I’m not much of a beer drinker but when duty called, I biked up to the Fernie Brewing Company (FBC) for their Friday afternoon tour with friends who were in town for a mountain biking trip.
This year marks FBC’s tenth anniversary thanks to award winning products like their Sap Sucker Maple Porter, which won a Canadian Gold Medal in 2012.
Craft brewers have been rising in popularity over the last ten years. What began in owner Russell Pask’s family barn in 2003 with two types of brew has evolved into the brewery north east of Fernie with 13 seasonal beers.
Tour guide Brittany Sopko started the tour by filling up the sample glasses before explaining the use of barley, malt and hops plus the fact they use no preservatives. Right off the bat, a sample of their Begian White Ale ‘Ol’ Willy Wit’ had my attention with its refreshing citrusy flavour on a thirty-degree day.
Sopko refilled sample glasses before we headed into the brew house to see where the magic happens.
After viewing the towering stainless steel and brass silo like vats, we moved into the cooler where the finished product is stored until bottled or canned.
Believe it or not, what now takes three people to run the machine to bottle, used to be done by hand one bottle at a time.
It’s still a slow process compared to large breweries that can bottle one beer per second. But the employees still remember the good ol’ days of hand bottling so they love the efficiency of the current system. One employee was busy sealing the summer variety packs with a glue gun. Yes, folks, FBC beer is still boxed and sealed by hand.
They are still growing as they are expanding their warehouse to include a massive new cooler by the new loading dock. Craft brewing is a lot more labour intensive than I thought.
“I was surprised they can produce so much with only 12 full time employees,” said visitor Tim McKee.
“I’m amazed how small the operation is,” said Amber Nielson. “They’re pretty generous with the samples too. Ol’ Willy Wit and Huckleberry are my favourites. I like the Red Caboose too. It’s smooth, red, and darker full flavoured.”
FBC has two Brew Masters with a third in training via an online program. He can work and learn on the job with two-experienced Brew Masters there to answer teach and answer questions.
The brewery has reached pubs in Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary but is most popular in the Kootenays.
Variety packs are a summer favourite and a great idea for a souvenir that your friends will appreciate more than another ill-fitting t-shirt.
Tours are every Friday beginning at 3 pm. For more information, check out www.ferniebrewery.com.