La Dolce Vita September 27, 2013

 

A man, a case of beer and a truck

It’s not particularly unusual to find a bottle of wine on my desk. Friends and readers occasionally drop off something they think might be of interest, sometimes a home-made effort and sometimes a curiosity they have come across. It’s a special thrill when travelers bring back a bottle that I would never come across otherwise.

Recently, though, as I headed for my desk, our office manager said there was something on my desk, but that she was supposed to deliver some information—half of the bottles were cold.

The “something” was a case of Granville Island Brewery beer. I was pretty sure I didn’t know anyone with a connection to the brewery but the mystery was quickly solved. The man delivering it had left a note. He, Tom Taylor, was the brother of one of the brewery’s founders, Mitch Taylor. Tom, a long-time Creston resident, worked at Granville Island Brewery for the first years of its operation, from 1984-86.

I’m not sure what year I first visited what was Canada’s first microbrewery but it was probably around 1986 when I visited the Vancouver several times to attend the great Expo 86. It was then a unique opportunity to be able to buy beer that wasn’t made by one of the big Canadian producers like Labatt and Molson. Here was a new experience, a small producer making mostly German-style brews and Granville Island Brewery quickly became well known around the province.

I had no idea that Tom Taylor, whom I had known as a handyman and community bus driver, had worked at Granville Island in its formative years, or that he was employed at Columbia Brewery for 13 years prior to his time in Vancouver. I called and asked him to come in for a chat and we spent a very nice hour in my office.

He reminisced about those early days at Granville Island, when his brother and partner scrambled to find equipment for the brewery and get the brewery up and running. Because they were creating a first for the country they didn’t have any models to pattern themselves after. Tom hadn’t been a brewmaster but he had learned enough at Columbia Brewery “to know how to follow a recipe,” he said.

Mitch had a particularly strong ability to find knowledgeable people in many fields, some of whom were happy to lend their expertise just be part of this startup enterprise, Tom said. Among those involved in the early stages was the fellow who designed and built the famous Gastown steam clock.

As interesting as our chat was, though, it didn’t explain why Tom, now 80 years old, had chosen this time to tell me his story. But then he pointed out that the beer, a brew called Vintage 1984, was made to acknowledge the early days of the brewery. On the case is an image of a man loading cases of beer onto a vintage pickup. The man is Tom Taylor and the truck is a 1936 Ford Model B pickup, one that Tom had purchased back in the 1970s from a fellow near Bonners Ferry, Idaho. He and others spent two years restoring it and Tom was thrilled to drive it in a Blossom Festival parade. But money was short and eventually he sold the restored truck to his brother, Mitch.

When Granville Island Brewery began production, Mitch brought the Model B in to use for local deliveries, thinking correctly that it would be a great way to advertise the brewery. Signboards were mounted onto the box sides and Tom often used it to schlep cases of beer to pubs and restaurants in downtown Vancouver.

Tom got together recently in Vancouver to meet up with Mitch and another brother and they went down to the brewery—now owned by a subsidiary of Molson Coors—to visit the current brewmaster, an old friend. Only when he walked into the shop did Tom learn about the Vintage 1984 with his photo on each case. It brought back a flood of memories and he was pleased to learn that the Model B pickup in the picture is still at the brewery. He even got a chance to drive it again.

Of the beer itself, Tom said it is quite different from the early brews that he was responsible for making.

“They’ve “lightened it up quite a bit,” he laughed. The Vintage 1984 contains 5 per cent alcohol while the original, he said, was about 8 per cent.

“But when it’s chilled, it goes down really well!” Tom said.

– Lorne Eckersley

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