This is the latest instalment in the Hops Among Friends series, which showcases the people that make up the craft beer scene on the BC Ale Trail. In this edition, Kim Lawton interviews Miguel Molina from Boardwalk Brewing.

Miguel Molina in Kelowna on summer vacation
Miguel Molina from Boardwalk Brewing in Kelowna on summer vacation

My most recent Hops Among Friends interview was with Martina Solano Bielen from Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) and the KPU Brew Lab. At the end of our discussion, Martina selected who I would interview next. She chose Miguel Molina, the Head Brewer at Boardwalk Brewing. Established in 2021, Boardwalk Brewing is in Port Coquitlam on the North of the Fraser Ale Trail.

When I interviewed Martina, it was awesome learning more about the Brewing Diploma program at KPU. She provided an exciting look at the future of BC’s craft beer industry. Speaking with Miguel gave me a further glimpse into the future. I enjoyed speaking with Miguel. As a recent KPU grad, he is one of the people helping to shape the future of this industry. It was exciting to hear about his background in Ecuador, his move to Canada, and his immersion into BC’s craft beer scene.

Kim: How did you get your start in craft beer?

Miguel: Here’s the short answer (not really). About 10 years ago, I was working as a sound and acoustic engineer. I worked at a TV station doing sound editing. I always liked beer, although I didn’t know much about craft beer.

Eventually, one of my friends took me to this craft brewery in Quito, Ecuador, which is where I’m from. It was in a bit of a sketchy neighbourhood, where you don’t usually go, but I wanted to see this place that a few friends were talking about. When I got there, I was surprised because they had a chapel inside the brewery and the vibe of an old town pub, which was pretty cool. A couple of guys from the US founded this brewery called Bandido Brewing. They noted that there were only a few options for craft beer at the time in Quito and therefore they decided to open this place. I tried an IPA there, and I thought, what is this? It was very interesting to me. It was at this point that craft beer clicked for me, and I decided I wanted to do something around it.

A few months later, a friend and I decided to build a small pub called La Reserva. It was a DIY project. Our idea was to bring in all of the craft beer we could find from all around Ecuador into one place. We built and set up everything there, from tables and chairs to the beer lines and tap handles. We built a brand and logos and conceptualized it all. It was an amazing learning experience.

Miguel Molina in Ecuador with 2 Canadians and showing them the beers
Miguel Molina in Ecuador with 2 Canadians, showing them the beers

I was still working my full-time job in sound editing, so keeping up with the pub was crazy tiring but uniquely fulfilling at the same time. By this time, it was 2015, and the craft beer boom was really happening. We had this idea at the perfect time. It turned out very cool and we ended up opening a second location a year later.

Long story short, I got my start in craft beer behind the bar! Selling craft beer to our friends and customers. While I was learning, I was also able to share with customers the beauty of craft beer. I also remember I was making lots of brewer friends during this time, and eventually started doing field trips with the pub and our crew to their breweries to get deeper into the process of making beer. During that time I got certified as a Beer Judge (BJCP). It was fun going to competitions and getting to understand so many different beer styles.

A year after this, I quit my full-time job and dedicated myself to the business and craft beer full-time. A couple of years later, my partner and I started our own microbrewery project. We were brewing around 2,000 litres of beer every couple of weeks, selling all of this beer in the pub and some restaurants.

Miguel Molina with his first batch of grain at his brewery in Ecuador
Miguel Molina with his first batch of grain at his brewery in Ecuador

We eventually started canning this beer and selling it around Ecuador. The branding was all about cats, as we really like cats. This was a pure passion project for us. We weren’t making tons of money, but it was very fun. We really enjoyed it and we learned a few cool things.

Some of the packaging from Miguel Molina's brewery in Ecuador
Some of the packaging from Miguel Molina’s brewery in Ecuador

Eventually, we came to a crossroads. We had two options: to invest in equipment and build up the brewery, or go somewhere else, carry on our adventure, and keep learning about beer. I decided to move to Vancouver and I went to KPU to study brewing, which is where I met Martina. She is such a great brewer and instructor in the KPU program, and an amazing person.

At KPU, I got my first job here in BC. I started working doing sales on Fridays, which helped me to get to know more about the program and chat and learn from the instructors. The plan was to work at KPU with them during the summer at the brewery and the lab. However, the pandemic happened, so the plans changed.

