Tree Beer – Kelowna, BC

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“In the end, making beer…is like producing a piece of art” – Dave Gorkiet

I had the opportunity to visit Kelowna this past week.  While I was there I took the made my way over to Tree Beer’s Brewing Institute on Water Street as well as their main brewery on Richter.  Kelowna itself is a really nice location with low rain falls and high temperatures.  Once known for growing fruits it has become a bastion of wineries and while wine is good, beer is better.

The first Keg was sold by Tree Brewing in 1996 and the brewery was named Tree to represent the beauty of nature that exists in British Columbia.  I had the opportunity to sit down and have a conversation with Dave Gorkiet, the brew master at Tree.

Tree Beer is a fairly good sized brewery.  The exact production numbers are something not distributed but based on some quick math, the tanks hold about 130 hectolitres each and with me counting 13 of them that’s about 1690 hectolitres. Pretty good brewing capacity.  They are a combination of canning and bottling as well as the kegs and the test batch casks.  They also have the tap room at the main brewery as well as their beer institute which tends to carry some different options.

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Inside Tree Beer’s production area

Dave himself is a really interesting guy.  Having gotten a degree in Chemistry he felt that he wanted to do something a bit more hands on.  The combination of science, hands on work, and a little bit of creativity allows Dave to do something that he loves, create beer works of art.  Dave described that the process feels a bit to him like he is in fact creating art, and I think that is really a good definition of brewing.

Dave started brewing at Tree in the spring of 1997 and has been there ever since.  It’s been his only brewing experience at a major brewery and based on what he said about his team it makes sense, why leave somewhere you love to work. Overall there are 25+ people who work as employees as well some sales reps scattered about. Being the brewmaster and not on the marketing side he said it was hard to give a solid number.

I’m always curious what keeps people brewing and what challenges they find with the industry.  Dave stays in the industry because of the people as much as the work.  Loving what he does combined with the fact that craft brewers a great bunch of people are some of the reasons why he sticks with it.  The biggest challenge, as I think many would agree, is being innovative.  Making sure that you don’t stagnate.  Dave said that it can be tough keeping up because people’s tastes develop and change and with the number of breweries in BC, the bar just keeps getting raised.

British Columbia has been just blowing up with craft breweries.  Dave said there is around 100 of them in the province and that the industry just keeps booming.  With really open liquor laws surrounding tap rooms and growlers, it’s easy to get the beer out there and for breweries to open up.  Some follow the model of taproom only and don’t distribute beyond their four walls.

Tree Beer opened a second location in September of 2014, a beer institute.  Part of this was to give a chance to be more creative.  With a smaller 10 hectolitre brewing capacity they sell beer by the pint or growler, although only stainless steel ones (really nice, but a bit pricey), and it’s fully from tank to tap.  Unfiltered and as beer is intended, straight up.  Dave said that this also gives them the chance to test out new beers to see what they might want to do on a larger scale and also lets him and his 5 other brewers come up with new recipes.

Dave and his team also have a small 50 litre franken brew system that they will do small batch recipes in, cask them, and then have them tapped at the beer institute every Thursday.

Tree has about 5 to 6 main beers on their brewing line but they also have some seasonals and some 650ml bombers that they will put out as well.  The beers tend to change beyond their main line which helps keep the selection fresh while still maintaining the stables.  Dave’s philosophy is to always have something in the hopper.  People’s tastes change and so you want to give yourself an opportunity to put out something new.  One of his biggest surprise hits was a Pineapple Heffeweizen that just seemed to explode in popularity, a pleasant surprise but not something that they had expected.

The main lines are distributed as far as Ontario but with various other beers making it different locations.  Dave isn’t involved in the distribution but I know here in Winnpeg the Liquormart currently stocks Hophead, Thirsty Beaver Amber Ale, Cutthroat Ale, their Dopplebock, Stout and Grapefruit Radler.  This year they modified their bottle line-up to do an Raw series of unfiltered beers.  They’ve got HopHead, Knox dry-hopped Brown Ale, and Monkey Pod Rye Pale Ale.  All three are strong beers and I certainly enjoyed them all. The main line of beers are the Thirsty Beaver Amber Ale, Cutthroat Ale, and Kelowna Pilsner along with the Raw Series.

For Dave, making balanced beers is the holy grail of beer making.  He has managed produce some very solid and balanced beers that were really impressive.  I got a chance to try all 8 beers that they had on tap at the main brewery.  They covered a great range including the grapefruit radler.  I got to taste Cutthroat, Thirsty Beaver, Kelowna Pilsner, Hop Head, Knox Brown Ale, Pineapple Heffe, Monkey Pod Rye Pale Ale, and the Grapefruit Radler.  Overall I wasn’t dissappointed with anything I tasted.

the Amber and the Pilsner (Thirsty Beaver and Kelowna) were really tasty with the Hophead and the Monkey Pod ranking as my favourites.  The Grapefruit Radler was a big surprise for me, being 50/50 grapefruit juice and beer I wasn’t really sure what I’d think. It was really nice, fresh and a great summer option that won’t bog you down.

The pineapple heffe and the cutthroat ale would be on the low end for me, but this wasn’t because of the quality but because I don’t like pineapple and I’m not a fan of lighter beers, so it was hard to get past that for me. These beers were good, still, but not ones I would typically choose to drink. The brown ale was incredibly nice with a good malt/hoppy balance and I really enjoyed the dry-hop nature to it.

The eight beers I got to try.
The eight beers I got to try.

I’m not going to rate all of the beers individually here. I had a chance to basically run the gambit of the beers available for consumption and gave many of my thoughts on the beers in the comments above.  Based on the creativity of the beers, the passion that is obvious from Dave, and the fact he let me sit down with him and fed me beer (that’s how you get a good rating folks…not really), I’d give the brewery a rating of 90/100.  A really top shelf brewery for me with some strong entries into the various craft beer categories.

There wasn’t a bad beer that I tasted.  It was all good.

Inside the taproom at Tree Beer
Inside the taproom at Tree Beer

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