Being a shopper these days is a real treat. We have access to products that we never saw before. Miso paste, hosts of hot sauce, gluten free pasta and more.
The same goes for beer and wine drinkers. They are coming to the bars and liquor stores equipped with a knowledge of what they want that wasn’t there before.
“We’re seeing a lot more unique beers right now,” said Nelson Brewing Company head brewmaster Mike Kelly. “We’re seeing beers with chocolate in them or vanilla and more Belgian styles, and what that shows me is that the consumer is becoming more educated in terms of beers.”
The Nelson Brewing Company just came home from the Canadian Brewing Awards where they took home the silver medal for their Harvest Moon Hemp Ale.
“This really is a team effort. If I make the recipe, I’m not the only one who’s making the beer. It’s a combined effort we all share in that award,” said Kelly, who shared the award with assistant brewer Tessa Gabiniewicz.
The idea for the organic hemp ale came from the sales team, which Kelly says is typical when they start coming up with a new recipe.
“You can’t just make a beer because you want to make a beer, you have to be able to sell the beer. So Al [McLeod] will come to me and say, ‘I want to sell a new kind of beer and I want to make a hemp beer,’” said Kelly.
After McLeod approached Kelly to start creating the hemp beer, Kelly started looking at what would fit well in their family of beers.
He didn’t want to create another IPA that would steal from the sales of their existing IPA.
“We decided that a lighter beer would be appropriate,” said Kelly. “We already have our Wild Honey beer which is our lightest. I didn’t just want to make a light pale ale because they aren’t unique enough. I was tasked to make a lighter beer with some kind of hemp in it somewhere.”
Kelly decided to used toasted hemp seed because he likes the nutty quality that they bring to the beer. Then he decided on a German kolsch style.
“I made a kolsch style which is a German ale which is brewed a lot like a lager in some respects,” said Kelly. “You use lighter malts and German hops. It’s an interesting style with a good history to it, it’s an authentic style and we could fit it in our beers.”
The beer has been popular throughout Nelson at bars and liquor stores, and Kelly thinks that this reflects what Nelson beer lovers want.
When Nelson Brewing Company went organic five years ago Kelly said customers approached him saying “I thought you were already organic.”
“I think in Nelson there is an expectation of that because Nelson is such a natural place, it’s hard to find coffee here that isn’t organic or fair trade,” said Kelly. “It’s everywhere. We have several places to buy organic food so that sort of natural aspect of the town works well for us.”
Kelly said they were always brewing natural beer, but being certified organic fits with the values of the community.
“Everyone in the community already sort of eats that way and sort of lives that way, so it was a natural step for us to go that way and they embraced it and support what we do and our local farmers,” said Al.
An important piece of the Nelson brewery’s beer is the organic hops.
“I’ve been working with farmers to get hops,” said Kelly. “Normally when you buy hops you go through a wholesale distributor you can buy hops from all over the world, but over the last few years I’ve been contracting with farmers in Oregon and Washington State.”
But now Nelson beer could be taking a step closer to home.
Kelly is looking at brewing an organic all-BC beer.
“In October I received our first shipment of certified organic hops from Mission, so that’s very exciting,” said Kelly. “We’re looking at making a beer that’s made entirely of BC ingredients a true BC beer and all certified organic. As long as the quality is good and as long varieties are good and are within all of our technical specifications than I would love to a brew a beer made of just BC ingredients.”
The team at Nelson Brewing Company is also looking at making two other beers in the coming years.
“We have a couple recipes that are on the table right now. We are contemplating brewing a double IPA or an Imperial IPA which will hopefully come out in the next year or so,” said Al.
They are also working with Oso Negro and a local chocolate supplier to make an organic espresso stout.
“It’s the end of our year and it’s our 20th year and we’ve sold the most product in that year,” said McLeod. “I think that shows we’re going in the right direction and the beers are being appreciated. As a brewery we’re just going to keep going forward.”