When I was a teenager in Summerland back in the ’90s, there was barely a hint of the craft beer explosion that would hit the Okanagan two decades later. The Peacock’s Perch Pub was pretty much it when it came to beer. However, my little hometown is now primed for craft beer, and brewery owners are stepping up.
This fall is a particularly good time for Summerland beer. The past month has marked both the first anniversary of Giant’s Head Brewing and the grand re-opening of Detonate Brewing. I had the chance to sample the beers on tap and chat with the brewery owners to learn about what business has been like for them.
Detonate Brewing originally opened in 2017 and quickly became a popular spot. However, owner and brewmaster Nathan Rosin struggled to keep the business afloat during Covid and closed the doors in early 2022. The brewery went up for sale around its fifth anniversary, which is where Jonah Cadieux-Johnson comes in. A longtime craft beer lover with aspirations to open his own restaurant, Cadieux-Johnson had just finished a lengthy cycling journey in the US when he saw the ad for Detonate. He walked into the brewery on its last day of business, tried some beer, and knew that he wanted to take on this challenge. The final papers were signed in August, and he jumped in with both feet.
He faced some unique hurdles, however. Unlike many brewery owners, Cadieux-Johnson had never brewed before — not even as a home brewer. Knowing this weakness, he planned ahead: his sales contract with Rosin included all the brewery’s recipes as well as a training program. With established recipes on hand and a brewer to guide him, Cadieux-Johnson felt he could make the business work. A major challenge, he said, was learning how to use Detonate’s brewing machinery, all of which Rosin made or cobbled together. “You can’t just look up a problem in the equipment manual,” Cadieux-Johnson laughs. “There is no manual.”
Judging from the grand reopening on November 5, the risk is going to pay off. The brewery was packed with local drinkers until it closed at midnight. Live music was playing, children and dogs were welcome, and — most importantly — the beers on tap were delicious and true to style. My favourites were Joey’s First Fresh Hop Pale Ale, the “Bitter!? Hardly Know ‘Er!” ESB, and the Shot in the Dark Imperial Dark IPA, an oddball beer that Cadieux-Johnson made from some aged New Zealand hops and a hefty grain bill of pilsner and chocolate malts (he’s not sure if he can replicate it but he’s going to give it a try!). He plans for a core lineup of a pilsner, a pale ale, a hazy IPA, and the Imperial Dark IPA, with some fun and seasonal additions when possible —like the brewery’s famous “Don’t Wanna Tacoabout It” taco-flavoured beer or the fresh hop pale. He’s a one-man show for now but plans to hire a brewing assistant and front-of-house staff soon (his sister Pascale and his mother are helping for the moment). Canned beer is also coming soon, with label designs by graphic artist Jessica Repetowski.
Just five minutes away is Giant’s Head Brewing, which opened in October 2021 in the former location of Breakaway Brewing (now shuttered). Owner and brewmaster Erik Hansen is excited to have another brewery in town; he welcomes the competition — and the camaraderie. “When there’s another brewery around, you both help one another,” he says. “It’s not like the restaurant industry, which is really cut-throat.” Hansen is speaking from experience; he’s a Red Seal chef and owns two other Okanagan restaurants. Giant’s Head Brewing incorporates Hansen’s two passions: good beer and good food. In a small town like Summerland, people are drawn to a brewery where you can also sit down for a meal — not just a drink. “Everyone who comes through these doors has a good time,” Hansen says. “And that’s what I want.”
To reach out to Summerlanders, Giant’s Head Brewing originally launched with four or five beers that would be considered more approachable (like the beloved Razzle Dazzle raspberry vanilla ale) or traditional (their classic single malt, single hop pilsner, for example). Over the past year, they’ve increased their taps to eight and discovered that the town’s residents also have adventurous tastes. Hansen began brewing up some more unusual beers, like the seasonal Marzen, Mango Sour Wit, and the White Noise White IPA, a delicious, citrusy IPA made with Belgian yeast and inspired by Phillips Brewing’s Electric Unicorn. Hansen has taken his own home brewing learning curve, combined it with a chef’s creativity, and produced some much-loved beer in his first year as a Summerland brewer. And he’s helping Cadieux-Johnson through the same process.
The Peacock’s Perch Pub will always have a spot in any Summerlander’s heart, but these two breweries will add a lot to the town’s food and drink scene. Keep an eye out for a possible future Summerland event featuring local craft beer and cider!