The beer out there is now the beer out here. Columbia Brewery began producing Alexander Keith’s India Pale Ale (IPA) this week, the first time the fabled Halifax brew has been produced outside of the original brewery.
“This is really good news not just for the town but for Columbia Brewery and the entire Creston Valley,” said Creston brewmaster Scott Stokes at a July 14 afternoon celebration on the brewery grounds.
Stokes said it took eight test batches before the perfect match with the Halifax product was achieved.
Alexander Keith’s brewmaster Graham Kendall was on hand to officially proclaim that Columbia Brewery is now accredited to brew Keith’s IPA. Kendall was Stokes’ predecessor as brewmaster in Creston.
“There is some emotion involved,” Kendall said of the Halifax brewery’s response to losing its exclusivity in the production of Keith’s IPA. “We make the number one specialty beer in Canada and Keith’s has become a national brand. We have an opportunity to grow our market in Western Canada and it makes sense to brew it here.”
Kendall said he’s pleased Creston was the choice to take on the Keith’s IPA label.
“There is a huge synergy between the two breweries,” he said. “We both have huge regional brand success. Not having to ship as far to our western markets is good for the consumer — it means a fresher product on the shelf.
“Our focus all along has been to ensure that the beer made here is identical to the one made on the east coast. Scott and his team have achieved that.”
An obviously pleased Columbia Brewery manager Murray Oswald introduced a number of brewery employees and officials to an invited crowd. Included in the accreditation ceremony was Creston Mayor Ron Toyota, replete in the official Keith’s tartan kilt and white shirt.
“Columbia Brewery is one of the largest businesses in our community,” Toyota said. “It’s good for the brewery and its employees — this move ensures the brewery will be here long into the future. And it’s good for all the other businesses that Columbia Brewery relies on, too.”
Considering that Alexander Keith’s has been brewing in Halifax since 1820, it was no mean feat for Stokes to create an identical IPA 6,000 kilometres from its original home.
Stokes started with three small trial batches, then concluded that doing the tests on a small scale wasn’t going to work. He then shifted his tests to full batches, using valuable kettle space — just when he needed it to ramp up production of Kokanee brands for the busy summer season, when the brewery runs flat out for three shifts a day.
“It took us eight tries,” he said. “One of the biggest challenges was to do this project right when we were starting our busy summer season. …
“The recipe is different all the way through, but reasonably similar in most aspects. The main difference is in the kettle, where Kokanee ‘boils’ vigorously but Keith’s doesn’t.”
Stokes said the estimated difference in production for Columbia Brewery will be about 15 per cent annually.
Getting the necessary accreditation to brew Alexander Keith’s doesn’t mean the relationship with Halifax ends. The breweries will exchange beers and put them through rigorous taste tests and chemical analyses to ensure quality standards are maintained, Kendall said.
“Passing on our tradition to another brewery is a big accomplishment in its own right for Alexander Keith’s,” Kendall said.