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.

Tara Coen

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