When Bart Larson was 16 years old, his dad bought a beer brewing book. The two decided to try a recipe for blacksmith’s beer. They brewed it in a large green garbage bin, not even using brewers yeast.
“It was horrible,” said Bart.
Bart continued to refine beer recipes during his studies at university on the nuclear spin transfer of helium 3. However, sometimes he would sneak away to Chicago to attend brewing classes.
Eventually, Bart had to make a decision. Either take a nuclear physicist job in New Mexico at Los Alamos, where the first atomic bomb was created or start a microbrewery in his home town of Revelstoke.
In the end, beer won.
|Bart and Tracey Larson during their first year of operation in the mid-1990s. Within their first year, they produced the iconic Begbie Cream Ale, Tall Timber and High Country Kolsch. (Contributed)|
Bart and his partner Tracey started Mt. Begbie Brewing Co. in 1996. The company is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.
“It’s all gone by really fast,” said Tracey.
When the company started, there were only a handful of other breweries in the province. Back then, Budweiser was the drink of choice. Now, there are 167 breweries in B.C.
Because the bank would not support such a risky venture, the two got funding through Community Futures. To save money, Bart built his own fermenting tanks and his mom painted the tap handles.
“We could barely pay ourselves,” said Tracey.
The first keg the brewery produced — which was the Begbie Cream Ale — went to the Regent Hotel. Although the owner said he really liked it, he asked if its flavour could be taken down a notch or two next time.
As people’s taste buds have vastly changed in 25 years, the Begbie Cream Ale is the company’s lowest hopped beer and considered one of the easiest to drink.
“It’s crushable,” Tracey said.
One Tracey’s proudest beers the company has brewed is the High Country Kolsch. She said Mt. Begbie Brewing was one of the first Canadian companies to produce that style — a light, star coloured beer with a clean, dry finish.
“At first people were scared of it. It had a troublesome German sounding name,” she said. “But we stuck with it.”
The beer has since won 10 trophies, including one at the World Beer Awards in 2017.
Tracey said if people want to judge a brewery, try their lightest beer as it’s hard to hide mistakes in it.
Over the years, the company has moved three times. It first opened on Victoria Street, where Judy Designs in now located. A few years later it moved to the building that now houses Bighorn Auto. Lastly, it moved to a larger facility in 2016 near the Hill Crest Hotel in Johnson Heights.
While the company produces cans of beer for distribution across B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan, a significant portion of their revenue is draft beer for restaurants and pubs — a sector that has been severely hammered by COVID-19.
“We’ve had quite significant losses. It’s hard for us to pivot,” Tracey said.
COVID-19 is the longest and must uncertain challenge the company has faced.
“It’s hard to plan for the future. Do we hire or lay people off?” asked Bart.
Regardless, the company plans to release an anniversary beer this month with part of the proceeds going to charity. Other coming changes this year include a new modernized logo and no more plastic rings for six packs of beer.
“We strive to be better, not bigger,” said Bart.
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