The Fernie Brewing Company lost a key part of its team when brewmaster Gord Demaniuk sadly passed away after a long battle with cancer but his legacy survives thanks to his eldest son Jeff who has landed his father’s old job.
Now, over six months into his new role, the younger Demaniuk reflected on replacing his dad.
“It was a little hard at first,” said Jeff.
“The last few months of his life, he couldn’t work too much and he absolutely loved working here,” he added.
Born in Saskatoon, Gord enjoyed a long and varied career. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science from the University of Saskatchewan and dabbled in the trades. He was also an avid painter and donated one of his best paintings to Elk Valley Hospice, which remains in the room that he spent some of the last days of his life.
Over the years, Gord worked for some major brewers including the Carling O’Keefe brewery in Saskatchewan and the Molson Brewery in Edmonton before starting at the Fernie Brewing Company in 2011.
After he passed away in September of last year at the age of 64, the company turned to his 33-year year old son Jeff to fill his position. Jeff started at the Big Rock Brewery in Calgary as a summer student in 2003 and landed a full-time job there in 2007. He also worked for Phillips Brewing and Malting in Victoria for a number of years before moving back to Calgary to help start up the Trolley 5 Brewpub. He also studied beer making in Britain.
As head brewer of the Fernie Brewing Company, he is responsible for brewing a lot of beer. Jeff figures his company produces about 10,000 hectolitres a year. One hectolitre equals 100 liters.
In replacing his father, Jeff has big shoes to fill. In 2012, with Gord at the helm, the company was named Business of the Year at the Fernie Chamber of Commerce Community and Business Excellence Awards.
Fernie Brewing Company co-owner Murray Pask credited Gord with helping the company attain greater success.
“I think he really helped us get to the next level as a brewery,” he said. “He brought some unique recipes and really helped fine-tune a lot of the current ones that we have.”
Pask said he sees a lot of similarities between Jeff and Gord as both are soft spoken and both get along with everyone.
“We’re really lucky to have Jeff on board,” he said. “I really think he’ll be able to help get us to the next step we’re trying to achieve as a company.”
With Jeff as head brewer, the business continues to perform well. The brewery is currently undergoing an expansion of their warehouse to gain an additional 3,000-square-feet of storage space. They’ll also be expanding their tasting room, adding offices and a boardroom.
This summer, Fernie Brewing will be setting up a pilot system where Jeff and his staff will be able to get creative with beer recipes.
“I’ll be able to be a bit more of a mad scientist and throw different malts together and different hops together and see what happens,” he said. “People have been doing so many crazy things lately, it’s hard to do something that hasn’t been done already.”
Craft brewing is a mix of art and science, said Jeff.
It is also much more physically demanding than most people realize, he added. There is a lot of hauling of hoses and lifting of heavy bags of malt and hops. Cleanliness is also essential for a good brew so there’s also a lot of cleaning and scrubbing of floors and tanks.
Though they never officially worked together, Jeff said he received a lot of advice on beer making from his father. He misses his mentor but said his coworkers at the Fernie Brewing Company have eased the transition in a sad time.
“It’s been a couple months now and it’s getting better,” he said. “There is such a good group of people here and I knew everybody before starting so it was easy to step in.”