As I have mentioned before, on my trip to Victoria in July I had the opportunity to stay at Spinnakers in their guest house, and ample opportunity to sample their beers as well. One of the highlights of our trip was a wonderful tour of the facilities with the owner & publican of Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub, Mr Paul Hadfield.
After our tour I arranged to do an interview with Paul, here it is.
Thanks for taking the time for us Paul, your establishment is a world class place. Do you mind telling my readers a bit about how it got started?
Spinnakers’ story began shortly after John Mitchell opened the first small scale commercial craft brewery of the modern era in Horseshoe Bay, in June 1982. That he was granted a Brewer’s License, whilst being on the license of an affiliated neighbourhood pub license was groundbreaking. Shortly after opening his Horseshoe Bay brewery, John became very aware of the shortcomings and set off to UK in search of better equipment. Whilst he was away, I began the groundwork for a Victoria brewpub. Upon his return, he agreed to sell his shares in the Troller Pub in Horseshoe Bay and we agreed to proceed with Spinnakers as the first purpose built brewpub of the modern era in Canada. As an architect, my job was to find a site, design and build the premises and John was to be the brewer and publican. The process took about 20 months from idea to opening day and involved a process wherein we had to do an update to the Vic West community plan, create new zoning bylaws for the City of Victoria, work with BC’s Liquor Control and Licensing Branch to create guidelines for brewpubs and work to change the Federal Excise Act to enable brewpubs to be both manufacturers and retailers of beer.
You’ve built Spinnakers into such an iconic establishment in Victoria. With a brewpub, lavish guest houses, gourmet kitchen, bakery, choclatier, artisan vinegar brewery and the artesian well all on site, what could be next for Spinnakers?
We are currently shifting our focus somewhat to be more brewery production oriented, having this year begun to ship our beers up Island and into the lower mainland. Given the challenges facing the hospitality industry what with the downturned economy, the impacts of HST on food service establishments, the impact of changes to drinking and driving regulations and how they are administered and most recently the increases to labour costs as a result of minimum wage increases, we found ourselves searching for revenue streams which could be expanded. We noticed that retail beers sales were growing as more consumers were picking up more product at retail stores and taking it home to enjoy. We also noticed that there was a significant change in consumer preferences in greater Vancouver where craft beer was replacing (UK and European) imports. Since the beginning of the year, we have committed to distribution, have more than doubled our brewing, sales and distribution staff, installed a canning line, new bright tanks and are adding additional fermentation capacity to enable us to meet growth targets.
While we stayed there, I expected the beers to be good (which of course they were) and I expected a high level of quality from the food (which completely exceeded my expectations). But the thing that really amazed me was the attention to detail in absolutely everything. The baking for example. The breakfast scones, the crackers, in fact all of the baked goods we had there were exquisite. Since our stay every time I’ve been through Victoria I stop in and at least get 2 packs of the asiago dill crackers. Also the intricate and complex flavours to your truffles was impressive. What I’m trying to say in such a long winded and rambling way is that you’re whole staff seems to be top notch. Can you explain how you’ve assembled such a top notch team behind Spinnakers? And how have you managed to keep the quality to such a high level?
We came here to be artisan brewers, back in 1984. At the time, the best insurance was to sell lots of good food to accompany the beers we wanted to sell. We quickly became known for both with food sales rapidly outpacing beer and liquor sales and stabilizing at around 65 – 70% of total gross sales. Over time we came to understand the brewery as a source of ingredients which could become inputs into other items. We also came to view our food operations through a craft beer lens, causing us to seek out artisan growers and producers able to supply us with unique, locally produced food items. Putting it all together requires that everybody understands, is committed and wants more out of the experience than just flipping frozen burger patties. We were 20 years ahead of the current local, seasonal, sustainable trend, as doing all of these things was simply consistent with our business model, our underlying philosophy and was a reflection of why we came to be here in the first place. The magic is that our staff tend to find us now, bringing their own unique skill sets and dreams with them. We encourage people to try new (old) things and to push the local component to the extreme, looking for substitutions where imported food items are not grown here. The people, be they brewers, bakers, chocolatier, chef, pastry chef, cooks or bartenders all feed off each other and are encouraged to interact and be innovative in creating (recreating) a local interpretation of cuisine. In face of globalization, we have stressed going back to the farm gates for ingredients. We seek out ingredients with good stories and encourage everybody to collaborate and delight our senses and taste buds. When we evolve our cuisine and differentiate it from globalized food, we begin to define ourselves, culturally, as people. We are passionate about Vancouver Island and delight in exploring the amazing opportunities that living here provides to all of us. We aspire to function as a reflection of where we live.
