The old ghosts of Four Mile House are never short on entertainment.
The historic Tudor building has hosted many souls over the past century as a roadhouse for stagecoaches, a dance hall turned brothel after the Second World War and now a neighbourhood pub and restaurant.
To cap off its evolution, the Haymes family has installed the West Shore’s first microbrewery and the latest entrant into Victoria’s renowned craft beer industry.
Wendy and Graham Haymes bought the rundown roadhouse in 1979, and ushered it into the modern era. Graham Haymes junior, 32, manager of the business, says owning a brewery has never been far from their minds.
“We’ve been planning this since Day 1, since (my parents) built the pub in the 1980s. Now we’re finally ready to take the plunge,” he said. “It felt like the right time. The market for craft beer has exploded.
“We see that demand and feel we can be successful and competitive. It’s something we can do to differentiate us from other pubs. Certainly we’re the only place on the West Shore that is brewing beer. Everything else is downtown.”
Stainless steel fermentation and conditioning tanks that make up the bulk of the brewery lie below the pub, at parking lot level. Last week it was a busy hive of work as the family installed the final touches to the gas-fired brick brewing kettle, built in the English beer-making style called the Peter Austin brewing system.
Doug White, brother of Wendy Haymes, tested samples of fermenting ales in a small laboratory, under the watch of Alan Pugsley, a brewmaster from Portland, Maine.
“This project has been with me for years, and now we’ve got it going,” White said. “The learning curve is there, but we’re confident with Alan backing us up.”
White trained in traditional English beer making under Pugsley at the Ringwood Brewery in England in the 1980s, and called on the 32-year career brewmaster to install the Four Mile brewery and formulate its six initial beers.
Pugsley was instrumental in setting up Shipyard Brewing Co., in Maine, and has installed the Peter Austin system throughout the U.S. and Canada, and in more obscure places, such as Redtown Brewery in Siberia and Mopa Brewery in Nigeria.
Victoria certainly has quality beer, Pugsley said, but the brews at Four Mile will measure up.
“The most important feature to produce the best beer is years of experience. You have to pay attention to the raw material, refine the formulation to work with the style of beer to produce something that is unique, interesting and world class,” he said.
“These will stand out, it’s high quality. They’ll be different than the competition. And the water here is beautiful for brewing.”
Graham junior said one of their ales will absorb character from used Jack Daniels whiskey barrels, shipped in from Kentucky.
The small-batch brewery will offer six brews – golden ale, pale ale, West Coast IPA, brown ale, best bitter and a winter IPA – at its pub and sports bar, and its liquor store in Admirals Walk.
Beer aficionados will also be able to fill up growler jugs, pressurized for a longer fridge life. Spent grain is being offered to farmers for pig and cattle feed.
“The brewery is a bucket list item. We’ve always wanted to brew our own beer,” Wendy said. “I’ve tasted a sample each day, from wort to adding hops, to beer that’s carbonated. It’s delicious already. We’re so excited.”
Wendy said it was many tough years to shepherd the business through its incarnations as a tea room and antique store to the pub and restaurant. But it’s been a family affair the entire way.
Wendy and Graham live within walking distance of the pub and their five kids grew up around and worked in the Four Mile, and helped renovate it. Some 15 family members have been involved with the business over the years.
“The kids grew up around the building. They came on the janitor’s days off and would clean the building before school, two days per week so they’d learn a good work ethic,” she said.
Graham senior chuckles and Graham junior rolls his eyes when Wendy talks about the guiding hand of the building’s ghosts. Lately, a pump switch in the brewery keeps turning off, she said.
“Every time there is a project in the building, a ghost guides us along, and lets us know if we’ve done a good job. They tweak the odd thing,” she said.
“A ghost switches off one switch to make sure they’re doing it right. Three days in a row, the same time of day, a switch goes off.”
Ghosts in the machine or not, the Four Mile is going up against Victoria’s many established and beloved breweries, but the family says fellow beermakers the have welcomed them into the fold, and called the pub to offer encouragement.
“(Craft beer) is a great community to be a part of. They’re very supportive within the industry,” White said. “The quality craft beer in Victoria has a high standard. The bar is set. Hopefully we can measure up.”
Four Mile House plans to launch its craft beer lineup on or around Feb. 6.