Aussie Exports is a series in which we check in on Australians doing cool things in beer overseas. We've been to Europe, New Zealand and Hong Kong and, this time around, we're back in Canada.
There, in British Columbia, you'll find where former Esperance and Freo inhabitant Gerad Giles, who lucked upon a job working for BNA Brewing. Here's what he has to say about life, beer and brewing in Canada – as well as how the beer scene there compares to his experiences in Western Australia.
What kickstarted your passion for craft beer?
Moving from the small town of Esperance to the craft beer hub of Fremantle in 2007 – Little Creatures and Sail and Anchor quickly became my favourite spots to enjoy a few beers! The Monk Brewery also opened in Fremantle the year I moved there and, along with the great tap list at The Norfolk, there was no reason to drink uninspiring, mass produced beer when in Fremantle.
Once we started discovering the craft breweries down in the Margaret River region and as more opened over the years there was just something I loved about trying a new beer from a favourite brewery, or better yet, trying a new brewery and finding a new favourite beer!
Once I graduated from university, this passion was kind of put on hold while I spent a few years working as a surveyor in the north west of WA, an area that is definitely starved of quality beers!
In 2016, when my partner and I moved to BC in Canada, I was lucky enough to stumble right into a job in the craft beer industry, and from there my passion rapidly grew.
Were you involved in the beer scene in Australia?
I was really only involved as a consumer. I did have a casual job with The Tasting Team, running tastings in bottleshops around Perth promoting the Feral, Little Creatures and James Squires range. I even got to do a brewery tour and try the Little Creatures IPA before it was available to the public as part of that job, which was pretty cool! But that was as far as my industry experience went before moving to Canada.
Now that I am working within the industry I want to learn as much as I can while I’m here so hopefully one day when I’m back living in Australia I can find a job with a brewery or craft beer venue and continue down the rabbit hole!
What took you to Canada?
The same thing that brings a lot of Aussies here: the great snowboarding/skiing and the opportunity to live and work in a different country. My partner and I ended up settling in the city of Kelowna which sits on a lake in the beautiful Okanagan Valley.
We were told the summers were hot and long and the winters were mild and short, which sounded good to a couple of Aussies from Perth. Turns out we have just been through one of their coldest winters in recent memory with temperatures around minus 20 being far too common. Quite the shock to the system! But summer is almost here and there is just endless hiking, mountain biking, camping and road tripping to be done. It really is a beautiful place.
How did you get involved in the beer industry over there?
As I said earlier, I sort of lucked into it. We ended up living in a place five minutes walk from BNA Brewing Co, Kelowna’s newest craft brewery (and restaurant) at the time. After going in one afternoon for a beer and a look around, my partner and I could really see ourselves working there, the space just had this really cool vibe and the beers were great. They weren’t advertising job vacancies at the time but we both dropped in resumes just in case.
We were both hired a few days later with my role being a Tasting Room guru. I quickly realised I had scored an awesome gig! A normal shift at “work” for me involves pouring tasting flights, filling growlers and just talking beer with everyone, from first time craft drinkers to craft beer enthusiasts. I also get to help out in the brewery, which is great way to learn more about the brewing process first hand. I’ve just completed my Certified Beer Server course and am looking to keep learning and eventually sit my Cicerone.
BNA Brewing Co is a relatively small brewery, with a 10hL brewhouse, attached Tasting Room and a bar/eatery next door. The whole setup is a dream realised for Kyle and Caroline, who took the plunge and opened the doors to BNA almost two years ago.
In that time, the brewers have over 30 different beers under their belts and right now we are pouring 12 of them, with an imperial stout ageing in whiskey barrels and an exciting lineup to brew over summer.
How do you find the beer scenes in the two countries compare?
The beer scenes are similar in many ways. The first craft breweries in Canada opened in the mid 1980s just like they did in Australia but Canada has seen larger growth in the years since, with more than 500 craft breweries operating across the country!
Here in BC the industry feels very interconnected. Everyone supports existing and newly opened breweries, collaboration beers are common and breweries come together for special events and generally spread the love across the province. I’ve never really worked in the craft beer industry in Australia but from the outside looking in it seems like the camaraderie is alive there too.
Just like Australia, craft beer has been well and truly embraced in Canada, and every beer style and tradition seems represented. I think the influence from the huge craft beer scene on the West Coast of America has accelerated the growth of the industry here in BC though, and this makes it feel a little ahead of Australia as far as experimental styles, barrel ageing and craft beer trends go.
