Driftwood Brewery is the youngest entrant to the healthy micro-brewing movement in
Victoria, BC but they have already made a splash. The brewery was co-founded by two
visionaries who met while working at the nearby Lighthouse Brewing Company. Jason
and Kevin took the audacious step of following their dream right in their former
employers backyard. Jason developed the basis for some of Driftwood’s offerings while
tinkering around after work at Lighthouse. They have grown faster than expected
in the last year and a half, forcing earlier than planned upgrades to their bottling
machine but I don’t think anyone is complaining. Even with this success the operation
is still as personal as it gets. They have seven employees and Kevin still handles
all of the brewing personally along with his apprentice Tim.
We were welcomed by the third partner Gary to drop by for a personal tour of the
shop. Arriving, we found Kevin and Tim hard at work but excited to chat and share
some brews. As Kevin cleaned out the mash tun Tim filled us in on the history and
philosophy of the brewery. The core of that philosophy: “We brew the beers we love”.
Their fondness for European beers has driven them to produce some Belgian and German
beers but being unconstrained by the rigid Reinheitsgebot (German Purity Laws) they
have developed some interesting interpretations. These four beers have a ton of
character and are pushing the limits in a market where the customer’s tastes are
less complex than the United States. Traditional lagers still dominate the Canadian
market and and micro-brews are only now growing in popularity at the rates that the
US has seen for ten years.
Currently they offer four brews and just keeping up with demand has delayed the development
of a wider selection. That being said, they do produce a seasonal IPA using hops
hand picked by the partners themselves! Unfortunately, it was not available during
our visit but keep an eye out for it.
Driftwood Ale - Inspired by the Pale Ales of the US Pacific Northwest this is the
flagship Ale of the brewery. The hops masterfully take center stage of the brew but
do not leave a bitter aftertaste. In fact, the brew masters have added more hops
to the last part of the boil of this beer over the last year and a half. Focusing
on the last period of boil gives the beer a more hops without increasing the bitterness.
This could mark a turning of the tide for Canadian brewers who have been reluctant
to introduce truly hop-fuelled ales to an unappreciative audience.
Farmhand Ale - Taking the Pale Ale back to its local roots, the Farmhand Ale is a
Saison, which is unique to the French speaking area of Belgium. These seasonal ales
were brewed during the harvest season as a refreshing beverage to keep farmhands
hydrated. Driftwood uses a strain of yeast directly from Belgium. To add a complex
ending to the brew they have thrown a bit of ground black pepper into the mix. Upon
sampling the Farmhand we immediately picked up on the pepper taste, though we didn’t
directly identify it as such. Although it doesn’t sound good on paper the pepper
was a wonderful complement to the beer. Jason really hit a great note with this
one. Expect to see more breweries offering interesting Siason’s in the future.
White Bark Ale - This traditional Belgium style wheat brew has two very complimentary
additions. You will vaguely taste a hint of coriander and orange peel. Increasing
the intensity of the orange zest could possibly improve the already delicious brew.
This, however, is not a major issue for those of us who prefer more citrus as adding
a fresh slice of orange to your pint is very easy.
Crooked Coast Amber Ale - This amber is brewed in the style of the traditional German
‘alt’ ales which use top-fermenting yeast so do not require cool storage for fermentation.
This allowed the brewers to follow the Reinheitsgebot even through the summers.
This traditional style gave the Crooked Coast a malty and roasted flavor. Jess noted
hints of nut and chocolate while I was impressed with the complexity of this amber,
being more accustomed to smoother interpretations.