Food and Dining

The Right Brew

How Cumberland Brewing Company has found its niche and become the village’s community brewery

“We want to create a place where members of the community come to have a beer... and solve the problems of the day, <a href=

” says Darren Adam. Photo by Paul Hansen” src=”×386.jpg” width=”602″ height=”386″ /> “We want to create a place where members of the community come to have a beer… and solve the problems of the day, physician ” says Darren Adam. Photo by Paul Hansen

Deemed a tiny brewery in a thirsty village, check the Cumberland Brewing Company—affectionately known as the CBC—is making a big impression on residents of Cumberland as well as the entire Comox Valley. Since its official opening day on December 23, 2014, the petite brewery has been continuously and increasingly busy. In fact, the brewery has exceeded their initial sales expectations to the point where they have now reached their third year projections.

Created by a trifecta of complex personalities that combine to form a perfect brew of business acumen, the Cumberland Brewing Company is owned by Caroline Tymchuk and Darren Adam, while Michael Tymchuk is the official brewmaster. Their business cards describe their relationship accurately and succinctly— Caroline Tymchuk counts the beer, Adam sells the beer, and Michael Tymchuk makes the beer.

I was fortunate enough to enjoy a glass of my favorite CBC brew—an oatmeal stout called Dancing Linebacker—and speak with both Darren Adam and Michael Tymchuk at a table on their funky and popular outside patio.

Tymchuk started making beer in 1987. “I was an early entry into the world of craft beer,” he says. “I worked for Spinnakers in Victoria as a sous chef and eventually they invited me to the brewery.”

Though his entry into the world of beer seems humble, his career in the beer industry is anything but, as eventually Tymchuk became known as someone who had something to share about the fine art of making beer. Tymchuk travelled as a brewery consultant, installing systems and training brewers all over the world—travelling to faraway places such as Japan, China and the Philippines, as well as places closer to home such as Seattle, Saskatoon and Calgary. “I’ve lost count but I think this may be the twentieth place I’ve made beer!”

Adam primarily takes care of the brewery’s business side. Formally a self employed small aircraft mechanic, Adam isn’t new to the world of business—but he is relatively new to the world of brewing beer. “I apprenticed under Michael when we were here every day from August, 2014 on, when we were getting ready to open,” recalls Adam. “I learned a lot then and we forged a bond.”

The second owner, Caroline Tymchuk, completes the trio as the bean/beer counter of the bunch. According to Adam, “Caroline is the most constant of us. She’s the monetary checkpoint who keeps our ideas on track.”

Though they officially opened in December of last year, the process commenced months before. “We put our hat over the fence in November of 2013,” recalls Adam. “We entered our business space in early August 2014 and officially opened the brewery five months later, for a total of about 14 months.

Photo by Paul Hansen

Photo by Paul Hansen

Though that may seem like a long time to some, according to Adam it was a fast turnaround. “Normally it takes three to five years to get a brewery going,” he says. Even so, wading through the long lists of regulations and licensing permits related to the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch was a trial they would have liked to avoid.

“It was quite a process,” Adam says with a shake of his head. “Let’s just say that for a few months we were deeply entrenched in what I can only call the quagmire of multilevel bureaucracy. Hence our first two beer names: Red Tape Ale and Just A Little Bitter.”

Thankfully, the trio eventually came out on the other side, liquor licence in hand, and they were able to focus, instead, on the process of making beer—a wonderful combination of art, science, and luck that Tymchuk has down pat.

Both Adam and Tymchuk describe brewing beer as a mix between cooking and baking. “It’s the science of baking but the whimsy of cooking,” says Adam.
Tymchuk agrees, “It’s where the artisan meets the scientist. You have to have your grounding in science but you need some whimsy too.”

Beer is derived from only four ingredients—water, malted barley, hops, and yeast—yet the complexity of tastes and aromas one can achieve from this short list of humble ingredients is truly staggering. Essentially, beer is a symphony of chemical reactions between the grain, the water, the yeast and the hops.

Though beer existed long before the use of hops, most beer today is flavored with hops’ cone shaped flowers, which add flavor, aroma and stability to the finished product. Just like wine grapes, the region where the hops are grown lend flavors and aromas that differ greatly. As a result, Tymchuk sources hops from around the world to give him a wide range of flavors to experiment with. With names such as mosaic, cascade, equinox, amarillo and brewer’s gold, the variety of hops Tymchuk chooses can lend each batch of beer a unique quality. Currently, Cumberland Brewing Company has 17 varieties of hops on hand for creating their beer. “The hops, well they do all the work,” Tymchuk humbly states.

But remember that beer commercial that stated, ‘it’s the water’? According to Tymchuk, that old adage is true, as the quality of the water is extremely important to the resulting beer.

“Water is completely relevant to making beer, and our water here in Cumberland—it’s the best,” says Tymchuk. “It’s glacial water that’s very soft with low levels of minerals or salts. As a result, our water only needs a little time and heat to remove the chlorine. Beer is 95 per cent water—if we had crap water, we’d have crap beer.”

Cumberland Brewing Company also stands out because their beer has a lower alcohol content than most other craft brews. “People have not pushed back at all, in fact, it’s been embraced,” says Tymchuk in response to the lower alcohol content of his beers. These days many breweries are focusing on very hoppy beers that result in higher alcohol content, such as Indian Pale Ales, also known as IPAs. “In over 25 years I’ve seen some trends but they are lost on me entirely now. At this stage in my career trends don’t interest me. I get more joy from exciting my customers.”

