VOICE 139 - Erin Dale, head brewer at Barkerville Brewing
“We are a community hub that is built by the community. Hopefully, we continue to give back to the community. I think everybody feels important to be here and hopefully, we are good for Quesnel.”
Erin is originally from Ontario and moved to the small city of Quesnel from the Island in 2011. She was working as a tree planter for a very long time, and when she heard that a new craft brewery was opening in town, it was around that time that she started thinking about the idea of working for a small company, other than the forest industry. She put together her resume, went for an interview , and started working at the brewery in 2014. Erin quickly learned the ropes at the brewery from cleaning kegs, bottling, and washing tanks. 2 years on, when the head brewer at the time left, Erin had about a handful of brewing experience, and she got the chance to move into the head brewer position. With training and trials and errors, she has held the position for the last 6 years. Using local ingredients is her passion, and she continues to experiment with some funky flavours that are themed around the origin of this unique brewery.
Barkerville Brewery is as unique as its name can get. It takes its name from the nearby heritage town, Barkerville, a National Historic Site of Canada, and it is one of the very few breweries in BC run almost entirely by women. It was one of the first breweries in northern BC when it opened in 2013. The place used to be so many things - pool hall, tree planting camp, club, tire sales, and Italian restaurant, and now it perfectly sits as Quesnel’s favorite gathering place.
There is a nice community feel as you sit around a long communal timber table in the center of the tasting room. There is a bank of windows that gives a nice airy feel to the space, and the stools with recycled hop bag covers are placed on both sides of the windows. The space also features a wall filled with historical photographs from the once-thriving Gold Rush period. There is a big patio space at the back of the brewery for people to enjoy beers with live music in warmer months. In such a small town, it is a perfect spot to enjoy real Cariboo beer with friends and family. As we sit with Erin, a female head brewer, she talks about producing some pretty unique beers and building a sense of community around great-tasting beers.
VOICE(V): What makes Barkerville Brewing unique?
Erin(E): “The one is definitely the location. We are one of the first breweries in northern BC. There are about 4 breweries that opened around the same time, and we have been able to keep open for 8 years now. Originally, there were some breweries in the historic town of Barkerville back in the 1860`s, but rebuilding a brewery there was not feasible so Barkerville Brewery has made its home in Quesnel.
Our brewery is also unique in a way that we have a lot more female staff than most brewery industry standard. It was an all-female brewery at one point. It was not intentional, it just happened to be that way. It is a little more even now, but we still have a lot of women working in the storefront, in production and all managements are females.”
V: Where does your inspiration come from when brewing a new beer?
E: “I like to incorporate things that grow around us into beer. I like picking mushrooms and growing mushrooms, so when I first started, I wanted to make a chaga-based beer, a fungus growing on the birch tree that is also known for its great medicinal properties. It was the first beer with my original recipe and we call it Prescription Porter.
Fruit beer is very popular but I just don’t want to put any fruit in my beer unless it grows here. We have used rhubarb last year when we collaborated with a brewery in Fort St. John’s, and we did a harvest beer using beets and honey in the fall and made a nice Saison.
Another cool one was a beer based on PMS! Just because we have so many female staff, we joked around making a beer that relaxes PMS symptoms. So I spent some time trying to figure out what grows here that are beneficial to PMS symptoms, and I ended up using chamomile, yarrow flowers, juniper branches, and rosehips, and it tasted great. We did a one-off very small limited batch, and we named the beer after a Barkerville pioneer woman Florence Wilson. Her life story during the Cariboo Gold Rush is just so fascinating. We try to tell the interesting story of the Cariboo Gold Rush through our beers.”
V: Aside from 12 beers on tap, you also have many selections of food items available. Can you tell us about your food menu?
E: “A lot of our food menu comes locally. Grilled Cheese, Mediterranean hummus, and much other produce on the platters come from a local grocery and cafe called Long Table. Pretzels are from Quesnel Bakery, we serve locally sourced artisanal pizza from Red Tomato Pies, and locally smoked salmon from the Upper Fraser Fisheries Alliance based in William’s Lake. We try to get as many local products as possible on our menu.”
V: What is your favorite beer of the moment and the food to go with it?
E: “Big Strike IPA is the one I am drinking a lot right now. This is a similar flavour profile to our very popular and fruity Sluice
Juice, but a little bit more bitter and more alcohol.
18 Karat Ale is the very first one we made, so it is always nice to drink it. It has won 3 Canadian awards and it is a well-balanced beer. My favorite bite for beer is Loaded Nachos. So good!”
V: How has Covid-19 affected your business?
E: “ It was very slow for a while during the first phase of Covid-19. We canned so many beers for deliveries and distribution, and it helped a lot.
It was great to see regulars coming in every Friday and they would take turns ordering beers for everybody else in their groups so that they would get delivered to each of them. They would not be together, but they would be having the same beer at home. People that keep us open are people who live here. Tourism is important, but we always make sure to pay the most attention to people who live in this area. In the beginning, we used to ship more beers to the Lower Mainland, but there are so many craft beers down there and it is so much further. It didn’t make sense to make the extra effort. It is nice to focus on local.”
V: How do you like living in Quesnel?
E: “I love Quesnel! When I first moved here the only thing that disappointed me was mushrooms, but actually, we have a huge variety of mushrooms that grow around here. There is such a great farmers market, and we also have a real downtown where you can walk around and shop. There are people from all walks of life and communities here.”
V: The summer is coming. What are your favorite things to do in the summertime?
E: “I love to go canoeing. There is a lake right across from where I live, and there are Ten Mile Lake and Dragon Lake in Quesnel where people come for boating swimming, fishing, and a lot of nice hiking and biking trails around the lakes. I like to just walk around where I live and forage.”
V: What is the most joy in your work?
E: “I really enjoy making beers that we have never made before. As it ferments it changes flavour. Every day it tastes different. Tasting it and seeing how it progresses, it is very neat. Yeast is magic! The longer I work here in the brewery more I am amazed by the work of yeast.”