Miguel Molina at KPU working on his final project beer
Miguel Molina at KPU working on his final project beer

After that, I worked in another brewery cellaring, which was a great learning experience. I was so committed to learning back then, and eventually, I realized that brewing is a lifelong learning experience and you must be open to learning all the time.

After a year, I moved to 33 Acres Brewing. Interestingly, this was one of the first breweries I visited when I moved to Vancouver. I remember thinking at the time that it was a remarkable brewery. I enjoyed looking through the glass at their experimental taproom and thinking “I would love to work here.” The opportunity came up for me to become a brewer at 33 Acres. This was an exponential learning curve for me. There are great brewers there with tons of experience and eyes for the details. Here I learned how to take care of a beer from the raw ingredients to the final package. I also learned how much hard work is needed to be good at this and to be consistent with your products.

Miguel Molina with coworker Jamie Buchan from 33 Acres, photo credit 33 Acres
Miguel Molina with coworker Jamie Buchan from 33 Acres, photo credit 33 Acres

The opportunity came up at Boardwalk Brewing to take the lead as head brewer in March 2022. As a new brewery, the challenge was pretty big. Putting all the procedures in place, rethinking every recipe, and coming up with seasonals takes a lot of time. It has been a crazy experience, but so amazing and satisfying to see people drinking our beers and enjoying them so much.

I’m so glad to be working here now contributing to the BC and PoCo craft beer scenes.

Kim: What do you love most about working at Boardwalk Brewing?

Miguel: I am trying to keep things simple on the brewing side, but I also love experimentation, so having the ability to be curious feels great. With brewing, it’s about education, experience, learning, science, and art. You need to have a mix of all of these and the beer will turn out right. I’m happy to have the opportunity to do this at Boardwalk. As well, I enjoy creating new recipes and making little changes to elevate our beers to make them unique and quenchable.

A good example is our brand-new barrel program. We recently released a Brettanomyces sour called Tart of Funk. We took a base ale and fermented and conditioned it in tequila barrels for nine months. We transferred it to stainless and blended it with a sour ale. We then added a bunch of raspberries and bottle-conditioned it. It is a complex but very approachable beer.

We just released it in 500ml bottles, so it is available for the holidays. It’s a great beer to open and share with family and friends for special occasions.

This is our first barrel program beer. It is so exciting to bring these new products to the market. I’m glad to have a great team here that makes things run smoothly.

Kim: As a recent KPU graduate, how does it feel to see fellow students from KPU now going on to do great things in the craft beer industry?

Miguel: I’m so happy about it. I think it’s amazing to see how each person is making their own role in the industry. There are so many options, and it’s very cool to see this. I’m glad I went to KPU, and I’m excited to see more people coming into the industry with this fresh experience and education. It makes me very proud. These people will make our industry even better and more unique. I’m sure some of the beers and names will be recognized not only in Canada, but also internationally someday.

Kim: As an industry, what can we be doing to encourage more diversity?

Miguel: That’s a really good question.

In general, it’s a very welcoming community. It’s a warm industry the majority of the time, and you can see this when you go to beer festivals or into a taproom. You can see it when you see people interacting with each other and collaborating with other breweries.

I’ve been here for three years, so my panorama is not too wide, although it feels like home here. I consider myself an example of inclusion.

In general, BC and the brewing industry are really open to bringing in people with different backgrounds and cultures. In the last year, I’ve seen how women are more accepted in the industry. It’s finally not just a man’s job, and it’s fulfilling to see this, although, in my opinion, I truly believe we can do more about it. I would like to encourage brewery owners and shareholders to increase the diversity percentage in their businesses, and be aware of the value each person brings to the business and keep compensating them well regardless of their cultural background or identity.

Kim: What else is happening at Boardwalk Brewing this winter?

Miguel: We brewed a German-Style Schwarzbier called Black Forest that was released in November. I am so stoked about this beer because we’ve never brewed a dark lager before with Boardwalk. We wanted to create something that isn’t too heavy but still has those layers of chocolate, mild roasted malt flavour, and Maillard reaction.

I think that dark lagers are the best. They are toasty and warm for cold days. We used German malts and hops, as well as a German-type yeast to ferment along with traditional German methods of fermentation. We used a technique called spunding to naturally carbonate the beer. This is a seasonal, limited release and it is available now in 473ml cans. We have a store list on our website, or you can come to the taproom and grab a pint.

Also, we are canning one of our taproom favourite beers, Levitation Lager. It is what I call a BC Lager because it’s made with BC malt and BC hops. This is the best seller in our taproom. It’s 4.2% ABV and super crushable. We’ll be releasing it in 355ml cans at the end of this year.

