Call it an ale of two cities.
Forget seeing, smelling, hearing and feeling the differences between the seasons of the Bulkley Valley — now you can taste them.
Last Wednesday renowned Indigenous Canadian artist Roy Henry Vickers was at Smithers Brewing Co. (SBC) to celebrate a first in local beermaking innovation.
Partnering with SBC, the team has created the Skeena Seasonal Series: four unique, seasonal beers that correspond to each of the four seasons in the Skeena.
Each of the four unique offerings feature Vickers’ unique artwork on the label and feature a number of locally-sourced ingredients. Three of the beers feature local honey, which SBC co-owner Blaine Estby said was sold to the brewery at a steep discount by local producer Bulkley Valley Hive & Honey.
To celebrate the launch Vickers talked about how the series fits into the larger theme of protecting the Skeena for future generations.
The collaboration began with the intent of creating a variety of beers to represent the artwork and flavours of the region.
Vickers said the link between beer and environmental stewardship is simple: water.
“Water is what we’re all made of. [It’s] the most precious thing that we have on the face of the earth and so it was a no-brainer that if you’re going to do beer then we should bring attention to the Skeena River drainage,” he said.
Estby said the plan to create a collaborative beer representative of the region had been in the works even longer than the brewery had been open.
“We had a conversation about it and we started talking about how we could utilize local ingredients from the Skeena region and sort of integrate Roy’s artwork,” said Estby.
Initially the plan was just to create a one-off beer, however after the creation of their Old Man Winter Ale Estby said the whole thing sort of just snowballed.
“It ended up becoming an entire seasonal series, so basically a new beer every three months to represent the seasons of the Skeena.”
The four featured beers (Cloudwaters Witbier – Spring; Sunset Summer Ale – Summer; Smoke on the Water Amber Ale – Fall; Old Man Winter Wee Heavy – Winter) were on sale in limited-edition variety packs during the event.
But even if you missed them, you will be able to try each over the next year as Estby said they will continue to be sold on a seasonal basis, with this year’s batch of Old Man Winter Ale being the first of the series the brewery has done a second round of.
Estby said the name for the offering is a reference to the wildfires that plagued B.C. in the summer and fall of 2018 and covered the Valley in a huge plume of smoke for many days.
“The evacuees from up in, like, the Telegraph Creek and Stikine region and from Southside out by Burns Lake and stuff were all here, they were all coming in, coming to our brewery so we really wanted to do something to give back to them,” he said.
Vickers said he wasn’t much of a beer drinker before he began on the series.
That has now changed, as he says he has discovered a love for craft beer, especially smoked ales.
To that end, Vickers said he would like to build a smokehouse on the Skeena to smoke the grains used for the 2020 iteration of Old Man Winter.
“I want to use alder wood from the coast which is what we smoke salmon with.”
He said his hope is that people will both enjoy the beverages and that they will inspire them to think about their connection to the local environment.
“To me what better thing to sit around and talk about over a beer than how much we should take care of the land we live in and the rivers that flow by our door.”
Discussing his recently-released book Voices of the Skeena, which features illustrated stories combined with text excerpts from the interviews of CBC radio producer Imbert Orchard recorded in the 1960s, Vickers made an interesting point.
“Really what’s happened is these beers are more voices from the Skeena.”
SBC is one of two craft breweries currently operating in Smithers.
It opened its doors on June 27, 2018.