Slideshow: Brew Day

Behind the scenes at the local brewery

Brewing beer at Steel & Oak is part science, part art, and a whole lot of toil.

Since opening in the summer of 2014, the craft brewery next to the Third Avenue overpass has already expanded its beer making capacity to 270,000 litres and added a bottling line. The tasting room has become a community gathering place; even baby and momma groups meet there on some afternoons, their strollers parked akimbo amidst the tall industrial steel stools and wooden tables.

But it’s in the back where the magic happens. Continue reading “Slideshow: Brew Day”

Five Tips To Help Take The Pain Out of Tax Time

Local bean counter Giuliana Graves with some good advice.

I tell all my friends that January is the perfect time to start thinking about taxes. I usually get a very unimpressed look and hear the common reply “Oh, I have until April to get those done!”

While that may be true, I often find the first part of the year flies by, especially when we all get back into our own routines after the December holidays. If there’s anything that preparing tax returns has taught me, people will wait and wait, and the next thing they notice — it’s April and there are stories in the paper, on the radio, and online reminding them it’s time to get that tax return done. At that point, I get a lot of questions from friends, especially those with business activity to report on their personal taxes. I always wish my friends had started with their preparation sooner. If they asked me earlier in the year, this is what I would tell them.

Continue reading “Five Tips To Help Take The Pain Out of Tax Time”

El Santo brings new vibe, optimism to Columbia Street

El Santo is a sign of the revitalization of Columbia Street, and signals a possible return to the “Golden Mile”.

Alejandro Diaz is so committed to creating a new vibe on Columbia Street, he hired a crane to help install a 1000-pound tortilla maker in his new restaurant, El Santo.

He could have just imported tortillas or sourced them from a supplier, said Diaz, but it’s details like freshly-made tortillas that will set his new venture apart, and solidify New Westminster’s growing reputation in foodie circles.

The machine, which he imported from Mexico, is a big, expensive commitment and the stakes are high.

El Santo is the first tenant to open in the commercial ground floor of Robert Fung’s gleaming new condo tower that rises 20 stories above the historic facades of the historic Trapp and Holbrook blocks. The Edwardian structures were built in the late 1800s, then rebuilt after the great fire of 1898 destroyed much of the city’s original downtown.

The Trapp Block was once a department store. The Holbrook was a hotel and saloon. Both fell on tough times when the lustre left the city’s Golden Mile, as Columbia Street was once known in its heyday.

Fung’s Salient Group acquired the structures in 2005 then bided its time until New West was ready for a project to spark its historic downtown much as other Salient projects have transformed Vancouver’s old Gastown district from tacky tourist haunt to a chic urban destination for new restaurants, bistros and boutiques.

“Our strongest takeaway from our work in the Vancouver historic districts is that the strength of the area will come from the passion and commitment of the business owners that we work with,” said Fung. “This invariably leads us to favouring independent local business owners that have a passion and understanding for the area.”

That passion is percolating, said Kendra Johnston, of the city’s Downtown Business Improvement Association.

Continue reading “El Santo brings new vibe, optimism to Columbia Street”

The ill-defined line between ‘sexy’ and ‘seedy’

New West is hardly first on the list of scandalous locales, but our little city does a fine job of demonstrating the strange and ill-defined gulf between what is culturally acceptable sexuality and what is taboo.

Sex & Our City

It sells, it titillates, it outrages. Sex, or the promise of it, is a primary motivator for a tremendous amount of human behaviour from baby-making to bar fights. From the moment that puberty rears its hormone-y head, only asexual folks seem to be immune to the madness; busying themselves with far more sensible things than those of us caught between surging desire and a spinning moral compass. Few things on earth are as heavily contested as sexuality – be it the concept as a whole, or the individual experience and expression thereof.

Even within Metro Vancouver, New West is hardly first on the list of scandalous locales, but our little city does a fine job of demonstrating the strange and ill-defined gulf between what is culturally acceptable sexuality and what is taboo. Continue reading “The ill-defined line between ‘sexy’ and ‘seedy’”

Cheers for local craft beer: Steel & Oak celebrates a successful first year

Last month, our local craft brewery Steel & Oak turned one year old. It’s hard to believe it was only a year ago that three people inside of one week gushed to me about this amazing new spot on Third Street. “You absolutely have to try the Red Pilsner!” I remember thinking “wait… by Kirmac?”

Jamie Garbutt & Jorden Foss
Steel & Oak founders Jamie Garbutt (L) and Jorden Foss. Photo courtesy Steel & Oak.

Last month, our local craft brewery Steel & Oak turned one year old. It’s hard to believe it was only a year ago that three people inside of one week gushed to me about this amazing new spot on Third Street. “You absolutely have to try the Red Pilsner!”

I remember thinking “wait… by Kirmac?”

So, after much coaxing (ok, not that much), I stopped by to buy a Growler, chatting the staff up about the offerings. From the famous Red Pilsner to the Smoked Hefeweizen, to my personal favorite, the ESB, every fill brought a new adventure and, lucky me, it was just down the street for a refill.

In an interview given to VanCity Buzz in August of last year, Founders James Garbutt and Jorden Foss talked about why they started the brewery in New Westminster. Both were raised here and were “choked there was no local brewery,” particularly since there has always been a brewing history in New West (Labatt had a factory for years in Sapperton on the site now known as “The Brewery District.”)

The idea turned into a much anticipated project in the Lower Mainland, with beer aficionados eagerly anticipating the opening date. To raise additional start-up capital, the brewery turned to crowdsourcing through a “Founder’s Club”  with a $500 buy-in. The initial 40 Founder’s Club memberships sold out within three hours.

“People were calling me and they were upset because they missed it, because they didn’t sign up within those three hours,” Foss said.

The founders quickly decided to open up registration to 80 members. They sold out again within days, and added an additional four spots to accommodate a few stragglers who begged to be allowed in.

“It’s crazy to think that we were literally fighting people not to give us money,” Foss said. “It was super overwhelming and humbling. We were really taken aback by how cool it was that so many people were betting on us. It also added a lot more pressure too!”

The Founder’s Club experience was a good indicator of the pent-up demand for local craft beer. The brewery hasn’t had to spend any money on advertising so far – they sell everything they make to repeat customers and beer fans drawn by word-of-mouth buzz.

Like most local breweries, S&O focuses on fresh, high quality ingredients, rotating tap experiments, flights to get your flavor on, and a personality all its own.

The tasting room features a rich wood interior, plenty of bar seating, and snacks on site. Since the tasting room doesn’t sport a full kitchen, S&O started working with local food trucks to offer a rotating menu along with the rotating taps. A family-friendly spot for a pint, lemonade is always on tap for the kids. There’s even an occasional Babies & Beer meetup there organized by a local moms’ group.

S&O launched with a splash, but Foss says that in their second year they plan to focus on refining their recipes and expanding their bottle distribution.

“This year from Steel & Oak you’ll see an added focus on bottles (we are now distributing BC wide) and instead of having a bunch of different beers that are only available for a month or so you’ll see a more focused group of beers that will be made more often and made available to more restaurants, pubs and liquor stores.”

S&O also plans to brew more sour beers and barrel aged projects, aiming to double production volumes by 2017.

Steel & Oak is located at 1319 Third Ave., under the overpass to Quayside Drive, near Pacific Breeze Winery. The tasting room is open daily. Brewery tours are available on Saturdays at 2pm & 4pm.