Kim: What do you love about the craft beer scene in PoCo?

Miguel: Traboulay PoCo Trail is close to our brewery. It’s just five minutes away, so it’s a great thing to do on a weekend. You can enjoy the Fraser River, enjoy a bike ride, and grab some nachos or tacos and our freshest beer.

The PoCo craft beer scene is growing. Patina, Northpaw, and Tinhouse. All 4 breweries are very close, so it is good if you plan to do a brewery crawl. There’s also Mariner Brewing, which is just outside of PoCo. Also very close is Brewers Row in Port Moody. Twin Sails is another favourite of mine.

I find that breweries have their arms open, waiting to welcome people to the neighbourhood.

There are lots of young families in PoCo, so it’s great that we now have these spaces in the community. The community is more connected. Craft beer connects people. People can meet here with their friends and family, play board games and then ride their bikes or walk home. I find that the breweries are real hubs in the community.

Kim: Now that people are beginning to travel again, where in BC is your next spot to go adventuring?

Miguel: I really want to go to Penticton. I’ve never been. I really like Slackwater Brewing beers. I enjoy the vibe of small cities. It’s so different than larger cities. Even though I’ve never been to Penticton, I know I will enjoy it, not only for its amazing beer scene but also because of its wineries and impressive scenery. I’m looking forward to visiting Penticton.

Closer to home, I enjoy visiting Steel & Oak and Another Beer Company both of which are super rad breweries. These are the breweries that I often visit because they are close to my place in New West. I also suggest these breweries to anyone visiting the Vancouver area.

Miguel Molina visiting the head brewer at Brooklyn Brewing
Miguel Molina on a trip to visit the head brewer at Brooklyn Brewing

Kim: What are some of your favourite craft beer festivals?

Miguel: In 2019, three weeks after I moved to Vancouver, it was time for the BC Beer Awards, so I volunteered at it. It was awesome to see everyone enjoying talking about beer, ingredients, and the quality of beers. So that was definitely very cool, and I am so stoked that it returned this year.

I really enjoy going to festivals. I really love music festivals and beer festivals, traveling, and visiting breweries. I think festivals are coming back stronger than before. The recent Brewhalla Festival was one of the first festivals we attended as a brewery with Boardwalk. I enjoyed pouring and talking to people about our beers. We also participated in Whistler Beer Festival. It was lovely to hear the feedback from the festival attendees about how much they enjoyed our beers. One of their favourites was “PoCosteiner” which is a German-Style Munich Dunkel, based on a traditional Märzen.

Festivals create a connection between the people that enjoy craft beer and the breweries that create the beer. It’s so awesome to see it all come together.

Next year I would like to attend the Weathered Beer Fest, Victoria Beer Week, Farmhouse Fest, and the GCBF.

Kim: Besides brewing, what else do you enjoy doing?  

Miguel: I enjoy hanging out with my family. My partner Andrea and our 14-year-old daughter Mariafe enjoy taking our bikes out and riding around Stanley Park. We also enjoy visiting Fort Langley and its closest and coolest brewery, Locality Brewing.

Miguel Molina and his daughter, hanging out at the beach in Vancouver
Miguel Molina and his daughter, hanging out at the beach in Vancouver

I also love playing music, I played drums for more than a decade, but when I moved to Vancouver it was hard to play drums because of the noise and space. So I started playing guitar in a band called Dead Fast. We play punk rock, and it’s super cool and relaxing for me.

Miguel Molina playing the drums
Miguel Molina playing the drums

Kim: Tell me about some hidden gems in the PoCo area.

Miguel: One of the things I would suggest is mountain biking. Burke Mountain has really great trails. It’s such a great way to hang out in nature and connect with yourself.

Kim: Who else in the craft beer industry do you find interesting and why?

Miguel: I’d love for you to speak with Justin Larter, Lead Brewer, Lab Manager, and Wild Yeast Wrangler at Barnside Brewing. He’s such a great person. He has shown me some tips and tricks for brewing over the years. He knows so much about microbiology and he is truly passionate about wild fermentation, coolships, yeast wrangling, and farming. I like their brewing style and the fact that they are using local ingredients.

Stay tuned for the next installment of the Hops Among Friends blog series, where I speak with Justin from Barnside Brewing, in Delta on the South of the Fraser Ale Trail. Until then, cheers!

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