“Everybody was standing at the edge of the pool and we were like ‘We’re doing it, we’re jumping,” says Chloe Smith, co-owner and general manager of Townsite Brewing. The metaphorical pool she is referring to is the Townsite district in Powell River, British Columbia on the territory of the Tla’amin Nation, roughly a 170-kilometre drive and two ferry rides from Vancouver. Dropping a brewery into an old post office in a sleepy part of a remote town with less than 14,000 residents might look like dropping a plastic kiddie pool on a patio and hoping for a water park turnout, but that would be underestimating the power of craft beer and community.
The idea for a brewery began, well, brewing in 2010. Craving options beyond Labatt and Lucky, locals Michelle Zutz and Karen Skadsheim pitched Steven Brooks, a senior systems analyst who had been investing and revitalizing Townsite properties, on opening a brewery in the Federal Building he’d bought in 2008. He said yes, and helped with the business plan and seed money. Smith and Cedric Dauchot, brewers in search of a spot to open a brewpub, joined in, along with a sixth partner Ulrich Herl, and by Spring 2012, they were filling growlers.
Ten years on, Townsite Brewing has doubled their revenue, tripled the size of their team, earned Economusée status, brought a kombucha brand into the fold, and added a beer garden. It’s attracted other businesses to the area and become a major tourist draw in addition to a resident Cheers. Brooks has seen the brewery “seal the deal” for Vancouverites and Islanders contemplating a move here. Smith says, “It’s a reminder that small business can reinvigorate a small town.”
Like a saison or stout, the making of a small-town brewery has its own recipe. There are the brass tacks. “I keep threatening to write a book titled Do Open a Brewery in a Historic Building, But Also Don't,” says Smith, laughing, “It’s a concrete and brick building, which is amazing because we create a lot of steam, but then the Wi-Fi is terrible.” In other words, determining the physical requirements is key, with a priority on pliability. “Our industry is constantly evolving, so the space needs to be flexible in the same way.” In hindsight, Smith wishes they’d also partnered with a whiz at navigating regulatory bodies. “If there's somebody who understands how government works, municipally, provincially or federally, that's a huge asset.”
The brewery was that seed that was planted, and from there, other branches grow. We kind of ended up becoming the first thing that was seen as viable in this space.
The proverbial umbrella over everything though is community. “Having roots or ties in the community already lends legitimacy,” says Brandon Frey, sales and marketing manager. Smith adds, “I think craft beer is highly focused on community as opposed to consumerism.” Townsite is hard at work developing those roots, and the mission to further a sense of place, including a Growler Program that supports local nonprofits and brews named after regional landmarks to fuel pride and exploration. Frey mentions their Mystery Reef IPA. “That’s an actual spot that’s just off the coast here. In naming our beers, we’re actually looking at a map and seeing what we want to highlight next.” They dove deeper with their Hulks series which references the World War I and II concrete ships that form a floating breakwater in Malaspina Strait. With imagery by local artists, the limited-edition beers borrow the surnames of the vessels’ former captains, including Vidal Eupen Lager, Quartz Blended Wild Ale, and Charleston Triple Abbey Tripel. “Everybody in town and the lower Sunshine Coast would know what we’re doing,” says Frey. “That direction is very hyper-local.”
While locality is baked into Townsite releases, Smith sees their industry as inherently community-focused. “Craft beer is a community glue,” she says, “We just collectively have a mindset of providing for the communities that we’re in, for working towards being inclusive, for being leaders in how businesses are run now. We are not only creating products and marketing, but also spaces.”
I think craft beer is highly focused on community as opposed to consumerism.
What makes their space different from, say, a coffee shop is that time-honoured pub mentality, or as Frey puts it, “We’re where you go after your 9 to 5 and shed the stress of the day.” Local or tourist, imbiber or teetotaler, with kids or dogs in tow, Townsite is an end-of-day and weekend rallying point unlike any other. In many ways, the neighbourhood brewery is a new kind of town square, one that’s decidedly less square.
Townsite Brewing Packaging Designs
Illustrations: ROAM Media Inc
Place is an opportunity for community to gather, connect, and share ideas that paves the way for growth. Chloe counts connection and growth among her core values. She is passionate about place as it enables her to execute these two values simultaneously.