Four Winds Brewing Company
To say the brewery scene on the West Coast in Vancouver has blown up in the last few years would be an understatement. Although I’ve always enjoyed the occasional crisp brew, I’d never considered myself a fan of craft beer until I found myself falling for a chef-turned home brewer, who is now part of creating the line-up at Four Winds Brewing. I now know more about hops than I ever did and often frequent beer-related events. Four Winds were awarded ‘Brewery of the Year’ at this year’s Canadian Beer Awards. Awhile back I chatted with Brewery owner Brent Mills to learn his story and just how serious he is about pour over coffee.
(This article was originally published in May in Montecristo Magazine.)
Photos by Alison Page
Rusted warehouses and industrial strip malls sprawl across the district of Delta, B.C. It might not be the type of place that first comes to the minds of those seeking out craft beer, but that may change now that it is home to Four Winds Brewing Company. Since opening in 2013, the brewery has earned a loyal following, drawing locals and visitors alike. The beers have won several awards for the incorporation of Brettanomyces (wild yeast) and unique ingredients, including Silver for Juxtapose at the World Beer Cup and Silver for Operis at the Canadian Brewing Awards last year.
“The first time I brewed a home batch was with my dad in his kitchen 10 years ago,” says Brent Mills, who co-founded the brewery with his father Greg and older brothers Sean and Adam. “We looked at each other as we were putting the beer in the fermenter, and I said, ‘Let’s open a brewery one day.’” Brent says he’s been lucky to work with family from day one and has since hired a second brewer, Kylo Hoy (staff has now expanded to 15 team members).
Inside the tasting room, teal wallpaper patterned with symbols for hops, barley, yeast, and water adorns one wall, while a painting by Vancouver artist Andy Dixon occupies another (Dixon also did the branding for the company, including the patterned wallpaper). At 9:00 a.m. the brewery is buzzing with staff, cracking jokes and going over jobs for the day. Fueled by camaraderie and inspiration, it is evident that the work environment is anything but boring. Adam and Sean take turns playing piano while Brent makes coffee, a routine he takes very seriously. “Sometimes it takes up to an hour,” tasting room manager Seamus Munns jokes.
Brent worked as a cook for many years, moving on to R&B Brewing before venturing out on his own. With much coercion from his dad, the two drove to San Diego for a craft brewer’s conference, stopping at 20 breweries along the way, observing owners’ practices and listening to their stories. “At the time, Vancouver didn’t really have a [brewing] scene, but I knew that was going to change.” Brent describes the conference as Disneyland for the craft beer community. “It was kind of overwhelming and made me think, ‘Can I really do this?’ I felt small with all these giants around us.” But shortly after returning home they began plans to design and build the brewery. They spent six months brewing and tweaking dozens of small-scale batches before opening to the public in June 2013.
Upon opening, the Mills clan produced their ‘standard’ beers, which include Saison (the first beer they ever brewed), I.P.A, Pilsner, Pale Ale and Oat Porter, but soon branched out into more experimental brews, most of which are now much sought-after. Their ‘Eurus’ series, named after the Greek God of the East winds, takes inspiration from the ancient European styles, and features bottle-conditioned beers that incorporate ingredients ranging from elderflower to local honey. The ‘Zephyrus’ series pays homage to the hop-forward beer styles of the West Coast, and includes their Juxtapose, brewed with wild yeast, which adds a funk to the tropical fruit notes, and Phaedra, a Belgian-style IPA-brewed with both wheat and rye.
Lucky for beer connoisseurs, most of these varieties can be enjoyed in their on-site tasting room or sampled at one of over 400 purveyors in the Vancouver area alone. Since those early days, Brent says the process has been both exciting and nerve-racking; “To be able to see our beers on tap at different restaurant and in bottles—that’s a pretty good feeling.”