And what about the quality of the beer in each?
I think the brewers and brewery owners in both countries know that quality is one thing you cannot compromise on. The consumers in both countries know good beer and know how it should taste, so if you aren't producing fresh and high quality beer you just wont survive. This is great for craft beer lovers – whether you’re in Australia or Canada, you can be sure to have fresh, high quality beer to enjoy.
One advantage BC has over parts of Australia is the access to high quality North American hops; more specifically, hops grown in the famous Yakima Valley just across the border in Washington. We are also lucky enough here in Kelowna to have hops grown less than an hour away which were hand picked and used in our fresh hopped ESB last September.
Pale ales (and other hop forward styles) are the dominant force in craft beer here right now – just look at the last Hottest 100; what are the biggest sellers where you are?
Our biggest sellers at BNA are our Pale Ale and our IPA, and we have just released an Imperial IPA which has been selling fast too. Being on the west coast of North America, BC is definitely influenced by the hop forward styles that beer lovers from Washington, Oregon and California have been brewing and drinking for years. These big, hoppy NW style Pale Ales and IPAs are everywhere and every craft brewery in BC does their own version of them. I love them too and there is always a new one to try!
Another really popular style here is the Stout and, probably even more so, the Imperial Stout. There’s nothing better than sipping on a big, boozy, barrel aged stout while its snowing outside! There are so many to choose from during the colder months here, but it’s starting to warm up again so I’ll be putting those on the back burner for now.
Is there anything you think Australians could learn from the Canadian beer industry?
There is obviously a difference in the way beer is taxed between the two countries and it’s not an area I know much about, but, man, beer is expensive in Australia! I haven't had to pay more than $12 for a two litre growler fill while I’ve been here. And that can be any beer, from a 5 percent ABV pale ale to an imperial IPA.
From what I have read, beer in BC is taxed by volume, not on alcohol content, and depending on the amount of beer your brewery produces each year this tax will range from $0.40 for 15,000hL and under to $1.08 per litre for the big guys producing over 350,000HL. These rates were introduced in July 2016 and, for the smaller volume breweries, they are a decrease from the previous rates by around 27 percent. Great news for the craft breweries here in BC, and a great move by the BC government who have seen the importance of this growing industry.
Compare this to the ever increasing and complicated taxes and excises the beer industry in Australia is faced with and it's amazing we have as many operating craft breweries as we do. I know there has been recent talk about beer taxation reform in Australia so hopefully we see some changes that help the craft beer industry in Australia grow even more. Maybe they can look at Canada’s system for some inspiration.
And do we have anything to teach your current countrymen and women?
Australia brews amazing, full flavoured, lower alcohol beers. Perfect for the long hot summers at the beach or music festivals. It's harder here to find anything worth drinking under the 5 percent ABV range. Don’t get me wrong, I love a nice strong IPA, but if I’m driving to a friends house for a couple of beers and don't want to take a taxi home I might be able to find a 4.5 percent ISA at the bottleshop, but my choice is seriously limited. What I would give to find a six-pack of Rogers or Colonial Small Ale in my local bottle shop here in Canada!
And what three BC beers must they try?
OK, well this is tricky! Driftwood Brewery’s Fat Tug IPA has to be on that list. To me it tastes like the perfect IPA and every other IPA can be measured using this one as the yard stick. It has an assertive hop profile with delicious flavours and aromas of melon, grapefruit and passionfruit riding on a strong, balanced malt backbone.
For the sour lovers out there, Four Winds’ Nectarous is a deliciously sour experience and if you get the chance to visit their brewery down in Delta (just south of Vancouver) you’ll be able to try all their beers. And, believe me, you will want to try them all!
It’s so hard to narrow it down to just three beers so, for the last one, I’m going to go with a beer I really enjoyed last night, Creepy Uncle Dunkel by Moon Under Water Brewery. This Munich style Dunkel had a rich, almost nutty malt profile with a smooth unfiltered body and a beautifully rounded finish.
There's so many to try, so when you come to visit BC make sure you find a bottleshop that has a good selection of bombers (650mL single bottles ranging from $6 to $20 each) and you can just work your way through any and all that interest you.
And make sure you come and visit me in the BNA Tasting Room, I’d love to talk beer with a fellow Aussie beer lover!
Cheers, Gerad. Sounds like you're having the time of your life!