Brewing Begbie beers
The Larsons made major career and location changes when they opened Mt. Begbie Brewing Co., and now the company is thriving
Tracey and Bart Larson decided they wanted to live in a place where they could pursue their love of the outdoors while still having fulfilling careers. It was 1996 and Bart made tasty homebrews as a hobby, so the couple packed up their lives in Vancouver, B.C., and moved to Bart’s hometown of Revelstoke, where they opened Mt. Begbie Brewing Co.
It might sound a little bit like living a crazy dream, but at the time there were fewer than 20 craft breweries in the province, and failure rates for new craft brewing companies were one in two. Despite these facts and their scientific careers—Bart has a Ph.D. in physics and Tracey has a bachelor's degree in zoology—the Larsons jumped into an industry in which they had no experience and started making beer.
“Bart liked combining the science with the art form of it and creating different recipes,” said Tracey. “Friends and family that drank his beer always thought that it was really good quality, and it was something that was just starting to get popular around the time we were looking at it in the mid-1990s. We were inspired by other breweries in Vancouver and just decided that it would be fun to take your hobby to become your work.”
A place to brew
Revelstoke provided a welcoming community with great water quality—an important element in brewing—and an abundance of the active outdoor activities that the Larsons craved. The consumer culture, however, originally proved to be a challenge. Tracey said the market wasn’t quite ready for a craft-brewed beer and more generic big brands dominated. The last 18 years, however, have seen the target demographic open up to unique, local products, and now a variety of Begbie brews are popular throughout the Kootenays and beyond.
In fact, Mt. Begbie Brewing products have won some notable Canadian Brewing Awards. Tracey believes the brewery’s dedication to quality has contributed to its success. The Larsons never rush their beer through the process, knowing that their reputation depends on the final product. Timing and other key decisions aren’t automated, but are each made by the brewer. The Larsons have also stuck with their own classic core values, avoiding the temptation to jump on any trends of the moment.
“Quality has always been first and foremost in our mandate or our philosophy, and we're always striving to keep that up,” said Tracey. “As we've grown as a company, we've made technological advances that we couldn't afford in the early days—machinery that measures oxygen and high-level canning equipment, stuff like that—so we've really stepped it up. We've always had a lab where we could analyze our beer and do quality control, that was in from day one. It's really just about making sure you have the best product quality.”
Making it work and then some
After 18 years, Mt. Begbie Brewing Co. can certainly count itself as a resounding member of the 50 per cent of new breweries from 1996 that went on to survive. The company has outgrown its current facility and is working on finding a new location, still in Revelstoke. At the moment, Begbie Brewing stores raw goods at different facilities. The Larsons are looking forward to an updated building with a design to better offer touring and tasting—a service they see demand for at their brewery and in Revelstoke.
For the Larsons, the greatest satisfaction comes from accomplishing their goals in a tough new industry.
“I still get excited when I go in a liquor store and see our products on the shelf,” said Tracey. “(I think), wow, we did that.”