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Anthony von Mandl is philosophical about his surprising setback of early 2008. After a 21-year distribution contract with Corona beer was summarily cancelled, the owner of the Mission Hill Winery in the Okanagan could have sued, or found a rival Mexican beer to distribute. Instead, he decided he’d been taught a lesson. “I couldn’t have that happen to me again,” von Mandl says. “So I decided to build my own brewery.”
A typical craft brewer going commercial would have rented a bay in an industrial park, built facilities with used equipment, and slapped a zany label on a bottle of his favourite hoppy lager. But if you’ve been to Mission Hill, high on the hill overlooking Kelowna, you know that wasn’t in the cards for von Mandl. Mission Hill is known for its palatial proportions and elegant wines—including the rich Bordeaux blend Oculus. And no brewery coming from the same mind was going to end up making a pale ale with (as von Mandl puts it) “some kind of animal on the label and a funny name.” A brewery founded by Anthony von Mandl—who became wealthy distributing alcoholic products like Corona, Mike’s Hard Lemonade, and Okanagan Cider—was, instead, going to look exactly like the new Turning Point Brewery on Annacis Island, where they make a beer called Stanley Park 1897 Amber. The beer is named for a little-known detail in Vancouver’s history, a brewery that used to operate just south of the causeway on the west side of Lost Lagoon. But this facility is all about the future: high-tech and green.
Turning Point is a gearhead’s dream. All stainless steel. Spotless. Everything so sustainability-oriented that the whole brewery is expected to be energy self-sufficient within five to 10 years. Only seven litres of water to make a litre of beer, versus an industry average of 12. And all the equipment made by Steinecker, which is like having Maybach custom-build you a fleet of cars. The German company—based in Freising, not far from Munich—didn’t even make equipment for brewers as small as Turning Point, until von Mandl convinced them to. “Yes, well,” he says, in his gracious, almost courtly, way. “We are a little crazy, but I figured I might as well do it the best possible way.”
Walk around the facility now with von Mandl and his vice-president of liquid innovation and quality, Stephen Goodridge, and you confront techo-wizardry at every turn. This is a “five vessel” brewing system, you’ll learn, an arcane detail until you appreciate that there’s hardly a brewery in North America working with more than two vessels (also called vats, or tuns). The whole system is computerized so you can stand in front of a bank of touch screens, just like on the bridge of the Enterprise, and see the whole brewing process, from the steam valves to the agitator pulses, and also pull up the exact chemical composition of any brew ever made in the facility.
Stanley Park 1897 Amber comes in its own custom bottles, which have what von Mandl describes as “better hand feel” than the regular kind. (And they do, too—they’re slimmer than an English pint glass, and have a slight “waist” partway up.) It has its own German-made custom glasses, for use in the bars and restaurants serving the beer. “The narrow opening concentrates the aroma,” explains Chris Pfeifer, director of marketing, “and deposits the beer to the exact centre of the mouth.”
Which brings us to the beer itself. It was poured in the sleek boardroom at Turning Point, looking out over the stainless-steel corrugations of the production floor. What kind of beer would you make in a place like this? “If you’re going to build a state-of-the-art brewery,” von Mandl says, “you might as well make a really difficult beer.” Which is to say, not your college roomie’s hoppy homebrew. This is a place where the spirit is Belgian. That wasn’t an automatic choice. Von Mandl’s background is Austrian, and Goodridge comes from Barbados. But the influence was going to be European, von Mandl knew, and after touring around and sampling, he finally fell in love with Belgian Amber. It’s an approachable style with lots of character. It’s elegant and good with food. It’s a winemaker’s beer, you might say. And it is discussed in winemaker’s terms as we sniff and sip and roll it around our mouths. A touch of caramel. Some malt, some hops, but balanced.
There was for Turning Point a long phase of experimentation. Hundreds of test brews, hundreds of yeasts and malts and hops were tried until the combination was finally set. Malt from Belgium. Hops from France and England. And the yeast? Well, here is one of the great mysteries of beer, which had von Mandl and Goodridge cooking their way through samples from yeast libraries across Europe. Which yeast did they finally choose? Von Mandl deftly changes the subject.
We walk out front into the sunshine, under the high wind turbine that spins silently in the breeze. Von Mandl’s beer, an idea born just over two years ago, is now in liquor stores and restaurants, and served at Stella’s on Commercial Drive, among other serious-beer places. Von Mandl is hearing positive reports back, but has no plan for splashy promotions. He hopes gradual word-of-mouth will do the trick. Don’t expect to see Stanley Park 1897 Amber ads on the sides of buses. This isn’t Corona, after all.
And since it’s a beer dreamed up by Anthony von Mandl, one gets the impression that’s part of the point. VM