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Success pours into Ucluelet brewery at BC Beer Awards

St. Aiden’s Porter and South Swell West Coast IPA cheered at former-church-turned-brewery in Ucluelet
Ucluelet Brewing Company’s head brewer Allan Cukier celebrates two trophies at the BC Beer Awards. (Photo submitted)

Success continues to pour into the former-church-turned-brewery in the heart of Ucluelet.

The Ucluelet Brewing Company took home two awards from the BC Beer Awards last month earning third place in the Malty UK and Irish Ale category for its St. Aiden’s Porter and second place in the North American IPA category for its South Swell West Coast IPA.

The local brewery also earned honourable mention in the Spice Beer category for its Storm’s A Brewin’ Latte Stout.

St. Aiden’s Porter also earned silver at the Canadian Brewing Awards in June.

Head brewer Allan Cukier attended the B.C. awards ceremony in Vancouver and was delighted to hear Ucluelet Brewing Company’s beer recognized, telling the Westerly News that the porter is one of his favourite recipes.

“It felt like a good confirmation in my passion for that recipe,” he said.

“That one’s special. It’s our only consistently dark beer and something that I find really helps that recipe is that it’s very drinkable for being a dark beer. Sometimes dark beers can be very heavy and intimidating and this one is actually quite balanced. It’s not overwhelming with flavour, it just really kind of lends itself well to a dark stormy day on the coast. It’s a very cozy beer…Often something that drives people away from those bigger darker beers is that, not only is there a lot of flavour in general between the sweetness and the bitterness and the spiciness sometimes, but it can also be really full-bodied and really difficult to actually physically drink. What makes ours unique is that it’s a darker beer that’s very drinkable. It’s very smooth. It’s got a lot of flavour, but it’s not overwhelming.”

He said that after receiving the award for the porter he was set to head home happy, but was then surprised to hear the brewery’s name announced again for its South Swell West Coast IPA.

“I wasn’t even really paying attention and when they called my name out I didn’t really hear it until the people around me were poking my arm saying, ‘Dude, that was you guys, go up on stage.’ That second one was a total surprise and definitely I’m very proud of that recipe because it’s one of the most populated entry categories. There’s tons of IPAs in B.C…We’re really humbled to have been selected as one of the top three,” he said, adding the IPA was one of the brewery’s first staples.

“When I first was creating that recipe, I really wanted to nail down a very classic west coast IPA…I really was trying to hone in on the flavours of the big pine, the resin, the slight citrus, dank flavours for lack of a better term. It’s a beer that’s designed from our area on the West Coast. So, for me, it feels special to be recognized as one the representatives for that West Coast style given that we are one of the most West Coast breweries in Canada.”

He added that he was also proud of the honourable mention for Storm’s A Brewin’ Latte Stout, which is brewed in collaboration with Ucluelet’s Foggy Bean Coffee Company.

“We use their cold brew coffee in that stout and we add a bunch of lactose to it as well to give it that sweetness, so you get that sweet balance with the coffee roastiness,” he said.

Ucluelet Brewing Company was founded by Dennis Morgan, who was not surprised by its beer’s success.

“To a large degree it’s not surprising. It is venerating and it’s a pat on our back that we kind of expect anyway. People love this beer. It’s really, really good,” Morgan told the Westerly.

“People who are beer aficionados and know beer and they tell us our beer is amazing and I agree. I’ve drank my share of really fine beer and ours is great…We don’t aim to get a ton of awards, but it’s not surprising that we do. It’s nice to hear. It’s awesome really, but it’s no surprise. It’s great beer.”

Morgan moved to Ucluelet in 2014 and began mulling over a plan to transform the then derelict church formerly known as St. Aiden’s on the Hill into a brewery due to his passion for beer and community gathering spaces.

That idea continued to brew and the building’s owner Leif Hagar worked with Morgan to completely transform the space with the help of local builder Jonny Ferguson.

Armed with a consultant background primarily in the fishing and forestry industries, Morgan set out to launch his first brewery.

