Local Business

The Right Brew

Surgenor Brewing Company is a little bit hops, a little bit rock ‘n’ roll…

“It made sense. At the time we were looking around the table and seeing see a lot of grey hairs. Who will carry the torch as we age? And really, it’s the young people who have the most vested interest in the future.”

CVLT decided to create an award called Celebrate The Lorax –Caring for the Trees Award to honor youth environmentalists. The Lorax is a classic Seussian story of a creature who speaks up to prevent a forest being destroyed for a development.

Organizers added another youth element, as well as a multi-cultural emphasis, by inviting the Kumugwe Dancers, a youth troupe from the Comox Band, to come on board as performers. Scouts Canada also joined in to take part in an innovative fundraising activity described as an “interactive pledge tree building,” in which, over a the period of just a few minutes, the Scouts ran around getting people to sign pledge forms which they used to decorate a big tree.
“It ended up as this incredible collaborate fundraiser,” says Minard. “Sailors brought spinnakers to hang as decoration, we had trees from River Meadow Farms and Streamside Native Plants; we transformed the hall. The I-HOS gallery was open next door. The Kumugwe Dancers did a traditional welcome and led us into the big house. It was magical.”

The event included a silent auction, a speech by Iona Campanola, and the presentation of the award to 18-year-old Emily Sunter, a very active member of the Interact Club, a student environmental group at Highland High School.
So far $8000 has been raised, and they are still waiting to complete the raffle of a donated Brian Scott painting. Some of the funds were used to buy a new bear mask for the dancers, some donated to the Scouts, and the rest will help keep CVLT going for the next year.

As well, important partnerships were developed, people had fun, and young environmentalists gained encouragement.
CVLT has more plans for fundraising that include a sense of fun and community building. This July 17, at the Downtown Courtenay Market Day, CVLT will be hosting a Toonie Walk. This is a resurrection of an event held back in 1956, when a woman’s group held a penny walk to raise funds. However, back then there were no toonies.

“Each person was invited to lay down a penny along 5th Street. They made a line from Cliffe to Fitzgerald,” says Minard. “Of course, we need to correct inflationary cycles so we’re doing it with toonies. It’s going to be a fun part of the whole great atmosphere of Market Day. And you can fit a lot of toonies on that stretch of road. We can make thousands of dollars.”

Whether thinking up fun ways to raise funds, walking through City Hall with a bag of fish, talking to the media, or strategizing at a board meeting, Minard stays motivated by his deep conviction that environmental engagement can (and has been) effective.

A long-term activist—he spent 18 years involved with the influential group SPEC (Society Promoting Environmental Conservation) and currently is Executive Director for the Tsolum River Restoration Society as well as working for CVLT—Minard has never become jaded, and has no plans to.

“I sometimes see around me a kind of cynicism that has resolved itself, become hard to shake. That’s the biggest enemy to democracy,” he says.

Getting involved—with a group, or on your own—always pays off, he says.

“There has been a gradual greening going on. People have been pounding away, saying we have to do things differently. It’s been slow, slow, slow, but change is happening. The littlest change can make a big difference.”

Not wanting to miss a chance for a direct appeal, he points out that CVLT is always looking for volunteers, members, and donors.

“I would suggest that CVLT is one of the best regional, broadly-based conservation-centred groups to join,” he says.

For more information on the Comox Valley Land Trust or to volunteer or join, visit cvlandtrust.org.

“Surgenor beer is good anytime, <a href=

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” says PR specialist Lee Everson, at the brewery with owner Bob Surgenor. Valley residents can enjoy their Red House Ale and Steam Donkey Lager at more than 30 local restaurants and pubs. ” width=”290″ height=”434″ />

Photo by Photo by Boomer Jerritt

Bob Surgenor is the caricature of an all-Canadian guy. He’s fourth-generation Canadian. His kids play hockey on a rink he built in the back yard. Heck, he even wears a grey cotton t-shirt with “Canada” embroidered across the chest. And just in case there was still any doubt as to his Great White North pedigree, he went and opened up his own brewery.

Surgenor Brewing Company, the Comox Valley’s first craft microbrewery, began production this spring after months of anticipation from local quaffers. And while Bob the businessman takes the success of his namesake brewery very seriously, Bob the fun-lovin’ Canuck makes it very clear that Surgenor ain’t no suit-and-tie beer.

“If Budweiser’s Hall and Oates then we’re probably Led Zeppelin,” says Surgenor with a mischievous grin. “A lot heavier and a little wilder!

