Comox Valley winemakers diversifying into beer

Beaufort Winery owners Jeff and Susan Vandermolen are preparing to launch another business.

JEFF AND SUSAN Vandermolen

JEFF AND SUSAN Vandermolen

Something is brewing in the Comox Valley.

Beaufort Winery owners Jeff and Susan Vandermolen are preparing to launch another business, and this time they’ve set their sights on brewing beer.

“We’re excited and we want to bring this to the Valley, and from what I’ve heard, there’s a lot of thirsty beer drinkers out there that would welcome it,” Jeff says of the couple’s planned micro-brewery.

“Clearly there isn’t one (in the Comox Valley) and…I think we really need to catch up with our peers to the south in Nanaimo, and Campbell River, and have a micro-brewery here.”

The Vandermolens are busy putting a business plan together for the new venture, and unlike Beaufort Winery, they will look for investors for their company, called Comox Glacier Brewing Ltd. A number of local businesspeople have already shown interest, adds Jeff, who is still deciding on a location for the brewery, which will be a completely separate entity from Beaufort.

“We’re fielding some inquiries from a number of different people and we’re going to pick the best location, so it’s still up in the air at this moment,” continues Jeff. “But, ideally, it’s going to be somewhere where people have easy access so they can come in and buy the product without having to drive too far.”

The couple plans to use barley, wheat and hops to craft Weiss beer, which Jeff describes as summer beer that is “nice and light and lovely.”

He adds if everything goes as planned, the micro-brewery could be up and running within a year.

“I’d like to have it up and running by the third quarter of 2014 — that’s realistic I think,” he says. It’s easy to get equipment and it’s just a matter of pulling the key people together. We would definitely bring in a brewmaster that has a lot of credibility and experience and so, we’ve got to find the right team and, if we get that all in place, it could happen even sooner.”

The Vandermolens will likely try growing some hops in test plots, but Jeff says due to the capital investment needed for equipment to grow barley and wheat they won’t be growing those crops any time soon. However, he notes all ingredients they buy will be sourced as locally as possible, and if they can source ingredients like wheat and barley from farmers right in the Comox Valley, they’d be interested in doing so.

But, “there’s another element to barley, which means, basically it has to be malted before it’s turned into beer and I think the nearest malting facility is in the Interior, so I think there’s some infrastructure that would have to be put in place for that to happen,” he continues.

“But, you know what, there’s a growing number of micro-breweries on Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland, and who knows, there’s the possibility that if you’ve got enough critical mass you can get one of those facilities put in here. We’ll just have to put a little pressure on our local MLA.”

Jeff says the micro-brewery could expand at some point, but he and Susan plan to start very small, and focus on their product, just like they did when they started Beaufort Winery in 2006, which has been successful.

“I think we can leverage our success from Beaufort and, really, I think we have the potential to do with beer what we did with wine, which is really create a world-class product that’s handcrafted right here in the Comox Valley,” says Jeff, noting they are already busy with Beaufort, but are confident they can make a successful micro-brewery in the Valley.

“Our plate is really full with the winery quite frankly, but they say if you want to get something done, give it to a busy person. So we’ve going to instigate this and take it as far as we can and then, ideally, we can do a handoff to somebody else, but I think the key is to get it going and get people excited, and so far so good.”

For more information, check out Comox Glacier Brewing Ltd. on Facebook.

writer@comoxvalleyrecord.com