Vancouver’s best brewers are releasing experimental side project brews

Written by Brittany Tiplady

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Vancouverites, us millennials in particular, love to gripe about the high cost of living in this city; in fact, it’s our favourite topic of conversation. Rent? Astronomical! Gas? Despicable! Dining out? Deplorable! Don’t even get us started on the topic of homeownership and the housing market—pour yourself another beer because we’ll be here all night.

The costs of opening a craft brewery in Vancouver can easily exceed $1 million in start-up expenses which, naturally, is a hurdle for many who dream of opening up their own tasting room. In spite of this, young people are becoming increasingly entrepreneurial; it’s as if we are emboldened by the current economic challenges and inspired to revolt.

As the proverbial phrase goes: when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. Or in this case, funky, sour, inventive craft beer. For some young B.C. brewers, that means developing their own experimental beer brands as side projects separate from their regular brewing gigs.

Because as every millennial knows, these days, you’ve got to have a side hustle.

Mixed fermentation and wood-aged beer isn’t something we often see on a tap list. It’s time consuming, tricky, and involves a hefty amount of research and tedious microbiology. Ryan Voigt, the head brewer at Port Moody’s Twin Sails has merged his career and passion for mixed fermentation ales into a side brewing project that’s pleasing the palates of craft beer aficionados all over the Lower Mainland.

Meet Coalesce Brewing.

“Coalesce started here at Twin Sails, supported by ownership,” says Voigt, who’s one half of Coalesce alongside his partner Adrienne Cafe. “These are the styles and types of beers that I’m passionate about that we [at Twin Sails] don’t do regularly. The ownership approached me suggesting that I experiment in the back, and then it snowballed into my own little business supporting Twin Sails as well. I rent the space and the barrels and use their equipment and then I release beers that are complementary to the Twin Sails beers.”

Coalesce’s elegant branding is thanks to American designer Tim Skirven, who worked closely with Voigt and Cafe to create the natural and vintage-inspired iconography for the brand’s 375mL bottles and online aesthetic.

Coalesce released its first brew in October; a mixed fermentation historical saison called Foreward brewed with oats, spelt malt, raw wheat and hopped with Hallertau Hersbrucker and Saaz and fermented with a diverse culture of yeast and bacteria in oak barrels.

“The name represented the foreward in a book; it was the start and my introduction to the beer and to the public,” explains Voigt. “We wanted to visit the roots of a saison beer and how it would have been brewed in the 1800s or 1900s when sanitation wouldn’t have been as accessible: everything would be done in wood with no stainless tanks with influence of wild yeast and bacteria and brewed with whatever grains they had on the farm.”

Coalesce has released six beers since its inception (only 30-40 cases are released of each beer sold at the Twin Sails tasting room), and one most recently in collaboration with Daagerad Brewing. There are three releases left for Coalesce all due to be ready for the public before August, although, the beauty of mixed-fermentation brewing is in the surprise: these ales cannot be tailored to a tight timeline. The process is slow and methodical—it takes anywhere from six to nine months for a beer to come to its final fruition—but it opens the door to a new world of and experimental creativity.

“When blending, you’re really using your palate. If you have beer that’s too acidic and a barrel that’s not acidic enough, maybe if you combine those two you’ll produce a beer that’s balanced. It’s like being a painter,” says Voigt. “You can create a unique beer from a bunch of different components that might not taste good on their own.”

Coming down the pipeline in East Vancouver is a similar project: Temporal Artisan Ales, a side project spearheaded by Luppolo’s assistant brewer Tristan Stewart.

Temporal’s beers are on a similar vein as Coalesce: funky, sour, farmhouse ales comprised of grassy, high-quality malt and a smorgasbord of yeasts and bacteria that are barrel aged and oak-fermented. Stewart rents a small space at Luppolo for his 34 barrels (he’s got a selection of gin, cognac, tequila and wine barrels for blending) and production needs.

“I like making funky, sour beer. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and there’s certainly a lack of barrel-aged beers in our market. Some breweries dabble in sour, funky beers; Luppolo being one of them, and I like to think I have an influence on what we brew here,” says Stewart. “My goal was always to focus on these styles of beers without investing in a full operation and of course, it’s always the end goal to grow and get bigger.”

Temporal got its legs through a crowdfunding campaign last year and is set to release its first batch in the late spring or early summer, for sale at Luppolo in 375mL bottles.

The common denominator in these projects isn’t so much their similarity in styles but the passion that drives these tedious endeavours. They are more than just passion projects, and these guys are more than just craft beer lovers—these are die-hard craftsmen turned entrepreneurs, juggling full-time jobs with their own more elaborate labours of love.

“You’re a partner with the beer, you’re not controlling it. It’s more of a fermentation journey rather than just a process,” says Voigt. “It’s a way of letting go of control and there’s a lot more chance. But within that is the ability to create flavours you wouldn’t be able to a regular scale.”

To learn more, visit thegrowler.ca