“Everybody enjoys Hall and Oates,” he continues earnestly when teased about his somewhat antiquated rock ‘n’ roll analogy. “They’ve got a bazillion singles, I think they’ve got the second-most singles in the world, so that would be mainstream beers. Our beer is sort of the Led Zeppelin. It’s got a lot more culture, it’s heavier and it’s got a lot more character. And probably a lot more stories behind it, wild road stories! Hall and Oates probably just had a great publicist, and probably someone to shave them in the morning, who knows?”

When pressed for the “wild road stories” behind Surgenor Brewing Company, Surgenor simply alludes to some good times had in the brewery’s tasting room following a recent brewery tour. (Apparently a certain out-of town military base has a girl’s volleyball team that knows how to party.)

Perhaps a more appropriate, if less intriguing, story is the all-Canadian tale that weaves together hockey, a creative electrical company, Vancouver Island’s struggling forestry industry and, naturally, beer. It’s the story of how Surgenor Brewing Company came to be.

About nine years ago, Bob Surgenor was running an electrical company (Surgenor Electrical Contracting Ltd., which he still heads) that depended a great deal on large contracts with sawmills and other forestry industry facilities. Unfortunately, around the same time, the forestry industry on Vancouver Island was in a bit of a tailspin and Surgenor increasingly found himself creating make-work projects for his employees.

“We built a shop, an office, a garage—anything to keep them busy,” he says. “I wasn’t totally throwing money away because I got some value out of it, but I needed something that would also make money, not just keep spending it.”
Although Surgenor had been toying with the idea of building his own sawmill—an idea that he admits would have been “a total disaster”—the inspiration for a brewery came as he and a few of his employees were building the aforementioned hockey rink.

“We were having some craft beers as we were finishing the rink in the backyard,” he explains. “We’re all sitting around, it’s like a Friday afternoon and we’re all enjoying the beer. I didn’t say anything to anyone, but that’s when I got the idea to build a brewery.”

The idea was to keep his current staff busy working on electrical and mechanical jobs at the new brewery and at the same time— to borrow from his own analogy—turn down the Hall and Oates and crank up the Zeppelin.
“Our industry had become stifled with anger,” he says. “I don’t know what else to say, it was a very angry industry. My concept was to put some fun back into life. That was the biggest thing, just change it up and do something fresh. Mid life crisis, I don’t know.”

Construction of Surgenor’s $2.5 million, 465 square metre mid-life crisis began in July 2008, and on February 11, 2009 Surgenor Brewing Company was ready to begin production of its first batch of craft beer.

“It was a good feeling,” recalls Surgenor. “It was exciting to be actually doing something.”

The company held a soft opening at its Comox brewery on March 25, primarily as an opportunity to thank its many supporters. An official grand opening is still being planned, but Surgenor and his 12 employees have been so busy filling orders that they haven’t had a chance to nail down a date.

“It’s been very busy,” says Surgenor. “I think a lot of people were very excited,” he continues. “From a sales perspective, we haven’t really had to go door-to-door; probably about 70 per cent of our customers are approaching us.”

With so much excitement in the Comox Valley around the opening of his brewery, Surgenor had to be sure that his products did not disappoint a community thirsty for a beer they could call their own.

Leading the drive for quality is German brewmaster Martin Escbaumer, who left a prominent brewery in Munich to join the Surgenor team in June. A true master trained in the rich Bavarian beer-making tradition, Escbaumer’s expertise has already done huge things for Surgenor, whose previous Vancouver-bred brewer lacked such lofty credentials.

“We’ve all learned something from Martin,” says Surgenor humbly. “Germany has been brewing beer for many, many years and… it’s all strictly controlled, whereas in Canada, with microbreweries and small breweries, it’s like the Wild West. You get everybody who can make a cup of tea making beer. I brought Martin in to give us some sort of structure, to give us some real quality control so we get the best product every single time.”

With Escbaumer at the helm, Surgenor Brewing Company has continued to develop its two inaugural products—its signature “Red House Ale” and “Steam Donkey Lager.”

Red House Ale, named after Surgenor’s striking red brewery, is a traditional Irish-style ale with a rich amber color and a full body. Its tasting notes describe it as “pleasant,” “thirst-quenching” and “deceptively complex.” Steam Donkey Lager, christened in tribute to the steam-powered winch used in the forestry industry before the advent of internal combustion, is significantly lighter but still has more body and much more complex flavors than traditional lagers. Steam Donkey Lager is a true working man’s beer, with a malty bite that goes down exceptionally well after a hard day’s work.

While many qualities distinguish Surgenor’s products from others in the beer cooler —“glacier fresh” Comox Valley water, designer hops grown in the Pacific Northwest and a high content of flavorful specialty malts—none is more immediately apparent that its packaging. Amidst row upon row of boring brown bottles (Hall and Oates, anyone?), a six-pack of Surgenor practically jumps off the shelf with its eye-catching aluminum bottles.