It’s always sunnier in Pemberton, which logically means there is always a greater opportunity to get thirsty. Pemberton Brewing Co. owners Geoff Macdonald and Jeff Lawrence are hoping to help alleviate some of that problem.
“Pemberton is a rad place,” explains Jeff, sitting in the sun outside the brewery/tasting room in Pemberton’s industrial park. “It’s a small town with big character and big expectations. Everyone is extreme here, and creative, and awesome. Geoff and I just wanted to represent that.”
While the tasting room only opened in March, Jeff and Geoff have been brewing together since 2014, when a chance meeting in Mexico reunited two old friends (the duo met in Lake Louise in 1991 and have both lived in the Sea to Sky for over two decades) with a shared interest and idea.
“It was totally random,” Geoff says. “We didn’t even know each other was down there, the wives hooked up on Facebook or something, and suddenly after a decade of not seeing each other we were drinking Coronas in the ocean and talking about doing something different with our lives. Jeff had just purchased a sophisticated nanosystem, the same one I had been looking at getting, so we figured why not tackle it together.”
Through trial and error, and mentorship from other breweries, the duo eventually began creating beers they enjoyed. “I bet you it was 40 batches before we even started feeling like it was getting where we wanted,” Geoff says. “We never really doubted it, but there were challenges in doing everything ourselves in our free time and on a miniscule budget. Juggling family schedules and other jobs, it was challenging, but worth it.”
Geoff brought extensive food and beverage industry experience to the business (he ran Whistler’s infamous Boot Pub/Shoestring Lodge for over a decade) which freed Jeff up to focus on two very important brewing elements that Pemberton had a natural advantage in: local hops and pure water.
“Historically, you would find breweries close to good water sources,” he explains. “Back in the day in Britain, there was a town called Burton and there were 20 breweries making beer there because the water was so good. We set up here in the Industrial Park so we can get water that originates from the Birkenhead River — pure water, perfect PH. We don’t have to treat it.”
Local farmers also provide hops to the brewery. “Three of our beers are made with hops from a farm just across the road,” Jeff says. “We also use hops from Lillooet and we love these gassy, greasy hops from small growers. You can taste the difference over mass-produced hops. We are really fortunate that Pemberton has hop growers in the community; such a great local resource.”
And the evidence is in the beer. The Long Road IPA (6.4/ABV and named for the brewers’ long, hard journey to success) is easy to drop into, with bold flavour but not too much of that IPA bitterness. The Cream Puff (5.0/ABV) is a very smooth New England-style pale ale with juicy hop and citrus notes. And for more mainstream beer drinkers, the Birkenhead Blonde (5.0/ABV) is Pemberton’s most approachable beer. “They are crushing that one down at The Pony and the Legion,” Jeff says with pride.
The 3,000-square-foot Pemberton Brewing Co. space is currently producing 8,000 litres a month and was built with room to expand. The tasting room was built from reclaimed and salvaged wood with no pretension and no gimmicks. “Our philosophy is simple,” Geoff explains, “it’s all about the beer.”
“And it’s all about Pemberton,” Jeff adds. “Quality beer for quality people. The town has been so supportive. This is a dream come true for us, but Geoff and I agreed right from the start, we are not putting out a single drop of beer until it is good enough for this community. That was important. Historically, the local brewery was all people had. You’d saddle up your horse, ride to the local pub and drink your local beer. I feel like we are fitting back into that scene a bit except in Pemberton, it’s horses and mountain bikes and dirt bikes and maybe a jet boat or two… Pemberton is just so deadly.” ‑ML