Most days in Prince Rupert, on British Columbia’s north coast, a dense fog rings the mountains and the air hangs heavy with salt. It’s just the sort of weather that makes beer lovers want to cozy up to a pint of robust beer in a warm space.
Wheelhouse Brewing Co. scratches that itch. With its tagline of “a little brewery at the end of the road on the left side of British Columbia,” the company has whetted the palates of locals and tourists alike for the past four years.
The brewery’s origin story is pretty straightforward, says co-owner Craig Outhet. “In 2010 a group of folks got together and said ‘Let’s start a brewery, because there isn’t one in Prince Rupert!'” Outhet says of the idea with his partners, James Witzke and Kent Orton. “From there we learned how to brew beer, built a brewery and opened it. In previous and still current lives we are a marine biologist, a Chinese medicine practitioner and a marine planner.”
The brewery has crafted more than 50 styles of beer since opening in 2013. But rather than just churning out a long list of crowd-pleasers, Wheelhouse specializes in beer that reflects the place. And what a place it is: bald eagles, grizzly bears and whales are common sightings in BC’s north, and the rugged mountain-and-island scenery feels untrodden, even with a healthy dose of cruise ship passengers descending upon coastal ports each summer.
Among the beers inspired by the place are the Gillnetter golden ale, named for the gillnet fishing fleet that scoops salmon along the North Coast. “This beer is made as a tribute to those ancient and modern day fishermen who form the backbone of the commercial fishery of the coast,” Outhet explains. “A trustworthy, steadfast and consistent brew that is as gold as the sun setting on a perfect fishing day and as crisp and rejuvenating as the North Coast air.”
The Blacksmith brown ale calls to mind the brewhouse’s prior incarnation as a blacksmith shop, and the Scurvy Dog spruce ale incorporates handpicked Sitka spruce tips. Other local ingredients factor heavily, including salmonberries and huckleberries.
“Whenever we can we like to include local ingredients because we feel this is a great way to showcase our region,” Outhet adds. The brewery even smokes its own malt in a local smokehouse for its smoked kölsch and Smokehouse porter.
Wheelhouse is in growth mode, with an expansion underway that includes installing a new brewhouse in another wing of the current building. That will allow four times the current brewing capacity, from a 3.5-barrel nano-system to a 15 barrel. “Our focus has always been on our community and region,” Outhet says, noting they only distribute the beer around northwestern and northern BC. “This expansion will allow us to meet demand coming from other areas of the province and eventually outside of BC.”