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Townsite Brewing success spurs expansion

Powell River brewery celebrates fifth anniversary
ALE HOUSE: [From left] Townsite Brewing co-owners Ulrich Herl, Chloe Smith and Michelle Zutz are ready for construction to be completed on the brewery’s expanded lounge. Townsite is marking its fifth anniversary. David Brindle photo

With the success of one brewery in Powell River, and a craft-beer scene that is growing and alive, businesspeople are looking for opportunities to invest in local beer, according to Campaign for Real Ale Society BC president Paddy Treavor.

“Powell River can easily sustain another one, possibly two breweries,” said Treavor.

For five years, the town has sustained Townsite Brewing, which provides evidence that craft beer is not only an urban phenomenon, said BC Craft Brewers Guild executive director Ken Beattie.

“If someone would have said to me, ‘I’m going to go to Powell River, start a brewery and make Belgian-style beers,’ I would have thought they were completely off their rocker,” said Beattie.

City of Powell River councillor Karen Skadsheim, who was an instigator of the idea before entering municipal politics, said that was the exact reaction she received.

“They thought we were completely crazy,” she said, “and totally bonkers.”

Skadsheim said she was confident Townsite Brewing, which focuses on Belgian-style beers, would work because of a core of craft-beer followers in Powell River. The brewery, which celebrates its fifth anniversary on Saturday, April 1, became almost an overnight success and could not keep up with local demand, she added.

When the smell of hops first wafted from the doors of the old federal building in Townsite, patrons were allowed 12 ounces of beer per person per day from a limited menu.

“A lot has changed,” said brewery co-owner and general manager Chloe Smith. “Liquor laws are changing quite quickly in this province.”

Those changes have allowed Townsite to expand its lounge. Last June it was granted a licence for 10 people and began serving full pints and flights. A recent BC Liquor Control and Licensing Branch approval means Townsite’s lounge capacity can be increased to 45 people.

“They gave approval in principle, which means we can proceed with the construction and renovation,” said Smith. “The liquor inspector is scheduled to come on March 29 and hopefully give the final approval and we’ll have that room open and ready.”

A museum element opening is also planned.

Townsite Brewing will join BC Economic Development Association initiative Économusée BC Artisans at Work, a network of nine artisanal BC businesses that have met certain criteria, according to Économusée economic development officer Lorraine Plourde. Townsite will be the only brewery in the association thus far.

“[Townsite brewmaster] Cédric [Dauchot] is an exceptional master brewer who is using traditional methods to brew their beers,” said Plourde. “They’re also highly involved in their community, which we also like to highlight.”

In addition, the quality of the product, use of traditional techniques and willingness of the artisan to share their passion with the public are very important in the designation, said Plourde.

Proponents of the craft-beer industry often position these enterprises as tourism destinations by promoting them as authentic, cultural experiences, she added.

Treavor said many visitors to Powell River are beer aficionados and cites the success of Townsite Brewing and Powell River Craft Beer Festival, an annual event that always sells out, to support the claim.

Beer tourists come to the region because Townsite is an elite brewery with a stellar reputation, he said, and its products are distributed widely within and outside of BC.

According to Beattie, the brewery was instrumental and an important intersection in building the BC Ale Trail.

“Not only is it an economic driver, it’s a social driver,” said Beattie. “It’s a place of pride for people in the community or coming to the community.”

Beattie added that from an economic point of view, breweries create jobs and spinoff economic opportunities.

Townsite Brewing currently employees 13 people.