In just a few short months, Port Alberni will be the latest Vancouver Island city to brew up some local beer.
Aaron Colyn, who has been making his own home brew for years, will open up Twin City Brewing in late 2016 or early 2017.
The exterior of the turquoise building on the corner of Margaret Street and Southgate Road is nondescript, but the inside has been gutted to accommodate commercial-grade brewing equipment. “The general shell of the building was perfect, that’s what caught our eye is that it already had the perfect layout,” said Colyn.
“It looks like it was almost built to be a brewery but it wasn’t fitted with the utilities that a brewery would need.”
That’s meant rewiring everything from the electrical to the sewer.
“The utilities, things like electrical and plumbing are big changes that this building had to go through.”
While prepping the building has been a lot of work, Colyn is happy to get down to it now that the paperwork is out of the way.
“Our licence through the provincial government has been approved and processed,” he said.
“They’ve given us the green light to do all our renovations and buy all our equipment—basically get our building up to the point where we can make beer.”
It’s not only the province that’s been supportive—so have the locals.
“The reception has been really good,” said Colyn.
“You’d think that in a community like this people would be quite set in their ways of what they like to drink, what their brand loyalty is, but at the same time, Port Alberni is that kind of town where there’s a lot of hardworking people who are doing things from scratch and there’s small businesses everywhere.”
With canning equipment being cumbersome, labour intensive and expensive, that local support is what Colyn is counting on.
“What we want to sell is an experience. It’s not even the experience of us interacting with them but them interacting with each other in a really nice setting,” he said.
“You can have a couple beers, you can chat, ideas will come up and people will talk about planning events and organizing committees to get things done in the community.”
A can of brew on the shelf doesn’t sell that same feeling, he said.
“If someone buys a can off the shelf I don’t have a chance to talk to them to put it into context. You have to fight against a lot of other projects that are also on the shelf. It’s just not something that we see as a main goal in our business model.”
Instead, Colyn wants to create the same beer culture that craft breweries in Tofino and the Comox Valley have been so successful with.
“We would love to see the growler culture take off in the community,” he said.
In his ideal world, locals would drop by after work on a Friday and fill up the two-litre jug and then come back next week to try a new flavour.
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“You can get a growler of this, a growler of that, it’s quick, it’s easy. You pop in, you get it, it’s a good experience. I’ve been a big fan of it all over the Island.”
To build on that community experience, Colyn also has plans to install a wood-fired pizza oven and offer gourmet fare, similar to the culture that Gladstone Brewery has created in Courtenay with its partnership with Pizzeria Guerrilla.
While craft breweries have exploded all over Vancouver Island, Colyn doesn’t think the market is anywhere near saturated yet.
“There’s still room to have craft breweries and maybe take back some of the market share from the big mass produced beers,” he said.
“It’s a brotherhood. Everyone wants to see the craft beer industry succeed and everyone is separated enough from each so let’s all just band together and give each other advice and help each other out.”
Colyn has reached out to breweries both new and old but found talking to the recently opened Cumberland Brewing Co. the most helpful.
“They’re in their second year now so they have a lot of fresh experience but being able to get their opinion and advice on things has been huge.”
The reality of starting a new business hasn’t always been easy to swallow.
“It was kind of eye opening but at the same time it helped us grasp the industry and what it was like to get to the stage that they’re at and what it takes, what kind of commitment and dedication and passion it really takes to get to that point,” Colyn said.
Although it wasn’t the priority when choosing the building, its location, near the Greyhound station and the highway headed to Tofino and Ucluelet, hasn’t escaped Colyn.
“It just sort of happened; the stars aligned and we found this place right off the highway which I’m thrilled to be on.”
If it all works out, then Twin City will help in what has been Port Alberni’s mission for a long time—capturing Tofino traffic.
“I would love to be one of the places that people stop at on their way to the west coast. Port Alberni in general I think is looking at that sort of goal.”
But the focus on Port Alberni, rather than tourists, means that Colyn is still happy with the brewery’s tentative opening date of late 2016, early 2017.
“We know it’s not the ideal busy packed summer season to open it but we know that there’s enough support in this community that no matter when we open it, if we take the time to do it right, people are going to be happy.”
After all, Colyn would rather last than come in with a bang.
“I would rather wait, take a little more time, and open it and have it be perfect. Have the right atmosphere, the right experience, than open too soon and be in some kind of compromising position.”