Meet the Millers. They farm potatoes. And now they’re farming beer too. Writer Lisa Richardson digs in.
The first thing Brenda Miller said when she moved to the farm with her husband Bruce was, “We could have a brewery here.” They were barely into their 20s, with a new son, and just getting started to raise the fourth generation of farmers to work that patch of loamy soil in Pemberton, located north of Whistler, British Columbia. Bruce gave the brewery idea short shrift: “No. We’re raising kids.”
The Millers went on to have five boys, all now a crop of men who are too busy with university to take on organic potato growing, not even for the spuds that power Schramm’s, Pemberton’s award-winning vodka distillery. So Bruce bought Brenda a birthday present: the trademark for “The Beerfarmers.” “What does this mean?” she asked. Pemberton Valley Beer Works was officially a go.
Anticipated to open in spring 2017, it will be Pemberton’s first farm-to-tap brewery, yielding 1,000-litre batches of locally sourced microbrew at a time. “We’re not getting out of potatoes,” says Bruce. “But we’re 50 years old, and why not? It doesn’t rain in a brewery and there are no floods, flea beetle, wire worm or late blight to stress us out.” Apart from the yeast, all the main ingredients—the water, barley and hops—will come from the farm.
“No one else does that,” says Bruce. “It’s kind of a fun project when you’re doing something no one else is doing yet.” They are also reclaiming a womanly tradition that has been at the heart of civilization since Mesopotamia, Gilgamesh and the Egyptian pyramids: women were the first brewers, Brenda tells me.
Last winter, laid up with a broken ankle, she took a 17-week online brewing course and graduated an adept chemist and a fount of beer trivia and unbridled enthusiasm. “Brenda is a beer genius,” says Bruce. “She started making beer on the kitchen stove. People used to think that beer is magic in a bottle. Brenda likes unlocking those secrets.”
Their Pemberton ingredients make a good Scotch ale, which is apt, given that Bruce’s grandfather Will Miller walked into Pemberton Valley from Scotland in 1895 from the place where malting barley grows best. The local lightly mineralized water also brews excellent pilsners and lagers, “the dad beers” as Brenda calls them. “I want to brew beer with a sense of place,” says Brenda. “A really good potato beer is the one I’m chasing next. The key is to get that terroir to come through.”