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Blood, sweat, tears, steel and oak

Brewmaster Peter Schulz, Jorden Foss and Jamie Garbutt celebrate the opening of their New Westminster micro-brewery, Steel & Oak. Visitors to the lounge will be able to try the beers they
Brewmaster Peter Schulz, Jorden Foss and Jamie Garbutt celebrate the opening of their New Westminster micro-brewery, Steel & Oak. Visitors to the lounge will be able to try the beers they're offering, then take them home in giant 'growler' bottles. The brewery plans to add a bottling line later this year.
— image credit: MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER

There's a lot of blood, sweat and tears in Steel & Oak.

Money too.

As well as sleepless nights, hours completing paperwork, anxiety over faltering equipment.

In fact, getting New Westminster's first craft brewery up and running has been such a harrowing, roller coaster experience, Jorden Foss and Jamie Garbutt would do it all over again. In the pull of a tap.

Even as the duo, along with brewmaster Peter Schulz, prepared to welcome the general public to their tasting room for the first time on Tuesday, there were complications.

The sign was finally going up on the front of their building next to the Third Avenue overpass after languishing for months in city building codes and red tape. The CO2 system to power their taps broke down.

It's been so busy Foss, Garbutt and Schulz have barely had time to taste the ferment of their labours.

But if the buzz on social media, the response at local pubs with their initial brews on tap, and the lineup out the door of members of their Founders' Club getting an early preview last weekend are any indication, they'll enjoy every hoppy drop.

 

The journey from a couple of buddies with a taste for craft beer and an idea to opening the first brewery in New West since Labatt closed its giant plant in Sapperton has taken Foss and Garbutt almost a year.

Much of that time was spent wading through four levels of government bureaucracy and spending money without any revenues coming back into the business.

"The biggest shock is the sticker prices for equipment," said Foss, who gave up his job in audio production to dedicate himself full-time to the brewery. "You can't buy used equipment anymore because craft brewing is so popular."

To start, Steel & Oak has four 1,700-litre stainless steel fermenting tanks, but they're already planning to expand with two more 5,100 litre tanks en route. They're also awaiting delivery of eight 200-litre oak barrels to bring a different flavour to some of their beers.

Foss said Steel & Oak's business plan was built on producing 50,000 litres of beer a year, but they'll likely double or triple that. A bottling line will be added in the fall.

Since the tanks were installed in the back garage of a former auto body shop, brewmaster Schulz has been experimenting with recipes that will bring a unique experience to the booming craft beer scene. One of those is a red pilsner. Another is a smoked Hefeweisen.

"We're able to play around a bit more," said Foss. "For us it's more about finding a niche with different styles of beers."

Setting up in their hometown has also created opportunities for Foss and Garbutt. Almost every pub in the city is eager to get their beer on tap. They're already in three and more are scheduled to take delivery of their kegs.

But with that comes more than a little pressure to live up to expectations.

"There's no point in our lives we'll ever be more popular," said Foss. "But then that weighs on you. People are relying on us. They want to be proud of us."

Just as Foss and Garbutt are proud to be bringing a brewery back to New West.

"We want people to say this is the best beer around, and it's from New West," said Foss.

Steel & Oak is located at 1319 Third Ave., below the Third Ave. overpass. The tasting lounge is open every day but Monday, from noon to 8 p.m., and until 10 p.m. on Thursday through Saturday.

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