A crannóg is a dwelling built on stilts over a bog or a wetland: found all over Ireland and Scotland, they housed animals and humans. The crannóg is a direct link both physically and philosophically to Brian MacIssac and Rebecca Kneen’s fabulous farmhouse micro-brewery. To say that Rebecca Kneen and Brian MacIsaac are purists is putting it mildly.
The name of their farm, Left Field, speaks volumes. These folks care about both the environment and the quality of their extraordinary brews. Brian speaks and teaches Gaelic, and as an artist his intricate knot work decorates the buildings and his labels. Even the couple’s bodies sport his tattooed designs.
The names of his brews all have a meaning. Red Branch Irish Ale is named after the pre-Christian warriors who defended Northern Ireland; Beyond the Pale Ale refers to unconquerable land outside of Dublin; Old Mill, a spectacular flax seed beer, is a nod to the linen mills of Belfast with bubbles that seem to go backwards; the Backhand of God is a Northern Irish saying which means ‘a shock’ or a ‘bolt from the blue’; Hell’s Kitchen is named after the oldest Irish community in New York and is, according to MacIsaac, ‘our high carb, back-lash beer’.
My favourite was Bog-Trotter Brown (I loved it!) named after those rural folks who would talk about ‘hay seeds’…people like my own ancestors who lived off the land and were wise, tenacious folks with great good common sense.
Leaving the rawest careers in the nation as social workers in the deeply troubled downtown East Side of Vancouver, Rebecca and Brian, moved north to the Shuswap area of central British Columbia; to an area of clean water, bright skies and a lifestyle where trust is a given and few doors need to be locked.
In Vancouver, they had their own back yard brewery and it was there that Brian honed his craft to such a degree that a local restaurateur paid half his tuition fees to study brewing in Sacramento, California. Rebecca was involved with Farm Folk/City Folk, an activist organization promoting both organic agriculture and dedicated to building bridges between the rural and the urban in the southern mainland of BC.
In 1999, they bought their farm which had not been worked actively in years and opened Crannóg in 2000.
Their uncommon vision was to completely integrate the farm with the brewing operation and certify the entire business fully – and it’s working! ‘We are working towards a total zero-waste system, with the farm and the brewery totally integrated to the benefit of both.’
It is a creative process beginning in the fields where they grow a variety of different hops for drying. They buy barley from a certified organic producer and use the water from the farm. The spent hops are composted or used as mulch for the garden; the spent grain is fed to the pigs which supplement their breakfasts/lunches/dinners by rooting about the vegetable and herb gardens and the pasture.
Spent yeast is first heated (to kill it), after which it also is fed to the pigs and dairy cow, or added to the compost along with spent hops. ‘Brewers yeast is well-known for its nutritional properties, and we know that the animals love it!’
They are currently developing a full water treatment system, which will result in all the water from the brewery being able to be used directly on our gardens. The products of their brewery are never bottled because the risk of broken glass being added to the cycle would make it impossible to feed to the animals.
The next purchase will be a flock of sheep, more chickens (their last flock now stock a variety of freezers) and perhaps another cow for butter, cheese and later, meat. A beekeeper has placed hives in the orchard and tends them frequently. Soon some of the honey will be used in the beer.
The ideals that were honed in the city, have flourished and weekly delivery runs to Vancouver and Vancouver Island have become essential. One final goal? Brian dreams of the day when his Red Branch Ale will become a product eligible for the Slow Food Ark of Taste.
Brian MacIsaac & Rebecca Kneen,
Rural Route #1,
Sorrento, British Columbia, Canada V0E 2W0
Tel: 250 675 6847
Gastronomer Anita Stewart is the Founder of Cuisine Canada and a Member of The Jury for the Slow Food Award for the Protection of Biodiversity