BC Craft Beer Spotlight: Fraser Mills Fermentation

From What’s Brewing magazine’s Winter 2020-21 issue

BC’s 200 craft breweries were built to be community gathering places, forgoing TV screens in favour of long, shared tables and mingling. For now, that is no longer the advantage it was.

In this issue of What’s Brewing magazine, a group of industry members discuss how BC craft breweries will survive hospitality’s harshest ever winter with slashed capacity, frozen patios and a raging virus, and what awaits them in 2021 if a wary public continues to stay home. Today, we hear from Tim Vandergrift of Port Moody’s Fraser Mills Fermentation.

Tim Vandergrift of Fraser Mills Fermentation

Q&A with Industry Panellist Tim Vandergrift of Fraser Mills Fermentation

Q: When you were setting up your brewery, there was no pandemic. Now, there is no end in sight. How are you holding up under these conditions, and how is traffic for you?

A: It’s been a challenge, there’s no disputing it. We opened only days before the pandemic was declared and had all the high-hopes any brewery has for our first year, but that was not to be.

Our customers have been great in supporting us and we’ve had some wonderful days, especially when we had patio weather. The community in Port Moody is so welcoming, and so ready to be a part of their local brewing scene it just couldn’t be better. Unfortunately our opening date means we didn’t qualify for most of the available government programs, so we’ve had to hustle like crazy every day. We’ll continue to work hard, to make our customers happy, and to brew good beer, wine, cider and mead for them.

Q: This Winter will be a huge challenge for all hospitality businesses. How much outdoor capacity were you running in the summer, and do you have any plan to use it during the colder weather?

A: Obviously any capacity regulations allow us to use are going to be in play. Here on the West Coast we’re luckier than places back East where there would be no possibility of using an outdoor space. Once we figure out how to weather-proof our experience outside (stay tuned!) we’ll have plenty of fresh-air brews on hand.

Q: Have you held any “virtual events”, or do you plan to in the future? Do you see much of a role for “online gathering spaces” in craft beer marketing going forward?

A: We love the idea of virtual events. Several members of our team have a lot of experience with on-line seminars and broadcasts and we’re looking at angles to explore that. Of course, the tricky bit is getting samples of the beer to people sitting at their desks at home so they can taste along as we go.

As for going forward, we’re interested to see how it’s received. Craft Beer tends to be a very in-person, hands-on experience, where there’s nothing better than getting to taste along as you get an explanation of an interesting beer or try a style of mead you’ve never had before. Hmm. Maybe buy a 4-pack and get a code for a Zoom tasting event that week? That’d be a tonne of fun!

Q: Do you think that COVID will permanently change people’s behaviour, and make society less trusting of close face-to-face interactions with strangers, even after vaccines emerge? Do you think craft beer drinkers are more likely or less likely to be mindful of keeping their distance than the general public?

A: That’s the question, isn’t it? Our feeling is that it’s going to be a mix: we’re all washing our hands a lot more often, and more thoroughly these days (biggest Covid take-away: we’ve been under-washing our thumbs our whole lives!) and being cautious and safe have helped immensely.

But the Craft community has always been about sharing: there’s only so much beer you can safely drink, but you can share it, talk about it, and learn about it endlessly with new friends every day. We think that when the pandemic is controlled, the vaccines are doing their good work, and we’re all past this, you’ll see an outbreak of people wanting to come together and share again. If you’d like a prediction, as soon as things are really, truly safe again, we think there’s gonna be an enormous party, and we want to be right at the centre of it.

Q: Is there anything you’d like to see change for the craft beer industry? What do you think the province or your municipality should be doing to help?

A: The patio exemption is an example of how a simple step to allow craft breweries to operate in the same way as they do in every other jurisdiction shows that our community can be trusted to enjoy the product responsibly, in a way that benefits our customers and is respectful of our neighbours. We’d really welcome an examination of the by-laws, laws, and policies that govern Craft breweries and tasting rooms. We’re not anti-regulation, because most are in place to keep us and our patrons safe. But some rules are there as a legacy of past anti-alcohol sentiment and maybe just never got swept away with the times.

Anything that we can do to spread our product and our Craft beer ethos (drink good beer!) will help our business and the economy, so allowing us the room to work and grow would be a great step to keeping our community and our country moving forward.

Q: What’s next on the horizon for you? Any other topic, product or activity you’d care to highlight?

A: Our beers have (objectively mind you!) been great, and really well received. Our brewers, Kristy and Karlie are knocking it out of the park on some really diverse styles. But we’re also very excited about being one of the few Craft breweries to make our own cider, mead and now wine. People who love mead already know it, but we want to show others that it’s not some dusty historical brew just for history geeks, but rather a dynamic and really delicious way of using BC honey and fruits to make vibrant drinks that everyone can like. Likewise for our wine program we want to take it out of the realm of an elitist/snooty drink to what it really is: sunlight trapped in water, and poetry for everyone’s heart.

On the horizon, if any of your readers are in Port Moody, we’d love to have them stop in and see what we’re doing–bring your masks, stay safe and we’ll show you our best.

Fraser Mills Fermentation
3044 St Johns Street, Port Moody, BC

Brewery Tour

Fraser Mills Fermentation – North Pacific Brown Ale


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Beer Me British Columbia: since 2012, BC's #1 resource for craft beer reviews, BC beer industry insights and career opportunities.

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