KAMLOOPS - Walls still need to be torn down, boilers installed and a brewmaster hired, but a new brew pub will be up and running in Kamloops by this time next year.
The craft beer movement hasn’t hit Kamloops as hard as other cities, but Jared Tarswell, one of the co-owners of Iron Road Brewing, thinks that makes the city an ideal location for a new entry into the industry.
“If you look at the response that Noble Pig and Red Collar get, like Red Collar is packed all the time, I think there’s tons of room (in the market),” he says “If you look at similar sized centres, like Penticton or Vernon or Kelowna, they all have like four or five.”
There’s an estimated 134 craft breweries in B.C., which includes brewpubs and small breweries. Most are in the Lower Mainland or southern Vancouver Island. In Kamloops there are currently two brew pubs, Red Collar Brewing and the Noble Pig. JP Lancaster, sales manager at Red Collar Brewing, which opened in 2014, is excited to see a new craft brewer coming into the scene.
“For Kamloops, for a city of close to 100,000 people, in the community we can support another brewery,” he says. “I don’t think we’ll be canibalizing, I think we’ll be converting other groups (of customers).”
While big domestic brands like Molsons, Labatts and Budweiser still dominate sales, craft brewing is growing year after year, pulling people away from the bigger names. Lancaster says there’s a variety of reasons, including variety, quality and local pride.
“We’re all still trying to eat into the pie the macro-breweries are holding,” he says. “Obviously there’s competition, but we’re still looking to get people off those macro-companies.”
Local breweries are also a boost to a city's economy and image, he says, with new jobs and a local product being sold regionally.
The recent craft beer movement didn’t really come to Kamloops until the 2011 opening of the Noble Pig brewpub. Maeghan Summers, one of the partners behind it, says she’s also excited to see a new member of the local brewery community.
“Really one of the things we wanted to see was for us to become a beer mecca in Kamloops,” she says. “For me it’s really exciting. It just means I have to be innovative.”
She wants to see more of the craft beer culture in Kamloops. With B.C. and the Okanagan in particular seeing wine tourism as an important industry, she sees beer tourism as a potential industry for cities.
Kamloops’s exisiting beer community has already been welcoming to Iron Road Brewing. Tarswell says they’ve received support and advice from David Beardsell, the original brewmaster of the Noble Pig and founder/owner of Red Collar.
Tarswell says there’s room for more to join. Many smaller towns in B.C. have more craft beer breweries or brew pubs per capita than Kamloops. Penticton has four in a city of around 40,000, Nelson, with a population of around 10,000 has two, while Sorrento, at fewer than 2,000 residents, has one. Even Victoria has a higher ratio, with 13 craft breweries in and around the city of an estimated 344,000.
“I think there’s lots of room for more even, behind us,” Tarswell says. “The craft beer market kind of steals from big box beer more than each other.”
Tarswell and his partner decided on Kamloops for a couple of reasons. The pair were geologists in the Yukon when they decided to change careers. Both liked B.C., but the cost of living in places like Vancouver was too high. They saw room in the Kamloops beer community and a lower cost of living while staying in B.C. and decided to make a go of it.
“We just decided that we wanted a change,” he says. “We looked at lots of places all over.
“We’ve always like Kamloops... it was kind of an obvious destination for us.”
That was nine or 10 months ago, Tarswell says, and the brewery is still a ways away. They’re currently working on renovating a space on Camosun Crescent near Thompson Rivers University which will eventually become a brewery, tasting room, cannery and offsales. The proximity to the university wasn’t an accident either, as Tarswell thinks there’s an untapped market in the student body.
“Millennials are the biggest craft beer drinking market,” he says. “We’re right beside a millennial population in Kamloops. It was a factor for sure.”
They also plan on selling to other areas as well. A cannery attached to the brewery means beer will last longer because light won't damage it so they'll be able to sell beer in Vancouver, Princeton and Prince George.
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