Small Block Brewing’s Cate Scally pours a flight of tasters in the new brewery’s taproom on opening day last Saturday. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)

New kid on the block: Small Block Brewing opens in the Cowichan Valley

Offering British style ales, new brewery plans to stay small

Beer doesn’t have to be green to be a draw on St. Patrick’s Day.

Small Block Brewing, the Cowichan Valley’s newest addition to the craft beer scene, opened its doors for the first time on Saturday and didn’t have any trouble attracting a thirsty crowd, even though the beer was served with its natural colour.

The brewery has its roots in owners Cate and Aaron Scally’s home-brewing hobby, which started after Aaron broke his arm and needed something to do around the house. Their beer proved popular with friends, and they gradually considered doing more than just giving it away.

“We started talking about going pro,” Cate recalled.

That was six or seven years ago. The process for actually opening Small Block started about a year and a half ago, and construction on the facility in the Parhar Business Centre south of Duncan began last August. New breweries always have to go through a ton of red tape before they can open, and that was certainly the case with Small Block. It helped that the Stillhead craft distillery paved the way in opening a similar operation in the same business park.

Brewer Zak Blake came on board in November following two and a half years at the nearby Red Arrow Brewing Company and six months at Salt Spring Island Ales. Available on opening day were Small Block’s four core beers, all based on British styles: Hornet Blonde, Nail Head Canadian Pale Ale, Miss Lead Oatmeal Stout and Dagmar India Session Ale. Those four will remain their consistent brews, but Blake will also have three taps to “play with,” using experimental techniques and West Coast ingredients.

Small Block’s taproom is just beginning to take shape, but the 1950s/60s hot rod garage aesthetic — reflective of Aaron Scally’s fascination with classic cars — is already visible both in the decor and the product labels, which were designed by Adam Ball of Factor Creative.

“It’s something you don’t find in a lot of places in the Island,” Cate pointed out.

Small Block is hoping to become a focal point for the community, their taproom a place for people to hang out. They will amp up production a little bit in the future, but aren’t interested in getting too big.

“We’re quite committed to that,” Cate said. “We don’t intend to grow.”

Also in the works as they focus on creating a community are game nights, cask nights and a homebrew club where enthusiasts can discuss their techniques.

They plan to focus on in-house sales, which is a growing aspect in the B.C. craft beer industry, but which also allowed for immediate feedback from customers. Their pale ale — which made its first public appearance earlier this month at Victoria Beer Week is already available in 473mL cans, but all four core beers will be in cans soon.

Aaron Scally missed Small Block’s grand opening, as he is currently in Thailand, doing his day job, training helicopter mechanics. The Cowichan Valley is home, though, for the couple who relocated from Langley specifically to open the brewery. They were inspired by a co-worker of Aaron’s who was always pining for the Cowichan Valley, and they don’t regret the decision.

“It’s the place,” Cate said. “We’re not moving ever again. We are so happy to be in the Cowichan Valley. We’re happy to have our own small brewery. We’re happy to have Zak.”

“I’m happy to have a job,” Blake laughed.

Small Block Brewing is located just south of Duncan at 205-5301 Chaster Road.

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