On my most recent trip to Victoria Head Brewer Dean McLeod from Lighthouse gave me the an tour through the Lighthouse Brewing facilities. I never know quite why I expect this, but I always envision Lavern & Shirley before I get to breweries and then get disappointed when I can’t send my work glove down the bottle line.
While Lighthouse didn’t fulfill that fantasy either, the tour was very illuminating. They are very much a working brewery, all busy busy work going on inside. Not a lot of time for funny business there. They do have a bottling line but its short. Plus I didn’t have gloves on.
After our tour I had a few questions for Dean, and here they are with his answers.
Leapbeer: You’re an Australian, with a New Zealand Hops strain twitter name, brewing global styled beers in Victoria, I don’t know how much more multi cultural you can get. How’d you get into the industry?
Dean: Hey Chris. Yep, I have moved around a bit! Like a lot of craft brewers, I started as home brewer, many, many years ago as a young bloke living in New Zealand. Too young to buy beer legally, I enrolled in an adult education home brewing course and learnt to make my own. And we brewed with really old-school NZ hops back then including Smooth Cone, Green Bullet, and my Twitter handle, Sticklebract. Years later, studying Marine Biology in North Queensland, I became involved with the home brewer’s club that we had on campus and I made the decision to pursue brewing once I’d finished up. A long stint in a yeast R&D lab, a return to university for a post-grad brewing degree, and finally a start at a brewpub in Sydney, Australia in 1998. Since then I have been very lucky to have worked in the biggest and most professional production craft breweries, the smallest brewpubs, the good, the bad and the ugly. Ten breweries later, here I am at Lighthouse! I love BC, I’ve been visiting since 2002, and I’m really happy being part of the craft brewing scene here in Victoria.
Leapbeer: You’re the ‘Head Brewer’ at lighthouse. Is this a Nuevo version of the classic Brewmaster? Or do you consider that a label not lightly bestowed, something reserved for those who complete the Braumeister course in Germany?
Dean: My brewing study was at a somewhat more humble institution than the likes of Heriot Watt, UC Davis, Weihenstephen, and the others. I don’t have a Master of Brewing Science degree. I know that ‘Brewmaster’ is a fairly universal term across North America, but it doesn’t sit comfortably with me. It’s a respect thing for those who have made that commitment. Mind you, a cook is not a chef, but a chef may not be a particularly good cook.
Leapbeer: While showing me around, I was really impressed by the variety of top quality base ingredients you are using in your products, do you mind giving my reader(s) a breakdown of what Lighthouse is using?
Dean: Lighthouse has always spent extra for great material. Our base malt is still Maris Otter from Simpsons in the UK and our specialties are from Simpsons and other quality maltsters in Germany and Belgium. Hops have traditionally been local (USA), but we are increasingly sourcing hops from New Zealand and Australia due to their quality and character. Silk purse, sow’s ear.
Leapbeer: The common theme I got while visiting the Victoria Breweries was expansion and growth. What can we expect new from Lighthouse in the near future?
Dean: Switchback IPA has been very well received, which is great. New season southern hops are rolling into the brewery now, so expect to see something featuring those in the near future. Bombers are taking a little rest over the summer months as we’re basically maxed out at the moment, but there will be new stuff in the fall and the reprise of some favourites. And yes, building more capacity over winter. Go Lighthouse!
Leapbeer: Do you think there’s much more room to grow in the craft beer market on the island? Also do you think there’s a danger in quality drop associated with a breweries growth?
Dean: Oh, absolutely. Our original lineup are all great beers, and drinking as well now as I can ever recall, but tastes evolve and we need to not only adapt, but indeed help shape how craft beer develops on the island. Exciting times for Lighthouse. From the quality perspective, there are any number of examples from the States where breweries have either maintained or surpassed their own standards as they have grown, and I firmly believe that quality growth should receive as much attention and resources as sales growth. The two are intrinsically linked.
Leapbeer: How much of what your brewery produces do you think makes it off of Vancouver Island?