Now that you’ve added canning to your brewery, does that spell relief for those ‘thirsting for a real ale’ further away from Spinnakers? Does that add some heartiness to the shelf life of them?
Canning is certainly superior in terms of protecting beer from the negative impacts of light. Beyond that, a clean can, like a clean bottle is only as good as what goes into it. As craft brewers, we are dealing with live products that have to be managed carefully. I have long lived in fear of what happens to our beers after they leave our control. We know that beer is very fragile, that it is going to taste best, depending upon what we are striving for, fresh from the tank at the brewery. In tastings over the years, we have studied and compared beer on tap to beer in a cask to bottled to bottle conditioned and now canned. With each, the beer has been though a slightly different process, even if they are from the same batch. There are going to be minor differences in appearance, aromatics and overall flavour profiles. This is part of the magic of craft, that it is not all the same. Having committed to distributing our beers, we look forward to making them available, more readily, to those who are unable to frequent the brewpub.
How many different styles of beer does Spinnakers produce?
Over the course of a year we will make about 20 different styles. We try to keep 9 or 10 on tap, another 2 or 3 cask conditioned and feature 5 more as daily cask specials. In package form, we currently have 17 active SKU’s with 5 being in cans, the others in 650 ml formats.
Do you have a favorite style of beer?
A very personal question, but the answer is definitely no. There are many times of the day and days of the week and occasions that come and go, each of which speaks to an opportunity for a different beer.
Although your Brewpub is literally filled with brewing & fermenting tanks, What are your plans for brewery expansion for Spinnakers?
We will hit the wall early in the new year, forcing the addition of new fermentation capacity and storage capacity. We are planning a new production brewery to meet the demand and are looking at shifting the focus from the original brewery into more esoteric styles, including barrel aged and sour beers.
Our Spinnakers experience while taking it all in was really comforting. My wife and I felt like family there, and everyone else we saw was being treated the same. How is it possible for a place to be as busy as yours is, and still everyone leaves with a smile? What is your secret?
Everybody leaves happy. That’s our mission. We are fortunate to have staff who care and who understand hospitality. The fun part about having guest rooms, suites and the bungalow is that people can come and stay with us for more than a couple of hours and can indeed become house guests, part of the family.
What’s next for Spinnakers?
We are constantly working to evolve what we do. The opportunities are a function or our collective imaginations, our abilities to see, understand and seize them and translate them into products or offerings which can delight us as consumers. We have a couple of projects that we are working on. Time will tell!
You operate an amazing place sir, truly a jewel of Victoria. I want to thank you for your time as well as your hospitality. I wish you well in all your endeavors.
It was our pleasure have you both come and stay and have you take the time to see and understand some of what we try to do every day. We look forward to having you return soon. Best regards.
Here’s the pictures of from our tour. Unfortunately I tried to take a pic of the boil (they were brewing more of their delicious Hoptoria IPA) my lense got messed up.
Lastly I wanted to re-review Spinnakers Blue Bridge Double Pale Ale. If you read my early one here I totally botched it. I reviewed this beer from the mistaken idea it was an IPA. I think I had gotten all hoppysocks that day. It was unfortunate that it happened, but that mistake actually yielded some good results. Not the least of which is a second chance to review this fine beer. Blue Bridge is a deep transparent amber double pale ale with a white head on top. While the head shrinks with time it still leaves a great lacing on the glass. It has a malty and sweet aroma, with hints of candied orange peel or maybe marmalade. It tastes great, mildly sweet up front with a nice bitter back. It is a deceptively drinkable DPA as it hits in a 8.2% ABV. The bitterness lingers with you, but as it smooths out it hints at a mild fruit character. Not as distinct as the orange scent, but still mildly fruity. A great beer that I’ve had a few times to enjoy this year, both from cans and in the bomber.
Leapbeer #141 is Blue Bridge Double Pale Ale by Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub
Brewery: Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub of Victoria, BC
Size/ABV: 650ml Bottle + 355ml Can/8.2% ABV
Availability: Continuous (as far as I know)
Purchased @: Spinnakers, MVLS & Top Shelf Liquor Store
Other Reviews: http://urbandiner.ca/2010/07/08/beer-review-blue-bridge-double-pale-ale/ Rate Beer Beeradvocate