In order to trace the origins of the Sea to Sky's newest brewery, the Pemberton Brewing Co., you have to go back five years and venture south at least 4,200 kilometres to the sandy beaches of Mexico.
Longtime friends Jeff Lawrence and Geoff Macdonald just happened to be in the sunny vacation destination with their families at the same time, so a Spud Valley reunion of sorts was organized. With Coronas in hand and saltwater up to their waists, the conversation soon turned to beer.
"I told Geoff I had just bought this little SABCO Brew-Magic system. He was like, 'No way, I was checking that out, too!' I told him I wanted to open a brewery, and he was like, 'I want to open a brewery too!'" remembered Lawrence. It was decided then and there: they would go into business together.
Back in Pemberton, the guys got to work almost immediately, testing out recipes and brewing techniques in Lawrence's cabin.
"We don't have brewing backgrounds or anything; we just started reading books and the internet, and as we went along, the beer got better and better," said Lawrence.
Some time after that, they leased a 3,000-square-foot space, in Pemberton's Industrial Park. Aside from the odd electrical or plumbing job, the Jeffs (or is it Geoffs?) took on almost every single element of the build themselves. But that's not to say they didn't have some necessary guidance along the way.
"Kevin Winter from (Whistler's) Coast Mountain Brewing has been very crucial. We'd meet with him and he'd help us with the design and ideas, and anytime we'd hit a block in the road ... from the simplest to the most complex elements of brewing, Kevin would have an answer for us," Lawrence said.
With a little help from their friends, the partners finally realized their longheld vision last month to open their own brewery.
"Our philosophy is to brew great local beer, trying to use as many local products as we can," Lawrence said. "We're really hoping to make Pemberton a beer destination."
According to Lawrence, the brewery will prioritize quality over economy to ensure its roster of beers is made with the best possible ingredients. The hops used in some of its North American-style beers are grown less than a kilometre away from the brewery, for instance, and this summer's planned Blueberry Sour brew will use organic blueberries grown at Hare's Farm in Pemberton.
"It started from the whole 100-mile diet," Lawrence said.
Half a dozen brews will make up Pemberton Brewing's core beers, with special seasonal brews rounding out the list. Lawrence highlighted the Long Road IPA—named such for the "ridiculous amount of batches" the guys experimented with until they landed on one that met their high standards—as the IPA for those who don't typically enjoy IPAs.
"It's been seen so far by people as a really approachable IPA. It's bitter but it doesn't have a lingering bitterness. It has some nice citrus-y, tropical notes to it," noted Lawrence.
He also singled out the Valley Fog, a flavourful, northeast-style IPA with a hoppy, hazy finish, along with the Blackwater Stout, "a lightish-style stout that still has all those roasted coffee and chocolatey notes that people like."
Right now, the brewery's founders are working with the Village of Pemberton to amend the Industrial Park's zoning to allow for a liquor primary establishment. Until then, patrons can come into the brewery to sample a flight of four beers, while a food truck parked outside will satiate guests with an appetite three days a week.
Customers can fill growlers with their favourite brew, and Lawrence said canned and bottled products should be available for purchase in the coming weeks.
The brewery, located at 1936 Stonecutter Pl., is open from 3 to 7 p.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays, from 3 to 8 p.m. on Fridays, from 1 to 8 p.m. on Saturdays, and from 2 to 7 p.m. on Sundays. (Operating hours will likely be extended soon.)
On Thursday, April 17, Pemberton Brewing Co. will also be taking over the taps at the HandleBar Café in Whistler's Upper Village from 6:30 p.m. to midnight.