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Meistering the Brew

Brewer Mike Kelly and chef John Bennett of the BrewHouse, and why they love their work

"Brewmeisters, they’re all the same," Geoff Weddell, GM of the BrewHouse, says, watching his brewmesiter Mike Kelly climb the stairs to tend to his vats.

"How so?"

"Gum boots."

While brewmeisters may all sport the same footwear, there is nothing average about Mike Kelly’s passion for beer brewing. "I taught English in Japan for two years and it was there that I learned from a sushi master that you can develop a real passion for your craft. You can always be learning, trying something new and growing. That’s what I love about it."

Kelly spent five years at the old Whistler Brewing Company, learning his craft and taking courses in chemistry and beer making at UC Davis in California. He moved south to the Howe Sound Brewing Company in Squamish for close to three years before he found a home at the BrewHouse this last May.

Coming into the summer season Kelly created wheat and pale honey lager beers. Now that we’re into fall, he’s created Marzen, a German style lager served during Octoberfest celebrations. Kelly says the Marzen he’s created has a slightly sweet, toasty malt flavour and aroma, with a pleasant herbal, spicy hop nose to the beer.

"That’s what is so great about this job," Kelly enthuses. "I love the creativity of it. It’s a real challenge to get all the ingredients in sync. A beer can be too bitter or sweet, too much alcohol, or too light. It’s a great feeling when it all comes together and someone tells me that they really enjoyed that beer.

"The best compliment a brewmeister can get, is when someone tries something they normally don’t drink like a dark or bitter and they still can say, ‘that’s a good beer.’"

So what does Kelly consider the key to brewing a great beer?

"Balance. That’s the key. People don’t realize that there is more beer varieties than there are varieties in wine, although the snob quotient isn’t as high. But believe it or not I have met a few beer snobs in my time."

But it’s obvious by his laid back, friendly manner, Kelly isn’t brewing the seven beers that the BrewHouse currently has on tap for beer snobs. No, Kelly’s joy in his work comes when the locals and tourists come back for a beer that’s different and good.

"I love the immediate feedback you get in this job. When a customer tells me that they really enjoyed that beer it makes my day."

Directly below Kelly’s beer vats, burns the wood burning pizza oven that head chef John Bennett says drew him initially to the BrewHouse. "When I moved west I wanted to come right to Whistler for the skiing but I couldn’t find a place and a job right away. So I took a gig with Yaletown Brewing Co. in Vancouver because I was fascinated in learning how to cook with a wood burning oven. So when the people who owned Yaletown opened the BrewHouse I couldn’t move here fast enough. "

Six years later, Bennett says he’s completely happy at the BrewHouse, with no plans to move, a truly remarkable occurrence in a notoriously fickle industry. "I’m just incredibly happy here. I get to meet cooks from all around the world who come here for a season or two. And I learn their techniques and I teach them how to cook for a high volume. Plus, I get to ski."

Bennett loves to cook and ski so much that he is relinquishing his head chef title.

"Being the head chef the last year I found was a little too much. I like to cook more than looking after the line. And I found I couldn’t ski as much as I wanted to, so I’m going back to cooking and skiing more."

Bennett says he finds cooking for the restaurant and pub sides of the BrewHouse equally fun and challenging. No doubt many a Whistler local would praise Bennett’s dedication to both sides, as the BrewHouse features one of the best food deals in Whistler, with its half price pub fare that is so much better than your normal, MSG packed food found in most pubs.

"I like cooking for the locals just as much for the tourists. And I like knowing that I’m sending out quality food."

As for his favorite dish on the BrewHouse menu, Bennett says he doesn’t really have one, although he does recommend the chicken matzoh soup and the roast beef cooked in the wood rotisserie.

Sounds wonderful. Does Bennett ever get asked to cook at home, a question that produces a laugh from the chef. "Actually I don’t cook that much at home. Maybe if I’m having a dinner party or something, but other than that, I don’t cook at home."

Hmmm, sounds like a dinner invite from John Bennett is as elusive and as welcome as the free seasons ski pass!

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