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The partners in one of Parksville’s newest businesses literally travelled the world
in search of the ideal career — and the ideal beer.

In the end, they found both of them right back at home.

Arrowsmith Brewing Company, the region’s first commercial craft brewery, opened on April 8 in Stanford Place. It is the result of a labour of love conceived over a game of ping pong by cousins Matt Hill and Dan Farrington nearly two and a half years earlier.

Hill, the brewery manager, and Farrington, the sales manager, are co-owners in the family-owned venture that includes partners Rob Hill, Mike Hill, Andrew Hill and head brewer David Woodward.

“I’d been looking into bringing a brewpub to Parksville,” says Matt Hill, a 2006 Ballenas Secondary School grad who went on to earn a bachelor of arts degree in international hotel management from Royal Rhodes University — a degree that led him to a two-year stint managing a high-end hotel in Thailand. “I had gone through a couple of different routes on how to approach it, and nothing seemed to pan out.”

Hill, who was working at the Oceanside Trail Resort owned by his family, pitched the brewpub idea to Farrington, a 1996 Ballenas alum, as they shared a craft brew and a game of ping pong in the late summer of 2014.

“It was at about that time the craft brewing scene was really starting to explode,” Hill recalls. “I think the ‘aha!’ moment came when we were talking about hearing all these success stories in the craft brew industry, and how that was really changing small communities and being a powerful force all around B.C.”

“We thought, ‘Why don’t we just hold off on the pub idea and focus on the beer first?’”

Farrington was ready. After departing for Victoria following graduation from Ballenas, he spent 10 years in marine construction and working as a commercial diver off the Island’s south coast. Following an injury that cut short his diving career, he had secured tickets to captain boats and was piloting work vessels off the Central Coast of B.C. when he and Hill met for that ping pong game on one of Farrington’s visits home.

“Working six months away from home was kind of tough; with my wife pregnant and a baby on the way,” Farrington explains. “I wanted to spend more time at home, and basically it just all fell into place, and here we are.”

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We’re gonna need a brewer

The key to the operation, of course, was getting the right brewer to create the company’s product in the 80-hectolitre facility located in Parksville’s Stanford Place. They happily stumbled upon Woodward, a UK-trained brewer who has spent the past 16 years creating craft brews in England, Whistler, Tofino and Langford — after growing up in Qualicum Beach and graduating from PASS-Woodwinds Alternative School 18 years ago.

While Woodward is the only partner not directly related to the Hill-Farrington clan, it was a family connection that brought him into the operation.

“My wife owns a yoga studio, and one of her clients is Dave’s second cousin,” explains Farrington.

“I’ve been promoted to first cousin because now I’m doing something important,” Woodward cracks.

As Hill and Farrington were embarking on creating the brewery, they did not yet have a head brewer. Farrington’s wife happened to mention it at the yoga studio one day when Woodward’s cousin piped up that his cousin was a brewer.

And not just a brewer, Hill and Farrington say, but a veteran of the trade in an industry that in many ways is still in its infancy here.

“Dave having 14 years of professional brewing experience in the business, in an industry that’s as new and booming as this one is, is pretty rare to find in craft breweries,” says Hill. “He’s almost one of the old guard.”

Following graduation, Woodward seemed destined to follow in his uncle’s footsteps as a stone mason, and worked for his uncle’s Qualicum Beach-based business. But he had also worked in a U-brew operation, and decided what he really liked was making beer.

So, in 2001 he packed up and moved to the UK, where he took a brewing course at the University of Sutherland while doing practicums in various breweries in the country.

Unable to find a brewing job upon returning to Canada two years later, he had settled into masonry work again in Victoria when he got word the Whistler Brewhouse was looking for a brewer.

Woodward worked in Whistler for five years, a period that included the 2010 Winter Olympics — “It was crazy,” he says. “Nuts. I worked my butt off.”

Burned out on the brewpub, Woodward eventually “found some guys in Tofino who wanted to start a brewery,” and found himself designing his first production plant on the West Coast in November of 2010.

“Whistler was a great way to learn,” he recalls. “You just put (the beer) in a tap in the pub and see what customers think. You don’t have to worry about distributing all over the province and back. Tofino was my first big project, and a big learning curve.”

The Tap Room

After three years in Tofino, he was offered the opportunity to start up another new brewpub, the Axe and Barrel in Langford, in suburban Victoria. When Hill and Farrington came calling last summer, Woodward was ready to listen to their pitch.

“I was looking to go back home because I wanted to be closer to family and such,” says Woodward. “I was born and raised here and it had been 16 years since I lived here.

“I met them and we seemed to get along well. It was a good vibe. And they liked the kind of beers I was making at the previous place.”

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For the third time, Woodward found himself building a brewery from scratch, and it’s the largest yet. The partners hope to distribute in local liquor stores, pubs and restaurants, and Arrowsmith Brewing Co. has its own tap room.

The tap room is licensed to serve one sleeve or a four-brew tasting flight per customer. But customers may also purchase 64-ounce growlers and 32-ounce grumblers that can be refilled from the taps, or buy pre-bottled, 650-ml “bomber” bottles.

“The number one thing, and the thing we’ve spent a lot of time on, is making sure the product we produce is going to be a premium product in a market that has become increasingly saturated,” says Hill. “We wanted to make sure our product can and will stand out.”

When it comes to belief in the future of Arrowsmith Brewing Co., these guys are not simply glass-half-full types. Their optimism is brimming over.

“I think this brewery will become a destination in this town because there’s nothing else like it here,” says Woodward. “We hope people really want this and are going to enjoy it for years to come. “And we’ll be happy to make beer for them.”

Mount Arrowsmith Brewing Company is located at 109-425 Stanford Ave. E. in Parksville. For more information visit www.arrowsmithbrewing.com

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