A Nelson brewery just won three gold medals and one silver at this year’s BC Beer Awards.
Nelson Brewing Company won gold for its After Dark Ale in the British Brown Ale category (30 entries), Hooligan Organic Pilsner in the North American Light Beer category (19 entries), and Organic Wild Honey Ale in the North American Blonde Ale Category (17 entries).
The silver medal was for its Paddywack Organic IPA in the British Pale Ale Category (17 entries).
Co-owner Kate Walker said she is pleased and surprised, especially because she and her husband Matt had just taken over the business in May and hired a new head brewer.
“To go through those major changes right before our busiest season,” she said, “and still be able to come out with some big wins, that is really a team boosting experience. It makes us realize we are doing something really well.”
Nelson Brewing Company has won its share of awards before — gold for its Hopgood Organic IPA in 2013 for example — but they have never won this many in one year.
“The fact that 76 breweries entered this year speaks for a high level of competition,” Walker said. “We have been around for a long time, but there are a lot of new kids on the block.”
Ken Beattie of the BC Craft Brewers Guild, which gives the awards, said the number of craft breweries in BC had jumped from 60 four years ago to 125 in 2016.
In Nelson, the growth has been even more explosive.
“There is us and the Falls and Backroads and Torchlight,” Walker said. “A lot of people think we see them as our competition but we don’t look at it like that at all. There is a saying that a higher tide floats all boats, and there are a lot of people who have started coming to Nelson because we have so many small craft breweries, and they want to hop around to all of them.”
In fact, the new age of beer tourism has inspired a system of BC Ale Trails, one of which runs through the West Kootenay and features the Rossland Beer Company, Torchlight Brewing Company, and Nelson Brewing Company.
“It is a big thing,” said Walker. “People will travel from far and wide to come to different breweries, and the more people who drink it and realize how good it is, the more it helps everyone.”
Beattie said there are 33 breweries on designated ale trails in 18 cities in the province, and that the trails are partnered with tourism marketing organizations in their regions.
“When someone can go in and see a face, and meet the brewer, and if you have questions the guy or gal in the boots is going to come out and answer it, because they brewed the beer. You can kind of do that in a winery but in some of the big ones you can’t, and you can’t in a big commercial brewery either.”
Beattie said the BC government has made two legislative changes that have helped the craft brewing industry.
The first was a change in the tax structure that had previously inhibited growth beyond a certain production threshold.
“And the more important one,” Beattie said, “is that in 2013 the government allowed tasting lounges, and that was the catalyst (for brewery tourism).”
Beattie said Nelson Brewing Company was the first organic brewery in BC, if not in Canada.
“Nelson was very leading edge there,” he said.
The company is still one of the only three organic brewers in the province. Walker is especially proud that an organic brewer can compete so well, because “it is so much harder for us to source ingredients, and we are so much more limited in what we can produce using organic ingredients, which is why most brewers don’t choose to do it.”
Head brewer Jerry Grant is proud.
“We are really happy to have won these awards, and for us it just reaffirms that extra time we take in making sure our beer is clean and making sure we use all the best organic ingredients we can. It is nice to know that all that shines through.”