Victoria’s Lighthouse Brewery celebrates sweet 15

Legally speaking, coming of age happens in B.C. at 19. But a Victoria microbrewery has already more than come into its own before its 15th birthday.

And while the age of majority in this province remains the same, Victoria’s Lighthouse Brewing is a very different animal than when the business started 15 years ago.

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“We have changed so much over the last few years, it’s actually hard to keep up with the pace we have set for ourselves,” said sales and marketing manager John Fitterer. “We are ready to explode.”

The brewery, founded in 1998 by Paul Hoyne (who remains one of the owners, though he has stepped away from day-to-day operations), is a far cry from the small, single-brew outfit that unleashed Race Rocks amber ale on the world.

After sticking with four basic brews for most of its history, the brewery now has a stable of seven beers. Over the last two years, Lighthouse has launched more than a dozen small-batch, creative brews and continues to add to that list regularly.

“We are constantly looking for the next big beer,” Fitterer said.

That in itself is a change.

For years, the brewery, which employs 21 people, was focused on maintaining its small range of brews and was unwilling to expand its footprint or move out of its comfort zone, Fitterer said.

That policy has cost them some talented beer makers who wanted to take risks and experiment with flavours and styles — some former employees went on to do just that by founding Driftwood Brewing.

Fitterer called that a wake-up call. “We needed to evolve,” he said. “We had to keep up. And we don’t just want to keep up, but lead.”

Expanding its footprint with a 6,000-square-foot addition helped them do that, offering space to create and to think.

“Before expansion, we were so busy just trying to keep up we couldn’t look forward,” he said. “Now we can.”

In fact, they can see a time when the existing Esquimalt plant may not be big enough.

The brewery has added agents in the Okanagan and Whistler, now sells into Alberta and wants to add new staff every year to open up new territories, including the U.S.

“We have our ducks in a row and we’re ready to explode,” said Fitterer, noting that, until the facility expanded, they had trouble just meeting demand during thirsty summers. That challenge has been resolved.

However, head brewer Dean McLeod said there are plenty of others ahead. “It’s an exciting time,” he said, noting they have created a pilot system for new beer in which the brewers come together, set taste and style targets and try to create something the world wants to drink.

“It’s rewarding when you hit the targets you set for yourself,” he said. Siren Red Ale, launched this year, is a perfect example of a beer that went from concept, to being brewed in small batches to being mass produced for sale in four-packs of cans.

“It’s the first beer to make that whole journey.”

The four-pack is one of two new products being launched this week during the 15th anniversary celebrations.

Siren cans should be ready today and McLeod has also produced a limited edition (500 cases) Anniversary Ale — it’s inspired by Race Rocks, but has been “amped up” considerably.

“We asked ourselves what defines us, and Race Rocks defines us,” Fitterer said.

“We’ve just dialled it up a little.”

Fitterer said the company is coming into its own at just the right time.

We seem to be in a “golden age” for microbrewers in this region, evident in expansions at rival breweries like Phillips and Vancouver Island Brewing.

“We are in the greatest spot at the right time,” he said.

Oh, to be 15 again.

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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