Bringing beer local. In just 18 months, the Spinnakers team managed to put together what became Canada’s first in-house brewpub of the modern era.

Bringing Beer Local. Spinnakers was established to fill a gap in the Canadian beer industry. Back in the early 1980s, the market was dominated by the “Big 3″: Labbatt, Molson and Carling O’Keefe. But, one of Spinnakers’ founding partners, John Mitchell, was about to create waves in the brewing world.

Laws that prohibited any individual or company from being involved in the manufacturing or retailing of beverage alcohol in British Columbia became a matter for review when, in June, 1982, Mitchell opened a small brewery on the property of Sewell’s Marina in West Vancouver to brew and supply real ales to his Troller Pub, located down the street.

Although this first foray into commercial brewing did not last, Mitchell was inspired and eager to persue his inspiration. A September 1982 trip to the UK in search of better brewing equipment also yielded a suitcase full of beers, a couple bottles each of 14 different UK brands. These were shared one October evening with a number of beer aficionados in a pub, the Pickled Onion, located in a Dunbar residence on the west side of Vancouver. The host, a wine and spirits agent provided accompaniments and others brought along a few beers of their own to share. Working our way through the beers, discussing the merits of each and speculating on recipes, the group had a grand evening as we also tried another 5 or 6 North American bottled beers and finally settled into the draft canisters of home brew brought by a couple of the participants.
This was the evening that Spinnakers was conceived out of a realization that we could have access to such an amazing array of flavours. With the best beers of the evening having been provided by the home brewers, it was evident that the technology was in the room and the task at hand was to find a location and set about the process of building Canada’s first in-house brewpub of the modern era.

The process started with a review of Provincial liquor laws and a visit to Victoria’s City Hall where we quickly learned that a brewery / pub combination was not an allowed land use anywhere within the city limits. Subsequent conversations with Victoria’s Mayor and a few Councilors revealed a perspective that whilst the idea of a neighbourhood public house with an in-house brewery might be interesting, given that there were no examples to look at we were facing a very real fear of the unknown, that is, it may be a nice idea, but not in my backyard, thank you. One councilor summed it up nicely by telling us to find a neighbourhood that did not exist so that there would be no pushback and that those who lived next to the proposed brewpub would be doing so out of their own volition.

With this in mind, the current location at the foot of Catherine Street, on the edge of Lime Bay, overlooking Victoria’s harbour was singled out as a preferred potential location. Adjacent lands were derelict industrial, the remnants of a long closed shingle mill, an oil tank farm and underutilized rail yards. Long considered the wrong side of the bridge, Vic West had long been ignored by officials at the City. Suggestions of the current location resulted in the City Planning Department calling for a new community plan for Vic West before consideration could be given to any proposal. Having a background in private practise involving community planning work proved useful as we were able to return 6 weeks later with a vision as to how the surrounding areas might unfold over the next 20 years and how a neighbouthood brewpub might fit into the community.

Presentations to the Vic West Community Association resulted in the association conducting a neighbouhood poll indicating a very high level of support. This led to the development of a set of drawings and applications to create a zoning bylaw specific to the needs of a craft brewery and brewpub.

At the same time, a process was commenced with the Provincial government’s department of Liquor Control and Licensing which led to the creation of a set of Guidelines for Licensing Brewpubs in British Columbia. It turned out that previously authorized Horseshoe Bay operation was allowed to proceed because it was not expected to succeed. The advent of another pending application caused the General Manager to require the development of more formal guidelines for licensing as well as a need to amend the Liquor Control and Licensing Act to provide an on-going exclusion to Tied House Provisions which were embedded in the Act to ensure a legal separation between manufacturers and liquor licensees.

At the level of the Federal Government it was also necessary to seek an amendment to the federal Excise Act which stated that the only means of communication between the manufacturer of commodities subject to Excise duties was by highway. The Troller Pub / Horshoe Bay Brewing scenario complied with the Federal Excise Act as the beer was kegged at the brewery and then trucked down the street to the pub. Spinnakers, as a result of an Federal Excise Act amendment, contained within a February 1984 Federal Budget, was the first in-house liquor manufacturing facility to take advantage of the new provisions, ultimately paving the way for brewpubs, wineries and more recently, craft distilleries with attached licensed premises to exist.

From idea to opening day, over a period of 18 months, the Spinnakers team managed to put together what became Canada’s first in-house brewpub of the modern era. We think it was worth the effort. We trust that you will appreciate the results of our efforts.