In 1862, New Westminster was granted the third brewery license in BC, and from then on, the city has had a proud tradition of brewing. New West even had what I would call a “Beer Baron”, in Nels Nelson. Nelson consolidated the brewing in New West and was even granted a special exemption during prohibition to brew beer for export (much of which was illegally sold in New West anyway). That, along with a special brewing license granted after prohibition was lifted, helped Nelson become one of the richest and most influential figures in the city. You can still see the mansion he built in 1913 at 127 Queens Ave.
Eventually, Nelson sold his business and over time it transformed until we ended up with a Labatt brewery at the corner of Columbia and Brunette. And that didn’t last forever, either, as it closed in 2005, bringing to a close the brewing tradition of New Westminster.
Enter: Steel & Oak Brewing Co.
I first heard about Steel & Oak on October 1, 2013, when they tweeted “#CraftBeer is coming to #NewWest!”. I was, shall we say, excited. And that was even before I found out they’re a mere 5 minute walk from my place.
Fast forward 8 ½ months and countless brewery building pictures on Instagram, and S&O is getting ready to open their doors.
I had the opportunity to meet with co-owner Jorden Foss a few days ago for a chat and tour of the brewery. Jorden comes across as a guy who really cares about beer. We talked about beer/food pairings, barrel aging, and surviving in a congested market by focusing on making good beer, all the time.
I like how they name their fermentation vessels.
Jorden gets it. However, passion and a love of good beer from ownership can’t carry a brewery on its own. That’s where Peter, their head brewer, comes in. Peter has extensive training in Germany, both in education and actual brewing. He has ideas, the confidence to pull them off, and because of his experience, Jorden and Jaime are giving him the freedom to follow through on those ideas.
But the proof is in the pudding, as they say. So what does the beer taste like?
I sampled a dry-hopped ESB, Red Pilsner, and Beechwood-Smoked Hefeweizen. And every single one is good. I’m not even a big fan of Pilsners, but I could drink this one all day. The ESB (Extra Special Bitter) is excellent and deserves a try from everyone, including people scared of the name ESB. Trust me, it’s good. Try it.
The real crown jewel in my opinion is the Hefe. I think I can honestly say that this is one of my favourite hefeweizens, anywhere. The smoke is very subtle, so don’t be deterred because all it does is add a nice layer of complexity to an already excellent brew. Those who read my VCBW coverage will remember how much I liked this beer back then. If you can believe it, it tastes even better now. This will be my first growler fill when they open.
So, with my early impressions, does Steel & Oak live up to my lofty expectations? Cool owners? Check. Planned barrel-aging program? Check. Plans for different, interesting seasonals? Check. Great beer? Check.
Yes, I believe my faith was not misplaced. I’ve found my new local watering hole.
It’s time to start a new brewing tradition in New West, with Steel & Oak leading the way.
Steel & Oak Brewing Co.
1319 Third Avenue, New Westminster