was a very likable guy.”
That Colin was, but there was additional motivation to befriend the event proprietors. “If you get to know the guys behind the table, they’ll probably give you more beer tickets, right? That was kind of my initial game”, Leary admits.
At the time, Joe hosted a talk radio show on CFUN. As he got to know Colin, he threw out a thought: “Hey, come on and talk about beer some time.” By this point, thanks to promoting JHFTB, Colin was an old hand at media appearances, so he took up the offer.
Leary was happy to have him, pragmatically noting that a session with Colin “was always good for getting free beer. The opportunity to consume beverages and fill airtime was kind of a bonus.”
After a couple of these visits, Leary’s boss, Stu Ferguson, said, “Hey, that person on your show knows his stuff. Do you think there’s any money in a beer show?”
What Ferguson was getting at is that, when you tune into dedicated programming like a beer or wine radio show, the people and products being showcased are paying a fee to be there. (To those gentle souls who might be offended by such a notion: sorry to burst any beer bubbles.) Non-prime-time radio and TV have many such situations.
Serendipitously, around the same time that Ferguson nudged Leary, Colin Jack did the same with his pal Rick. Not satisfied with the success they already had as educators and event promoters, Colin had his eye on a bigger stage.
“Colin and I had this drunk night where we talked about doing a TV show,” Mohabir recalls. “But that’s big money and sponsorship, and we’re not there yet. Why don’t we do a radio show?”
Rick thought, “Well, Leary’s on radio. Why don’t we talk to him?” And in one of those perfect courtships where both sides were the suitor, they did.
The original concept the radio folks had been working on in the summer of 2010 was a Beer & BBQ Show. “I think we put the pen to paper in September, near the end of barbecue season,” Joe recalls. “There was no point waiting a full year to try it again, so we said, ‘Screw it, let’s just do a beer show.’”
Just Here For The Beer Radio kicked off October 2010 as a one-hour monthly show, broadcast live from CISL’s studios on a varying schedule. You can see the early episodes on YouTube, with Colin and a young-looking Leary. You can see that Colin was a little green but wasn’t afraid of the microphone at all. This would surprise nobody who knew him.
In the early going, the pair interviewed guests pulled from Colin’s contacts at beer industry stalwarts like Whistler Brewing, Russell Brewing, Pacific Western and Legacy Liquor Store. Joe says, “Colin was my access to beer, and I was his access to airtime.” It was a match consummated on the JHFTB airwaves.
At CISL for the third show, February 2011. Colin “wore red for Valentine’s Day”
A Stunning Loss
As 2010 turned to 2011, Joe and Colin did shows in January and February. Colin was also writing a weekly column about beer for the hip, new, free newspaper 24 Hours, and Joe was doing just the same on the topic of music. In late February, Joe was planning the March beer show, and sent Colin a message.
“We were about a week away from doing a show,” Leary remembers. “I’d called Colin and didn’t hear back. I texted him the next day and didn’t hear back.” Joe wanted to know who Colin had lined up for the March 15 show. “He was my beer conduit. I didn’t know beer people at all.”
At that time, both Joe and Colin had a column due at 24 Hrs. “I remember distinctly, I was in Red Card sports bar downtown, and I got a phone call from the editor. I thought he was calling me to say, ‘We didn’t get your file’. But it was, ‘Hey Joe, just curious: you do that beer show with Colin Jack. Have you heard from him?’
Leary recalls, “I had a bad feeling because Colin was usually pretty punctual. And the last time I saw him, after the [February] show, he had seemed slower and more laboured.
“I can’t get ahold of him,” the editor continued apprehensively, “And I just saw something on Facebook that says ‘RIP Colin Jack.’”
Colin Edward Jack passed away on February 26th, 2011, at the age of 40. What a blow to his father Moseley, brother Byron and sister Arietha; they received the news while away in Trinidad. They had lost Colin’s mother not long before, and now Colin was gone, too.
Looking back at my correspondence with the Caribbean community, to whom I would frequently disseminate information at the time, I’m reminded how palpable the shock was in messages from people of all ages. There were countless email responses evoking disbelief that the younger son of Moseley Jack had fallen.
The loss was also widely mourned in the craft beer community. CAMRA Vancouver’s newsletter of March 2nd began with a tribute. A death in the young Vancouver beer community was a very unusual event.
Colin’s memorable Celebration of Life was held at the Vancouver Alpen Club on March 6th, 2011. Both Joe and Rick spoke to the large room, absolutely packed with Colin’s students and fellow teachers, the Caribbean community, beer folk and others. Rick’s testimonial to his recently-departed friend was tearfully emotional, and concluded with a vow to keep their young beer enterprise running.
I thought, that’s a big commitment to make. I hoped that Rick would not come to regret taking that burden upon himself. I wondered how things would turn out.
In Part II, we learn how Rick Mohabir and Joe Leary honoured Colin’s legacy by keeping JHFTB going, and serving a purpose to numerous businesses in BC’s beer community.
Just Here For The Beer Radio
10th Anniversary Special Two Hour Edition
Saturday Oct 10th 2020, 3-5 pm
Sunday Oct 11th 2020, 10-Midnight
Radio TSN 1040 AM