Winning a national brewing award is a big deal and for one Sea to Sky brewer it is a really big deal four times over.
The Howe Sound Brewing Co. entered the annual Canadian Brewing Awards on May 11 and came out of the event with two gold medals, a silver medal and a bronze medal. Company co-owner Dave Fenn said the craft beer industry is becoming very competitive.
"As time goes by," says Fenn during an interview on Victoria Day, "there's a lot more breweries getting involved in competitions, both Canadian and international, so it is just a lot more competitive."
When Fenn launched the brewpub, restaurant and 20 guest rooms in 1996 there were far fewer craft brewery operations. Microbrews have skyrocketed in popularity over the last decade.
"I think winning awards these days is even more significant than in the past when there might not have been as many," says Fenn. "A lot more of the craft breweries are taking it more seriously in terms of what they're entering."
The Howe Sound brews that won gold were King Heffy-Imperial Hefeweizen and Diamond Head Oatmeal Stout.
King Heffy has won before at the North American level and according to Fenn, their signature Hefeweizen is going to make its debut in Ontario next month. It is a wheat beer that Fenn says is difficult to brew.
"We feel it is worth it. We do it at 7.7 per cent. It's a thicker style of Hefeweizen," says Fenn. "A number of beer writers have written it up, they really like it."
The gold medal winning stout is an old standby for Howe Sound Brewing brewed at five per cent alcohol.
"It is a nice easy drinking style dark beer," says Fenn.
Devil's Elbow IPA won a silver medal at the national awards and Fenn says it is the number one beer produced by his team in terms of volume.
"It was nice to get recognition for that beer. It's an English-style IPA as opposed to the hoppier American-style IPAs."
Fenn says Devil's Elbow offers a good balance between malt and hops.
The brewery's bronze medal was awarded for its lager, the only canned product from Howe Sound Brewing.
"We tried to create a product that was good for the spring and summer market," says Fenn of Howe Sound Lager.
He describes it as a malty lager with slightly higher alcohol content than most.
"It's quite different than a regular Canadian lager," says Fenn. "There's about three times the hop rate in it and there's more malt. And, it's unfiltered too."
With 40 different brews being produced every year, Fenn says his team is always on the lookout for new products and he's anxiously awaiting Pemberton-grown hops. Once Pemberton-grown hops are ready for use he says he's first in line to test them out.