Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Gulf Island Beer - Salt Spring Ales

Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy”

 Benjamin Franklin
First hop harvest at Grandview Farm for Salt Spring Ales
American statesman, scientist, philosopher, writer and inventor, 1706-1790

As the old year draws to a close, and the new year is here, many of us raise a glass or two in a toast to good health and good friends. For some like myself, the drink of choice will be beer. It is encouraging and exciting to see a local Gulf Island cottage brewery succeed and inspire on so many levels. Salt Spring Island Ales, also known as Gulf Islands Brewing, is an award winning cottage brewery that is co-owned by Becky Julseth and Neil Cooke-Dallin, located in the Fulford Valley of Salt Spring Island. The couple took over the brewery from Neil's uncle in 2008 and their goal has been to advance the cottage brewery movement in Canada and to make good beer, in small batches with locally-sourced ingredients. Brewmaster Murray Hunter has been with Gulf Islands Brewery since the early days and started out with a “Brew your own” business for hobbyists.
The brewery uses as many ingredients from Salt Spring as they can, such as honey, heather and hops. In 2009, the brewery formed a partnership with Grandview Farm to produce hops. Grandview Farm is organic, and only 1.5 km from the brewery. Providing labour and split cedar posts, the brewery helped to deer fence the hop field. The hops field receives water from the same Mount Bruce spring water as the brewery uses, a feature that adds to the “terroir” concept. Terroir comes from the French word for land, and in food and drink relates to the unique aspects that culture, geography, geology and climate bestow on a local variety. This fall the first crop of hops was harvested for use by the brewery, and the product of their labours were released in limited edition.
Hops have been grown in BC since the 1860's. By the 1890's, hops were cultivated in the Fraser Valley, Squamish, Vernon and Kelowna areas. Chilliwack in particular became the single largest hop growing area and remained strong until the 1970's, then declined into the 1990's. The growing conditions for hops and grapes are similar, so wine producing regions are home to both great hop and grape growing. The Hop plant is a hardy perennial that produces annual vines from a permanent root known as the crown. Vines grow up to 25 feet tall in a single season, but die down to the crown each fall. The female flower cones of the hops plant are used for brewing. They flavour and stabilize the beer.
An added bonus to local farmers is the availability of spent grains for cattle and sheep feeding.
Just as tourists flock to the various wine regions of the planet, including the Gulf Islands, tourists also seek out the best in cottage beer. As a twist on a typical pub crawl, there are those who go from island to island to enjoy the local brews, often by boat.
But perhaps the biggest inspiration for me was to see Becky in bright pink boots, amongst the hops in a photo on their website. These are in fact quite a badge of honour among the women who are involved in making beer – whether it be home brewed, cottage brewed or commercially produced. A club was formed called the “Pink Boots Society”, whose mission is to inspire, encourage and empower women to become professionals and advance their careers in the Beer Industry. The Pink Boots Society especially believes in education for women brewers, to produce superior beer, and to increase the number of women beer judges and brewers.
Murray, Becky and Neil planting hops (note the pink boots!)
Happy New Year to you all – and Cheers!!

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