Craft Perfection

photo: Eva Cherneff photography

by Eva Cherneff

Spring water, locally grown hops, hand picked heather, a handful of very cool people and some very good locally brewed beer, that is Salt Spring Island ales.  Co owners Becky Julseth and Neil Cooke-Dallin are making their own mark on the industry, along with brewmaster Murray Hunter.

Built from the ground up originally by Neil’s uncle and Murray about ten years ago, the brewery began small and to this day is still a local small “cottage brewery” but is gaining momentum big time on Vancouver Island and even now in Vancouver. Located in the Fulford Valley on Salt Spring Island this small brewery which is run out of a twenty-five hundred square foot barn, that was built from trees fallen on site.  They even have their very own hops plantation just down the street.

Becky and Neil bought the business in May of 2008 and officially announced ownership as of January 2009.  Already having fulltime jobs (Becky works in marketing and Neil is a graphic designer, runs a recording studio and also has a popular band, Espionage) it was a big commitment and decision for the couple.  They couldn’t have picked a better time, as the local food and drink movement was getting stronger by the day. Salt Spring Ales production is done one hundred percent on Salt Spring in their small hand built brewery.  The thing that makes them stand alone from the rest is there commitment to being envioirmentlly friendly and using local ingredients.  From planting their own certified organic crop of Nugget and Cascade hops in the Fulford Valley to “closing the loop” as Becky calls it, by donating their spent grain to Salt Spring Island cattle farmers.  They also brew exclusively with their own natural spring water that comes from the mountain behind their brewery, making the beer free of any chlorine and giving only a clear, crisp and amazing clarity to the end product. Also by doing this they do not draw on public water resources, just one other way they are paving the way to be environmentally friendly.  They also plan on experimenting with more hops over the next coming years at their plantation.

All together they have three main beers, complied of their Golden Ale, Pale Ale and Porter.  The Golden ale is my personal favourite; it has a lovely nutty flavour combined with a lovely slight citrus tone.  All three beers have won awards and had excellent reviews over the years, being called what is known in the beer industry as great “session” beers, this meaning a beer with lower alcohol content so that more of it can be consumed over a single period of time.  They also have an impressive line up of specialty beers, compiled of their Whaletail Ale, which was originally created for Moby’s pub on Salt spring and is also their brew masters favourite.  The Heatherdale ale is made with locally grown heather, hand picked most days by Becky herself and was originally created for Butchart Gardens, and this summer will be available in bottle form for everyone to enjoy, and trust me…it is full of enjoyment!   Last but not least is their India Pale Ale, made with fine Canadian malt.

The second best part about the beer, well for me it is the bottles and labels, they are colourful with a mix of modern and traditional design…even including some sheep in Salt Spring spirit.   Their supply and demand is high, now supplying to over thrifty five restaurants, twenty private liquor stores and now even breaking into the Vancouver market, production is through the roof.

A small but strong team…

The master behind the brew is Murray Hunter, who has now been brewing for over fourteen years.  Murray has won two gold medals at the Canadian Brewing Awards and best in class for their Golden Ale in 04’.  Becky takes care of all the marketing, administration and works with the hops and heather farmers.  Becky is also a member of the Pink Boots Society, a society for women in brewing.  Neil manages sales and operations while brewery technician Stephen Miles takes care of numerous production jobs including all their packaging and bottling.  Also new to the team this year is Murray’s new apprentice Heather Kilbourne.

Salt Spring Island ales are fuelled by passion, talent and some darn good BC beer.  The end product reflects that on so many different levels, so next time you’re on Salt Spring, stop by and check it out or just head down to your local beer store and enjoy some local brew.

Brewery Address:

270 Furness Road

Salt Spring Island, BC

Brewery Toll Free: 1 866 353 2383

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