“I’m not a stranger to budgets and accounting and stuff like that, but this was next level. It was definitely upping my game a bit,” he said. “This was planning from the ground up, particularly with a huge renovation…It was something I’d never done before.”

As construction got underway, Morgan set out to find a head brewer who matched his enthusiasm and found one in Cukier, who was working as the head brewer at Vancouver’s R&B Brewing Company when he heard about Morgan’s Ucluelet brewery plans in 2019.

“My wife and I had always wanted to move to the Coast. That was where we’d spent most of our time any chance we had, long weekends, camping, surfing,” he said, adding he reached out to Morgan and the two shared common values.

“We really clicked and we felt that we could get this project moving together,” he said.

“One of the other things that I felt really strongly aligned with Dennis on was that we wanted to make craft beer accessible for as many people as possible. We really didn’t want to create a brand that was going to make people feel alienated from it in any way. Craft beer can be kind of intimidating if you’re not a beer nerd…What we really wanted to do was create very classic, simple recipes that would appeal to a wide variety of people and hopefully spread the gospel of craft beer as we go along.”

He added his experience at R&B Brewing Company, one of the oldest breweries in B.C. made him well prepared for the experience.

“When I went in to take over the job at R&B, the whole idea was to flip it around and make it a little bit more relevant, turn an older brewery into a newer brewery, so it was very much similar to the process of starting a brewery from scratch. That’s why I felt I was able to come to Ukee to help turn something brand new into a staple of the community.”

He added he liked Morgan’s vision and the idea of opening a brewery in the former church in the centre of town.

“That in itself is very unique compared to most of the breweries around B.C.,” he said, adding most breweries are located in more industrial areas. “The cool building itself lent a lot of character to the brand.”

Morgan added the brewery has become what he envisioned to a tee.

“This place is pretty much exactly how I envisioned it. It’s a neighbourhood pub and every community should have one of those. It’s a gathering space,” he said. “I think it’s additionally cool that it’s an old church, which was also a gathering space. There are different ways that community gathers. Church is one and pubs are another and we sort of are both in a sense…The craftsmanship that went into making this place is a huge factor, the amazing beer that we produce is a huge factor.”

He added the small kitchen “punches way above its weight in terms of the output and the quality of the food” and the community fills the walls with a welcoming atmosphere.

“It’s comfortable in here. It’s a cool vibe,” he said. “The community makes the vibe to a large extent. We provide a cool venue and then the cool community adds to that…Two plus two equals six in this case. Everybody’s adding more.”

He noted though that success fell dangerously close to dropping off the menu when the COVID-19 pandemic hit just a month after the brewery’s grand opening.

“When you’ve got to shut your doors 30 days after you open them, that was scary as hell,” he said. “It was scary but I had a great team and still have a great team and they were really helpful in surviving.”

Morgan navigated through the pandemic’s restrictions by selling growlers out the window and while a scary time economically, he enjoyed basking in the community’s support.

“It was actually very enjoyable for me,” he said. “I would just sell growlers out the front door and I would meet a lot of people and literally at that time the support of locals paid the rent and the debt payments…That support was critical.”

Both Morgan and Cukier said the brewery has no plans to spin its success into rapid expansion any time soon as both are content to focus on their local West Coast communities.

“We never wanted to be a business that’s sending beer all over the place. That’s both an eco-friendly minded approach, not sending beer on trucks all over the place, and just keeping it local. At the same time, our strategy has been that we’d rather saturate the towns that we are closest to and really support all of our local neighbouring businesses, rather than send a couple cases or a keg here and there to somewhere far away. We really want to stick local and be able to keep that business within the community,” Cukier said.

“At first we weren’t quite sure how that was going to go but somehow the tanks keep emptying and somehow we just keep sending more and more beer out every week and every year so the evidence is there to show that we’re very lucky to have that support and it does seem to be that between locals and tourists alike, we’re able to get our products out there.”

Morgan agreed.

“The idea is to have a nice pub that makes some money and provides an awesome gathering spot,” he said.

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Andrew Bailey

About the Author: Andrew Bailey

I arrived at the Westerly News as a reporter and photographer in January 2012.
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