This is the fourth in our series highlighting innovation and creativity within our region’s business sector.
It was sweltering hot and the brewery was buzzing the afternoon we met with Sean Hoyne. As people filtered through filling growlers with their favourite beer we asked Sean to tell us about his brewery and how they got started. Though the Hoyne Brewing Company has only been open for three and a half years, Sean started their story in the 1970s – before commercial craft brewing had even begun in Canada.
Frank Appleton, who Sean credits as the father of the craft beer movement in British Columbia, was a quality control supervisor at Carling O’Keefe’s but he had grown tired of the corporate beer scene and decided to quit in 1972. He spent the 1970s and 80s writing articles for the Harrowsmith magazine while brewing beer at his home in Edgewood, B.C. One of those articles, about the joys of home-brewing, caught the eye of John Mitchell who, at the time, was the co-owner and manager of the Troller Ale House in Horseshoe Bay.
Mitchell had grown up in pub-rich England and was frustrated by the limited selection of beer in Canada. He tracked down Appleton and asked him if he would help him start a brewpub, a pub where good beer was both brewed and served. Far easier said than done at the best of times, Mitchell and Appleton first had to convince the local and federal governments to pass legislation that would make brewpubs legal. Previously, provincial law prohibited the public sale of beer at breweries but in 1981, after many meetings and rounds of legislation, they got approval to start brewing – and selling – their own beer from a single establishment (with the caveat that a commercial road separated the brewery and pub). Mitchell and Appleton opened Horseshoe Bay Brewery with a little store across the street on the waterfront, the first brewpub to open in North America since prohibition. From there, Mitchell and Appleton went on to open Spinnakers, Canada’s first in-house brewpub, and help dozens of other local breweries get started.
Sean enters this story, homebrewed six-pack in hand, in the late 1980s. He had a science degree to back up his beer brewing passion and he was keen to learn everything Appleton could teach him. He brought a case of homemade beer to his job interview with Appleton and let the beer speak for itself while they talked literature. Sean got the job and the two of them went on to set up the brewery in Swans Hotel in 1989. After a few years in the brewmaster role at Swans, Sean left to build the brewery at Canoe Brewpub. “I brewed there for 13 years, focusing on developing award-winning beers and fostering a sense of community between brewers and beer enthusiasts,” he said of his time at Canoe.
Ready to start a new chapter in a sector that was enjoying incredible public support, Sean moved into a space just outside of downtown Victoria and started to build the Hoyne Brewing Company. Starting with a team of one (himself), Sean is now one of 20 working at the brewery. In addition to serving liquor stores and customers who come into the brewery, Hoyne sells directly to bars and restaurants. They do their own deliveries, he explained, so they can provide the best service possible – even when their bottom line would recommend doing otherwise. They have partnered with Geazone, a local zero-emissions delivery service that uses electric cars and bike courriers, for their distribution. It costs more, said Sean, “but I like supporting Andrew, [Geazone’s president and CEO], because he is a young entrepreneur doing the right thing.” They even do their Victoria to Vancouver run with the zero-emissions fleet. Sean ensures two people are on each delivery run so they can share the job and help with the loading and rearranging of kegs in their drop-point’s cold room. It may seem like a simple gesture, but one that I’m sure is greatly appreciated by servers sent down to switch heavy kegs during rush hours. “We do what we can to support other businesses,” said Sean.
A central part of Hoyne’s mandate is to help wherever they can. It is a value system that has triggered countless positive ripple effects, both locally and abroad. They support charities (financially or with beer, where appropriate), including the Dirty Walls Project in India and source their equipment, hops, and malt from within B.C. The shiny stainless steel tanks found throughout the brewery were made on Vancouver Island and twice as expensive as their foreign-made counterparts, but the connections and collaborative friendships the brewery has made supporting local workers has made it more than worthwhile, said Sean. “If something is wrong with the tanks, they’ll be here at a moment’s notice to help out.” Local farmers are often at the brewery too, picking up loads of spent grain for their animals and gardens.
Comparing the rise of local craft breweries in B.C. with mega breweries like Molson that are now all run by non-Canadian owners (with the exception of Pacific Western), Sean attributes craft’s success with the sector’s determination to deviate from the mass-production business model. “Local craft breweries have social license,” said Sean. “They are involved in the community, transparent, open to the public, and authentic. I am in this industry because I like beer, to me it represents enjoyment and community.”
“People are always welcome to stop by our brewery,” Sean continued, “and every ingredient is listed on our bottles. We are proud of that.” As beer is not considered a ‘food product’ by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, ingredient lists are not a requirement. Mass-produced beers, Sean explained, contain preservatives – which he stressed are not necessary unless you are selling old beer. “[At Hoyne] we don’t deliver our beer past where we can ensure it will arrive fresh so we don’t have to add anything extra, like preservatives. You can do things differently.”
Sean and his team have made numerous adjustments to the status quo, from allowing their beer to naturally carbonate during the fermentation process (instead of releasing the CO2 and force-carbonating the beverage further along the production line) to building a glycol refrigeration system that allows them to cool individual tanks instead of the entire room.
As an enthusiastic supporter of the entire local craft beer sector, it was a pleasure to see the process in action and learn more about Hoyne’s community-based business model. Though I opted out of the taste-testing portion of my visit, because I was driving and had a CBC interview immediately afterwards, I already knew from experience that Hoyne’s Devil’s Dream IPA is one of my favourites.
March 16, 2018