Robin Miles and Andy Richards are brewing up something new in Uptown Port Alberni.
The couple purchased the former “Valley Wines & Water” building on Third Avenue earlier this year, and are working on converting it into Dog Mountain Brewing—a microbrewery complete with kitchen, lounge and rooftop patio. The building still needs to undergo a rezoning, and then Miles and Richards will need to apply for a manufacturing license with a lounge endorsement in order to sell liquor on site. But they are hoping to have the business up and running in 2019.
Uptown Port Alberni has gained a bit of a reputation. The Harbourview Apartments, located across the street, were declared a nuisance property earlier this year, and business owners in the area have expressed their frustration with a recent increase in property crime.
But although Miles and Richards are aware of this reputation, they have not been deterred.
“Being able to purchase a building was the main driving factor,” said Richards.
“The more time we spent here, the more we realized it’s fine,” said Miles. “It’s kind of surprising that this area has a stigma. There are all these little shops and restaurants. The more people that come into the area, the better. This could be the little snowball at the top of the hill,” she added with a laugh.
“The sentiment from the neighbourhood is that everybody’s pretty excited,” added Richards.
So far, the City of Port Alberni has been “very supportive” of their venture, said Miles. An advisory planning committee meeting “went very well” and a public hearing is scheduled for Monday, Dec. 10 at 6 p.m. to discuss a zoning text amendment for the building. Council was scheduled to give first reading to this bylaw on Tuesday, Nov. 13.
“It’s been very welcoming,” said Richards.
For now, Dog Mountain Brewing’s website is up and running at dogmountainbrew.com, and they are offering a “swag sale” for people who want to order t-shirts, hats, growlers and more. Funds raised from the sale of merchandise will go towards renovations and building improvements.
“We’re trying to get people excited about it and the opening,” explained Miles.
They are both keenly aware of the cruise ships that are scheduled to visit Port Alberni in 2019, but don’t offer any promises that they will be ready in time.
“We’re hoping to be open next year,” said Richards. “It depends on how construction and licensing goes.”
The focal point of their venture is the “outdoor oasis area”—a rooftop patio that will offer a view of the Alberni Inlet. It will even have space for small acoustic performances. Dog Mountain will also offer a dinner menu, along with drinks. Although the menu isn’t finalized, Miles and Richards are hoping to offer good quality, local food by making partnerships with local butchers and bakeries.
“We did ask Port Alberni what they wanted,” said Miles, who posed the question on the Facebook group AV Chatter Box. “We got over 700 comments. People are very interested in something new.”
Miles is the head brewer of Dog Mountain Brewing. She admits that being a woman in the field can be difficult at times, although it’s not unheard of. Dogwood Brewing, out of Vancouver, is owned by a woman. Twa Dogs Brewery, located in Victoria, also has a female head brewer.
“Historically, it’s been a man’s thing,” said Miles. “Bags of grain are heavy. It’s hard work.”
“Robin’s background is in science,” Richards added. “For her, it was just a very smooth and natural transition.”
Miles says she enjoys drinking “all styles” of beer, although her favourites have a bit more body—like porters and stouts.
“But typically those come with a higher alcohol content,” she said. “Sometimes it’s nice to sit down with a nice lager or pilsner. We’re going to focus on some of those lighter beers.”
“Our business plan is to have something for everybody,” added Richards.
Twin City Brewing has already shown that craft beer can have success in Port Alberni. Twin City opened in 2017, after owner Aaron Colyn launched a crowdfunding campaign online and won the support of the community. Two years later, business is still booming, and the brewery has gained attention after being added to the BC Ale Trail and winning “Best in Show” at this year’s BC Beer Awards.
Miles and Richards said that they have no plans to go into competition with Twin City. Brewery tours are rising in popularity, said Miles, and many people travel to new areas specifically to visit breweries.
“This just brings even more people to the area,” she said. “We’re hoping this draws people to Port Alberni from all over the Island.”