Big Rock Brewery brings its Northern ale empire to Vancouver

Thursday 28th, August 2014 / 21:04
By Mathieu Youdan
Photo: Mathieu Youdan

Photo: Mathieu Youdan

VANCOUVER — When Big Rock Brewery’s founder and philanthropist Ed McNally started brewing ales in 1985, he pioneered a changing trend in the West Coast. “Ed was 60 years old when he started Big Rock,” says Vancouver-based brewmaster Jody Hammel of the late visionary. “He was 89 years old when he passed away, and up until just a couple of years ago, he was at the brewery every single day. That’s some pretty impressive stuff.”

McNally wasn’t in the business of brewing regular shelf beer, as any aficionado of Alberta-based Big Rock can attest. “He tried to sell porters and bitters and English Browns at a time when, in Calgary, in the Prairies, in Canada, it was absolutely dominated by beers that were like Molson, Golden, Rainier and Budweiser,” Hammel explains. “That’s a pretty ballsy manoeuvre to do, and to actually pull that off and do it, and leave his legacy behind…”

McNally passed away on August 19th, before he got to personally witness Big Rock’s new Vancouver location. A large microbrewery currently under construction, Hammel has a lot of big ideas for its future. “We’re going to be focused on hyperlocal ingredients,” he cites of its many unique features. “One of Big Rock’s mantras is to brew deliberately different beer.”

Hammel can attest that the Big Rock legacy is told best from the ale that started it all. “I go on a tangent with different brands, but I find myself always coming back to Traditional [Ale],” Hammel admonishes. “I find it just to be a true, classic benchmark brown ale.” And when he’s finished off one too many of their Traditional… there’s quite an easy cure. “Have another one,” Hammel chuckles.

Their new Vancouver location not only amounts to more fresh brews on local shelves but also new ingredients. “There’s a plethora of local ingredients that are continually coming up in harvest throughout most of the year. I would like to work with as much as I can get my hands on.” Hammel says, taking time to moniker Vancouver the “North Portland.” “It’s kind of a party, where everyone’s got their beer coolers, and I’m just dragging another cooler on to the scene and opening up another party.”

Big Rock Brewery is also expanding East into Ontario this year, a welcome addition to the Canadian beer market. With some of the most unique beers being constantly produced, it’s no wonder Hammel calls Big Rock, “deliberately different beer.” And for craftspeople of a cloudy headed drink, that’s quite a lot of clarity.

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