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Rossland to get a brew to call its own

Boomtown's basement brewery

Business is brewing in the Mountain Kingdom and the buzz is that Rossland will soon have a beer to call its own. By summer you could well be sipping a fine light lager with the Trail-inspired name Leadhead Lager, should the new enterprise take off. Having recently arrived in Rossland from stage left, actors Mike and Alicia Gray are proving you can come home again (sort of) and that bringing several kegs with you certainly helps make friends in a new town. Boomtown Brewing hopes to do just that.

Originally born in Trail, Mike Gray and wife Alisha were well familiar with Rossland before pulling the trigger and making the move here from Vancouver recently. Although he grew up largely in Calgary, much of Mike's family remained in Trail and he would often drive out to spend weekends and vacations at the family cabin on Christina Lake. The couple's love for the area never faded and after a decade-plus stint in Vancouver the pair of professional actors moved out of Hollywood North and headed for the hills.
“We’d often pop in to Rossland while at Christina Lake and go shopping and eat at Idgies. We’d always say, 'We should move here'. We did that for about seven years and then one day on the way back from a ski trip we went to an open house, looked at it and put in an offer. We sold our house in Vancouver three days later and moved out. Once our minds are made up things happen fast.”
The couple met at theatre school in Calgary, attended film school, and quickly got into the production lifestyle Vancouver provides. Notable TV shows Mike has appeared have included Smallville, Supernatural, The Stranger, The Tall Man (shot in Nelson last summer and coming out this summer) and The Fantastic Four.
“We’re working class actors,” added Mike. “We get parts here and there and we go for it.”
“We were still living that lifestyle after ten years and we realized we didn’t need to pay two million dollars for a house and could live five minutes from the ski hill and raise our kids in a nice small town.”
When the recent recession hit with full force, the Gray’s responded and took the opportunity to make some money saving improvements to their lives. As part of the reformation the idea seed for the brewing company germinated.
“I was inspired to brew out of the recession,” explained Mike. “I took a second vehicle off the road, off insurance and bought a mountain bike. I started pedaling from SFU to the North Shore for work and then I just decided I’d stop buying beer from the store and would start making it. I started out with some real Kraft Dinner beer. You know: out of a can. I had water boiling and stuff, it was a mess. It gets addictive though, and you want to go to the next step and then I tried a malt extract brew. So I was kind of making it, but it was already half-made. When we came here we bought the equipment and went to all grain brewing. We’re using the four basic ingredients and we make good beer from scratch.”
The small scale brewing equipment the Grays initially purchased has since been installed in their Upper Rossland home and the recipe testing has been in full swing. With three solid recipes nearing completion, Boomtown Brewery will soon start unveiling Leadhead Lager, Red Mountain Ale and Kootenay Brown to salivating patrons.
“For the Leadhead Lager we want a nice lager for the summer,” explained Mike. “It’s going to be on the lighter side. It’ll be a “golf course” beer but I’m going to beef it up a bit to at least 4.5% to 5% alcohol content. Then we’ll transition into the Red Mountain Ale which will be an Irish Ale that I’ve been making for a while now. It’s a recipe I’ve got nailed down. Then the Kootenay Brown will be the third to come out. We’ll master those three beers and then we’ll think about four and five.”
The move from craft brewer to full production will be a phased approach. At present the couple's equipment has a capacity of 3 kegs a day when maxed out. That small batch size has allowed the Grays to experiemnt without risk of potentially ruining a large volume. Even after expansion--which at some stage will involve moving into a manufacturing warehouse setup within Rossland--the couple will maintain the small system at home as their recipe developer to tinker with new flavours and styles.
With the first commercially available brews expected to be available this summer with the Leadhead Lager coming online, the couple see’s a great opportunity to fill a void in Rossland and then perhaps beyond.
“We were stunned when we moved to Rossland and there was no brewery,” added Mike. “You
go to Revelstoke and it has a good following behind their brewery. You go to Fernie and that has turned into a pretty big operation. There’s lots of saturation in the Okanagan and we thought about it in Vancouver, but as we thought about it, three new breweries opened up so there is enough out there. We love the Kootenays and we’ve always been a fan of the Nelson Brewing Company so we thought that Rossland would probably rather have their own beer rather than relying on Nelson.”
Looking ahead, Mike aims to fill the Rossland need and hopes to be accepted as the locals' beer. If that goes well he plans to expand. The couple have purchased a couple of commercial lots and look to set up their manufacturing facility right here in town.
Thus far the couple has realized their dream of getting out of the car and away from the daily commute as they embark on their new venture. Rossland’s somewhat vertical geography also has its benefits for the aspiring brewmaster.
“We moved here so we didn’t have to commute to work. I think being on top of a hill is perfect for brewing beer too because when it’s ready to go you just roll it downhill to your customers and don’t have to waste gas. Having the manufacturing operation in Rossland just makes sense for me to be able to cross the road and walk two blocks to work.”
Being on the top of the hill is just the start of the upstart breweries sustainability initiatives. They'll also be donting their spent barley grains to local chicken farmers, they're reusing the brewery's grey water for their vegetable garden and use only biodegradable non-chlorinated non-phosphorus cleaning products.
With the first samples available in the couple’s kegerator, making new friends in Rossland has been easy. Living the simple life is indeed providing its benefits and that suits the budding entrepreneurs just fine.
“We want to be local and sustainable and we want to make great beer for good people. That’s our goal here.”