The highly anticipated Ucluelet Brewing Company is imminent. Opening day is set for this Friday, February 14th with a special evening launch from 5-10pm. Thereafter, their doors will be open 7 days a week from noon to 10pm.
I recently caught up with Allan Cukier, who was kind enough to show me around the construction site last month. Here’s a quick Q&A to get familiar with the fellow before the doors open for the first time…
Please introduce yourself!
I’m Allan Cukier, Head Brewer at Ucluelet Brewing Co. I’m a lover of great beer and food and a major outdoors enthusiast. I made the move to Vancouver Island in May of 2019 with my girlfriend, Ali.
Tell us a bit about Ucluelet Brewing Co. and your role.
Owner Dennis Morgan began the process of opening Ucluelet’s first (and only) micro-brewery in 2016 in the building of the old St. Aiden’s on the Hill church in downtown Ukee. Jonny Ferguson and his team at Tidewater Timber-frames began the interior renovations of the building in February of 2019 and we haven’t looked back since, working hard to get this brewery open for business.
We have a 72 person, 12-tap tasting room and 4-tap growler bar located in the upstairs portion of the building, as well as a patio that overlooks Ucluelet’s harbour. Adjacent to the bar we have a small kitchen space that will have a selection of simple, good quality foods and snacks to complement our beers. The manufacturing and brewing space is located in the downstairs area, which you can view from upstairs through the opening near the standing bar. The majority of the beer we produce will be sold through our own building in the tasting room and growler station, with a small portion of product allocated to local bars/restaurants.
My role includes everything related to the beer itself such as formulating recipes, manufacturing the beers from start to finish, operating and maintaining all equipment, sourcing ingredients and managing the beer taps in our tasting lounge. In the future I’ll also be experimenting with creating in-house sodas as well.
What sets you apart from other breweries?
A few things set us apart from other breweries. The main one being our unique building and the town in which it resides. The ability to drink a beer that has been brewed in-house – in a defunct church – while enjoying a view of the ocean and mountains is pretty unique. There’s a really cool west coast vibe to the space itself; I love the contrast of the stainless steel of our brewing tanks and the wood decor in our tasting room.
Being the only brewery in Ukee, we’re definitely the most unique place in town and I love that we’re becoming the central hub for the community to gather. Breweries tend to be very social spaces and it’s a great way to meet and mingle with the locals.
How did you first become interested in beer? Was there one beer that started it all?
The first beer that really expanded what my perception of what beer could be was Hoegaarden, the most classic example of a Belgian Witbier there is. Like most people, I had only been drinking macro-brewed lagers up until that point, so that began my quest for exploring new flavours in beer.
Travelling Europe also gave me a huge appreciation for what beer could be and definitely sparked inspiration — most notably getting to taste beer straight out of the wooden aging vessels in the underground cellar at the Pilsner Urquell brewery in Pilsn, Czech Republic (the birthplace of the Pilsner style).
How did you get into brewing your own beer and then brewing beer professionally?
My girlfriend Ali actually got me my very first home-brew kit. She knew that I really enjoyed drinking beer, and I also really enjoyed cooking, so why not blend both hobbies and make my own beer? After my first few batches at home, I couldn’t get enough of it and decided to pursue brewing as a career.
I continued expanding and experimenting with my home-brew system and eventually got my first brewing job at Burnaby Brewing Co., a small U-brew near Burnaby Mountain. I later took the 2-year Brewing & Brewery Operations Diploma program at Kwantlen Polytechnic University and graduated with the inaugural class. Halfway through the program, I was hired by R&B Brewing Co. and worked for 2 years as Assistant Brewer, then moved up to Head Brewer for another 2 years.
The Ucluelet/Tofino area has always been a favourite destination of ours, which we visited frequently, so when I found out there was going to be a new brewery opening in Ucluelet I had to jump on the opportunity!
What is a typical day for you at the brewery?
My day-to-day tasks have been constantly evolving since I started working on the project last June. At the beginning, my primary focus was to design our initial recipes and set up a small 40L pilot system to begin making test batches. In between test batches, I would also jump in and help out the construction crew whenever needed.
I spent a good part of the summer researching and designing our glycol cooling system & piping. Once we received all of our brewing equipment from the manufacturer, I was able to start building the glycol piping and getting the tanks in place and hooked up. I then spent several weeks getting all of our equipment and parts clean and ready for use. Since then I’ve been able to order all ingredients and continue with the final cleaning and readying of equipment.
I’m finally ready to get some beer in the tanks, so my day to day will change soon to actually operating and monitoring all the equipment, as well as constantly creating new recipes and experimenting with ingredients and processes.
Who do you consider as mentor(s) in the beer world?
Patrick Moore, former Brewery Manager at Howe Sound Brewing and former Head Brewer at Crossroads Brewing as well as 5 Roads Brewing has definitely been a great influence in the beer world. He gave me the opportunity to work at R&B, spearheaded beer-related trips to Washington State and has been a huge support over the years and has grown to be a good friend.
Vern Lambourne, former Head Brewer at Granville Island Brewing and current owner of Parkside Brewing was also a huge support early on in my career. He was kind enough to allow me to watch portions of some of his brew days at Granville Island and was very helpful getting me connected with people in the brewing community.
Favourite B.C. brewery (other than your own)? Do you have a particular go-to beer?
I always enjoy beer from Brassneck and Four Winds. I don’t seem to have a particular go-to, my beer taste tends to change over time, but this winter I’ve been really enjoying the Hermannator Ice Bock from Vancouver Island Brewing.
Best thing about moving to the Island?
The change of pace, access to nature and great community. It’s awesome to be able to walk 15 minutes to work without any stop lights or traffic. I also love the quick commutes to world class surfing beaches, beautiful rainforest trails and pristine lakes. The community vibe in Ucluelet is really strong with amazing people that have welcomed us in. We’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that there’s community-wide activities/ events all year round.
What are some of your favourite spots to grab a coffee, bite to eat/drink, or place to hike in Ucluelet?
There’s no shortage of great food and drink in Ukee! For coffee and pastries: Zoe’s Cafe & Bakery, The Foggy Bean Cafe (located in the same building as our brewery), and Barkley Cafe. For lunch or dinner: Heartwood Kitchen, Pluvio, Abbondanza Pizza, Jiggers Fish & Chips. For a walk or hike: Wild Pacific Trail, Mt. Ozzard, walking the beaches at Florencia Bay & Wickaninnish Beach.