Dean: Increasingly more. Stemming from our bomber series, our newer beers and things like the BC Craft Pack, plenty of drinkers in BC have been exposed to Lighthouse beers for the first time and hence think that we’re a new brewery. The vast majority of beer drinkers in BC have never heard of Lighthouse. There is so much more we can do without even leaving the province.
Leapbeer: The last few releases from Lighthouse have been really well received by the craft consumers, without giving a lot away, beer wise what can we expect to see from Lighthouse this year?
Dean: Yeah, so Tasman Ale soon, using hops from Tasmania and the Tasman region of New Zealand, more big beers in the Big Flavour bomber series, and a few more like our Dark Chocolate Porter where we bring in another element through the addition of fruit or spice or something extra.
Leapbeer: You’ve done successful cask nights at the beagle, as this trend (cask events) is expanding northward on the island, do you have any plans to do any cask events outside of Victoria?
Dean: I’d love to. I do miss that about working at brewpubs or production craft breweries with taprooms, the whole drinker interaction thing, but we’re just so busy at the moment. We’ll be at the Central City summer cask festival and at Hopoxia at Phillips in the next little while, and a few other local one-off casks here and there, so look out for us.
Leapbeer: We spoke about how to bring new products into gvmt liquor stores you have to drop old ones because of their bureaucracy. What would you propose for reasonable changes to allow for more or your craft beer into a wider market? Do you think privatized specialty stores do enough? Do you think legislation is holding craft beer distribution back in Canada?
Dean: From the distribution perspective, I can’t see any benefit in monopolies, be them government or private. Set the rules, collect your tax, leave people to get on with their business. That mantra is enshrined in law where I’m from; the idea of equal opportunity and a ‘fair go’ for everyone. Big distributers would pick up the volume brands and smaller more specialized distributers would fill in the gaps. And if independent stores were able to compete on a level playing field with government stores, I think we’d find the government stores trying a little harder in terms of range and service.
Leapbeer: What beers have you been enjoying lately, and what do you like from other Victoria breweries?
Dean: I drink as broadly as our dear government allows and with great gusto. Things I like are big, interesting, well attenuated, hoppy, sour, funky, that sort of thing. Switchback IPA is my kind of beer in that it’s very dry, has that mouth-wattering juicy fruit acid thing and some great hop character. Locally, there’s not a lot that floats my boat just now. Hermannator was good this year, the last Sartori was outstanding, 2012 OCD was oddly hopped but I dug it… I don’t know. Not a lot of innovation or risk taking at the moment, especially at the brewpubs. The best beer I have had recently was a blend of a Belgian IPA from Quebec with a Russian Imperial Saison brewed at home by one of our guys Dave Mitchell. Our Monday tasting benches get a bit funky sometimes!
Leapbeer: Lastly, what would you like to see out of the Leapbeer blog?
Dean: More chats with other brewers? Cheers Chris, this has been fun.
Leapbeer: Absolutely. I plan to. Thank you again Dean for your time. Keep up the good work. I know I’m not alone in looking forward to what Lighthouse is brewing for the future.
Closing thoughts.;It is really nice to talk with people involved in the industry that have such a passion for their product. I didn’t want things to get too political, but I wanted to shed light on what these brewers were facing. Lighthouse is dropping Riptide from their regular line up in order to free up brand space on the walls of government liquor stores. They’re not the only ones facing this either. As brewers continue to push the boundaries and produce various styles of beer they need to get them out there to the consumers. Not that I have any answers for this issue. I just don’t want any legislation to hold back the brewers creative process.
Look for Lighthouse’s latest creation hitting store shelves next week (June 25-29) The Tasman Ale. Their facebook page described this 6pack offering like this. “TASMAN ALE is brewed with the Tasmanian hop varieties Topaz and Summer along with Motueka and Rakau from the Tasman region of New Zealand. Fresh and crisp, this copper hued ale features distinctive tropical fruit characters, clean and light bittering and a soft malt body. 5% alc/ vol.” I for one can’t wait to try it.
I hope you enjoyed reading this everyone. I really like learning more about the production of beer, and I hope you do too. If you get a chance to tour a brewery please do so. I do plan to do some more interviews with other Vancouver Island Brewers, so stay tuned for that.
Thanks for reading this folks.