When Will Miller starts "getting super excited" about barley, he's often met with blank stares.
"People are like, 'What's barley?'" said the co-owner of Pemberton's newest microbrewery, The Beer Farmers.
"I know hops is the cool kid on the block right now, but really the base of (beer) is barley."
The Miller family is hoping to shine a light on beer's most underappreciated ingredient at their organic farm in the Meadows, where they will not only serve a range of homebrewed beers, but also grow their own barley.
"There are some breweries that buy farms; we're farmers that started a brewery. That's how we see ourselves," Miller said. "We're going to be the first farm brewery that I know of in B.C. that is growing barley right on the property." According to Miller, much of the barley used in B.C. beer comes from Manitoba and is typically all the same variety. "So when everyone is getting (barley) from the same source, although there's a lot of unique and different things you can do with it, you don't develop a lot of interesting regional terroir, to use a wine term," added Miller.
And, as third-generation farmers, the Millers know Pemberton's distinct soil well. Will's father, Bruce, has been working the fields at his 200-hectare farm, Across the Creek Organics, one of B.C.'s largest suppliers of organic potatoes, for 60 years. And although barley will be "a bit of an experiment," it's one that the family is committed to wholeheartedly.
"We're not necessarily aiming to use our barley in every beer, but we want some beers to be all about the homegrown barley," the younger Miller said, noting that the brewery's farmhouse-style ales will use the farm-grown barley. "We're so excited to have the stuff that's grown right here. For us, it's about slow food and rural empowerment. We're sick of driving to Vancouver every time you need this or that."
The family affair doesn't end there: Will's mom, Brenda, will handle the brewing. Self-taught—with a little help from Whistler's Coast Mountain Brewing, where she learned the ropes for close to a year—Brenda's interest in beer stemmed from her homespun hospitality.
"You want to have something awesome for your guests, especially on a farm. There's always people around, there's workers, there's family, there's friends, everyone comes to visit," Miller said. "For her, it was always about trying to have the best beer available to share with people, and I think that's a common theme throughout brewing."
Beer lovers will get a taste of that hospitality at the indoor-outdoor tasting room located on the property, where they can unwind with a cold brew without having to do any of those pesky farm chores.
"This is where it all started for us: we sit out after a hard day's work and have a beer in the hottest part of the day. Everyone's going to experience a bit of that," said Miller.
Initial plans are to roll out half a dozen beers, including a lager, a stout and some IPAs along with the farmhouse beers that likely won't be available in time for opening day. Guests will be able to fill a growler, with plans to move into bottles sometime down the line.
With the Pemberton Brewing Co. opening earlier this year, the Spud Valley is now home to two microbreweries that Miller hopes give people even more reason to visit Pemberton.
"There's just a really romantic view of Pemberton, and we're excited with this other brewery in town that people will want to come to Pemberton and do stuff," Miller said. "It's exciting to see, especially growing up here. There's more stuff to do and more interesting draws."
The Beer Farmers are slated to open next week. Visit www.thebeerfarmers.com for more information.