Adam agrees and says he is happy that they have been able to create beers that can be easily enjoyed. “I like the fact that you can have two of our beers and still hold a conversation. I mean, we’re here to share but we aren’t trying to get every buck out of people. For example, we close at nine, not 11. The CBC is a place where people can come after work and have a few—it’s a place where you can take your time.”

And they do—in fact, more often than not it’s difficult to find a seat. Since the new liquor laws were set in place, minors can now join their guardians in the brewery, which lends a fun community feel to the place. There are no TVs in the brewery and the tables are a hodgepodge collection of mismatched sizes and shapes.

“There is a sort of charm in sitting on recycled chairs and furniture. We just sort of use what we have on hand,” Adam says. “It gets crowded at times so we will encourage people to share tables.” Sometimes Adam will help break the ice by doing false introductions. For example, he might introduce those joining the table as Nobel Peace Prize winners, and those sitting down as the current Donkey Kong champions. The end result is a friendly place where people of all ages meet new friends and share good conversation.

Sharing tables also works with the Cumberland Brewing Company’s mandate of supporting the community. “Our main customers are Cumberlanders,” Adam says. “We want to create a place where members of the community come to have a beer—waving their arms and solving the problems of the day.”

Photo by Paul Hansen

Photo by Paul Hansen

Creating a sense of community by making the brewery a sort of community meeting place or hub has always been one of their goals. The brewery even has a community ‘Beer it Forward’ wall, where anyone can create a prepaid tab for a person or an organization. For example, right now there is a credit for the 442 Squadron of the Comox Air Force Base. There’s also a credit for members of the River Rats—those who volunteer to build and maintain the trails around Cumberland.

“The ‘Beer it Forward’ wall is a place for anyone to say thanks,” Adam says. “It appears the ‘Beer it Forward’ wall is also community centre for debate on some issues.”
Most people, he adds, don’t expect to come into the brewery and see that someone has bought them a beer. But according to Adam, creating an atmosphere that exceeds their customers’ expectations is their number one priority. “Our mandate is customer experience. We want to undersell and over provide.”

Adds Tymchuk: “We really enjoy watching people say ‘WOW.’”

According to Adam, the average commute to the Cumberland Brewery is six blocks. During our interview there was a steady stream of people coming in to refill their containers. Some drive to the brewery, but most walk, bike, or even skateboard.

“We are trying to keep things very local here,” says Adam. “Essentially we are trying to put the ‘public house’ back into the pub.”

Tymchuk adds that decades ago every community had their own local brewery or distillery, and it appears that things are starting to go back toward that model. “I can easily see a local brewery in each corner of the Valley, like how it used to be.”

Adam believes that this trend toward local beer and breweries is a natural correction. “It’s a natural return to the order that was disturbed because of prohibition.” According to Adam, the result of that disturbance was a few large corporations mass producing watered-down beer, which they shipped and sold all over the world.

Thankfully, Adam and Tymchuk don’t have any plans of doing the same. “We don’t have plans to distribute our beer. The idea is to keep things local. It’s better for the community and better for the environment too,” says Tymchuk. “Beer is heavy; shipping it all over the world is a bad idea.” Instead, customers can either stay in and have a glass at the brewery or they can take some home in a two-litre capacity growler or a one-litre squealer—either made of glass or insulated stainless steel, which keeps your beverage cold for up to 12 hours.

Doing business in a way that protects the environment is another way they can honor their community. “It’s part of being a community player,” Adam says. “We try to reduce our waste in every way we can. For example, spent grains and yeast go to local animals and our glass containers—the growlers and squealers—well, they are infinitely reusable.”

Adam and Tymchuk believe that keeping things small and manageable is the best policy for them. “Neither of us have that ‘take on the world’ mentality,” Tymchuk says. “We just want to make a nice comfortable living. We don’t want to kill ourselves in the process.”

Keeping things small also allows for more creativity. “Change is the only constant, but the beauty of being small and nimble is being able to change on a dime,” Adam notes.
“But being nimble is also fun,” adds Tymchuk. “And it’s exciting for the beer enthusiast. We can change up our beers quite easily. So when you visit the brewery, well, it’s like a box of chocolate… you never know what you’re going to get! As long as you’re not someone who comes in every single day, there could be a new beer to try every time you visit.”

To anyone who walks by the brewery, it’s clear to see that the Cumberland Brewing Company is a popular place—it’s always busy and fairly bursting at the seams. Adam says that their business wouldn’t be possible if they didn’t have such an amazing team of people behind them.

“It’s not easy doing what we do here in this space. For example, we sell approximately 3,500 litres a week, and that’s in 987 square feet. Basically that’s a matrix that doesn’t mix—but we do it anyway. It takes the right team to make that work.”

Ensuring that the brewery is an enjoyable and positive place to work has been a top priority from the start. “We make sure we foster a real positive attitude here,” says Adam. “Everyone has everyone else’s back. We don’t have sections; instead we share the tasks of taking care of the customers. We pool tips and we pool resources. Robyn Wilcox, our lead server, has really set the tone here. We’ve expected a lot from her and she’s never let us down.”

“We expect a lot from all our staff,” continues Tymchuk. “So in return we work hard to create careers and jobs that are desirable.”

When asked what they like best about their new business venture, Tymchuk says he is most happy with how the community has embraced the brewery. “My favorite moment was when, one morning before we opened the doors, a man was walking by with a woman who was presumably his mom. He was giving her a tour of the village. He stopped outside our locked gates and proudly announced, ‘This is our brewery.’

“That really brought it home to me—how we have become Cumberland’s brewery. We haven’t done everything perfectly, but we’ve done our best. I think we’ve found our happy niche.”

Cumberland Brewing Company is located at 2732 Dunsmuir Avenue. For more information visit