Local Business

The Right Brew

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

Surgenor got the idea for using aluminum bottles from Pittsburgh’s Iron City Brewing Company, which experienced a renaissance in sales after introducing aluminum bottles in 2004. While presenting a fresh and visually appealing alternative on beer store shelves, the silver aluminum bottles cool beer more quickly when refrigerated (although once cold, claims that aluminum bottles keep beer cold longer are likely misled). They also present a much more eco-friendly alternative to glass bottles.

“Environmentally it’s way better,” says Surgenor. “It’s like huge better. For glass bottles, almost 90 per cent of the amount of energy that it took to manufacture the bottle is required to recycle it again. You might as well make a new bottle.”

Recycling aluminum bottles, on the other hand, requires only five per cent of the energy needed to fabricate a bottle from virgin aluminum.

At the brewery itself, Surgenor’s aluminum bottles present yet another advantage. In the shadows of the towering stainless steel brewing tanks, hundreds of just-filled bottles are rattling along a conveyance system toward two employees who are packaging them for delivery.

In most breweries, these employees would have to wear protective eyewear, and likely gloves, against the possibility of glass breakage. They’d also likely need earplugs against the deafening clang of glass on glass, and yet here at Surgenor the brewing floor is quiet enough to clearly hear the Led Zeppelin tune that’s belting over the radio (a pure coincidence, says Surgenor).

“You don’t really get how much your glass bottles mean to WCB (Workers’ Compensation Board) for injuries,” says Lee Everson, who’s in charge of Surgenor Brewing Company’s public relations. “You don’t really consider that until you see the aluminum bottles go through and they’re getting bent and that’s it. If it were glass you’d have shards, you’d have eye protection; it’d be a whole different scene.”

In case we’re still not completely sold on aluminum bottles, Surgenor points out one additional selling feature—more beer. Each 355-millilitre bottle is weighed before leaving the brewery to ensure that it has been overfilled. Says Surgenor, the aluminum bottles are so lightweight that consumers would be skeptical that a true 355-ml fill actually contained the proper volume of beer.

Once packaged, Surgenor and his staff take turns delivering the beer to customers throughout the Comox Valley and as far away as Duncan, Tofino and even Vancouver and the Gulf Islands. They hope to expand their reach all the way to Port Hardy, but because they distribute all of their beer personally the logistics will need to be worked out before expanding up Island. Self-distribution, however, does come with its advantages.

“We’re sort of a unique anomaly,” says Surgenor. “There aren’t many of us like this that can self-distribute. You get better quality control over your product because it’s not sitting on a shelf or in the back corner of a warehouse re-fermenting.

“Many times I’ve drunk a beer and had a really bad beer. Tons of skunkiness, and those are the ones that are in cans where it’s supposed to be a non-issue. I suspect they probably sat in the back of a warehouse for maybe six months.”

With personal delivery directly to his retail customers, Surgenor is able to ensure that his beer is always fresh when placed in front of the final customer.

Of course, product freshness is never an issue when your beer is flying off the shelves as quickly as Surgenor’s is. The brewery has been producing approximately 8,000 bottles per day, plus about a third that volume (and rising) in keg sales despite a production capacity estimate of just 25,000 bottles per week.

Plans are already being developed for the introduction of Surgenor Brewing Company’s third beer—a märzen. A traditional Bavarian-style lager, a märzen typically demonstrates a rich, amber color and a mild sweet malt character.

All signs point to an optimistic future for the Valley’s first craft brewery and the pride of so many local beer drinkers. In fact, Surgenor admits that he was already thinking of expansion before construction of the brewery had even been completed, and he expects that his company will outgrow its current facility in a couple of years.

Surgenor dreams of a new, high profile facility that would be a focal point for the Comox Valley. His ideal vision for a new brewery also incorporates a bustling market, something along the lines of Vancouver’s Granville Island, also the site of an increasingly popular brewery.

“You could do a really great architectural job, and that’s sort of where I see us in a couple of years,” he says. “It’s all about getting something we’re really proud of in the Valley; something we’d all be happy with and excited about.”

For the time being, Valley residents can enjoy Surgenor’s Red House Ale and Steam Donkey Lager at more than 30 local restaurants and pubs, and bottles can be purchased at most local beer and wine stores.

So what’s the best way to enjoy an ice-cold Surgenor beer?

“Surgenor beer is good anytime,” responds Everson, a true public relations specialist. Bob the businessman appears to agree, until Bob the fun-lovin’ Canuck suddenly seizes control.

“Remember what Led Zeppelin was like,” he says with a sparkle in his eye. Then he belts out, in true rock ‘n’ roll party animal form: “A wild patio party!”

Bob the fun-lovin’ Canuck grins and looks sheepishly at Everson. “I’m always getting in trouble for saying stuff.”

Surgenor Brewing Company is located at 861 Shamrock Place
in Comox. For more information call 250-339-9947 or visit
surgenorbrewing.ca